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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
RGU moves to behavioral interviewing model
Article Type: HR at work From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 11, Issue 5
Short case studies and research papers that demonstrate best practice in HR
Lydia RossLydia Ross is based at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK.
Situated in Aberdeen, North-east Scotland, Robert Gordon University (RGU) delivers more than 300 courses to approximately 16,500 full and part-time students from 120 countries in subjects as varied as the arts, business, engineering, pharmacy and social work. In the past decade, the university has maintained one of the best records of any UK university for graduate-level employment, and was named Best UK Modern University 2009, 2010 and 2011 by The Times, and the Best Scottish University by The Sunday Times 2011.
RGU, which employs 1,600 staff, has an annual group income of £92 million and operating costs of approximately £90 million – 58 percent being staff related. Consequently, the quality and effectiveness of our staff are of paramount importance to the success of the university.
The university’s strategy – “A Clear Future” – details our strategic priorities, to which plans for faculties, schools and support departments are aligned.
A time for change
In 2008, the HR team identified the need to enhance the university’s recruitment and selection process. Through observations, we identified that the university was endangering its chances of recruiting the right individual. Each short-listing and selection panel was made up of three to six personnel, often including individuals who lacked formal training, and who were making important decisions about staff investments likely to amount to around £200k to £400k over a period of four to five years.
We realized that our key recruiters (i.e. members of staff who lead recruitment within their respective departments) needed to conduct a more robust and auditable selection process to ensure we could satisfy one of the critical success factors of the university’s strategic plan, namely: “A workforce which is committed, resourceful and effective.”
The following targets were identified to ensure that our recruitment procedures fully met this objective:
to improve selection decisions and effectiveness of appointment outcomes;
to link recruitment to the job evaluation system that defined our role structure, and integrate the whole process on our online recruitment system;
to train around 150 key managers in behavioral interviewing techniques; and
to avoid the need to manage out poor hires and re-recruit costs.
To meet these targets, we developed a wholly-integrated approach to behavioral recruitment and selection using extensive e-learning applications.
Behavior is the key – solution selection and implementation
A key component of this shift in our recruitment model was to introduce behavioral interviewing – a model of recruitment interviewing based on discovering how the interviewee has acted in specific situations. The logic behind this model of interviewing is that, by gaining information on how an interviewee has behaved in the past, you will be better able to predict how they will behave in the future.
The initiative to shift to this new recruitment model ran from May 2009 to April 2010. While it involved the whole HR team, the initiative was spearheaded by our resourcing and organizational development specialists who managed the holistic review of the recruitment policies, procedures and processes, working with other members of the HR team and consulting widely with stakeholders. Pooling the knowledge of these two specialists ensured we had the right mix of expertise to design, develop and deliver a high impact training module.
Our pay systems specialist was brought in to analyze every job within the university and identify the top six behaviors for each role. This information was then fed into the recruitment system allowing managers to concentrate on the knowledge and experience elements when creating a job or person specification and interview plan for any job.
Delivering the training
The training, which was completed by approximately 150 senior managers and team leaders across the university, was delivered through an innovative blend of online video and audio exercises, self-assessments and skill development exercises. The online module is a six-part program that can be accessed at the convenience of the delegate in the two to three weeks prior to a classroom module.
During the day-long skills development workshop, delegates are taken through progressive skills exercises, designed to build on the online knowledge, before conducting two complete interview exercises. These include:
developing probing questions to obtain evidence of past performance;
taking objective notes that record the evidence;
assessing and scoring the evidence; and
reaching an appointment panel decision.
Delegates must achieve an agreed standard before being added to the university’s “trained interviewers” list. Around 20 percent require further coaching on a one-to-one basis from the resourcing specialist or through their HR client partner until such time as they achieve the required standard.
The design and implementation of the initiative was largely smooth and delivered on schedule without incident. The most significant challenge posed to the team came one month before the commencement of training.
Originally, the training program comprised a series of classroom modules delivered over two consecutive days. Feedback from senior management, however, advised that staff would not be able to be released for two full days. Consequently, the resourcing and organizational development specialists immediately began exploring the use of e-learning to deliver part of the training, namely the rational, underpinning knowledge and skills development. This allowed for a full day of material to be transferred from the classroom to the online learning environment, thereby meeting senior management approval to proceed.
While challenging in the short term, given that the online modules needed to be created within three weeks, this situation gave rise to a more robust and integrated model of training delivery that has consequently been meet with widespread approval from participants.
Since embarking on our campaign to implement this cultural shift in recruitment practice, we have trained over 200 managers – including the top management team. The exercise has resulted in the following outcomes:
It has elevated the importance of the recruitment and selection process across the whole organization.
Expenditure on recruitment has fallen by around 30 percent from £310k in 2008/2009 and to £212k in 2009/2010. While not the sole reason for this drop, the exercise made a significant contribution.
Turnover has reduced from 9 percent (2008/2009) to 7 percent (2009/2010), which is partly connected to this change project.
Short-listing has become more efficient. The time taken from creation of the job online to offer has reduced from 47 days (2008/2009) to 41 days (2009/2010), compared to the higher education industry average of 60 days.
We are now recruiting most jobs at first attempt. In 2008/2009 7 percent of our jobs were re-advertised. This figure has now reduced to less than 1 percent (2009/2010).
Associated policy changes specified smaller, more effective interview panels, conducted by at least two trained behavioral interviewers. The emphasis is now on the ability of the individuals on the panel rather than the number.
Following the introduction of behaviors into selection, they have now been integrated into a new performance review process. This means that we are consistently using the same behaviors to recruit and to assess performance, and identify areas for development at all stages of an individual’s career with RGU.
The structured behavioral interview assessment allows RGU to provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates in a constructive and consistent manner. It also allows us to remove this workload from line managers and bring it into HR to ensure consistency.
As an unforeseen result, the exercise has created the potential for revenue-generation opportunities for the university. Thus far we have been approached by an external organization about the development and delivery of tailored recruitment training; and another university enquired about purchasing an unlimited license for the online module.
As a team, our work on this initiative has been recognized with two prestigious awards (one regional and one national) and placed us as finalists in a further national award.
This methodology has been replicated with other university initiatives such as a new employee performance review process and a leaders and managers skills toolkit, plus data protection and health and safety training. One faculty has started using behavioral techniques to assess students.
In summary, this new recruitment approach ensures that we select the right candidate for the post and present ourselves professionally throughout the application process. The exercise has generated greater understanding and closer working relationships across stakeholders and at all levels in the HR team, which enhances the HR role as we move into unprecedented times of change ahead.
About the author
Lydia Ross is Head of Human Resources for Robert Gordon University, managing a team of 20 HR professionals and support staff. She joined RGU in 2006 having previously held positions as HR manager within the maritime and telecommunications industries. Lydia Ross can be contacted at: email@example.com