Managing Staff Selection and Assessment

Gerald Vinten (Southampton Business School)

Managerial Auditing Journal

ISSN: 0268-6902

Article publication date: 1 August 2000



Vinten, G. (2000), "Managing Staff Selection and Assessment", Managerial Auditing Journal, Vol. 15 No. 6, pp. 319-320.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

This compact text examines the terrain through four different and sometimes conflicting perspectives:

  1. 1.

    1 strategic management;

  2. 2.

    2 psychometrics;

  3. 3.

    3 social process;

  4. 4.

    4 critical discourse analysis.

Figure 1 on page 141 provides a neat composite overview. Having then achieved this feat, it then applies each to the competence movement. Such an achievement immediately places the book informatively at the centre of debate, theory and practice, and should be recommended to final year undergraduates and postgraduates. Indeed, it would be possible to set an assignment around the book. Case studies leaven the text, and ensure the argument is well grounded.

The strategic management perspective, apart from assisting the self‐aggrandizement of the HRM function, a pretension it shares with almost every other function, has so much credibility that it almost seems an imperative. The competence movement nests within it. The psychometricians regard the competence movement as partial and under‐theorised. The retort is to castigate the psychometricians as being outmoded, maladaptive, and irrelevant, basing their approach on self‐referential positivism, and the archaic and doomed attempt to predict behaviour in stable jobs through job analysis and identifying individual differences, mainly with reference to abstract abilities and personality traits. The antecedents of psychometrics in the behaviouralism of Watson and Skinner, the underpinning of the British class system, and the educational application through Binet and Burt leading to the dubious reorganisation of the British educational system in 1944, might well give pause for reflection. The questionable assumptions are:

  • that people do not change much;

  • that job content does not change much and is readily identifiable;

  • that job performance is measurable;

  • that the key purpose of assessment is to predict job performance.

With portfolio careers, the notion of the job as a stable and discreet bundle of tasks appears less sustainable. Psychometrics, far from being neutral and scientific, is governed by political, social and legal pressures and agendas. It has been much challenged in the USA on equal opportunities grounds.

The social process model stems from European social psychology and interactionist sociology, rather than American differential psychology. It seeks less to predict job performance than to understand “the relationships between applicant, recruiter, assessment instrument, organization, and the micro and macro social context in which assessment is conducted”. (p. 80) Observation and interviews with applicants and recruiters, either in the laboratory (favoured in the USA) or the field (favoured in Europe) are the norm, and terms such as identity, interaction, impact and culture commonplace. Major national survey evidence is outlined in the dedicated chapter.

Critical discourse analysis examines the interplay of power, knowledge and practice. It is able to sit back and regard all models as forms of discourse. Such postmodernism, far from being indeterminate and destabilising, engenders a refreshing rebuttal to those who make absolute claims to this or that approach, or are uncritical camp followers of fads and fancies, as currently applies, for example, to the Department of Education and Employment, firmly in the grip of psychometrics to the detriment of recruiting those valuable applicants who fail to pass through the expensive and skewed hoops. If the book brings about much needed reappraisal it will have served its purpose.

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