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Transparency with Candidates

Should you tell candidates the skills you are looking for?

Should you tell candidates what you are looking for, or does this give the game away? We have worked with clients with strong views in either direction. Whilst academics have debated the effect of transparency upon the accuracy of assessments, as practitioners we know the question also impacts on the candidate experience, and therefore employer branding and the demonstration of core values such as integrity, trust and honesty. Here we list the arguments for and against transparency, and explain our own preferred approach.

Arguments For

  • Telling candidates in advance what qualities and characteristics are being assessed has been found to reduce nerves and feelings of anxiety – a key factor that can interfere with the accuracy of interviews or test performance.
  • Being clear upfront about what is being assessed has been found to facilitate the acceptance and understanding of feedback post assessment. For example,  if you know that your influencing style, commercial acumen and leadership capabilities are being evaluated then you will be prepared to receive feedback on these areas, and more able to integrate any messages with your existing self perceptions.
  • Explaining what is being looked for encourages candidates to demonstrate their ‘maximum ability’. Maximum ability is contrasted with people’s ‘typical’ or ‘preferred’ approach. The key implication here is that by disclosing what you are measuring you are raising candidate’s awareness of your expectations, and therefore testing their true ability to demonstrate certain specific behaviours. If you don’t tell people what is expected and somebody doesn’t demonstrate a required competency, is this because they can’t, or because they didn’t know it was required and so didn’t try?

Arguments Against

The counter argument is that disclosing assessment criteria makes it easy for people to put on an act or just tell assessors what they want to hear. In this school of thought, being transparent reduces the likelihood that you will see typical behaviour – instead you get to see atypical behaviour that is not the real person.

This is likely to be a particular issue when seeking to measure those competencies that are personality or value-driven (eg customer sensitivity, emotional intelligence). The candidate may be motivated to ‘switch these on’ when told they are required in the formal assessment, but may not subsequently do so when undertaking the job.

Our View

The unhelpful reality is that there is research evidence to support both of the above perspectives.  So what do we do in practice?

At Wickland Westcott we prefer to be open, and take an adult-adult approach to our interactions with candidates. This means being frank and explaining what is expected, identifying the target qualities that are being looked for. This needs to be done in a balanced and constructive manner, and often involves translating organisational competencies or values from management speak into plain English.

This transparency is particularly important where nerves are likely to have a significant influence on behaviour – for example when candidates are at risk of displacement if unsuccessful. Another important context is when the assessment process is being used to support organisational change (e.g. by highlighting how new behaviours may be relevant to future roles). Again, transparency is particularly important here, and we may even share a sample of interview questions in advance to enable candidates to prepare their initial answers (which are then probed further in the interview).

Being open does put additional onus on assessors to work harder and dig beneath the general impression candidates may attempt to project. This is achieved through rigorous exercise design, standardisation, clear training and the utilisation of an appropriate combination of psychometric tests and questionnaires tailored to individual roles. Candidate self promotion is controlled by providing the assessor with structured tools for probing beneath initial responses.

In conclusion, there are pros and cons to each approach, but we believe the risks of being open and honest can be mitigated through solid assessment process design and professional administration. We also believe transparency is fairer and provides a basis for a trusting relationship between employee and employer.

If you’ve got an experience you’d like to share concerning how you brief your candidates, or if you’d like to discuss how to get the best out of your selection methods, please get in touch and join the debate.

 

 


 

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