Selection Systems

By Kathryn Jensen

Picture this familiar scene. After hours of training, a major corporation has lost yet another employee. Thousands of dollars are spent in training the employee, advertising for new applicants, and hiring another employee to fill the open position. When resumes and interviews fail to uncover the best match for the job, where does one turn? Some are turning to numerology, astrology, and handwriting analysis. Radical? Yes. But many CEO's, vice presidents and HR professionals are eager to find the most effective way to make the best hiring decision.

Organizations today are faced with the challenge of finding and keeping high-performing employees. Hiring and retaining quality candidates can have a huge impact on the company's success. In order to compete in today's global market, factors such as increased communication among customers and co-workers from different cultures, the necessity of working in international teams, and the growing dependence on cutting-edge information need to be considered during the hiring process (Stolovitch & Keeps, 1999). Having an effective selection system is one way to improve organizational outcomes. Selection systems are the tools and assessment used by an organization to yield the best hiring decision. This non-training intervention can improve performance, reduce the cost of high turnover rates, and stimulate future success and growth within a company.

Investing in the development of a comprehensive and valid selection process is money well spent. Allyn Cutts, founder of the Cutts Group, agrees that hiring mistakes can be expensive, "yet most companies have more specific strategies and techniques in place for buying computers and software than for hiring the right person"(2001). While no one method can ensure absolute success, Stolovitch & Keeps (1999) recommend the implementation of a consistent, objective, and structured approach to the hiring process. The selection process itself can be divided into four major tasks. These tasks are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1

1.) Describe the position Include specific job functions and how they must be performed to ensure success
2.) Specification of skills, knowledge, and personal characteristics Describe the skills, knowledge, and personal attributes needed to achieve desired performance
3.) Determine selection criteria Include all characteristics an individual must possess when hired (not those that can be developed once hired)
4.) Develop systematic, objective procedure for candidate selection Assess each candidate with respect to selection criteria


A thorough job analysis can clarify all tasks relevant to the job. Further, the identification of performance objectives will clearly define performance expectations of employees. Companies may begin by rethinking the job and redefining the position. Identifying the critical skills and employee qualifications necessary to perform the job are essential steps in this process. Job analysis may be conducted by observing one or more employees while they are doing their job, the use of a highly specific questionnaire, or the implementation of the critical incident technique. The critical incident technique asks employees to describe behaviors that led either to success or failure on the job. Responses are then categorized and used to distinguish low performers from high performers.

Goal analysis is an integral part of the selection system. The skills, knowledge, and characteristics needed for the job are translated from abstract language into measurable, observable performances based on tasks associated with the position itself. Both technical and non-technical requirements should be considered when generating a list of relevant skills and knowledge. Characteristics include personal attributes such as initiative, self-confidence, willingness to learn that contribute to the ability to successfully perform a task. Recognizing that a lack of these personal characteristics can lead to failure, Stolovitch & Keeps (1999) cite that organizations are now basing their selection process on the theory that if people possess certain basic qualities, they can be trained to do their jobs effectively and are more likely to succeed. A carefully prepared set of hiring criteria can help the employer evaluate resumes more efficiently and identify applicants for further consideration (Messmer, 2002).

Another important piece in the selection process is determining "motivational fit," or a person's interest in doing the job. People who love what they do are not only good at their jobs, but will likely stay in that job for a long time. People who have a poor "fit" with their job may have the skills to do the job well, but seek ways (tardiness, absenteeism, high turnover) to avoid job performance (Klinvex, 1999). Motivational fit is a key factor in forecasting whether or not a person will remain in a job long term.

Informed hiring decisions should also be made using valid forms of assessment. The validity of a test is determined by the usefulness of its outcomes and how it leads to hiring better employees. Creating a test environment for work sampling that closely models the job itself will produce valid results. Klinvex (1999) believes the most comprehensive selection systems use a combination of both tests and interviews to evaluate candidates and inform decisions. Tests, however, are generally more accurate and reliable and allow for a more efficient use of time than an interview.

The hiring process for teachers in the Alpine Union School District is one example of an effective selection system. Job postings include clear objectives and specific skills required to meet job expectations. After satisfactorily completing required assessments, prospective teachers are asked to fill out an extensive application that includes both free-response, scenario-based questions and past experiences. Applications and resumes are prescreened and the number of applicants is narrowed down considerably before proceeding to interviews. Interview panels are comprised of the superintendent and a small cadre of administrators and teachers. Interview questions are both situational and performance based. Final candidates are asked to create and implement a demonstration lesson for a specified grade level and content area.

The cost of hiring one poor performing employee is far greater than the cost of having an effective selection process. Technology- and paper-based assessments will effectively avoid a hiring mistake more effectively than most extensive interviews. Development Dimensions International (Bernthal, 2003) devised a hypothetical example to illustrate how improvements in selection procedures can produce immediate direct benefits (cutting costs to replace employees) and indirect benefits (reducing turnover rates and improving the quality of employee). In the original scenario, the total cost of replacing 50 employees by traditional hiring procedures was near one million dollars. After implementing resume screening systems, automated tests, applicant-tracking systems, and proven selection methods such as behavioral interviewing, training and experience evaluations, motivational fit assessments, and ability tests the return on the companies investment reached 240% in its first year.

With evolving technology and the growing need for a multi-skilled workforce comes the responsibility to hire capable employees who can make meaningful contributions to a company's future success. Selection systems, when effective, can help reduce training expenses, turnover rates, and additional costs to an organization.


Bernthal, Paul. Calculating ROI for selection systems. Retrieved January 26, 2004 from the World Wide Web:

Cutts, Allyn. (2001) Hiring, motivating, and training "for success". Cutts Group Newsletter. Retrieved January 26, 2004 from the World Wide Web:

Klinvex, Kevin C., O'Connell, Matthew S., & Klinvex, Christopher P. (1999). Hiring great people. San Francisco, CA: McGraw-Hill.

Messmer, Max. (2002, June). Selecting the best employees. The National Public Accountant. 12-14. Retrieved January 27, 2004 from the World Wide Web:

Patterson, Maureen. (2000, Autumn). Overcoming the hiring crunch: Tests deliver informed choices. Employment Relations Today, 27, 3; 77-88.

Stolovitch, Harold D. & Keeps, Erica J. (1999). Handbook of human performance technology. San Francisco, CA: Jossey - Bass/Pfeiffer.

Author Note


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