Best Hiring Practices? Read the Guidelines

Sep 8, 2004

The 1978 Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures: Do you know how they affect you? Your job? Your organization? Not just in the U.S., but in any country? Anyone involved in hiring or promotions ó be they employed by a vendor or corporation, whether individual or group ó who does not know the Guidelines thoroughly should seriously consider a career in the rapidly growing field of lawn maintenance. By the way, although the Guidelines are published by the Department of Labor and are a product of the Civil Rights Act and its various amendments, I tend to refer to the Guidelines as part of the EEOC. It is not technically correct, but helps makes the point. Q: Why are the guidelines important? The Guidelines are best practices. They:

  • Define how to identify competencies based on both job requirements and business necessity
  • Describe how to hire only the most qualified people
  • Ensure every applicant is treated professionally and equitably
  • Keep the applicant pool as diverse and large as possible
  • Warn against harmful vendor practices
  • Describe how to make sure tests accurately predict performance

Q: Do I have to follow them? No. Any organization can screw it up all by themselves by not following the Guidelines. However, if an organization is ever sued for discriminatory hiring or placement practices, the Guidelines will be used against them in court. Possibly worse, the organization will continue to promote more unqualified people. Think of hiring as a screen door. Most organizations think a mesh that screens out 50% of the pests is normal. The Guidelines show organizations how to reduce the mesh size to where it screens out around 90%. Q: Won’t testing affect diversity? The testing advocated by the Guidelines only screens out diversity of skills, not diversity of age, gender, race or any other protected class. Q: Isn’t it true that few hiring lawsuits are lost? That is good news and bad news. Unless you are a big-name target, few organizations “lose” hiring lawsuits. Instead, EEOC-challenged firms tend to spend millions on attorneys and settlements (see And that is not the bad news. The bad news is organizations that ignore best practices squander about 50% of their payroll each year through turnover, low productivity, shrinkage, mistakes, wasted training, and so forth. Q: Aren’t I exempt because I’m a third-party recruiter? Recruiters who think they are exempt from the Guidelines are usually the same ones who broke into the business a few years ago. There is even a separate section for these folks in the Guidelines (60-3.10):

An employment agency, including private employment agencies and State employment agencies, which agrees to a request by an employer or labor organization to devise and utilize a selection procedure should follow the standards in these guidelines for determining adverse impact.

Q: Isn’t this section only related to adverse impact? Did we mention the cost of bad hires and promotions? Let’s put it another way: Guidelines = Best Practices = Legal Practices = Best Employees. Get the point? Q: Is this really HR’s responsibility? Let’s see. HR positions itself as the “human resources” department. Recruiters position themselves as professional skilled-applicant finders. Both recruiters and HR gripe about not getting executive respect. I guess the engineering department is not responsible for engineering and the purchasing department is not responsible for purchasing? There must be some message here? Q: What if my vendor assures me its tests are valid? There comes a time in everyone’s life when we have to admit both Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny don’t really exist. Here is what the Guidelines have to say about vendor claims:

Under no circumstances will the general reputation of a test or other selection procedures, its author or its publisher, or casual reports of its validity, be accepted in lieu of evidence of validity… Specifically ruled out are: assumptions of validity based on a procedure’s name or descriptive labels; all forms of promotional literature; data bearing on the frequency of a procedure’s usage; testimonial statements and credentials of sellers, users, or consultants; and other non-empirical or anecdotal accounts of selection practices or selection outcomes.

Q: But what about using the same test in other organizations? Technically, this is called “transportability.” Officially, I have yet to work with a company that does not insist on the one hand that it is “unique,” while on the other hand complaining it is “identical.” So what is it? Unique or identical? The EEOC has a “suggestion.” That is, do a job analysis on Job A, compare it with a job analysis on Job B, and let the data decide if they are similar. (Go figure! Something good from the same folks who waste our tax dollars!) Q: Isn’t it too much work to follow the Guidelines? Which part, exactly, is too much work?

  • Learning all we can about the job requirements before staring a search?
  • Having proof our tests really predict job performance?
  • Making sure we don’t screen out qualified applicants?
  • Not following best practices?

Did we mention the costs of making a bad hiring or promotion decision? Professionals follow the Guidelines. Why? They produce the best people. They help organizations conform to federal laws. They maximize the applicant pool. They reduce turnover. They produce the highest quality people. They treat everyone equitably. Read the Guidelines. They just might help build business.

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