Secrets of a Brighter Workplace


Tips on how to understand, recruit and keep the best people for your business


My good practice guide to assessing job candidates

Sadiq Khan or Zac Goldsmith?

Choosing between mayoral candidates, or political parties for that matter, often comes down to a combination of head and heart. You listen to the arguments put forward, consider them carefully and then do what feels right.

Assessing job candidates for your business needs a more systematic approach – one that gets you the right hire and is legally defensible.

So it’s crucial to make sure that your assessors – be they from the HR team, line managers or external – have the right skills and behaviours to deliver good quality, fair, consistent and robust candidate assessments.

I’ve trained assessors from a number of organisations, including the Co-operative Group, Greater Manchester Police and Northern Ireland Civil Service Commissioners amongst many others. And I thought I’d share with you some of the key learnings I use in these workshops, so that you can:

  • understand what you are measuring and the use of competencies
  • learn to recognise and counteract your own unconscious bias and brain shortcuts
  • make sure you evaluate each candidate fairly and consistently
  • avoid the common mistakes and pitfalls that can scupper an assessment.

I’ve created a good practice guide to assessing job candidates that you can download for free. It will help you to support your assessors to develop their skills, whether they are a line manager or a HR bod.

If you’re new to assessing job candidates or need to upskill your managers so they can deliver assessments this easy-to-understand, plain English guide really is for you.

What are you measuring?

Most organisations use a competency framework to assess candidates against the requirements of a role. But sometimes inexperienced assessors aren’t really sure what that means in practice:

So my guide begins by familiarising assessors with the concept of the competency framework.

A competency framework:

  • enables you to measure things that would otherwise be hard to pin down.
  • provides a structure that the whole assessing team can work within, helping to ensure all candidates are assessed against the same criteria.
  • helps to remove subjectivity. While individual assessors might have their own interpretation of what constitutes good team-working, with a competency framework in place they have a standardised, organisational approach to follow.
  • is legally defensible – it provides written proof that the organisation follows a consistent approach to assessing candidates. Which is vital when you consider that the burden of proof in tribunals lies with the employer not the candidate.

Training assessors to use the competency framework

Having a competency framework though is not enough. Your assessors also need to know how to use it.

That’s where assessor training comes in. I find face-to-face is best but it can also be delivered by webinar or in the form of written materials – like my guide.

Done well, it will help assessors develop the skills they need to assess candidates properly. It should also an opportunity for them to practise using your specific competency framework and interview or exercise materials.

But training your assessors is vital for another reason.

The brain works in ways we don’t always want it to as I’ve mentioned before. It jumps to conclusions, makes snap judgements, looks for patterns and is scared of difference. All of which can really affect an assessor’s ability to make a fair assessment of a candidate’s abilities.

To help override the brain’s automatic settings, I train assessors in the industry standard ORCE model. ORCE (observe, record, classify and evaluate) is a systematic process – a series of distinct steps that helps the assessor slow down their thinking so they make more rational judgements.

The most difficult step in the ORCE process for trainee assessors to get their heads round is the record stage – writing down everything the candidate says in the interview. As close to word for word as you can. And in the moment, while they’re speaking.

I know what you’re thinking. ‘How am I meant to ask questions, listen to their answers and ask good probing questions AND write down everything they say?!’

No one said assessing was easy! But it’s important to record in this way. Here’s why:

Our natural inclination is to judge or analyse what someone’s saying as they say it. We might think ‘boy, that was a great example of team-working.’ But that snap judgement might colour how we respond to the next thing the candidate says.

By recording everything, we’re deliberating avoiding making any judgement at this stage. We’re collecting evidence to counteract any unconscious bias we might have. And, by writing it down, we’re documenting the evidence upon which we will evaluate the candidate once the interview is done. Again, making things easier to defend legally if need be.

I talk through this and the other steps in the ORCE model in lots more detail in my guide. Plus, there are loads of tips on how to avoid common pitfalls when assessing – like not giving yourself enough time. You can download my guide, for free, here.

If only there was a guide like this to help us choose our politicians!

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