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University of Bath

Understand the different selection techniques for recruiting staff

Read the guidance to find out about the different selection techniques you could adopt to help you find the best candidate.

How to choose selection techniques

Different types of positions require different kinds of selection techniques. Choosing the right techniques will help you to recruit the best person for the position. The selection techniques you choose will depend on the particular skills, attributes and knowledge required for the position. You must be able to match the selection method with the selection criteria that are key to the position.

At the University the most commonly used selection techniques include assessing written applications, conducting panel interviews and checking references. The interview's value is greatly increased when it is well structured, incorporates behaviour-based questions and is used in conjunction with other selection techniques. Descriptions of a range of selection techniques are provided below.

Recruitment decisions should not be based on the results of one selection method alone. Very often you need to combine two or more techniques to assess a range of skills, knowledge and qualities in candidates. For example, work samples are an excellent way to assess what a candidate is capable of (i.e. their maximum performance), but they do not provide information on what the candidate does daily (i.e. their typical performance).

What to consider when choosing

  • the seniority/level of position

  • the degree to which managerial/leadership ability is critical to success

  • the degree to which technical competence is critical to success

  • the time and effort required to use the technique, in proportion to the risk of poor selection

  • available resources

  • the budget

  • the skills, knowledge and qualifications of assessors

equity issues, ie does the chosen technique directly or indirectly discriminate against protected characteristic groups?

Administering selection techniques

The selection panel or a representative from Human Resources can administer many of the techniques. However, others need to be administered by trained professionals. See the individual techniques for more information.

Examples of selection techniques

If you decide to use selection techniques in addition to an interview, then you will need to inform all candidates and give them enough notice to make appropriate preparations.

Here are some examples of selection techniques:

Structured interview format

The interview is useful for assessing a candidate's presentation and communication skills, 'getting to know' candidates and assessing cultural 'fit' with University and the work area. It also allows the candidate to get a more detailed overview of the role and University which they can use in their decision making process. Remember an interview is a two way process.

You can significantly increase the effectiveness of your interviews by using behavioural and competency based techniques. Research suggests that it increases the predicative validity of your interview to 50-55%, up from 10% when you rely on a CV and a general interview. This interview format involves assessing skills, attributes and behaviours through behaviour based questions. Using questions that ask for specific examples of a candidate's past behaviour in situations similar to those they will face in the new position is an effective way of predicting future behaviour in similar situations.

Remember that no matter how hard you try to make an interviewee comfortable, the interview is an artificial and formal environment that may not best show candidates as they behave in the work environment. Less formal opportunities for meeting and interacting with candidates, such as coffee breaks/lunches, and structured reference checking will provide further insight into a candidate's behaviour and performance. Complementing the interview with other selection techniques such as skills tests, work sample tests, case studies, planning exercises, analysis and/or judgement exercises, presentations and team observations will also increase the likelihood of identifying the best person for the position. If you would like to use these tools contact Human Resources for more information.

You can find more information on interviewing in the guidance for interview panel members and you can also use these sample behavioural interview questions to help you develop your questions.

Telephone, video and skype interviews

For positions that are likely to attract national or overseas candidates it may be necessary to conduct initial discussions via telephone, video or skype. Telephone, video and skype interviews are normally used to make a preliminary assessment of a candidate. However, you should also meet the candidate face-to-face before making final recommendations. Telephone interviews may also be of benefit where there are a large number of suitable candidates on a shortlist. A telephone call asking a few questions may assist in the shortlisting decision.

When conducting the interview your questions should be concise and you should remember that the applicant is relying on clear and specific verbal feedback in the absence of non-verbal cues. For further information on any of these options, please contact HR who will liaise with Digital, Data & Technology (DD&T) to put the necessary arrangements in place.

Work simulations

Work samples

These involve an individual or group of candidates completing exercises that they would be required to undertake as part of the position. For group tasks, candidates are placed in a situation in which the successful completion of a task requires interaction among the participants. In individual exercises, participants complete a task independently. The selection panel should determine acceptable responses or outcomes prior to administering any sort of work sample test. Work samples are effective at predicting future behaviour. They are particularly useful if implemented as part of a two-phase selection process i.e. after the first interview when follow-up and probing are required, or alternatively, to assist with shortlisting candidates prior to interview. Using work samples as a selection technique is usually more time consuming and resource intensive than conducting an interview, particularly if there are a lot of candidates.

The leaderless group discussion

This is a simple technique where a group of participants are asked to carry on a discussion about some topic for a specific period of time e.g. performance issues, or internal/external alliances or relationships. No one is appointed leader and assessors do not participate in the discussion, but remain free to observe and rate the performance of each participant. Skills and attributes such as leadership, coaching, customer service orientation, teamwork, building relationships, etc. can be evaluated.

The in-tray test

This is an individual test designed to simulate important or regular tasks associated with the position. Different types of in-tray tests may be designed to correspond to the various requirements of the position, e.g. writing a memo, researching information or analysing data. At the conclusion of the exercise the candidate will have produced notes, memos, letters, etc., which constitute the record of his or her behaviour in completing the task. In-tray exercises permit direct observation of individual behaviour within the context of a job-relevant problem situation.

Planning exercises

These test the candidate's ability to prioritise, plan activities, schedule and allocate resources, and adapt to last minute changes. This allows assessors to evaluate a candidate's skills and attributes in planning and judgement. Exercises might involve providing the candidate with some information about a typical project and asking them to draft a project plan or schedule, determine a budget or allocate resources.

Analysis exercises

These evaluate a candidate's aptitude in analysis and judgement. Candidates are provided with quantitative and qualitative data about a fictitious organisation and asked to draw conclusions, make recommendations, assess the organisation's situation or improve matters such as productivity, customer relations, organisational structure and morale. These type of exercises are most commonly used for senior management positions.


These assess a candidate's communication skills and perhaps their expertise on a particular subject. A typical task might involve a candidate preparing and presenting to a selection panel, peers and/or postgraduate students. For example, for an academic position a lecture or presentation of research or teaching would be appropriate.

Computer exercises

These demonstrate a candidate's computer skills using particular programs. Tasks might involve creating spreadsheets, data sorts, letters or diagrams, etc.

Assessment centres

The assessment centre is traditionally used for large scale or bulk recruitment exercises. Assessment centres vary in complexity and are typically conducted by trained consultants. They can be expensive and complex to administer and are usually more cost effective when recruiting large numbers of people. A typical assessment may run over the course of one or two days and involve trained assessors evaluating a number of candidates using a range of techniques such as interviews, written tests and individual and group exercises. Assessors assimilate evidence from candidate performance across all exercises and incorporate this into a final collective decision.

Informal meetings

Informal meetings can be used as a way of observing a candidate's behaviour in a less formal environment, such as lunches or coffee breaks with staff or key stakeholders. Informal meetings are probably best used as part of a two-phase selection process, after you have narrowed the field down to the last few candidates. Candidates should be aware that this is part of the assessment process.

For further advice on any of these options, please contact Human Resources (Recruitment Team).