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Increasing the reliability of your selection process

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Overview – Predictive reliability

Predictive reliability in recruitment is the extent to which the selection process predicts future success in the job. If we can increase predictive reliability, then we can minimise recruitment mistakes which are costly for the organisation and distressing for the new employee.

Some ways to increase predictive reliability are outlined below.

The person specification

The person specification sets out the knowledge, skills and experience that are required for the job. It is the basis for decisions on who to shortlist for interview and who to appoint. If we get the person specification wrong, the whole recruitment process is likely to go less well.

Consider the following:

  • Specify clearly which criteria are essential (the ones that applicants must have) and which are desirable (these could be acquired after appointment).
  • Specify the criteria you are looking for in the application form (those you’ll use for shortlisting), and the ones you’re seeking to see at interview.
  • Avoid stating the number of years’ experience in a job that may be required, because people learn at different rates. It could also constitute discrimination on the grounds of age. Instead, define the specific experience required.
  • State that the required experience may have been gained from paid or voluntary work.
  • Only ask for qualifications if they are necessary for the job. For example, ‘A level standard or above’ could be made more specific by explaining what you actually need. You might need, for example, an ability ‘to analyse information and produce logical conclusions’.
  • Avoid subjective words such as ‘dynamic.’ instead, describe what is required to do the job, for example, ‘the ability to manage and organise several tasks at once’.
  • Don’t put in age restrictions, such as ‘age 18-30’. Not only is it irrelevant to the ability to do the job, it also is a strong indication that you will discriminate against candidates outside of this age range. Such discrimination is unlawful under the equality act 2010.
  • If you are looking for ‘good interpersonal skills’, define what you mean by this. For example, do you mean ‘able to deal with a wide range of people in a courteous and helpful manner’, or ‘able to present proposals in a logical manner, argue a case and resolve conflict’?

Below is an example person specification:



Job title: Personal Assistant


E or D*

S, I or T**


Knowledge of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, databases and electronic diary management.

A knowledge of office procedures.











Able to prioritise and carry out administrative tasks independently.

Shows initiative and takes personal responsibility for completing tasks.

Able to communicate with others courteously on routine matters.

Adopts a positive attitude - willing to assist others even when busy.

Able to write clearly, with correct grammar and punctuation.

Able to work under pressure on occasions, to achieve administrative deadlines.

Able to type quickly and accurately

Able to pay attention to detail, ensuring that nothing is forgotten.























Previous experience of administration (in paid or unpaid work), including: drafting correspondence independently; diary management; and dealing with a variety of administrative matters simultaneously.

Experience of taking minutes.

Experience of supervising others.












No specific qualifications required.




This post is based at our Head Office in xxxx.

The post is a full-time job, but we will positively consider applications from part time workers and job sharers.

Flexible working hours are available for this post.

There is a very occasional requirement for evening/ weekend work in this job.















*E = essential criteria        D = desirable criteria

**S = short listing criteria      I =  interview criteria T = assessed via a test.


Shortlisting should be undertaken in a structured way, scoring applicants against each person specification criterion. A simple scoring system for the criteria may be helpful, such as:

3: exceeds criterion

2: meets criterion

1: partly meets criterion

0: doesn’t meet criterion.

All members of the panel should shortlist, to ensure that the process is as objective as possible.

The interview

  • Start by welcoming the applicant and try to put them at ease. Introduce yourself and the other interviewers. Explain the structure of the interview.
  • Avoid making up your mind within a few minutes of meeting an applicant, to avoid unconscious bias.
  • Use the questions you have prepared in advance, based on the criteria in the person specification.
  • Depending on the answer each applicant gives, you may need to rephrase the question or ask follow-up questions which are related to the criteria you are testing. It is quite acceptable for these follow up questions to be different for each applicant, because each applicant is also different.
  • Make sure your questions are open-ended, requiring more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.
  • Ask additional questions that arise from the application form if relevant, such as gaps in employment.
  • Keep control of the interview. If you feel the applicant is going off-track, turn the conversation back to the information you need.
  • As the interview progresses, make notes on how well the applicant meets each criterion – based on their answers to questions.
  • At the end of the interview, ask the applicant if they have any questions.
  • Inform the applicant of the next stage in the recruitment process, such as a second interview or a test. Let the applicant know when they can expect to hear whether their application has been successful and thank them for coming.
  • Keep your interview notes. Only record what has been said in the interview and how you arrived at the selection decision. Be aware that applicants who later make a complaint to an employment tribunal have the right to ask for copies of any notes made during the interview, and that you may need them for defending any possible discrimination case relating to the process. Furthermore, an applicant may ask for disclosure of interview notes in accordance with their rights under GDPR.

Interview questions

Criteria-based interview questions, which explore past performance, are the most reliable predictors of future performance. ‘What would you do if….’ questions are less reliable and should be used sparingly.

Below are a few examples of interview questions, based on criteria that frequently appear in interviews. Each heading has an initial question, followed by questions which can be asked to probe the candidate’s initial response.

Achievement orientation

Describe an achievement of which you are particularly proud.

Probes: use how, why, what etc

For example:

  • What specifically did you do to make this a success?
  • What was achieved at the end?
  • What difference did it make to your team/organisation etc?
  • What feedback did you get about it?
  • What did you learn from undertaking this?

Building positive relationships

Describe a time when you have needed to build a positive relationship with others.

  • What exactly did you do?
  • What success did you have?
  • On reflection is there anything you would do differently next time?

Empowering others

An important part of this management role is achieving through others.

Please talk us through your own experience of achieving results through your team.

  • What did you do?
  • What worked well?
  • What were the difficulties?
  • How did you overcome any difficulties?

Exercising judgment

What sort of judgments/decisions do you need to make on a day to day basis at work?

Please now give an example of a particularly difficult judgment you have had to make at work.

  • Talk us through the details
  • What factors did you take into account?
  • What was the outcome for the organisation/for your team/for your department (as relevant)?
  • On reflection, would you do anything differently next time?

Financial management

Tell us about your experience of managing budgets.

  • What steps have you taken to ensure that your budgets were balanced at the end of the financial year?
  • Has there ever been a time when you went over budget?
  • Tell us about how this happened.
  • What did you learn from this?

Review interview questions you should NOT ask (and what to ask instead) on TPP’s website.

Using tests in selection

Studies have indicated that interviewing on its own isn’t always the most reliable method of choosing the right person for the job, especially if interviewers are relatively inexperienced.

Adding selection tests increases the predictive reliability of the process.

Consider using one or more of the following:

  • A written case study
  • A work simulation, such as some example emails that applicants must prioritise and then respond to
  • A presentation, for example on how the candidate might approach the job in the first six months
  • A role-play

When deciding on a test, bear in mind the following:

  • Determine which criteria you are assessing from each test. For example, if you ask an applicant to undertake a work simulation, you may be able to assess several criteria at once, including written communication, analytical ability, ability to plan and an understanding of the technical aspects of the job.
  • Don’t use a test that is irrelevant. For example, if someone will rarely be required to make presentations in the job, then it doesn’t make much sense to ask them to do one as part of the selection process.
  • Make adjustments for disabled people. for example, an applicant with a stammer may require more time for a verbal presentation. You may need to provide documents in a larger text size for a visually impaired applicant.
  • Check that the subject matter of your tests does not disadvantage external applicants compared with internal applicants.
  • Give a specific time for applicants to complete the test.
  • Ask a colleague to try out the test, so that you know it works.

Deciding who to appoint

Once you have undertaken all interviews and other selection tests, you and

other members of the selection panel should consider the suitability of each applicant against the requirements of the person specification.

The decision should be reached after all panel members have scored each candidate and after the panel have discussed the extent to which the candidates meet the person specification criteria. Take your time at this stage. At the end of the day, when panel members are tired, there is risk of rushed decisions which are not fully based on a structured assessment of the evidence.

However, be cautious about simply adding up all the scores given to each applicant and offering the job to the applicant with the highest overall score. You need to consider the matter in more depth than this. If, for example, an applicant has scored extremely well on most criteria, but scored badly on his or her ability to deal effectively with conflict in a non-confrontational manner, you may feel that this one criterion is sufficiently important that the applicant is not suitable, regardless of whether he or she was the highest scoring overall. If you decide not to appoint the highest scoring candidate, make sure that the reasons are clearly documented. Panel members should challenge each other to make sure that the reasons are not based on discrimination or unconscious bias. 

Further resources

Page last edited Apr 07, 2022

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