The Selection Process: A 7-Step Practical Guide
Updated December 2021
A good selection process is key in finding talent and forms the backbone for effective performance management. In this article, we will take a closer look at the selection process and show the best practices for designing a process that will help you find the best candidates while also delivering a good candidate experience.
What is the selection process?
The goal of the recruitment and selection process at organizations is to find and hire the best candidates for job openings. This process has a funnel structure. Imagine you are seeking a new hire for a role – your current employee decided to pursue another opportunity. You need to find a replacement. 50 people apply to your job opening. You select five of them to interview and finally, one person gets the job offer.
Your organization’s candidate selection process always starts with a job opening. Every job opening should have a clearly defined function profile. Based on the job description, this should include criteria like how many (if any) years of work experience are needed, educational background, and proficiency in certain skills.
Once you publish and advertise your job opening, candidates flow in – hopefully! This is where the selection funnel starts. The selection process in HRM occurs via a series of steps that candidates move through. A typical funnel consists of seven stages. Of course, not every candidate makes it through to every stage. Let’s go over these stages one by one.
- Screening & pre-selection
- References and background check
- Job offer & contract
The 7 stages of the selection process
After you’ve created a job advert – and double-checked it for any errors – it’s ready to be posted. Candidates can now apply but the number of applications, the quality, and diversity of those who do, can vary hugely.
Some of these factors are external and beyond your influence as HR; for example social factors such as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Depending on your country’s infection rates and legislation put in place by the government regarding work, health and immigration, the pool of applicants may be smaller than pre-pandemic. The field you work in HR for will impact as well. If you’re trying to recruit nurses to a public hospital, when burnout is high, your HR department’s role will be more challenging than a video games company seeking graduate developers, who can work remotely.
The number of applicants can range between zero and thousands, depending primarily on the size of the company, the type of job and the industry, and on how successful your sourcing strategy and employer brand are. Internal factors such as pay rates, opportunities for progression and benefits like health insurance, have a considerable impact as well. Google, for example, receives around 3 million applications a year. This means that on average more than 400 people apply per job opening.
But the number and quality of applicants also depend on your job advert. The way a job ad is written, meaning how informative, engaging and inclusive it is, directly impacts the people you attract. All job adverts should use gender-neutral language and you should consider if higher education is an absolute necessity for applicants.
For example, The Spectator is a widely read British weekly magazine. The publication has a no CV policy for editorial roles and does not require a university degree. If your company does require a CV, consider implementing a “blind review” policy; all personal characteristics such as name, age, gender and sexuality are removed. This aims to counter implicit bias.
And how is your application process itself? Is it mobile-friendly and quick? Or fo you, on the other hand, require candidates to manually fill in all the info from their CVs into your system? Always test your application process yourself to understand where your applicants might struggle. That way, you can ensure you’re providing a smooth application experience.
Channels and tools
Where you post and promote your job ads matters too. Simply posting it on your company’s website is not enough. Requiring applicants to create a profile on your career’s site, and failing to optimize the site for mobile are practical elements of web design which could hinder HR’s success in the candidate selection process. Here are the five most popular sources for jobseekers:
- Online job boards such as Indeed and postings on social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.
- Company websites – If you work in HR for a huge company like Walmart in the US or the NHS in Britain, many people will come directly to your site. This is less so if you manage HR for a small family law firm, for example.
- Recruitment agencies and sites – Jobhunters may register with one or several recruitment agencies or seek out field-specific recruitment sites.
- University and college career departments – Consider holding promotion and recruitment events at local, national or international colleges. In Britain, the Civil Service and armed forces host many events like this, often visiting campuses with more socially and ethically diverse populations, in order to increase diversity.
- Word of mouth – many people will ask their family and friends for advice on where to apply to, and for any leads on job openings.
Textio uses data and AI machine learning to help companies optimize their job adverts. Textio makes sure the job advert’s text reflects not only what your HR department is looking for in a candidate, but also what culture and values matter to your company.
Why does inclusivity matter? In order to increase the diversity of your workforce, concrete steps must be taken to increase inclusivity. Diversity matters not just from an idealist or moral perspective, but for maximum success and profit. A report published by McKinsey & Company found that ethnically diverse companies were 36% more likely to outperform competitors.
2. Screening & pre-selection
The second step in the recruitment and selection process is the initial screening of candidates. The goal of this second phase is to reduce the pool of candidates from a large group to a manageable group of between 3-10 people that can be interviewed. This can happen in multiple ways.
The most commonly known technique is resume or CV screening. Resume screening helps to assess if candidates comply with the criteria needed for the job. If you require 5+ years of work experience and you see that a college graduate applied, you can easily rule out this person.
If you work in the HR department of a large company, CV reviewing can be time-consuming. Using software is an efficient and cost-effective way to manage this challenge. Options range from built-in resume screening tools that are part of an ATS to resume screeners that use artificial intelligence to predict the quality of hire. Be careful not to overuse this kind of technology though. You need to ensure that it is regularly reviewed for bias.
After the resume screening, often a phone (or video) screening happens. This helps to align expectations between the candidate and employer. The recruiter can ask candidates any questions they have following the screening of resumes. The recruiter can go through a checklist that may include topics like pay expectations, full-time or part-time hours, flexible working options, starting date, and other potential deal-breakers. Since this is a fairly standard procedure, having a chatbot ask these questions is also an option.
As mentioned above, technology now enables us to do these screenings in an automated way. Chatbots ask candidates questions and make the interview interactive. An example is a large engineering company that implemented a chatbot intended to optimize the recruitment process and keep candidates engaged. The data showed that after the chatbot was implemented, completion rates went up from 74% to 96%.
Pre-selection or pre-employment assessments
Pre-selection is a powerful screening method that helps to weed out potential mismatches. Dedicated pre-selection tools provide assessments that can include cognitive testing, a job simulation, or other tests that help to predict the quality of the new hire. Sometimes the resume screening is included in these tools. A job simulation provides a realistic job preview. This shows both the most enjoyable and interesting aspects of a role but also the challenging elements, resulting in an authentic insight. This helps align expectations between employer and employee and leads to hires who are a stronger fit. Pre-selection tools are another aspect of the increasing role of AI technology in the recruitment landscape.
These pre-selection tests are often used for high-volume recruiting (roles with large numbers of applicants). To give an example of such a test, a sales rep might be assessed on their customer service skills. These screening tools eliminate the obvious mismatches so the most suitable candidates remain. Be aware that not all pre-selection tools and screenings are fully accurate, so again, choose your vendor with care.
We’ll talk more about other types of assessments below.
and some of the best practices that help you find the best candidates.
The third step in the candidate selection process funnel is the best known and most visible of them all: the job interview. A job interview involves the candidate being interviewed by their direct manager or the recruiter (or both) to assess how well-suited they are for the role.
The interview offers some insight into a person’s verbal fluency and sociability. It also provides the opportunity to ask the candidate questions related to the job and it presents the opportunity to sell the job to the candidate.
Interviews may be carried out virtually over the internet, or in person. Many companies nowadays carry out a first stage remote interview, with a final in-person interview as the last stage in assessment. The company and candidates benefit from lowering costs, and more efficient time management. The pandemic and shelter-in-place orders have pushed many companies to conduct all interviews remotely, which will likely continue well into the future.
Types of interviews
There are two main types of interviews, an unstructured and a structured interview. In a structured interview, a standardized set of questions is used. This provides the interviewer with a uniform method of recording information and standardizing the rating of the applicant’s qualifications.
Other interview types include candidates being interviewed by peers or a panel. These interviews aim to gain insights into a candidate’s personality, behavior, and approachability among team members, or with those they will be supporting in a job.
In scientific literature, the structured interview has proven to be almost twice as reliable as the unstructured interview (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). The structured interview enables the interviewer to accurately compare candidates and to make the best decision purely on data.
Besides having standardized questions, a common method used in interviews is the STAR method. This method offers a structured way to retrieve information from the candidate. STAR is an acronym for:
- Situation. Have the candidate describe the situation that they were in.
- Task. What goal was the candidate working towards?
- Action. Have the candidate describe in detail what actions they took to make the best of the situation and complete their task.
- Result. Have the candidate describe the outcome of the action and ask what the candidate learned.
The STAR method is great to test the candidate’s experience in different situations that are relevant to the job. If a candidate needs experience in managing different shareholders, an example question could be: Describe a situation in which you had to manage different shareholders. Using the STAR method you can then easily test the candidate experience in these situations.
Using this method to test for the key competencies of the job is highly recommended. Indeed, asking multiple candidates the same question enables you to easily compare how much experience they have in these key competencies from their previous jobs.
It is considered best practice to use interview guides, as this makes the recruitment and selection process more fair and consistent.
We’ve briefly discussed assessments in the second step. Where the pre-selection, or screening, is used to roughly weed out the least suitable candidates, the full assessment is usually more accurate.
Common assessments are a General Mental Ability (GMA) test (also known as an IQ test) and a Five-Factor Model of Personality test. Higher IQ is associated with faster learning and higher top performance. This means that for high IQ candidates the Time to Optimum Productivity is lower and candidates are likely to perform better. While these assessments can be a part of your pre-selection process, many organization choose to conduct them in later stages of the hiring process.
When it comes to personality, more conscientious candidates perform better in their job. Candidates who score high in conscientiousness are often described as hard-working, dutiful, achievement-oriented, and detail-oriented. Research shows that conscientiousness is the strongest noncognitive predictor of job performance.
Other assessments include work sample tests, integrity tests, and job knowledge tests. The scientific literature shows that assessments in a form of work sample tests are among the best predictors of job performance. Good practice is to have candidates do a case study or solve a real problem during their interview. It is possible to compare the quality of a candidate’s work with the other applicants, as well as against the expected, or ideal performance.
Not all jobs include a job task-style simulation. And not all job roles or applicants benefit from this approach; if you’re hiring someone for a mid-career role, their CV and references will provide a huge amount of insight. The applicant has already advanced considerably in their field, and will likely have reached a point of expertise in some areas. A full assessment is most useful for hiring graduates, who do not have much work or life experience.
5. References and background check
By this point, you have reduced the long list of candidates to a shortlist of one to three candidates. An essential step in the candidate selection process is reference checking.
Reference checks are a way to confirm the accuracy of what a candidate has told you, and your impressions of them. Ask the candidate to give you references and follow up on these. If during the interview you have doubts about a certain competency or skill, the reference check is an excellent way to gather more information from a different perspective.
A background check is commonly used for government departments and other jobs that involve access to highly confidential information, such as healthcare roles. Countries like the US carry out more reference checks than most European countries, for example.
The background check can be a prerequisite before applying, and be a part of the pre-selection. An example is a confirmation of good conduct or other criminal record checks for teaching positions and other roles that involve a high responsibility for others. These checks help to eliminate people who have done or may abuse their duty of care over vulnerable people. However, unless absolutely necessary, you should conduct background checks as late in the selection process as possible.
In the US, employers typically use private companies to conduct background checks. Background checks in hiring are subject to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and they need to fulfill the requirements of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That’s why you need to select an FCRA-compliant provider to conduct the background checks on your behalf.
The next step in the recruitment and selection process is making the decision; choosing the candidate with the greatest potential for the organization. Sometimes this means picking someone less qualified at the moment – but who is committed to growing and staying with the organization for longer.
You should use a data-driven approach to make the hiring decision to make your selection process as fair as possible. In practice, this means pre-defined criteria by which every candidate is rated against during the selection process. The best candidate is then chosen and given an offer. Usually, the hiring manager makes the final decision. It may also involve input from other managers, and colleagues.
7. Job offer & contract
After your company has made a decision, the selection process isn’t over. The (ideal) candidate still needs to accept the offer!
At this point, the organization should have all the information that will make the candidate likely to say yes. Hopefully, you will have gleaned this information from the various screenings (if applicable) and job interviews.
The offer is then made to the candidate. If they accept the offer, you draw a contract and have both parties sign it. Only when the employment contract is signed by all parties, is the selection process complete.
Metrics used in the selection process
You should track several important metrics when it comes to the candidate selection process. These are indicators of how your HR department is performing in the selection process. For more information, check out our full article on recruiting metrics.
- Time to fill. The time it takes to find and hire a candidate from the moment of approving a job requisition until the candidate accepts your offer. A long time to fill is an indication of an inefficient selection process.
- 90-day attrition. Attrition within the first three months is a clear indication of a bad hire – that you as an organization are responsible for. The estimations of the cost of a bad hire differ between sources but are estimated to be between 50% to 200% of their annual salary. It is recommended to treat every case of 90-day attrition as a critical HR incident that should be analyzed and prevented the next time through better communication, selection, onboarding, and management.
- First-year attrition. Similar to the 90-day attrition.
- Candidate experience. How did the candidates rate their experience in this selection process? This is an important indicator as candidates are often a fan and/or customer of your brand – that’s why they want to work for you! Happy candidates might (one day) be customers or refer customers to you.
- Selection process funnel effectiveness. Because selection goes through a funnel with multiple steps, knowing the effectiveness of the funnel helps. You don’t want 50% of your 100 applicants to pass through to the interview stage , otherwise, you’ll be interviewing for the full year! Yield ratio is a valuable way of analyzing how effective your candidate selection process is. Yield ratio is a recruiting metric that indicates the percentage of candidates that move from one stage of the recruitment process to the next.
- Quality of hire. This metric measures how well a new hire is performing after a year in their job. This is usually rated by their manager in the annual performance appraisal. If the quality of hire is consistently good, it is an indication that the selection process works.
A final word
Selecting and hiring top candidates is key to the long-term viability of any organization. Having a strong recruitment and selection process helps to build a competitive advantage for the organization. For that reason, it is one of the key contributions that HR can provide to the business.