In a recent appeal decision (Notable Case A7447) published by the Queensland Public Service Commission, the Appeals Officer found that the selection process was deficient because the selection panel had not provided a “cogent narrative, however short” to explain their recommendation. The comparative assessment had focussed on interview performance with partial reference to a work test rather than the more holistic assessment which the selection panel argued had been undertaken. This was considered to have breached Section 7.9 (c) of the Directive 01/10 on Recruitment and Selection which states:
“At minimum, there must be a statement which is sufficient to enable a reviewer to understand the basis on which the panel has concluded that the recommended appointee has superior merit overall against the key attributes of the role in relation to shortlisted applicants.”
They also found that the selection decision had indirectly breached Sections 7.9 (a) (ii) and (iii) of the Directive. In particular, the Appeals Officer noted that the panel “may have considered the previous work experience of applicants and conducted a robust assessment of applicant’s merit, not only performance in each component of the assessment process, but this was not able to be ascertained from the panel’s selection report.”
I need to stress that I have no knowledge of the facts of this particular case. However, the appeal decision reinforces the responsibility of selection panels, as clearly and explicitly required by the Directive, to undertake a robust and comprehensive assessment which includes consideration of the previous work history of applicants and “not just performance in each component of the assessment process”. As well as doing this in practice, the decision makes it clear that this process needs to be clearly documented in the selection report.
Why is this important? Apart from compliance with the Public Service Act and Directive which is not optional for Queensland Government departments, it also makes sense. We want to select the best person for the job. While merit selections use techniques which have proven validity, it is not an exact science. There is no such thing as a 100% guarantee that you will make the right decision. However, a rigorous process and common sense evaluation of all the information gathered through the process will give you the best possible outcomes.
How do you do this? I would suggest that it is about weighing up information gathered through each stage of the process, pulling it all together and making a recommendation based on evidence and common sense. Selection panels need to focus less on performance in each individual element of the selection process and more on the overall picture they are able to draw at the end of the process. Don’t forget about work history or ignore the example that was well articulated in a supporting statement just because a nervous applicant didn’t bring those things out at interview. Don’t just tick off the preferred responses for interview questions and disregard relevant information that might have been provided in responses to other questions or through other parts of the process. Don’t just accept a brilliant but relatively theoretical presentation about how an applicant would perform in a particular role without considering their relatively limited practical experience and evaluating the balance between potential and proven performance.
All of these issues apply equally in government or private sector recruitment. For government selections, there is one more requirement – documentation which allows the selection process and decision to be reviewed. Statements which discuss strengths and weaknesses and, if relevant, contradictory sources of evidence, for each shortlisted candidate will go a long way in providing the necessary transparency around the selection panel’s recommendations.