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What type of fit are we looking for? The selection issue

We all want people who work for us to be engaged and productive. We want them to stay (for the most part) and to fit in. The way in which selection is conducted has been debated for decades.

Questions we ask ourselves during selection

Do I get the most intelligent? Am I looking for the best personality? What about the most likeable? Do I want a combination of all three? Is there something else I am missing? And what about the industry in which I work? Surely that merits a mention too. Can a high flying lawyer in the corporate world adapt to the demands in the not for profit sector? You see, the ‘best’ person may not always be the ‘right’ person. The ‘right’ person needs to be ‘right’ for my business and the people who work there. But how do I assess this?

Changing eras of selection

We have made decisions over the years on a number of criteria. A recent article in HBR talked about the eras of selection, from prioritising physical attributes (fit, healthy and strong), to intelligence, to personality to ‘potential’. And what about our ability to make the ‘right’ decisions at crucial times for the organisation?

It is interesting still to note that Fortune 500 CEOs are ‘on average 2.5 inches taller than the average American’! Which means despite selecting for all the reasons we would like, there is something about physical attributes which still subconsciously applies.

Prior to your search for a new staff member you will want to understand your organisational culture. Recruiting a person with the best ‘potential’ is fine, but if they do not understand your values and culture, or do not deomonstrate that they want to be a part of this, then you will be selecting the wrong person.

Know the values you want your organisation to project. Values are the precursors to norms of behaviour in the workplace. What does your organisation represent? What type of people would like to work here? The organisational culture is about ‘how we do things around here’. This can be determined through survey, team discussions/workshops etc. The person we are selecting must have congruent values to our organisation and be keen to work with the culture. If we can do this then we will have employees who:

  • have greater job satisfaction
  • identify more with your company
  • are more likely to remain with your organisation
  • are more committed
  • show superior job performance. (Kristof-Brown (2005)

We must also be careful of commons errors in selection. These are called biases. Examples of some biases include:

Naivety bias

Only looking at emotions or personality to make decisions. The interviewee in effect ‘wins’ the interviewer over and decisions are based on gut feel. Counter: Ask fact based questions then compare with intuition.

Halo effect bias

Seeing someone as being perfect for the role without asking the hard questions. Counter: Remove emotion and ask questions as though interviewee is a consultant.

Confirmation bias

We only seek information that confirms preconceived ideas and hypotheses. So we interpret information a certain way to minimise any shortcomings the interviewee may present with. Counter: Prepare questions and ask them. Don’t skip questions just because you are drawn to that person.

Stereotyping bias

We all have own beliefs and assumptions, and we unconsciously tend to associate a set of characteristics with a certain group. So if the interviewee is of a certain race/ height/weight/religion and you have a particular (negative) attitude toward that characteristic, your assumptions may be formed prior to or at start of interview. Counter: Have others in the interview panel. Do not make decisions on selection until 24 hours later. Weigh up all available information.

Think about how these decisions can affect your business.


As stated earlier, focus on selection has shifted away from physical attributes, intelligence and personality. We look at cultural fit. We look at potential. And we look at the ability to make the right decisions at the right time.