Recruitment – Baiting the line for the big fish

Last February, Dr Jane Harvey-Cook and Richard Taffler of the City to throw back. ATC’s Richard Colley says they should cast the line more accurately. University Business School challenged the profession with the suggestion that high trainee drop-out rates are the result of poor recruitment practice.

Financial training company ATC has decided to pick up the gauntlet. Harvey-Cook and Taffler drew attention to the steady trainee wastage rate.

They revealed evidence that application forms, if appropriately treated, can radically reduce the likelihood of firms recruiting students who may fail examinations and then leave as a result.

Quantifying applications

They described a statistical model they had developed for screening applications and compared model performance with actual decisions made by firms. The evidence was clear: selectors are not able to make accurate judgements, based on application forms, about who to bring for interview.

Almost half of the good candidates (41%) were not even called for interview and only 25% of those who were interviewed were recruited. More mediocre and poor candidates were interviewed than good ones. In fact, firms interviewed as many of those with a high risk of failure as those with a high likelihood of success.

Poor recruitment methods result in trainee distress, disruption to both the individual and the firm, and mounting costs. But what is being done to address the problem? Is the profession crying crocodile tears?

There has to be an accurate scoring system. ATC, in conjunction with Dr Harvey-Cook, has developed a software package called Gradscore which is based on a complex, statistical model that can, in effect, remove the need for the notorious preliminary interview because the model makes far more accurate judgements.

After extensive trials, Gradscore has been proven to reduce the number of students failing exams from 25% to 14%. If each trainee costs #4,600 to recruit, as suggested by the Kadence UK Survey 1997, the potential for financial savings gained by using Gradscore is enormous.

Peter Anderson, the newly appointed MD of ATC UK, said: ‘Gradscore is a tried-and-tested recruitment tool that is objective in the way it identifies students who can pass examinations. It symbolises our commitment to providing a first-class, innovative service.’

What is preventing the revolution? While Gradscore can indicate, with a high degree of accuracy, the likelihood of an applicant being able to pass examinations, each individual still has to be assessed in terms of how well they will fit into the firm or office to which they are applying.

Traditionally, this is the role of the second and third interviews, usually carried out by senior members of the practice. Unfortunately, these have not proved to be reliable. The majority of interviews conducted by firms are unstructured and not specifically related to the work or the firm’s particular environment. This is a recipe for recruitment disaster.

Even where firms insist they use structured interviews, the ‘structure’ is usually a simple list of questions with no indication of how they relate to the reality of the work and no indication of what constitutes poor, good and excellent responses.

Without it, the interview will never offer any measure of accuracy and cannot enable the selector to make valid and accurate comparisons between candidates.

Unfortunately, while professional accountants will admit they are not recruitment specialists, there is extreme reluctance to admit they may not be efficient recruiters.

The old phrase: ‘Well, our record is no worse than that of other graduate recruiters,’ simply won’t wash.

Selection practice hits careers

Recruitment practices have a major impact on the early careers of young people and firms commit very considerable resources to the recruitment function – the Kadence survey indicated that graduate trainers may pay out up to #60,000 per graduate before they get a return on their investment.

It must be in the firms’ and the profession’s interest to ensure that best practice is adopted but, patently, this is not currently the case. Preliminary and secondary interviews are still conducted in the same way every year. There is a feeling that, as excellent judges of character, accountants can recognise a good candidate when they see them at interview. We would all like to believe it but the evidence says otherwise.

It makes sense to seek evidence of the particular skills that are essential for chartered accountancy, for example group working, individual working and personal integrity. These characteristics are not easily exposed at interview, but require different tests and specifically developed measures. In short, they require expert input.

ATC has taken up the challenge to improve the way graduates are selected for training contracts. With an international reputation as one of the world’s largest providers of finance training, ATC has collaborated with Dr Harvey-Cook and developed a series of measures that, together with Gradscore, will provide firms with a best practice selection system.

This new approach to recruitment has much to recommend it. The screening service considerably reduces the number of applications considered viable for selection. The mix of selection strategies available to recruiters will further reduce the pool to only those with the very best chance of success in both examination and practice-work teams.

Finally, the firm will be supported in conducting a selection interview designed to effect the best match between candidate and firm/

office. This means a fairer deal for graduate applicants and a more productive professin.

Richard Colley is marketing manager for ATC Ltd.

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