What Really Grinds My Gears? Recruitment Versus Selection

Composed by: Stephanie Marberry, PhD

You know what really grinds my gears?…Lindsay Lohan….just kidding!The focus of this discussion is on the difference in the distinction between recruitment and selection. Some of you may say there is no difference, some of you may say that they are completely different processes, and the rest of you may say who the heck cares!


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The truth is that some terminology resonates better with business professionals than others. Certain words, like recruiter, carry a particular stigma because there is a certain perception that the recruitment industry does not add value. In my world this is not always the case, some of my best clients are recruiters and my partner for the past 2.5 years owned her own staffing firm and was a recruiter! Where the distinction exists is when recruiters incorporate selection into the hiring process. However, I have witnessed that no one really understands what the term selection means and why it is different from the recruiting process.

There is a distinct difference between the way companies define recruitment. What I have heard from senior executives, and hiring managers is that recruitment by a 3rd party is a process where people or resumes are thrown at them without any regard to quality or fit. This is not always the case but somehow this is the perception that exists. I have even heard the term head hunters, which creates even more of a negative connotation implying that anyone is fair game!!!! When we talk about 3rd party recruiters I do think one bad apple has spoiled the bunch. The 3rd party recruiters that I have been working with are actively looking to incorporate selection into their process in order to become a true partner with their clients.

So what’s the real difference between recruitment and selection besides the fact that one word carries bad rap? When I teach on the topic of Industrial-Organizational Psychology there is not much emphasis placed on the science or strategy behind recruitment. In fact there are only a few pages dedicated to a discussion on recruitment in most textbooks. Recruitment is defined as a process to increase the pool of job applicants that meet the organization’s legal and social obligations thereby also increasing the success rate of the selection process. In the classroom I discuss various ways to source candidates and the effect that specific messages or people might have on the candidate’s first impression of the company. So the strategy surrounds different ways to find and attract the most candidates for the job and company.

What is emphasized in the world of Industrial Psychology is the idea of personnel or human resource selection. Human Resource selection involves a scientific process that begins with the development of a selection program which includes a full job analysis where the tasks, resources, work environment, and performance measures that characterize the job are defined. The creation of a selection program also involves the identification of worker characteristics required (i.e., knowledge, skills, and abilities), the development of various assessment devices (e.g., tests, interviews, personality and behavioral measures), and the validation of these devices (e.g., does the measure predict performance on the job). In the end the selection process should allow a company to systematically collect and combine information from valid selection instruments to make hiring decisions that result in top performers to drive the company’s efficiency and effectiveness. Companies can even take this one step further by evaluating and monitoring their selection process through a utility analysis or with other ROI forms of measurement (i.e., turnover, profitability, satisfaction, engagement).

As a consultant for KeenHire I find myself involved in both recruitment and selection and I see that they are highly inter-related (you can’t have one without the other!). So why does this gap have to exist where recruitment is offered separately from selection? These are distinct terms but they should not be offered independently. Further, selection is the necessary piece in making the right hire and if is not conducted appropriately it can lead to negative outcomes. Both corporations and recruiters who are not incorporating a selection system into their hiring process need to look at what it is costing them. For corporations it might be wasted time, money and resources hiring and developing an employee who is not the right fit and does not make any impact on the job. For recruiters it might be lost business due to less expensive alternatives that deliver the same results because they do not offer anything different than the competition.

So is it truly a lack of awareness about the distinction between recruitment and selection or is there some other reason why selection is under-utilized? I am still struggling to find the appropriate answer to this question but in any event, it grinds my gears!!!