Design the selection process

The two most common tools used for assessing applicants for public sector roles are written responses to role descriptions (key attributes or selection criteria) and interviews. While commonly used, these methods are not mandatory and may not necessarily be the most effective selection approach for predicting future job performance—there are many options available:

Certain methods suit specific types of recruitment, while combining a variety of methods may increase the effectiveness of the selection process by ensuring a balanced assessment of candidates to find the best fit for the role and the agency.

Regardless of the methods chosen, recruitment processes must only seek to assess applicants on the basis of skills, knowledge and abilities that are directly attributable to the occupational requirements of the role.

Assessment methods should be agreed by the panel at the commencement of the recruitment process, with consideration given to additional methods to be used if required.

Chosen assessment methods should be consistently conducted for all applicants at each stage of the process, with clear instructions provided. It is important that the panel has a shared understanding of what applicants must demonstrate during each stage of assessment in order to be considered suitable for the role.

Skill sample tests

  • Assess candidate job skills through performance of tasks similar to those performed on the job.
  • Behaviour in work sample tests are a good predictor of actual on-the-job behaviour.
  • might include computer activities (e.g. editing a document, analysing data, scheduling diaries etc.)
  • High reliability and validity.
  • Cost effective.

When to use

  • Can be used for a range of roles and generally administered at interview.


  • Relatively cost effective to design and implement.

Cognitive ability tests (verbal, abstract, and numerical reasoning)

  • Standardised tests that assess different aspects of candidate intelligence including verbal, numerical, critical thinking and problem solving skills.
  • Type of tests conducted are based on functions of the role and are administered under exam conditions.
  • Candidate scores are compared against benchmark scores for similar applicant roles.
  • Can be administered in group settings where many applicants can complete it at once.
  • Tests can be automatically scored through computer programs.
  • Cost effective.
  • High reliability and validity.

When to use

  • As a screening tool for highly competitive jobs e.g. graduate recruitment—in this instance only the high performers are invited to participate in an interview.
  • To assess capabilities for developmental purposes e.g. leadership development.
  • Seldom used in isolation.


  • Typically non-minority groups score higher than minority groups—this may result in adverse impact depending on how the scores are used in the selection process.

Job knowledge tests

  • Standardised multiple-choice questionnaires or essay type questions that assess candidate technical knowledge of the job.
  • These tests can sometimes include theoretical questions.

When to use

  • Typically used in highly technical roles such as technicians, fitters, and mechanics and those designing, building and maintaining machines.


  • High validity test for knowledge, but does not measure the candidate's interpersonal, leadership or communication skills.
  • Could be used to exclude candidates where role-specific knowledge can be reasonably learnt on the job.

Assessment centres

  • Candidates' knowledge, skills, and abilities are assessed through a series of work samples and exercises that reflect the job content and types of problems faced on the job (e.g. can include in-basket exercises, group activities, role-plays, presentations, and media interviews).
  • The activities in assessment centres are designed so candidates are required to perform the behaviour and underlying characteristics necessary in the advertised role.
  • Allows observers, organisational staff and / or consultant psychologists to see how applicants deal with different scenarios in a practical setting.
  • Behaviour in assessment centres are a good predictor of actual on-the-job behaviour, reactions and interpersonal interactions under pressure.
  • Assessment centres tend to involve more steps to other recruitment methods, which contributes to higher validity and reliability.

When to use

  • Usually follow the initial interview.
  • Used for graduate recruitment.
  • Used for selecting middle and senior managers.
  • Used for large volumes of recruitment.
  • Can also be used for leadership development.


  • Expensive to design and implement.
  • Moderate reliability and validity.

Structured behavioural interview

  • Uses a standard set of questions to assess candidates' interpersonal, communication and leadership / team skills.
  • The interview also allows for the interviewer to explore the candidates' work experience and knowledge.
  • Uses the principle that past behaviour is a good predictor of future job performance.
  • Structured does not mean that the interview is a mechanical process. Rather it refers to the consistency and intensity of the initial questions across candidates for the same role.

When to use

  • Most common form of assessment tool used for recruitment and selection.
  • Allows the panel to gain a sense of the applicants' interpersonal skills and approach.


  • Interviewer evaluations tend to be subjective.
  • Decisions can be influenced by interviewer biases e.g. stereotypes.
  • Interviewer myth that a structured interview requires all candidates be asked the exact same questions. Follow-up and additional questions that explore candidate differences are appropriate.
  • Not as reliable as other approaches, but if done well and in addition to other selection methods the validity and reliability of structured interviews can be quite high.

Situational judgement tests and integrity test

  • Measure a variety of soft skills by presenting individuals with short scenarios as well as a number of responses. Candidates are asked to choose the best response for that scenario or to rank the responses in order of most appropriate to least appropriate.
  • Can measure a number of skills and perceptions including leadership, team work, values, and safety.
  • SJTs measuring teamwork skills and multiple personality characteristics tend to be the best predictors of job performance.
  • Cost effective and standardised.
  • Require proper mapping of competencies that you are looking for in the role. Mapping of competencies will increase the reliability and validity of the assessment.

When to use

  • Used in graduate, management and supervisory recruitment.


  • Moderate reliability, but scores on SJTs do not necessarily reflect 'actual' behaviour of the candidate.
  • Poorly designed tests may give transparent responses and fail to identify superior workplace performance.
  • Applicants may be forced to select a response they do not agree with if there is a small range of available responses.

Formal presentation

  • Requires the applicants to prepare a formal presentation to the panel on a key aspect of the role. Details are often provided 48 hours prior to the presentation.

When to use

  • Often used to complement interviews.
  • Helpful when assessing communication and interpersonal skills.


  • Risk of third parties contributing to the presentation.
  • Valid when role has a strong focus on interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Moderate reliability and validity if presentation and communication skills are a good predictor of actual on the job behaviour.

Personality tests

  • These are standardised tests that assess the candidate's way of doing things and how they interact with other people and their environment.
  • Specifically, personality tests measure aspects of a candidate's personality such as emotional stability, openness to experience, conscientiousness, agreeableness and extraversion.
  • Can be administered in group settings where many applicants can complete it at once, can be administered online or remotely.
  • Some applicants may need supervision during completion of tests, others do not.
  • Tests can be automatically scored through computer programs.
  • May result in lower turnover if applicants are selected for traits highly correlated with employees who have high longevity within the organisation.
  • Can reveal more information about applicant's abilities and interests.

When to use

  • Can identify interpersonal traits that may be needed for certain jobs e.g. pilots, paramedics or firefighters.
  • Seldom used in isolation.


  • Applicant's training and experience may have greater impact on job performance than applicant's personality. However, applicant's personality can predict whether they are able to learn new skills.
  • Can be a costly process for interpretation and reporting of results.
  • Moderate reliability and validity if taken in isolation.

Unstructured interview

  • Uses questions that vary from candidate to candidate and / or interviewer to assess the interpersonal, communication, and leadership / team skills.
  • The interview also allows for the interviewer to explore the candidates work experience and knowledge.

When to use

  • Avoid using for recruitment and selection purposes.


  • Low reliability and validity.
  • Decisions can be influenced by interviewer biases.
  • No standardisation between interviews with different candidates / interviewers—therefore difficult to make an accurate and informed decision as to the best candidate.

Referee checks

  • Provide information about an applicant's past performance or measure the accuracy of an applicant's statements on their resume or in interviews by discussing the candidate with their previous employer or colleague who has experience working with the candidate.
  • Referee checks must be undertaken for applicants recommended for appointment, or for those included on an order of merit.
  • The panel is responsible for determining when during the selection process referee checking is to be conducted. For non-public sector applicants, it is important to take into account the possible impacts of seeking references at an early stage.
  • Unless there are extenuating circumstances, at least one referee is to have thorough knowledge of the applicant's work behaviour, conduct and performance within the previous two years.
  • Referee reports are not to be scored.

When to use

  • Most commonly used tool to confirm applicant's work history and performance with former work colleagues and managers.
  • Can be used at any time in the selection process.


  • Can be unreliable at times—knowledge of the applicant can be limited, biased or inaccurate.
  • When executed well can be highly reliable and valid.
  • Referee checks are usually the last task completed in the recruitment process.
  • Asking appropriate questions of referees in combination with other recruitment methods can reduce these limitations.