[IPAC-List] What is "suitability"?

Mark Hammer Mark.Hammer at psc-cfp.gc.ca
Wed Jun 16 10:54:48 EDT 2010

I was reading the latest report from the Merit Systems Protection Board ( http://www.mspb.gov/studies/index.htm ) this morning on the bus, and the term "suitability" came up, in reference to candidates. We use the term "personal suitability" here too in the Canadian federal context. We find in our manager surveys that "personal suitability or match to the work team" routinely comes up as very important candidate characteristics in the selection decisions of hiring managers, almost as important as "abilities or skills", and generally has more importance (at least as managers tell us), than candidates themselves think it has. My previous director told me once that what he looks for is someone "who won't blow up in his face".

Now, that is not a criticism of the concept. But at the same time, many view it as a kind of fudge factor in making selection decisions, and something that can be amenable to personal bias or even discrimination working its way into selection. The statement "Just not...right...for this work unit" can have many meanings.

So my question to you folks is "How is the concept of 'suitability' addressed in hiring in your organization or experience?". Is it used as a substitute for personality tests you haven't gotten around to developing, purchasing, or using, but simulate through structured interviews? Is it a way of obscuring things you would rather not have to say to a candidate because they are unpleasant and confrontational? Is it possible to dimensionalize it in some way so that there is more accountability for its use and consistency in its meaning across hiring managers and processes, or so that it provides helpful feedback to unsuccessful candidates? Can we make "suitability" a sturdier construct to use in selection?

When people say that a candidate is "suitable" or a "good fit", what exactly do they mean? And do managers like it when test scores do the heavy lifting in selection because they don't want anyone to call them out on what they mean by "suitable"? (i.e., you weren't eliminated from consideration because *I* don't think you're right, but because the *test* said you weren't good enough).

Mark Hammer

(Have fun in Newport this week, folks. I'll miss ya.)

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