ecruitment testing, by EOC (1992); on avoidance of

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ecruitment and selection is a longway from the recommendations of personnel textbooks, distinction must be taken into
account between explicit recommendations and guidelines, on one hand, and, on the other,
implicit suggestions stemming from the authors own stance. The implications of distancing
from, or identification with, such explicit recommendations and implicit suggestions will be
viewed in this paper as well as forms of overt and covert resistance, or adhesion, assumed
in actual practice. Also central to the argument is what the whole issue means in terms of
both existing problems and potential future problems for the employer and the candidate,
for organizational management, the labour market and macro-economic welfare and
progress in general.

Employment decisions have traditionally been regarded as a privilege exclusive to
management. Many of the US personnel textbooks emphasize this aspect and describe the
process in terms of hurdles over which prospective employees have to try to leap to avoid
rejection (Torrington and Hall, 1991:283). In the UK recruitment and selection is an issue
which has in the past kept a low profile in personnel textbooks, though the trend has
changed (e.g., Torrington and Hall, 1991, Keith Sisson, 1994), which appears to point out
to an evolution from the paternalistic perspective according to which recruitment tends to be
dominantly viewed from the angle of providing candidates for the selector to judge.

Recommendations are being made with respect to the various stages of the process of
recruitment and selection, from approaching and seeking to interest potential candidates to
determining whether to appoint any of them. Codes of practice and guidelines for their
implementation have been produced with emphasis on different aspects, e.g., on recruitment
starting with a job description and person specification, by IPM; on fair and efficient
selection, by EOC (1986); on avoidance of sex bias in selection testing, by EOC (1992);
on avoidance of improper discrimination, by ACAS (1981) and negative bias against age,
by IPM (1993); on non-discriminatory advertising, by CRE and EOC (1977, 1985); and
on the use of cognitive and psychometric tests, by IPM and BPS (1993).

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Moreover, legislation promoting equality of opportunity has underlined the importance of
using well-validated selection procedures (Torrington and Hall, 1991), and directives such
as those issued by CRE (1983) and EOC (1985) emphasize the need to comply with
anti-discrimination legislation and this way enhance opportunities to disadvantaged groups.

Greater formality will both make the concealment of racial and sexual discrimination more
difficult and will permit more effective retrospective surveillance by senior management and
bodies such as the CRE (Jenkins, 1982), thus to some extent remedying the weakness of
much of the EO literature in not frontally addressing the different types of discriminatory
decision, be it determinism, particularism, patronage or rational-legality (Jewson & Mason,
1986). As a counter-argument, however, the definition of the employers role as that
of implementing and monitoring formal procedures can be seen to absolve senior staff
of the responsibility for further investigation of the causes of continuing inequality
(Webb & Liff, 1988).

In fact, case studies have shown that such directives can be misused and their
intention subverted as often happens with respect to IPMs recommendations on job
description and person specification (Collinson et al., 1990: 96-108), and,
furthermore, the legal
definition of justifiability is sufficiently vague for the legislation to be ineffective; and
the workforce can be manipulated into becoming managements accomplice in
discrimination (ibid.: 70-71). Some recommendations are, in themselves, not socially
and politically neutral enough to avoid ambiguity and, as such, encourage covert
discrimination. Highlighting the causes behind the problem, EOC points out that
gender discrimination is embedded in myths (EOC, 1986:2), while we are also
reminded that motherhood still remains a stigma (Curran, 1988) as the general
ideology of gender still associates feminity with nurturing, and hence with servicing,
which is translated directly into specific occupational terms (Murgatroyd, 1982).

Accordingly – inspite of what has been achieved – women still face bottleneck on
the way to top jobs in personnel, a situation which has been aggravated by a recent
regression in the previous upward trend for women, the latest figures standing at 44%
of all personnel managers but only 9.5% of personnel directors (PM Plus, 1994).

Getting into the boardroom is not the same as getting into the club, a glass ceiling
made difficult to shatter (BM, 1994) by the club members themselves who may also
try to psychologically manipulate women into consenting and thus becoming
accomplices of their own fate.

At least on their face value, for the past two decades personnel textbooks have been
recommending equal opportunities in recruitment and selection. Rodgers Seven
Point Plan (Rodger, 1970) and Frasers Five-Fold Framework (Fraser, 1971:
64-80) are checklists which emphasize the need for a logical link between job
description and person specification. Yet, Rodgers headings circumstances and
acceptability have strong potential to be used as a cloak for improper
discrimination (Sisson, 1994:189). In instances like this one the author of the
personnel textbook is – consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally –
an accomplice of reluctant management. Recommendations become a vehicle of
subversion of the proclaimed spirit.

Even when guidelines appear to be socially and politically sound, the identification of
requirements remains subjective when it comes to draft a job description as
judgement greatly depends on conclusions which are based on ones
conceptualizations. The effect of prejudice and bias is, therefore, difficult to control,
and unfairness in shortlisting is difficult to restrain.


Other main initial steps in the recruitment and selection process offer no guarantee of
fairness. Application forms, multi-purpose as advised by Edwards (1983:64), or not,
may become a tool of discrimination as they can easily incorporate a discriminatory
bias within their highly structured framework. Letters of application and CVs appear
to be seen as of little relevance as a measure of performance in manual jobs
(Duxfield, 1983:246-7) but to be regarded of great importance and possibly decisive
on other kinds of placement (Knollys, 1983: 236-8) where they are left to the
assessors subjective evaluation. It is generally acknowledged that they are open to
discriminatory use by the employer (McIntosh and Smith, 1974). Furthermore, the
use of graphology, though controversial, is being practised in Britain (PM,1985).

Inappropriate use of screening tests is another point of concern. The use of cognitive
and psychometric tests appears to be quite popular in the UK, bearing in mind that
the production of a personality questionnaire has been financed by over fifty
companies in this country (Saville and Holdsworth Ltd, 1987). Discerning and
cautious use of psychological techniques of selection has been advocated by Rodger
(1970; 1971; 1983) while Kline (1993) is particularly concerned with reliability and
validity as key requirements for selection methods to be technically sound as a
measure of both immediate suitability of a candidate and also of prediction of his/her
future performance, though the former function is more highly valued by Scholarios et
al. (1993). Still with respect to psychological testing, Brotherton has drawn a
distinction between measures of organizational performance and job performance
and emphasized that successful non-discriminatory selection requires validation based
on the latter (Brotherton, 1980).

Low validity interviewing is yet another point of concern. Evidence suggests that the
single interviewer tends to be the generalized practice with respect to manual
workers (Mackay and Torrington, 1986: 38-40), while in the case of non-manual
employees the general practice is the line manager and a personnel specialist to be
involved, though this results, in practice, in one-person interviewing as personnel
specialists prefer a purely advisory role (Collinson et al., 1990). The final decision
tends to be made by one individual – usually a white middle-aged male -, which
provides open ground for abuse (Wanous, 1980; Honey, 1984; and Collinson et al.,
1990) and shortlisted prospective appointees are let down at the final interview. Not
just the outcome but the way interviews are conducted can be arbitrary, and
applicants may be subjected to invasion of privacy with questions such as on their
personal life and family background or on their political beliefs. Another aspect to
consider is that, on the other hand, interviews – particularly on a one-to-one basis –
may give the applicant the opportunity to impress beyond fact. In a study of a
university milk round candidates admitted to being far from truthfull in their statements
(Keenan, 1980). The need to promote ethical awareness in the practice of
interviewing has been highlighted not only in order to improve selectors fairness but
also to control dubious honesty from applicants (Pocock, 1989).

Recommendations on the issue of internal or external recruitment cannot be
universally suitable. Courtis (1985:15) does not give priority to internal recruitment
which in itself presents the double advantage of being economical and encouraging
career development. However, as a counter-argument, internal recruitment can also
result in a delimitating effect for the company and injustice to the supply side of the
labour market. With respect to methods used when aiming to interest potential
candidates, deviation from

guide-lines and supporting legislation can prove to be fruitful as in the case of the
US-style head-hunting and search consultancy, a practice at first hindered by UK
legislation – or its interpretation -, but recently expanding to over eight hundred
recruitment and search consultants operating in this country (Clark, 1991). High fees
result in it being used mainly at rather senior levels, thus offering the possibility of
being a means of neutralizing the tendency for females and certain other sectors of
population being met with a career ceiling at middle management level. In principle,
beneficial to both interested parties in the labour market, brokerage between them
can have double-edged consequencies such as employers falling victim to consultants
who both both exploit their privileged access to knowledge of the companys needs
and reuse candidates after they have remained with the firm for an agreed period of

A defensive stance against the prescriptions of textbooks is taken by line managers
who defend that recruitment can not be scientific but that it is a mixture of what they
define as gut and objectivity, as contradictory in terms as this may be. They also
stress how they are aiming in the selection process to gauge future job performance.

In other words, underlying the practices defended by line managers are certain
principles which seem to link to the organizations culture and overall corporate
strategy (Wood, 1986). Acceptability criteria thus prevail over suitability criteria. As
an excuse for arbitrary selection, the formalization of the process of selection
advocated by IPM, CBI, EOC and CRE with a view to rendering recruitment more
efficient, meritocratic, consistent and accountable, is demeaned by general line
managers as being bureaucratic encumbrance (Collinson, 1987) as an excuse for
arbitrary selection. It is significant, though, that conviction usually appears to be
lacking in that the key to competitive advantage is to get the best person for the job,
who may be a woman, but the same argument gained credibility in employer-led
Opportunity 2000 launched by Prime Minister John Major in the early 1990s (Liff,

Line managers prefer informal sources of recruitment such as word-of-mouth
recommendations or purchasing peoples names off the Professional and Executive
Register and contacting them directly. This enables autonomy and unaccountability
the choice of successful applicant, and the stereotyped ideal recruit is white, male,
aged 30 to 40, and married, i.e. with wife, children and mortgage. This state of affairs
is difficult to change, as line managers are patriarchally elevated as the providers,
the organizations breadwinners, thus mirroring the gendered domestic division of
labour, while personnel managers and personnel advisers are equated to the
unproductive female welfare and administrative role (Collinson, 1987). This
downgrading and devaluation of the sex-typed female role (Legge, 1987) relegates
personnel managers and advisers within the organizational culture to a peripheral
position and little or no authority (Wood, 1986). The devolution of responsibility for
human resources from personnel specialists to line managers seems a rather negative
development, but even here it is possible to envisage favourable circumstances
inasmuch, as if line managers take responsibility for human resources issues, then EO
has a better chance of being treated more seriously (Liff, 1995).

This situation emerges against a macro-economic background in which the dominant
trends point to an increasingly more intense competition in a global market-place. In
UK home labour market, the 1980s period of easy recruitment due to high levels of
unemployment has given place to recruitment difficulties with current skill shortages

forecasts of a significant drop in the number of young entrants and of at least a 50%
female workforce. This situation looks bleak for those employers who fail to adopt
non-traditional methods of recruitment (Curnow, 1989), for a more proactive
recruitment strategy is required as a source of competitive advantage through a
quality workforce (Torrington & Hall, 1991), with a move towards a focus on
expected outcomes rather than procedures (Liff, 1989).

In other words, EO is not just a problem of implementation, but, in contrast,
parts of the process still need to be better understood, particularly at the
organizational level (Aitkenhead, 1991: 26). However, not just at organizational level.

What EO initiatives take place within organizations depends crucially upon how the
concept is understood by its members, and when organizational policy is translated
into operational procedures it has implications for a persons activities and hence for
his or her cognitive world, and the relationship between organizational procedures
and individual cognitive world is two-way (Ibid: 35-41). With respect to
conceptualization, a positive trend can be found in voices which value diversity (e.g.

Copeland, 1982) and managing diversity (e.g. Greenslade, 1991, Jackson, 1992)
inasmuch as this stresses positive aspects of difference with respect to ethnicity or
with respect to gender (Rosener, 1990), which suggests a favourable change of
perspective in industrial relations (Liff, 1995).

In conclusion, the past few decades have seen the development of recommendations
on recruitment and selection which challenge the traditional outlook of employment
matters as a prerogative of management decision and the prospective employee as a
relatively passive object of employers judgement. Personnel textbooks, codes of
and anti-discriminatory legislation have put the focus on EO for women, ethnic and
other disadvantaged groups. Such prescriptions appear to be seen by the employer
as a conflict of interests with his managerial strategy and a threat to his established
position of authority and privilege. This has been the reaction of the white male
manager. Some of the prescriptions themselves have been informed by the cognitive
framework of the white male culture and thus, intentionally or unintentionally,
rendered less efficient in their formulation. Others have been, and continue to be,
subverted in practice by false compliance. In either case EO principles are defeated,
and a self-reproducing phenomenon persists of acceptability over suitability in the
recruitment and selection process.
This status quo poses a complex problem which affects, more immediately, both the
recruiter and the candidate and, at a larger scale, the whole economic scene. Mainly
preoccupied with repressing change, the employer appears to be reluctant to
consider that this same change can be to his own advantage, inasmuch as it will
promote a recruitment and selection approach which could contribute not only to a
fairer but also to a more cost-effective decision making. As far as the employer is
concerned, the felt problem appears to be the outside pressure put on him to change,
while the real problem appears to be his difficulty in evolving cognitively. Managerial
refusal in a more effective staffing will have far-reaching consequencies as it will
render organizations inadequate to compete in an increasingly global market, a
problem of major repercussions, if a proactive response is not given to the need for a
quality workforce
that will guarantee competitiveness through quality goods and services.


On the supply side of the labour market the problem of discrimination has been felt
so acutely as to prompt the overall awareness that led to the recommendations in
question. A foreseable demographic change seems to favour the previously excluded
groups so
far as it may result in more of a sellers market for labour which should, in turn,
encourage the labour buyer to concentrate on outcomes rather than on procedure;
and this shift away from the focus on procedure may help reduce antagonism and
elusive compliance. Another opening can be seen in the fact that literature has
become possible on diversity as a positive asset to be profitably managed, a
development which remains, however, problematic so far as it may also be perceived
and resisted as a social issue. It is nevertheless a landmark in industrial relations
evolution in what it represents of a two-way interaction between the cognitive world
of both assessors and assessed, on one side, and, on the other, textbook
recommendations and related formal directives. However, ambiguity and
ambivalence persist at each stage of evolution and progress towards a more just and
effective management of human resources, and evidence presented above – as in the
case of Opportunity 2000 – suggests that, paradoxically and dangerously, the
promotion of objective recruitment and selection on merit is resorting, for credibility,
to being implemented within the traditional recruiters framework of

ACAS 1981: Recruitment and Selection. Advisory Booklet n 6. London: Advisory,
Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

Aitkenhead, M. & Liff, S. (1991): The Effectiveness of Equal Opportunity Policies.

In Firth-Cozens, J. & West, M A. (eds): Women at Work, Psychological and
Organizational Perspectives. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

BM 1994, The Glass Ceiling. Business Matters video Series. In Equality & Diversity
course 1994-5, Week 6. University of Warwick.

Brotherton, C. (1980): Paradigms of Selection Validation. Journal of Occupational
Psychology, 53, March, 73-9.

Clark, T. (1991): A survey and critique of selection methods used by executive
recruitment consultancies in management recruitment. Paper presented to the 1992
Occupational Psychology Conference of the British Psychological Society.

Collinson, D. (1987): The Safe-between Candidate , Personnel Management, May
Collinson D., Knights, D. & Collinson, M (1990): Managing to Discriminate.

London: Routledge.

Categories: Decision Making


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