Recruitment & Selection

Selection Strategies: Balancing Diversity and Performance

One of the greatest challenges that organizations face during the selection process is trying to hire both a diverse and high-performing workforce. Unfortunately, some of the best predictors of job performance (such as measures of cognitive ability) also tend to produce substantial differences between applicants of different races. This could result in lower hiring rates for minority groups.

The “trade-off”

This problem of trying to balance diversity initiatives with the need for a high-performing staff can be thought of as a trade-off. Traditional selection methods used to hire the best-performers can often result in a work force low in diversity. On the other hand, selection methods used to increase workforce diversity may not result in hiring the best performers. Fortunately, there are ways to manage this dilemma that allow organizations to effectively balance the needs of hiring diverse and high-caliber workers. One of the most effective ways of dealing with this problem is to address it through the selection system – the organization’s method for selecting new employees.

Single stage selection vs. multistage selection

There are two basic types of selection systems. Single stage selection strategies are selection methods that use only a single phase of selection. This type of selection system might look something like this:
Stage 1: All applicants take a cognitive abilities test. Those who score satisfactorily on this test are hired.
A second example of a single stage selection strategy would be a strategy in which scores from a cognitive abilities test are combined with scores on a personality test to make a decision about hiring. Although two tests are used, this is still a single-stage strategy because only one decision is made about which employees will be hired. In contrast, a multistage selection strategy is one in which multiple decisions are made over time about which employees will be hired. An example of such a strategy might take the form of:
Stage 1: Administer integrity test to all applicants. Applicants who pass the test move on to Stage 2. Stage 2: Administer a cognitive abilities test to applicants who pass Stage 1. Applicants who score satisfactorily on the Stage 2 test are hired.
Another example of a multistage selection system could be: applicants take a personality test, and those who “make the grade” move on to an interview phase of the hiring process.

Best in practice

Single stage selection strategies are generally less effective than multistage selection strategies at balancing performance and diversity. Single stage strategies tend to maximize performance, but often result in very low minority selection rates. Generally, there will be some trade-off between performance and diversity. However, research has shown that using a multistage selection strategy can help organizations strike a critical balance between hiring high performers and hiring a diverse workforce.

Factors to Consider

There is no hard and fast “rule” about which specific tests to include in your selection system. This will depend on factors such as the proportion of minority applicants, the size of your applicant pool, and the selection ratios used at each phase of the selection process. The specific multistage selection system you use should be designed to fit the needs of the specific job, organization, or industry. The same selection system will not be suitable for all situations. Practical considerations you take into account should include:
  • Knowledge, skills, abilities, and other attributes (KSAOs).Each position has a unique set of KSAOs that are required in order to perform the job effectively. Take this into account when deciding which selection measures to use. The organization should select a particular sample of KSAOs to assess, such as cognitive ability, integrity, or specific job-related skills.
  • Cost and time.Some selection procedures are more costly or time consuming than others. Consider an interview; interviews are time intensive and therefore a costly method of selecting candidates. In most situations, it would be practical for an organization to use an interview in the final stages of the hiring process, when fewer candidates remain.
  • Logistical constraints. There are other practical considerations that can influence decisions made about the structure of your selection system. For example, if the job you are hiring for requires a minimum level of performance on a particular skill, it would be impractical to conduct interviews in the first phase, when it is unclear if each of the candidates even possesses the minimum skill level required to perform the duties of the position. In this case, it would be more practical to first determine which candidates possess the minimum skill level, and then conduct interviews with those candidates.
In summary, you can improve the performance-diversity trade off in your organization by employing a multistage selection system. However, because there is no one selection system that will work best for every job, keep in mind practical factors such as time, cost, and logistics in order to design the most effective system for your organization.

Interpretation by:

Michelle Toelle

DeGarmo Group

This was a summary of the research and practice implications from: Finch, D.M., Edwards, B.D., Wallace, J.C. (2009). Multistage selection strategies: Simulating the effects on adverse impact and expected performance for various predictor combinations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(2), 318-340.