What is a conflict of interest in recruitment and selection?

A conflict of interest is when your private interests interfere, or appear to interfere, with the performance of official duties.

All employees involved in recruitment and selection decisions have an obligation to put the public interest first by selecting the most meritorious candidate for appointment in a fair and unbiased way. Recruitment and selection decisions must not be influenced by self-interest, private affiliations or the likelihood of personal gain or loss.

Practical resources to support employees and managers to declare conflicts of interest are available below.

Establish a selection panel

Determine the contact person, chairperson, and panel members, and meet to discuss process and expectations. To assist with expediting recruitment timeframes and good candidate care, the panel should be established and selection activities and dates planned prior to the commencement of advertising for the role.

The directive does not specify the number of people required for a panel Consideration should be given to ensuring the panel has diverse backgrounds and experience. Each panel member should have a detailed understanding of the requirements of the role.

Composition of the panel is commensurate with the role profile and the expertise of the panel members.

Selection panel chairperson responsibilities

The panel chairperson is responsible for ensuring good governance of the selection process to ensure the most meritorious candidate is recommended for appointment. The panel chairperson should:

  • guide the panel in determining appropriate selection methods
  • lead the selection process in an open and transparent way, ensuring effective and bias free decision making that meets legislative and policy requirements
  • ensure all panel members declare potential, perceived or actual conflicts of interest or the absence of these
  • prepare selection documentation for delegate consideration
  • ensure all required pre-employment checks including referee checks are undertaken
  • provide feedback to applicants.

The panel chairperson is not the decision maker. The panel chair has equal weight in assessment of applicants to other panel members.

Selection panel member responsibilities including chairperson

  • disclose any prior knowledge of applicants or conflicts of interest
  • understand the role requirements
  • actively participate in all selection activities
  • conduct an objective, valid and fair assessment of all applicants
  • raise any concerns of wrongdoing or corrupt conduct eg nepotism
  • maintain confidentiality and ensure the retention and security of all documentation.

Delegate to approve

You should ensure the delegate to approve is not a member of the panel.

Delegate responsibilities:

  • ensure the selection documentation meets legislative and policy requirements
  • make decisions about resolving panel member conflicts of interest
  • make appointment decisions by approving/not approving the recommendations in the selection report, or advising of further assessment activities required
  • ensure appointees meet employment screening requirements
  • ensure appointment decisions are within budget and FTE caps.

Declaring conflicts of interest

All panel members and delegates approving appointment decisions must complete the mandatory Declaration form–conflicts of interest in recruitment and selection (PDF, 1.5 MB) to declare any actual, perceived or potential conflicts of interest for a recruitment process they are involved in, or to confirm that no conflict of interest exists.

A conflict of interest may include:

  • any professional and/or personal relationship with an applicant or another person involved in the recruitment and selection process which may lead to a conflict of interest such as prior knowledge of an applicant from a supervisory relationship
  • any connection with an applicant or another person involved in the recruitment and selection process which may give rise to a conflict of interest. For example, any affiliations to an applicant other than professional or personal relationship.

The mandatory Declaration form–conflicts of interest in recruitment and selection (PDF, 1.5 MB) must be completed:

  • for all recruitment and selection processes conducted in accordance with the Recruitment and selection (Directive 12/20), including where a chief executive exempts a vacancy from advertising or elects to limit the advertising to a certain cohort
  • by all panel members, upon receipt of all applications for the vacancy (including any late applications), prior to the commencement of selection activities
  • by person/s conducting merit assessments in cases of vacancies approved for limited or exemption from advertising (where a formal panel isn't established)
  • at any other time during a recruitment and selection process that a new conflict of interest or amendment to an existing conflict of interest is identified.

All forms must be signed by the appropriate delegate to confirm how the conflict of interest will be managed, or to confirm that no conflict of interest exists.

If a conflict of interest has been declared, the panel should take no further action regarding the recruitment and selection process until advised by the appropriate delegate.

Actions to manage a declared conflict of interest may include:

  • determining that there is no conflict of interest and no action is required
  • monitoring or restricting a panel member's involvement in the process
  • removing a panel member from the process
  • identifying an alternative delegated decision maker.

Once the mandatory Declaration Form has been completed, the agency's declaration of interests policy and procedure must be followed, including the process for recording and storing conflict of interest declarations.

Where a conflict of interest has been declared, the panel chair must be advised of the delegate's determination, including the decisions about how to manage the conflict. This information should also be included in the selection report.

Failure to declare and appropriately manage a conflict of interest can amount to misconduct or breach of the Code of Conduct, or considered corrupt conduct.

Prior knowledge of applicant

Panel members with prior knowledge of applicants should disclose this to the panel chair and declare this to the delegate by completing the Declaration form–conflicts of interest in recruitment and selection (PDF, 1.5 MB) .

Where a professional relationship also has a personal aspect such as a friendship at or outside of work, this must be disclosed also.

The delegate to approve the appointment may also have prior knowledge of the applicant/s recommended for appointment. As part of considering selection documentation, delegates must consider and declare the existence or absence of any conflict of interest. In circumstances where a conflict of interest arises, the delegate must not proceed with approving the appointment unless a relevant senior delegate is satisfied that the conflict is resolved in the public interest.

Details of prior knowledge and conflict of interest decisions should be included in the selection report.

Merit assessment must take into consideration all merit information before the selection panel. Any prior knowledge should be considered by the panel during the merit assessment, ensuring objectivity is always maintained.

Where the prior knowledge of an applicant is adverse and influences affects the selection outcome, natural justice should be afforded by providing the applicant details of the adverse information and given the opportunity to respond.

Diversity considerations

Consider inclusion and diversity requirements, including any cultural matters that could influence the candidate's performance, and the panel's ability to best assess each candidate's suitability for the role.

Use of recruiting agencies

Recruiting agencies can provide valuable assistance in recruitment processes, for example, assisting in developing attraction strategies and identifying talent; performing psychometric testing; or supporting recruitment for roles with large volumes of applications.

Some recruiting agencies also provide services to individuals, for example, executive coaching services. A conflict of interest occurs where the recruiting agency is providing services for a recruitment process and an applicant in that process is a person to whom they have provided or are providing services. In that situation, the conflict of interest must be declared and steps must be put in place to manage the conflict.

Recruiting agencies, for each recruiting process they are involved in, should be asked to declare that no actual or perceived conflicts of interest arise.

Case studies

Notable appeal decisions