Personnel selection is the process used to hire (or, less commonly, promote) individuals. Although the term can apply to all aspects of the process (recruitment, selection, hiring, acculturation, etc.) the most common meaning focuses on the selection of workers. In this respect, selected prospects are separated from rejected applicants with the intention of choosing the person who will be the most successful and make the most valuable contributions to the organization.
The professional standards of industrial-organizational psychologists (I-O psychologists) require that any selection system be based on a job analysis to ensure that the selection criteria are job-related. The requirements for a selection system are knowledge, skills, ability, and other characteristics, known as KSAOs. US law also recognizes bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQs), which are requirements for a job which would be discriminatory were they not necessary—such as only employing men as wardens of maximum-security male prisons, enforcing a mandatory retirement age for airline pilots, or a religious college only employing professors of its religion to teach its theology.
Personnel selection systems employ evidence-based practices to determine the most qualified candidates and involve both the newly hired and those individuals who can be promoted from within the organization. Common selection tools include ability tests (e.g., cognitive, physical, or psychomotor), knowledge tests, personality tests, structured interviews, the systematic collection of biographical data, and work samples. Development and implementation of such screening methods is sometimes done by human resources departments; larger organizations hire consultants or firms that specialize in developing personnel selection systems. I-O psychologists must evaluate evidence regarding the extent to which selection tools predict job performance, evidence that bears on the validity of selection tools. These procedures are usually validated (shown to be job relevant), using one or more of the following types of validity: content validity, construct validity, and/or criterion-related validity.
History and development
Selection into organizations has as ancient a history as organizations themselves. Chinese civil servant exams, established in AD 605, may be the first documented "modern" selection tests, and have influenced subsequent examination systems. As a scientific and scholarly field, personnel selection owes much to psychometric theory and the art of integrating selection systems falls to human resource professionals.
In the United States of America, members of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) conduct much of the research on selection. Primary research topics include:
- the practicality, reliability, validity, and utility of various forms of selection measures
- methods for demonstrating return on investment for selection systems
- assessing fairness and making selection systems as fair as possible
- legal issues—such as disparate treatment and disparate impact—and overall compliance with laws
- the generalizability of validity across different work contexts
- alternative methods of demonstrating validity, such as synthetic validity
- the predictive validity of non-traditional measures, such as personality
Predictor validity and selection ratio
Two major factors determine the quality of newly hired employees, predictor validity and selection ratio. The predictor cutoff is a test score differentiating those passing a selection measure from those who did not. People above this score are hired or are further considered while those below it are not.
The selection ratio (SR), on the other hand is the number of job openings n divided by the number of job applicants N. This value will range between 0 and 1, reflecting the selectivity of the organization's hiring practices. When the SR is equal to 1 or greater, the use of any selection device has little meaning, but this is not often the case as there are usually more applicants than job openings. Finally, the base rate is defined by the percentage of employees thought to be performing their jobs satisfactorily following measurement.
Tests designed to determine an individual's aptitude for a particular position, company or industry may be referred to as personnel assessment tools. Such tests can aid those charged with hiring personnel in both selecting individuals for hire and in placing new hires in the appropriate positions. They vary in the measurements they use and level of standardization they employ, though all are subject to error.
Predictors for selection always have less than perfect validity and scatter plots can help us to find these mistakes. The criterion cutoff is the point separating successful and unsuccessful performers according to a standard set by the hiring organization. True positives are applied those thought to succeed on the job as a result of having passed the selection test and who have, in fact, performed satisfactorily. True negatives describe those who were correctly rejected based on the measure because they would not be successful employees.
False negatives occur when people are rejected as a result of selection test failure, but would have performed well on the job anyway. Finally, false positives are applied to individuals who are selected for having passed the selection measure, but do not make successful employees. These selection errors can be minimized by increasing the validity of the predictor test.
Standards for determination of the cutoff score vary widely, but should be set to be consistent with the expectations of the relevant job. Adjusting the cutoff in either direction will automatically increase the error in the other. Thus, it is important to determine which type of error is more harmful on a case-by-case basis.
Banding is another method for setting cutoff values. Some differences in test scores are ignored as applicants whose scores fall with in the same band (or, range) are selected not on the basis of individual scores, but of another factor spas to reduce adverse impact. The width of the band itself is a function of test reliability, the two being negatively correlated. Banding allows employers to ignore test scores altogether by using random selection, and many have criticized the technique for this reason.
Predicting job performance
Regarding interview procedures, there are data which put into question these tools for selecting employees. While the aim of a job interview is ostensibly to choose a candidate who will perform well in the job role, other methods of selection provide greater predictive power and often entail lower costs. Unstructured interviews are commonly used, but structured interviews tend to yield better outcomes and are considered a better practice.
Interview structure is defined as “the reduction in procedural variance across applicants, which can translate into the degree of discretion that an interviewer is allowed in conducting the interview.” Structure in an interview can be compared to a typical paper and pencil test: we would not think it was fair if every test taker were given different questions and a different number of questions on an exam, or if their answers were each graded differently. Yet this is exactly what occurs in an unstructured interview; thus, a structured interview attempts to standardize this popular selection tool.
Multiple studies and meta-analyses have also been conducted to look at the relationship between organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) and organizational performance and success. Job candidates exhibiting higher levels of helping, voice, and loyalty behaviors were generally rated as more confident, received higher salaries, and received higher salary recommendations than job candidates exhibiting these behaviors to a lesser degree. This was found to be true even candidate responses regarding task performance were taken into account. Finally, content analyses of open-ended question responses indicated selection decisions were highly sensitive to candidates with low expression of voice and helping behaviors.
- Muchinsky, P. (2012). Psychology Applied to Work, (10th ed.). Summerfield, NC: Hypergraphic Press.
- Têng, Ssu-yü (1943). "Chinese Influence on The Western Examination System". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 7 (4): 267-312. ISSN 0073-0548. Retrieved 2013-12-29.
- Steel, P. (2006). From the work one knows the worker: A systematic review of the challenges, solutions, and steps to creating synthetic validity. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 14(1), 16-36.
- U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration. (1999) “Chapter 1: Personnel Assessment.” pp. 1-7 
- Campion, M. A., Outtz, J. L., Zedeck, S., Schmidt, F. L., Kehoe, J. F., Murphy, K. R., & Guion, R. M. (2001). The controversy over score banding in personnel selection: Answers to 10 key questions. Personnel Psychology, 54(1), 149–185.
- Schmidt, F. L. & Hunter, J. E. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124(2), 262-274.
- McDaniel, M. A., Whetzel, D. L., Schmidt, F. L., & Maurer, S. D. (1994).The validity of employment interview: A comprehensive review and meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79(4), 599-616.
- Huffcut, A. I. (2010). From science to practice: Seven principles for conducting employment interviews. Applied H.R.M. Research, 12, 121-136.
- Huffcut, A. I., & Hunter, W. Jr. (1994). Hunter & Hunter revisited: Interview validity for entry-level jobs. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, 184-190.
- Podsakoff, N. P., Whiting, S. W., Podsakoff, P. M., & Mishra, P. (2011). Effects of organizational citizenship behaviors on selection decisions in employment interviews. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(2), 310-326.
- Canadian Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology
- European Academy of Occupational Health Psychology
- European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology
- Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology