Building on Excellence
Search & Selection
Durham University is keen to sustain its reputation for excellence, a reputation that can only
be maintained by attracting, recruiting and retaining the best national and international staff.
It is the intention that Recruitment and Selection panels will be offered more flexibility in
recruitment processes to enable them to select the most effective recruitment methods for
This paper reviews current methods of search and selection used within the University and
proposes a modernised, best practice approach for future recruitment.
The purpose of selection is to allow us to assess the candidates in order to ensure that the
best person is appointed to meet the requirements of the vacancy.
The best way in which to maximise the chance of making the right decision is to use a
variety of effective selection methods appropriate to the job in order to assess the criteria
defined in the person specification. Selection is a two-way process in which candidates
assess the role and the University so it is vital to convey a positive image.
In a number of Universities, departments are only given permission to appoint if they can
demonstrate that a search exercise will take place alongside an advertisement, so
committing to appoint only the best applicant in the field.
Within Durham University search has already been used successfully resulting in the
appointment of some outstanding candidates. The process is designed to enhance the
quality of applicants by spreading the message to a relevant audience.
Search also provides the perfect opportunity for department to enhance the diversity of its
faculty and redress the balance of under representation. Search is not to be used as a hard
sell but purely to introduce someone to an opportunity; essentially the Search process
involves researching and contacting the key players in that field.
Search is a great PR mechanism, used to send a signal to the subject community about the
ethos of the department and institution and therefore raising the Universities profile as an
innovative, forward thinking employer.
For some potential applicants who have been identified through search it may be necessary
to arrange additional meetings or visits outside the usual recruitment process. The nature
and purpose of these visits should always be made clear to candidates; and they should
never form part of the formal selection procedure. Candidates will be making a judgement
about the vacancy and the culture of the University and therefore departments will need to
think carefully about who they ask to get involved in this process.
Visits as part of the formal selection process are a good way to engage with candidates and
provide the perfect opportunity to promote the unique environment of Durham. These
meetings should not form part of the assessment process but may well be an essential part
of the informal activities.
The current statute appointing process ensures that applicants receive a fair and thorough
process, however it is time consuming and restrictive.
Changes to Statute 33 have been agreed by Privy Council and will come into immediate
FLEXIBILITY IN THE SELECTION PROCESS (ACADEMIC POSTS)
The traditional use of panel interviews favoured at Durham is outdated though many
organisations still value them as a means of assessment. A number of Universities are now
moving away from this method and introducing a variety of selection techniques to test
various skills and abilities of candidates rather that relying on a very artificial and subjective
method on which to base their decision.
To remain competitive and to ensure that the University provides a positive candidate
experience we need to consider alternative layouts or assessments mechanisms, such as
round robins interview that involve small panels who hold sessions on specific elements of
the role. The information gathered from these sessions would then be fed back to the main
panel and help form part of the decision making. For some departments it is already
standard practice to ask candidates to submit a written piece of work along with their
application. Both these options offer good alternatives
Alternatively the final panel interview could form only part of the decision making process
which has already involved less formal meetings, tours etc. Recent recruitment where a
much broader group of Durham staff were involved in the process in both formal and
informal processes was viewed as a success both by the panel members and the candidates
Panels should be kept to as few members as possible. This would not only improve the
candidate experience but would also make the process significantly easier to arrange
logistically. The recruiting and representatives of external departments should be
encouraged to attend the presentation, or take part in smaller less formal meetings before
feeding back to the panel, rather than have so many involved in the final interview. It is
recognised that this will mean a significant change to the current University procedures for
many departments however this will significantly improve the candidate experience and bring
the University much more up to date with current recruitment best practices, allowing
applicants to demonstrate their true potential.
FLEXIBILITY IN THE SELECTION PROCESS (NON-ACADEMIC POSTS)
Fair selection means finding the best match between individuals and the needs of a post.
Interviews are not the sole means of obtaining information about a prospective employee
and a more accurate assessment of candidates’ abilities can be to provide a way for them to
demonstrate their skills in a test environment.
Though not widely used within the University, assessment centres require candidates to
participate in a number of exercises designed to capture the activities of the position they are
being selected for. The exercises should be based around the requirements of the position
and the critical competencies that someone will need in order to be successful in the
Depending on the nature of the job, the tasks might include individual or group work, written
and/or oral input (tasks set in advance such as preparing a report or presentation), and
written and/or oral outputs on the day such as in-tray exercises, analytical work, individual
problem solving, group discussions, group problem solving, tasks which match business
activities, personal role-play and functional role-play.
The benefit of an assessment centre is that it allows the candidate to demonstrate their skills
through a number of job relevant situations.
Assessment Centres tend to be time consuming -they typically run for half a day or more,
are resource intensive and expensive. They are therefore most effective for senior
management positions or large scale recruitment efforts.
All tests must be based on the essential criteria from which competencies are derived and
Current research shows that the most useful predictors of effective performance in a job are
ability tests and work samples. For example, in-tray exercises, or practical application tests
such as use of differing ICT applications for a job specific purpose.
Testing methods range from straightforward to complex. The use of any testing during the
selection process will always depend upon the type of job and the skills required in doing this
Testing methods include:
Written tests that assess spelling, punctuation, use of grammar, ability to express
information concisely, ability to summarise complex information, ability to write clearly and
In-tray exercise that assess ability to prioritise, how a particular problem would be
approached, and or resolved, within a limited time period
Practical tests that assess use of ICT, use of specific ICT applications, ability to follow
Presentations that assess communication skills, confidence, composure
Group discussion skills that assess leadership skills, interpersonal skills, communication
Psychometric assessment can add value by developing a picture of an individual’s
aptitudes and attributes and can predict how these will affect their performance in the
Durham University has a diverse, vibrant community of talented staff, motivated to provide
the best possible experience for our students.
To sustain its reputation for excellence, we must ensure that we remain competitive at
attracting, recruiting and retaining the best national and international staff.
To achieve this, the University needs to adopt a more flexible and varied approach to
recruitment and selection whilst maintaining it standards of equality and fairness.