Professionals: Context, Qualities and Methods

Recruiting and Selecting Professionals:
Context, Qualities and Methods
Dora Scholarios and Cliff Lockyer*
Evidence based on a survey of professional firms and in-depth interviews with decisionmakers responsible for selection examines the most frequently used and valued methods for
hiring qualified professional staff in a sample of Scottish accountancy, architecture, law, and
surveying practices. The survey suggests an emphasis on personality, work experience and
general attributes for senior posts, and that high value is placed on interviews and informal
sources of information in assessing these qualities. Firm characteristics and context,
particularly size of practice, the role of the partner in the selection process, labour supply,
and perception of recruitment difficulties are shown to be related to the type of selection
method used. Consistent with the view of selection as a social process, the case study evidence
suggests that `informality’ may play an important role when partners responsible for selection
have long tenure with their firm and when firms experience recruitment difficulties. More
generally, informal networks and interview processes may act as effective information and
communication vehicles for small and medium-sized professional practices.
Key words: recruitment, selection, professionals, social process
This article examines the recruitment and
selection methods used by professional
practices to employ qualified staff, and shows
that smaller firms in particular rely largely on
informal local networks of information sources
to assist in their selection decision-making.
While no attempt is made in this study to
evaluate the predictive validity of these selection
methods for hiring high performing
professionals, it is proposed that firms perceive
a value in informal strategies because of the type
of qualities sought in senior professionals and
the perception amongst some that they may be
unable to attract appropriate candidates. The
inherently social and interactive nature of
technically less rigorous recruitment and
selection methods used by professional firms is
shown to enable the convergence between
candidates’ and firms’ perceptions and needs,
and hence facilitate the selection process.
In traditional professions such as accountancy,
architecture, law and surveying, a period of
structured training and prescribed minimum
standards for membership of the profession lead
to a restricted supply of qualified staff, often
moving between a small number of firms.
Furthermore, far from concentrating on the
technical skills suggested by the qualificationsbased entry route, there is some evidence that
many professional organizations are more
concerned with how they can assess
interpersonal and motivational qualities (Makin
1989; White and Doyle 1997).
White and Doyle’s (1997) survey of five
professional groups confirmed a preference for
informal, `word of mouth’ contacts and
interviews, with an absence of the conventional
notion of rigour in selection. Acknowledging the
potential for partiality and discrimination, these
authors suggested that `informality’ might serve
a useful function for small and professional
organizations. It has also been suggested that
selection processes serve a larger purpose than
assessment of candidate qualities to fit the
technical requirements of a specific job. An
organization’s activity in the course of recruiting
and selecting may be a critical component of
socialization into a career or a particular
organization, and hence in making effective
matches between candidates and future jobs,
workplaces and professions (Herriot 1989;
Schneider 1987). Recent literature has developed
this theme in terms of how selection affects the
emergence of a psychological contract between
employees and organizations (e.g. Anderson and
Ostroff 1997), a factor which seems particularly
relevant in the case of high status professionals
(Makin 1989). Rather than a discrete assessment
event orchestrated by an employing firm,
therefore, selection may be better characterized
as a continuous information-gathering exchange
between applicants and organizations.
* Address for correspondence:
Dora Scholarios, Department of
Human Resource Management,
University of Strathclyde, 50
Richmond Street, Glasgow G1
1XT. E-mail: [email protected]
ß Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999, 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK and Volume 7 Number 3 September 1999 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Using survey data, this study examines three
propositions. First, consistent with previous
surveys (e.g. White and Doyle 1997), more
importance will be attached to personality,
interpersonal and general characteristics than
specific job-related knowledge or qualifications.
Second, informal networks, biodata and the
interview will be the most frequently and most
valued methods employed. Finally, the selection
methods used will be predicted by the perceived
importance of personality/interpersonal qualities,
the characteristics of the firm, and its recruitment
context. Qualitative data is used to elaborate the
survey findings, focusing particularly on the role
of local networks and senior partners.
The Importance of Candidate Perceptions
Several writers regard recruitment and selection
procedures as exerting an early influence on the
relationship between applicants and
organizations (e.g. Gilliland 1993; Herriot
1989), and argue that organizations should be
just as much concerned with a selection
procedure’s `social validity’, or its acceptability
to the candidate, as its predictive validity
(Schuler 1993). Thus, methods with low face
validity, such as those which target qualities
other than technical expertise or past record,
may elicit a negative reaction amongst
experienced professionals (Hough 1984; Makin
Recruitment and selection processes may
also facilitate a mutual search for similarity and
fit (Schneider 1987). Assessment procedures
provide applicants with information about the
culture and attributes of the organization from
the way they are treated throughout the
selection process and the procedural justice of
the selection methods used (Arvey and Sackett
1993; Gilliland 1993; Iles and Robertson 1997).
Candidates are able to assess the congruence
between their own values and attributes and
those of the organization, a process which
Anderson and Ostroff (1997) viewed as
facilitating the match between applicantorganization expectations, attitudes, preferences and behaviour. Consistent with this,
there is support for the success of realistic job
previews as selection mechanisms (Wanous
1992) and suggestions that more effort should
be focused on investigating the effects of
recruitment processes on selection outcomes
(Rynes 1991).
Candidate perceptions of the professional
career and their self-image as professionals have
also been highlighted. Makin (1989) suggested
that qualified professionals should be assessed in
terms of how past achievements relate to each
candidate’s perceptions of the occupation, their
own future role expectations, and the
expectations of the organization. A combination
of methods, such as biographical information
(biodata) with a `future-orientation’ accompanied
by an interview, may be the most successful
ways to assess and negotiate the `fit’ between
professional role concepts of both candidates
and the organization. Similarly, Herriot (1984)
suggested that interviews should focus on
exploring the emergence of a `working selfconcept’ through candidates’ self-reports of
behavioural strategies which relate to this selfconcept. Methods like the interview,
conventionally criticized for their low reliability
and validity (e.g. Wood 1997), may play an
important role in strengthening the relationship
between future employees and the firm.
The Context of Selection Decision-making
Selection decisions are embedded in a complex
system of relationships between candidates,
selectors, organizational and environmental
factors. Social process theories (e.g. Herriot
1989; Iles 1994) acknowledge this complexity
to argue for the consideration of contextual
variables in evaluating the usefulness of different
selection methods for employers. Experienced
professionals, for example, carry substantial
power in shaping the various interactions they
have with potential employers if the labour
market is tight and firms struggle to attract good
candidates (Herriot 1989). In these situations,
firms are unlikely to emphasize rigorous
assessment (Murphy 1986) and are more likely
to act in ways which will enhance their
attractiveness to candidates.
Strategic context may also influence how
organizational representatives define valued
performance (e.g. Boudreau, Sturman and Judge
1997; Russell et al. 1993) as well as the selection
strategies they adopt (Johns 1993). The local
labour market, business environment, and
trading relations (Rousseau and Tinsley 1997)
interact to form sector-specific training routes,
qualification standards and candidate supply ±
factors which are prominent in the traditional
professions. Windolf and Wood (1988), in a
study of the effects of changing labour market
conditions on recruitment and selection
practices, suggested that informality increases
when organizations experience labour shortages.
Departmental structure and functional
responsibility (Olian and Rynes 1984), the size
and resources of the organization (Millward et al. 1992), patterns of employment and turnover
(Judge and Ferris 1992), and the organization’s
stage in the business cycle (Williams and Dobson
1997) all have been shown to influence the
nature of the selection procedure.
ß Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999 Volume 7 Number 3 September 1999
Moreover, a growing number of management
researchers regard tacit (or intuitive) knowledge,
gathered through prolonged experience in a
particular domain, as a powerful force in forming
senior management interpretations and
influencing strategic decision-making, particularly in changing environments (e.g. Bennett
1998; Spender 1993; Wally and Baum 1994).
Hiring a senior employee in a professional
practice is likely to elicit tacit knowledge of
alternative routes of training and experience, and
hence contribute to the evaluation of candidateorganization fit.
In short, a firm’s external context and its
internal capacity to deal with this context are
likely to impact the strategies adopted by key
decision-makers in hiring situations. Psychometric predictive validity may only be one of
many factors shaping the perceived value, and
subsequent use, of selection strategies by
employers, as suggested in studies by Latham
and Whyte (1994) and Whyte and Latham
(1997). A more complete understanding of the
usefulness of selection methods, therefore,
requires an appreciation of the external and
internal organizational conditions in which
hiring occurs.
The article addresses three propositions which
recognize the importance of candidate
perceptions and firm context for selection in
professional firms. The first two describe the
candidate attributes desired by firms and the
methods of recruitment and selection used and
valued. The third proposition then attempts to
explain the use of alternative selection methods
by considering both the candidate attributes
desired and the firms’ decision context. The
propositions are:
Proposition 1: Selectors of qualified professionals attach more importance to
personality, interpersonal and general attributes than to technical qualifications and
specific job-related knowledge.
Proposition 2: Selectors of qualified professionals are more likely to use, and place
higher value on, informal networks, biodata
and interviews for selection.
Proposition 3: The type of selection methods
used will depend on the qualities sought, firm
characteristics and perceived recruitment
The study focused on four professional groups:
architects, lawyers, accountants and surveyors.
Professional directories for Scotland were used
as the sample frame. From this, a random sample
stratified by firm size, as given in the directories
and evenly representing the four groups in the
main commercial centres around Glasgow and
Edinburgh, was selected. A postal survey elicited
139 returns, a response rate of 35%. The
proportions of responses from small and larger
firms and across the four professional groups
were comparable to the proportions in the
sample frame. No pattern in the non-responses
could be discerned and so the response rate was
considered acceptable, particularly for surveys
directed to senior management and partners in
private sector firms.
Table 1 provides a breakdown of the key
characteristics of the respondents. The present
article’s focus was only those firms actively
engaged in hiring qualified professionals; thus,
88 from the total 139 responses were used in the
analysis, representing an average proportion of
63% of the total number of responding firms.
This sub-sample was evenly distributed between
independent single-site and multisite practices,
N (% of total sample or profession)
Total Accountants Architects Lawyers Surveyors
No. hiring qualified staff 88 24 37 12 15
Establishment type
Independent 41 (47%) 15 (62%) 20 (54%) 4 (33%) 2 (13%)
Multisite 47 (53%) 9 (38%) 17 (46%) 8 (67%) 13 (87%)
Employees in Scotland
< 20 30 (34%) 7 (29%) 19 (51%) 1 (8%) 3 (20%)
20±100 35 (40%) 10 (42%) 13 (35%) 7 (58%) 5 (33%)
>100 23 (26%) 7 (29%) 5 (14%) 4 (33%) 7 (47%)
Survey respondent
Senior partner 74 (89%) 19 (83%) 32 (94%) 8 (73%) 15 (100%)
Personnel/HR staff 9 (11%) 4 (5%) 2 (3%) 3 (27%) 0
Table 1: Sample profile
Volume 7 Number 3 September 1999 ß Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999
and across small, medium and large practices,
with no skewing introduced as a result of
curtailing the total response sample.
White and Doyle’s (1997) survey focused on
the smallest professional firms with less than 20
employees. The present interest in identifying
different decision contexts favoured including
larger size bands. Only in architectural practices,
which tended to employ fewer staff relative to
the other three professions, might the key
business players be expected to employ fewer
than 100 people. The majority of respondents
were staff partners or qualified professionals,
reflecting the close involvement of senior staff in
recruitment and selection within each practice.
Survey Questions
The survey focused on three areas: (1) the
qualities desired of qualified professional
employees; (2) recruitment sources and selection
methods used; and (3) firm characteristics and
context factors.
Qualities. For a qualified position filled in the last
two to three years, respondents were asked to rate
on a 4-point scale of importance a list of qualities
covering qualifications, work experience,
knowledge, skills and abilites, personality/
interpersonal factors, interests, and personal
characteristics. This list was consistent with
established taxonomies of human abilities (e.g.
Fleishman and Quaintance 1984) and information
usually associated with biodata, such as
experiences, interests and self-appraisals (Owens
and Schoenfeldt 1979). The personality and
interpersonal qualities drew from validity
evidence for the `Five-Factor’ Model of
personality (Costa and McCrae 1992), particularly
for the factors of conscientiousness (Barrick and
Mount 1991) and agreeableness (Tett, Jackson,
and Rothstein 1991). Traits were presented as
single word items; i.e., `sociability/friendliness’,
`drive’, `honesty/integrity’, `conscientiousness’,
and `adaptability’. Two relational qualities were
also included ± `fit with organization’s values’ and
`similarity with future colleagues’.
Recruitment sources and selection methods. Respondents were asked to indicate which
recruitment sources were used, prompted by a
list varying from formal agencies or practices to
informal, ad hoc methods. For a list of selection
methods representing informal networks (personal
knowledge, recommendations), biodata
(qualifications and experience), interviews, tests,
and work samples, respondents were also asked to
provide ratings on a 5-point scale for both the
frequency of use of the method (`never use’ through
to `use consistently’) and its perceived value (`not at
all useful’ through to `extremely useful’).
Firm characteristics and context. The survey
gathered information on firm/selector
characteristics, labour supply and costs, and the
effects of internal changes to business and work
practices (rated on a 3-point scale of no, some or
major impact). These context factors were based
on literature identifying these as potential
influences on selection practice.
Table 2 shows the mean values and ratings for
each of these variables. The four professions
represented can be considered a relatively
coherent group, as indicated by the mostly
non-significant F-tests for differences across
group means. Professions differed significantly
only with respect to size of practice, the type of
firm, and tenure of the key decision maker.
Accountants and lawyers had larger practices
(F(3,84) ˆ 4.43, p < 0.01), although the
differences between size of firm were not
significantly different. The large mean and
standard deviation for accountants is explained
by the inclusion of two of the `Big Six’
accountants in the sample. Surveyors’ practices
also tended to be part of larger companies
(F(3,84) ˆ 3.91, p < 0.05) albeit that the
branches themselves were of smaller size.
An average of two qualified professionals
were hired each year, but this small number
masks the fact that, in the professions, there is
some regularity in flow of newly qualified staff
into the workforce each year. Most practices
engaged in replacement hiring or had some new
vacancies in the same area. The firms were
divided in terms of those who reported having
recruitment difficulties or not. The selectors
responding to the survey generally had a high
degree of autonomy in selection decision-making
at the level of the practice, most having total
autonomy or sharing the responsibility with
another partner. In addition, partners themselves
rather than a dedicated personnel manager were
usually responsible for selection; only lawyers
were evenly divided in this respect.
Employment-related factors cited as having
`some influence’ on the practices included a
shortage of applicants with appropriate
qualifications and increased staff costs. Internal
changes occurring within professional practices
were rated as even more influential, particularly
automation due to new technology, the need for
multiskilled employees, and changes to core
Interviews with Selectors
The interpretation of survey results was refined
through 20 case study interviews with one or
more partners or those respondents primarily
responsible for selection for qualified posts.
Interviews were carried out with practices from
each professional group and of different size and
ß Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999 Volume 7 Number 3 September 1999
type. In each profession, two of the chosen
practices were identified as amongst the leading
players in either Scotland or the United
Kingdom, except for legal practices where only
one `main player’ was interviewed. Firms are
referred to by the following codes: Lawyers
(L.1±2); Surveyors (S.1±5); Accountants (Acc.1±
4), and Architects (Arc.1±9).
The interviews probed three areas addressed
in the survey ± the ideal qualities of new
employees; the rationale behind different
recruitment and selection methods used; and
the perceived usefulness of a particular method
for identifying specific candidate qualities.
Within practices with more than one senior
partner, all key decision-makers were interviewed to examine the strategic context and
dynamics of hiring within the practice, although
in smaller firms there was often only one senior
partner who had overall control of the hiring
process. Two interviewers each prepared an
independent transcript of the discussion.
Inconsistencies in the two accounts were largely
factual, and could subsequently be resolved, with
different rather than contradictory information
provided by each transcript. Both versions, thus,
were used in the interpretation of survey results.
Proposition 1: Selectors of qualified professionals
attach more importance to personality, interpersonal
and general attributes than to technical qualifications
and specific job-related knowledge.
The mean ratings of importance for each
candidate attribute are listed in Table 3 in
descending order for the total sample. The
Accountants Architects Lawyers Surveyors ANOVA
M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) F
Firm context variables
Firm/selector characteristics
1. Size of practice 53(67) 20(16) 51(40) 21(18) 4.43**
2. Size of firm 799(2526) 37(45.5) 87(51.6) 212(367) 1.72
3. Employees hired/year
(n = 81) 2.55(3) 1.2(0.98) 2.36(1.15) 2(2.5) 2.22
4. Expansion to new jobsa 2.58(0.72) 2.37(0.81) 2.75(0.76) 2.93(1.03) 1.85
5. Firm typeb 0.38(0.49) 0.46(0.51) 0.67(0.49) 0.86(0.36) 3.91*
6. Selector autonomyc 2.08(0.58) 2.19(0.46) 1.92(0.29) 2.07(0.26) 0.95
7. Personnel functiond 0.25(0.44) 0.27(0.45) 0.50(0.52) 0.07(0.23) 2.24
8. Selector tenure (n = 83) 15(10.1) 16.5(8.7) 8.1(6.1) 15.5(9.7) 2.48
9. Selector qualificationse 0.45(0.51) 0.16(0.37) 0.58(0.52) 0.32(0.47) 3.75*
10. Difficulty recruiting
(1 = yes) 0.46(0.51) 0.28(0.45) 0.42(0.51) 0.36(0.50) 0.73
Labour supply and costsf
11. Increased no. of applicants 0.29(0.55) 0.49(0.61) 0.50(0.67) 0.53(0.64) 0.71
12. High labour turnover 0.17(0.38) 0(0.28) 0.33(0.65) 0.27(0.46) 1.54
13. Use of temporary staff 0.21(0.41) 0.62(0.68) 0.33(0.49) 0.47(0.52) 2.75*
14. Increased staff costs 0.83(0.56) 0.65(0.68) 0.75(0.62) 0.87(0.64) 0.62
Internal company changes
15. Core business changes 0.58(0.65) 0.84(0.76) 0.83(0.58) 1.00(0.65) 1.24
16. Company reorganization 0.38(0.58) 0.46(0.56) 0.33(0.65) 0.73(0.70) 1.37
17. Multiskilling 0.58(0.58) 0.89(0.66) 0.75(0.75) 1.00(0.65) 1.62
18. Automation/new tech. 0.92(0.78) 1.03(0.76) 0.75(0.75) 1.07(0.70) 0.53
19. Employee involvement 0.29(0.55) 0.35(0.48) 0.33(0.49) 0.60(0.51) 1.25
20. Teamworking 0.42(0.65) 0.54(0.65) 0.50(0.52) 0.60(0.74) 0.29
21. Cost cutting 0.54(0.59) 0.84(0.73) 0.33(0.65) 0.93(0.59) 2.86*
Table 2: Means and standard deviations for firm context variables by professional group
Notes: a Expansion to new jobs is measured on a 4-point scale: 1 = part-time/temporary only; 2 = replacement
only; 3 = new jobs in same area; 4 = new jobs in new areas. b Firm type: 0 = independent; 1 = head office/
branch of multisite organization. c Selector autonomy in decision-making: 1 = sole responsibility; 2 = shared
with others; 3 = little responsibility. d Personnel function: 0 = partners responsible for selection; 1 =
dedicated personnel role or department. e Selector personnel qualifications (coded 1) included post-graduate
degrees in a management or personnel management area (e.g. MBA, IPD), BPS certificate in testing, and other
short training courses. f
Variables 11±21 measured on 3-point scale (0 = no influence, 1 = some influence, 2 =
major influence). * p < 0.05 **p < 0.01 (two-tailed).
Volume 7 Number 3 September 1999 ß Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999
highest rated desirable attributes for qualified
professionals were for personality traits,
particularly honesty/integrity and conscientiousness, general ability and potential, and
previous work experience. Specific job-related
knowledge, qualifications, and other personal
factors (e.g. age) received the lowest mean
ratings. The emphasis on general attributes,
rather than job- or profession-specific
knowledge, is also supported by the fact that
the ratings of attributes were similar across each
professional group. This preference for
personality and general qualities generalized
across firms of different size and type, with
ANOVAs for each attribute by type of practice
(independent or multisite), entering size of
practice as a covariate, found to be not
significant at p < 0.05.
Firms’ preferences for general attributes also
was revealed in the interviews. Some qualities
were viewed as necessary for meeting changing
business conditions and manifested themselves
differently for each profession. Large
accountancy firms recognized the implications
of diversification into new areas, such as actuarial
work, computer audits and taxation, and were
increasingly turning to recruiting staff with nonaccountancy skills and experience. Architects,
who were particularly affected by the 1980s’ and
1990s’ recession in the construction industry,
had made more use of IT, project-based work,
client interaction, and design-and-build
procedures. As a result, they were especially
aware of the need for multiskilling. Changes in
the core business for surveyors had resulted in
diversification into support services, such as
finance and project management. External
factors, such as the abolition of mandatory fee
scales by the Royal Institute of Chartered
Surveyors (RICS) in the late 1980s, the need
for professional indemnity insurance, and the
increasing need for IT skills in audit and taxation
work also made multiskilling more important.
Changing demands on professional firms,
therefore, might explain the preference for
general rather than narrow qualities.
Proposition 2: Selectors of qualified professionals are
more likely to use, and place higher value on,
informal networks, biodata and interviews for
Recruitment and selection methods used. The most
popular sources of recruitment were local and
national press, recruitment agencies and informal
methods, such as referrals, although there was
some variation across professions (see Table 4).
Advertising in the local press was more popular
for accountants; lawyers and accountants
showed a marked preferences for recruitment
agencies or `headhunting`; both lawyers and
Table 3: Mean ratings of importance for candidate qualities by professional group
Total sample Accountants Architects Lawyers Surveyors
Candidate qualities M SD M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD)
Honesty/integrity 3.89 0.32 3.88(0.34) 3.86(0.35) 3.92(0.29) 3.93(0.26)
Conscientiousness 3.77 0.42 3.71(0.46) 3.78(0.42) 3.92(0.29) 3.93(0.26)
General ability 3.72 0.45 3.71(0.46) 3.78(0.42) 3.58(0.51) 3.67(0.49)
Potential for development 3.65 0.55 3.42(0.65) 3.78(0.42) 3.83(0.39) 3.53(0.64)
Range of experience 3.56 0.60 3.50(0.59) 3.38(0.79) 3.67(0.49) 3.87(0.35)
Adaptability 3.53 0.52 3.38(0.58) 3.59(0.50) 3.67(0.49) 3.52(0.52)
Drive 3.45 0.57 3.21(0.51) 3.46(0.61) 3.67(0.49) 3.67(0.49)
Years job-related experience 3.34 0.69 3.38(0.58) 3.22(0.71) 3.58(0.51) 3.40(0.91)
Fit with organizational values 3.39 0.60 3.38(0.49) 3.43(0.69) 3.25(0.87) 3.27(0.59)
Specialized job knowledge 3.25 0.63 3.17(0.56) 3.14(0.67) 3.58(0.51) 3.40(0.63)
Socialibility/friendliness 3.19 0.68 3.00(0.78) 3.16(0.65) 3.58(0.51) 3.27(0.59)
General health 3.10 0.57 3.08(0.58) 3.05(0.66) 3.17(0.39) 3.20(0.41)
Professional qualifications 3.03 0.96 3.13(1.03) 3.14(0.89) 2.83(1.11) 2.80(0.94)
Accent/appearance 2.99 0.81 3.00(0.88) 2.95(0.85) 2.83(0.58) 3.20(0.77)
Academic qualifications 2.78 0.81 2.92(0.78) 2.62(0.92) 3.25(0.62) 2.60(0.51)
Years with other firms 2.61 0.70 2.67(0.64) 2.43(0.73) 3.17(0.39) 2.53(0.74)
Similarity to future colleagues 2.50 0.76 2.75(0.61) 2.27(0.87) 2.67(0.78) 2.53(0.52)
Age 2.50 0.77 2.71(0.62) 2.41(0.90) 2.42(0.79) 2.47(0.64)
Outside interests 2.22 0.75 2.21(0.78) 2.27(0.80) 2.00(0.85) 2.20(0.56)
Note: Ratings are on a 4-point scale from 1 ˆ `not at all important’ to 4 ˆ `very important’. Other qualities
mentioned (but not included in this analysis) were languages, communication skills and ability to get on with
ß Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999 Volume 7 Number 3 September 1999
surveyors had a preference for advertising in the
national press; and architects were especially
likely to use referrals from existing staff or
contacts and unsolicited correspondence. Tests
of the differences between frequencies for the
three size bands shown in Table 1 and for
different types of establishment showed that
larger firms were more likely to use formal
methods like recruitment agencies (2
(2) ˆ 28.92, p <0.05). Interestingly, though, there
were no significant differences in methods used
by independent and multisite practices. Each
type of firm was equally likely to use unsolicited
correspondence, reflecting a degree of local
decision-making and informality in recruitment
regardless of the structure of the practice.
There is also a clear preference for less
technically valid selection methods ± most
obviously, the CV, references and interviews
(Table 5). Very few firms reported using
structured, formalized methods such as
psychometric tests or assessment centres. The
one exception was architects, for whom the
visual nature of work allowed the use of some
specialist methods more often than in the other
professional groups. These included job/work
samples (e.g. portfolios) (F(3,84) ˆ 139.7, p <
0.001), which were the third most commonly
used methods by architects after the CV and
letter of application, and tests of specific
aptitudes (e.g. design skills, drawing,
demonstrating CAD skills) (F(3,84) ˆ 3.19, p
On the whole, however, the selection
methods used tended to be applied in an
unstructured way. For example, although
accountants used application forms more than
other groups (F(3,84) ˆ 5.10, p < 0.01), only 12
of the 24 accountants, all in the medium or large
size bands, applied any systematic weighting of
criteria to application forms. The key items
weighted highly were relevant skills or job
experience, reasons for wanting to work in the
profession, firm or particular area of work, and
relevant hobbies or interests, again suggesting
the importance attached to experience and
motivational qualities.
Interviews also tended to be non-structured or
semi-structured with over 70% of respondents
not using pre-set questions, instead tending to
base questions on the candidates’ CV (80% of
respondents), the nature of the post (74% of
respondents) or a general informal discussion
(66% of respondents). Many did attempt to
avoid the potential bias of a single interviewer,
evidenced by the more frequent use of
interviews with two or more people (Table 5).
Some 59% of respondents reported using two
interview stages, and two-thirds of those who
conducted two interviews used different
interviewers (usually different partners) at each
Value attached to selection methods used. Table 5
shows the mean differences between the
frequency and value ratings for each of the
selection methods and the results of paired t-tests
for each of these differences. After a Bonferroni
correction for the possibility of inflating type I
error due to multiple tests, significant mean
differences were found for the CV, letters of
application, and references, which received a
rating of value lower than their reported use.
Also significant were the differences for personal
knowledge of the applicant and personal
recommendations, which were both rated high
relative to their use, thus supporting Proposition
2. More systematic methods (tests of general or
specific ability and personality testing) also
received a significantly higher value rating,
suggesting either exaggerated importance due
to lack of knowledge about the methods or that
Table 4: Percentage using different recruitment methods
Recruitment method sample Percentage of total sample
N % Accountants Architects Lawyers Surveyors
Advertising in local press 62 45.6 54.3 47.7 37.5 39.4
Advertising in national press 55 40.4 28.6 31.8 50.0 57.6
Referrals from existing staff 43 31.6 22.9 50.0 8.3 33.3
Recruitment agencies 42 30.9 51.4 9.1 50.0 24.2
Referrals from contacts 39 28.7 20.0 29.5 41.7 27.3
Unsolicited correspondence 31 22.8 14.3 40.9 8.3 18.2
Commercial agencies 19 14.0 20.0 6.8 16.7 15.2
Past employees 14 10.3 11.4 18.2 4.2 3.0
Educational institutions 12 8.8 2.9 20.5 4.2 3.0
Professional directories 4 2.9 5.7 2.3 9.3 0
Note: Recruitment methods are listed in descending order of use for the total sample.
Volume 7 Number 3 September 1999 ß Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999
respondents were aware of their potential
although very few attempted to use them. This
is supported by the fact that only half the sample
answered the question on the value of these tests.
The almost universally used interview
retained a high value rating. Discussions with
selectors consistently found that the interview
was an essential part of interrogating information about past work experiences provided
through the CV. For example, it was routinely
used to probe candidates’ portfolio of work, in
terms of client quality and the volume/
complexity of client work, and it was suggested
that interpersonal and personality qualities, such
as team fit (L.1, 2; Acc.1, 3), client fit, integrity,
and drive (Acc.1, 3; Arc.5), could emerge
through the interview.
Proposition 3: The type of selection methods used will
depend on the qualities sought, firm characteristics
and perceived recruitment difficulties.
Further analysis of the survey data provides
evidence that the selection methods used may
depend on the qualities sought in qualified
professionals and the characteristics or needs of
the firm. The first 11 selection methods listed in
Table 5 (i.e. those which were reported as being
used at least sometimes) formed the dependent
variables in 11 different hierarchical regression
analyses. For each equation, frequency of use of
selection method was regressed on two groups
of independent variables ± candidate qualities
and firm context ± each of which consisted of a
subset of the qualities and context variables
originally presented to respondents and listed in
Tables 3 and 2, respectively. A principal
components factor analysis was used as the
basis for selecting a smaller set of surrogate
variables to act as independent variables.
Subsequently, qualities variables and context
variables were entered as two separate blocks in
each hierarchical regression in order to compare
the incremental variance of context over
qualities and vice versa for predicting the
frequency of use of each method. The principal
components analysis used to select independent
variables and the regression results are presented
Principal components factor analysis. A principal
components analysis was used as the basis for
selecting surrogate independent variables in the
regression analysis. The procedure for retaining
components and interpreting factor loadings was
based on the criteria given in Stevens (1996, p.
366) for sample sizes of less than 100. The
seven-factor solution for the candidate quality
variables is shown in Table 6. Factor I includes
several variables relating to work experience;
Factor II consists of personality traits related to
openness and adaptability; Factor III covers
Table 5: Mean ratings of frequency of use and value of selection methods
Frequency (F)a Value (V)b
Selection method N M SD N M SD V±F df t
Curriculum Vitae 88 4.75 0.63 84 4.43 0.78 ÿ0.43 83 4.52*
Letter of application 88 4.39 1.07 83 3.81 0.92 ÿ0.58 82 6.84*
References 88 4.17 0.95 85 3.78 1.03 ÿ0.39 84 3.28*
Interview (2+ people) 88 4.15 1.26 81 4.52 0.84 0.37 80 ÿ2.43
One-to-one interview 88 3.91 1.41 75 4.41 0.97 0.33 74 ÿ1.07
Personal recommendation 88 3.01 1.07 80 3.84 0.88 0.81 79 ÿ7.06*
Job/work sample 88 2.62 1.78 61 3.52 1.61 0.90 60 ÿ2.66
Personal knowledge/appl. 88 2.36 1.00 76 3.61 1.12 1.23 75 ÿ9.25*
Application form 88 1.91 1.44 51 2.80 1.47 0.84 50 ÿ2.01
Telephone conversation 88 1.91 0.94 67 2.45 1.09 0.51 66 ÿ3.75
Recruiting agency report 88 1.88 0.93 73 2.23 1.05 0.34 72 ÿ1.94
Self-assessment 88 1.66 1.19 46 2.24 1.45 0.57 45 ÿ1.96
Test of general ability 88 1.34 0.66 47 2.19 1.17 0.84 46 ÿ5.11*
Interest inventory 88 1.32 0.83 41 1.90 1.07 0.57 40 ÿ2.04
Test of specific aptitude 88 1.31 0.72 46 2.02 1.09 0.71 45 ÿ4.29*
Peer assessment 88 1.27 0.75 41 1.76 1.11 0.48 40 ÿ2.96
Personality questionnaire 88 1.19 0.72 41 1.73 1.07 0.53 40 ÿ3.13*
Assessment centre 88 1.00 0.00 39 1.31 0.69 0.31 38 ÿ2.77
Notes: Selection methods are listed in order of frequency of use for the total sample: a Freq (F): Frequency of use (1 ˆ never used, 5 ˆ always used). b Value (V): Value for assessing desired qualities
(1 ˆ not at all useful, 5 ˆ extremely useful).
* Significant with Bonferroni correction (p < 0.003).
ß Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999 Volume 7 Number 3 September 1999
Table 6: Factor solutions for candidate qualities and firm context variables
Factors for quality variables
Quality variables I II III IV V VI VII Com
Years job-related experience 0.77 ÿ0.06 0.13 ÿ0.08 ÿ0.02 0.14 ÿ0.02 0.64
Range of experience 0.66 ÿ0.06 0.09 0.03 ÿ0.23 ÿ0.21 0.05 0.55
Years with other firms 0.66 0.15 ÿ0.17 0.25 0.21 ÿ0.30 0.02 0.68
Specialized job knowledge 0.52 ÿ0.08 0.28 ÿ0.10 0.08 0.18 0.30 0.51
Potential 0.37 0.52 0.07 0.16 0.07 ÿ0.03 ÿ0.54 0.74
Sociability ÿ0.07 0.72 ÿ0.01 ÿ0.5 0.08 0.14 ÿ0.04 0.55
Drive ÿ0.22 0.54 0.16 0.38 ÿ0.01 0.11 0.14 0.54
Adaptability ÿ0.17 0.72 0.25 ÿ0.02 0.17 ÿ0.10 0.13 0.67
Accent/appearance 0.17 0.14 0.73 0.10 0.15 ÿ0.06 0.16 0.64
General health 0.05 0.22 0.70 0.06 ÿ0.22 ÿ0.01 0.01 0.61
Age ÿ0.07 ÿ0.18 0.55 0.32 0.07 0.39 ÿ0.26 0.66
Fit w/ organizational values ÿ0.04 0.03 0.35 0.71 0 0.03 ÿ0.13 0.64
Similarity w/ colleagues 0.13 ÿ0.09 0.38 0.54 0.27 ÿ0.13 0.38 0.69
Honesty/integrity 0 0.32 ÿ0.17 0.62 0 0.17 0.08 0.55
Prof. qualifications ÿ0.08 0 ÿ0.15 0.10 0.62 0.36 ÿ0.30 0.63
Academic qualifications 0.09 0.17 0.35 ÿ0.28 0.62 0.04 ÿ0.01 0.62
Outside interests ÿ0.07 0.13 ÿ0.08 0.17 0.73 ÿ0.18 0.12 0.64
General ability ÿ0.06 0.16 0 0.08 ÿ0.01 0.83 0.10 0.73
Conscientiousness 0.34 0.32 0.07 0.15 ÿ0.05 0.11 0.67 0.70
Sum of squares (eigenvalue) 2.15 2.01 1.99 1.68 1.58 1.28 1.24 11.9
% of common variance 11.3 10.6 10.5 8.9 8.3 6.8 6.5 62.9
Factors for context variables
Context variables I II III IV V VI VII Com
Employee involvement 0.84 ÿ0.15 ÿ0.07 ÿ0.04 ÿ0.12 0.08 0.07 0.75
Teamworking 0.69 ÿ0.12 0.11 0.18 0.22 ÿ0.16 0.28 0.68
Company reorganization 0.69 0.21 0.05 0.17 ÿ0.13 ÿ0.05 ÿ0.10 0.57
Automation/new tech. 0.63 0.21 ÿ0.19 ÿ0.10 0.31 0.16 ÿ0.15 0.61
Core business changes 0.62 0.06 0.16 0.31 0.14 ÿ0.18 0.01 0.53
Increased staff costs 0.51 0.11 ÿ0.03 0.06 0.35 0.42 0.23 0.61
Size of practice 0.02 0.91 0.17 0.05 0.03 0.07 0.06 0.86
Size of firm ÿ0.01 0.88 0.08 0.12 ÿ0.11 0.08 ÿ0.14 0.83
Employees hired/year 0.15 0.75 0.15 0.04 0.001 0.21 0.27 0.72
Personnel function ÿ0.03 0.24 0.75 0.07 0.14 0.14 ÿ0.21 0.70
Selector tenure ÿ0.07 ÿ0.05 ÿ0.68 0.003 0.31 ÿ0.31 ÿ0.02 0.65
High labour turnover 0.04 0.26 0.25 0.71 ÿ0.07 0.10 ÿ0.06 0.65
Use of temporary staff 0.16 ÿ0.04 0.11 0.69 0.31 0.08 0.11 0.62
Cost cutting 0.34 0.08 ÿ0.41 0.69 ÿ0.01 0.12 ÿ0.15 0.68
Multiskilling 0.37 0.11 ÿ0.23 0.40 0.40 0.09 ÿ0.03 0.52
Selector qualifications 0.08 0.31 0.56 0.24 ÿ0.01 ÿ0.14 0.37 0.61
Difficulty recruiting 0.06 0.06 0.21 0.14 ÿ0.61 ÿ0.13 0.43 0.65
Increased no. applicants 0.11 ÿ0.11 0.08 0.23 0.76 ÿ0.07 0.05 0.67
Firm type 0.03 0.06 0.05 0.22 ÿ0.06 0.82 0.10 0.74
Selector autonomy 0.13 ÿ0.23 ÿ0.23 0.04 ÿ0.07 ÿ0.54 0.03 0.43
Expansion to new jobs 0.02 0.07 ÿ0.11 ÿ0.11 ÿ0.05 0.14 0.87 0.79
Sum of squares (eigenvalue) 2.99 2.59 1.85 1.85 1.64 1.51 1.43 13.9
% of common variance 14.2 12.3 8.8 8.8 7.8 7.1 6.8 65.9
Note: Com .= Communality
Volume 7 Number 3 September 1999 ß Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999
general personal condition relating to health, age
and appearance; Factor IV relates to overall fit
with the values and characteristics of the
partners and the practice, as well as to
honesty/integrity; Factor V relates to
qualifications; Factor VI is dominated by general
ability; and Factor VII by conscientiousness. The
variable with the highest factor loading within
each factor was retained for use as an
independent variable, following the suggestion
of Hair et al. (1992, p. 250). The only exception
to the application of this rule was for Factor V
where the relation of outside interests to
qualifications was thought to be ambiguous.
`Professional qualifications’, therefore, was used
as the surrogate variable in this case.
Seven factors were also identified for the
context variables described in Table 2. In this
factor solution, which is also presented in Table
6, Factor I is interpreted as a restructuring of
business and work processes towards greater
employee involvement, teamworking and
automation of functions. This also seems to be
related to an increase in staff costs. Factor II
clusters size of firm and practice and higher
levels of recruitment activity. Factor III includes
a high positive loading for the existence of a
personnel function and, conversely, a high
negative loading where the respondents have
long tenure with the firm. Factor IV reflects firms
affected by high labour turnover, a problem also
related to temporary contract work and the need
for multiskilled employees. Factor V represents
an increased number of applicants and appears to
be inversely related to the reporting of
recruitment difficulties. Factor VI represents
whether the firm is multisite and shows that in
such practices selectors report having less
decision-making autonomy. Finally, Factor VII
relates to whether the firm is expanding through
new job creation.
Again, the variables with the highest factor
loadings were selected for use as independent
variables. In addition, two other variables were
included ± selector tenure and reported difficulties
recruiting ± as each of these received high negative
loadings within their respective factors and it was
felt that they may represent a qualitatively different
aspect of firm context than the variable with the
highest loading. Thus, seven variables were used to
represent candidate qualities and nine variables to
represent firm context. These variables formed two
separate blocks in the subsequent multiple
regression analyses.
Regression results. The hierarchical multiple
regression analysis for each of the 11 selection
methods is shown in Table 7. The top half of
Table 7 provides the statistics for the change in
R2 from varying the order of inclusion of the
two blocks of variables into the regression
equations. These indicate that the context
variables, as a block, improved the prediction
of selection method use in the case of the letter
of application and recruitment agencies while the
contribution of quality variables, as a block, to
overall variance emerged as significant for the
one-to-one interview.
An examination of the regression coefficients
for the full equations in the bottom half of Table
7 gives an indication of which variables
contributed to the use of particular methods. In
the two cases where the context variables did
contribute significantly to the overall prediction
(letter of application and recruiting agencies), the
effects of practice size, personnel structure, and
number of applicants can be seen. Smaller
practices were more likely to base initial
selection decisions on unsolicited letters of
application ( ˆ ÿ0.324, p < 0.01) and job
samples ( ˆ ÿ0.271, p < 0.05). The latter can
be explained by the concentration of architects,
who are able to evaluate candidates’ portfolio of
work more readily, amongst the smallest
practices (see Table 1). Across the four
professions, smaller firms indicated that random
interviewing of `good’ or `interesting’ unsolicited
CVs was common; one firm reported, `We
haven’t had to advertise for the past 15 years’
(Arc.4). The regression results also show that the
tendency to follow up unsolicited applications is
related to actually receiving more applications
( ˆ 0.219, p < 0.05). The large firms
interviewed noted that the reputation of their
firm almost guaranteed large numbers of
unsolicited applications (Arc.1, S.1). Even for
smaller, less prestigious firms, however,
speculative letters and CVs were common, and
often followed up in order to meet short-term
needs or avoid high recruiting costs.
Firms with dedicated personnel functions were
more likely to use recruiting agencies (or
headhunting) ( ˆ 0.446, p < 0.01). One large
surveyor described recruiting agencies as the
`most useful methods of recruiting directors and
associates’ (S.1). This also means, though, that
outsourcing selection to agencies was used more
where non-partners (i.e. personnel staff) took
responsibility for much of the selection process.
Use of personal knowledge of applicants was
used more as the respondent’s tenure in the firm
increased ˆ 0.388, p < 0.01). Given that 89%
of respondents were partners (see Table 1), it
may be inferred that these individuals, as
opposed to dedicated personnel specialists, are
more likely to use their local contacts and
networks as a source of candidates and that this
approach will become more heavily used the
longer they stay with their firm.
The one-to-one interview was used more by
independent practices ( ˆ ÿ0.237, p < 0.05)
and those experiencing high labour turnover
ß Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999 Volume 7 Number 3 September 1999
Selection methods
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
I. Qualities then context Equation change statistics
Step 1: Qualities R2 0.06 0.05 0.13 0.05 0.11 0.07 0.07 0.10 0.13 0.13 0.09
Adjusted R2 ÿ0.03
ÿ0.04 0.05
ÿ0.04 0.02
ÿ0.02 0.02 0.05 0.05 0.00
Step 2: Context R2 change 0.16 0.08 0.19 0.28 0.03 0.08 0.13 0.14 0.09 0.13 0.07
F change (df
ˆ9,66) 1.51ns 0.62ns 2.07* 3.10** 0.24ns 0.72ns 1.22ns 1.41ns 0.79ns 1.25ns 0.58ns
II. Context then qualities
Step 1: Context R2 0.13 0.07 0.23 0.29 0.03 0.07 0.11 0.14 0.10 0.09 0.07
Adjusted R2 .02
ÿ0.05 0.14 0.21
ÿ0.01 0.03
Step 2: Qualities R2 change 0.09 0.06 0.09 0.04 0.10 0.08 0.09 0.11 0.12 0.17 0.08
F change (df
ˆ7,66) 1.08ns 0.60ns 1.25ns 0.58ns 1.09ns 0.88ns 1.11ns 1.39ns 1.40ns 2.13* 0.88ns
Independent variables Standardized regression coefficients
No. years job-related experience
ÿ0.113 0.026 0.065 0.020
ÿ0.242* 0.137 0.250*
ÿ0.218y ÿ0.075
ÿ0.060 0.036 0.081
ÿ0.063 0.009
ÿ0.023 0.156
ÿ0.006 0.056
ÿ0.031 0.117
Fit with organizational values 0.062 0.101
ÿ0.154 0.025 0.123 0.062
ÿ0.070 0.146 0.134
ÿ0.004 0.182
Professional qualifications 0.059
ÿ0.013 0.000
ÿ0.005 0.165 0.193 0.192 0.125 0.217y ÿ0.113 0.047
General ability
ÿ0.206y ÿ0.046
ÿ0.063 0.060 0.073 0.150 0.185 0.047
ÿ0.020 0.038
Conscientiousness 0.149 0.093 0.251* 0.187
ÿ0.054 0.103 0.102 0.041 0.233y 0.234y ÿ0.089
Firm context
Need for employee involvement 0.144 0.093 0.018 0.027
ÿ0.116 0.035 0.227
ÿ0.011 0.075
ÿ0.096 0.138
Size of practice
ÿ0.324** 0.140 0.046 0.093 0.009
ÿ0.056 0.159
Existence of personnel function 0.118
ÿ0.038 0.077 0.446**
ÿ0.068 0.161 0.118 0.191
ÿ0.077 0.094
Selector tenure with firm 0.388** 0.032 0.009 0.058
ÿ0.100 0.013
ÿ0.087 0.162 0.128
High labour turnover
ÿ0.025 0.012
ÿ0.048 0.031 0.067 0.125
ÿ0.058 0.242* 0.087
Increased number of applicants
ÿ0.036 0.219* 0.041
ÿ0.032 0.059 0.099 0.053 0.095
ÿ0.042 0.046
Difficulties recruiting qualified staff 0.175 0.149
ÿ0.079 0.123 0.009 0.261y ÿ0.024
ÿ0.037 0.260*
Firm type
ÿ0.024 0.157 0.001 0.069
ÿ0.153 0.077
ÿ0.237* 0.038
Expansion to new jobs 0.004
ÿ0.116 0.019 0.123 0.039
ÿ0.108 0.179
ÿ0.002 0.041 0.058
Full equation statistics
R2 0.21 0.13 0.32 0.33 0.13 0.15 0.20 0.25 0.22 0.26 0.15
Adjusted R2 0.02
ÿ0.09 0.16 0.17
ÿ0.06 0.01 0.06 0.03 0.08
F(16,66) 1.10ns 0.58ns 1.95* 2.07* 0.64ns 0.72ns 1.03ns 1.35ns 1.15ns 1.45ns 0.74ns
Notes: Ns range from 77 to 88. 1
ˆ Personal knowledge of applicant; 2
ˆ Personal recommendation; 3
ˆ Letter of application; 4
ˆ Recruiting agency report; 5
ˆ Application
form; 6
ˆ References; 7
ˆ Curriculum vitae; 8
ˆ Job/work sample; 9
ˆ Telephone conversation; 10
ˆ One-to-one interview; 11
ˆ Interview with >2 people. Reported
regression coefficients are for all variables entered simultaneously in the final model ns not significant y p < 0.10 * p < 0.05 **p < 0.01 ***p < 0.001
Table 7: Hierarchical regressions for predicting use of different selection methods
Volume 7 Number 3 September 1999 ß Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999
( ˆ 0.242, p < 0.05). This might be explained
by its relationship to specific qualities, such as
conscientiousness ( ˆ 0.234, p < 0.10), as firms
may view an interview as essential for being able
to judge the seriousness and reliability of a
candidate. The significant coefficient for number
of years job-related experience ( ˆ 0.250, p <
0.05) can only be explained as a possible
indicator of likelihood to remain with the
company and perhaps as a focus for the
interview discussion. Only in the regression for
the one-to-one interviews did the effect of the
qualities contribute more than the effects of
context, suggesting that the interview is viewed
as useful in situations for the purposes of
gauging particular attributes.
Finally, informality also seemed to increase
when respondents reported difficulties recruiting
qualified staff. Positive coefficients for this
variable were found for the use of personal
knowledge of applicants, personal recommendations, use of references and telephone conversations, although only the regression coefficient
in the latter was statistically significant at < 0.05
( ˆ 0.260, p < 0.05).
The survey findings provide support for the
three research propositions. First, practices
placed greater emphasis on the interpersonal,
personality and general attributes of qualified
staff than on specific job-related skills or
experiences. Second, these firms relied and
placed high value on informal, non-validated
methods of recruitment and selection, such as
personal contacts or unsolicited letters of
application, and semi-structured methods such
as past experience and the interview. Each of
these findings confirm earlier work on the
selection of professionals (Makin 1989; Whyte
and Doyle 1997). The results related to the third
proposition showed that smaller practices were
more likely to use unsolicited letters of
application, those with centralised personnel
functions were more likely to use formal
recruiting agencies, and the use of a face-to-face
interview was predicted by the need to assess
particular candidate attributes.
Although the generalizability of the findings
is restricted by the relatively small sample size
and the focus on selected professions, the effect
of firm context, and the way in which selectors
interact with this context, were revealed further
through qualitative research. In particular, it
emerged that larger players in all professions
seemed to operate in a distinct applicant market
from the medium-sized and small firms. They
reported higher labour turnover ± perhaps
because it was more difficult to achieve partner
status in these firms ± and more difficulties
finding qualified staff with knowledge or
experience in specialized areas. Small and
medium-sized practices were more likely to
allow progression to partner status; but smaller
practices also recognized that they could not
compete with the salaries, conditions and
experience offered by larger practices.
A contrast between two accountancy firms,
one a large multinational player which was one
of the `Big Six’ (Acc.4) and the other a local
medium-sized firm (Acc.3), illustrates how these
differences in recruitment context impact on
selection strategy. The larger firm, with a
diversity of function and activity, while able to
access a national labour market, was less well
enmeshed into local networks, and made more
use of formal methods, such as headhunting,
managed by dedicated and qualified personnel
staff. The company expected to attract and hire
the `best’ candidates with good academic
qualifications ± `rounded’ people with leadership
skills and problem-solving abilities.
In contrast, the smaller locally based firm
aimed to recruit qualified professionals who
wanted more scope and freedom than the `Big
Six’ offered. They attempted to identify
candidates more suited to the quality of life
factors, job opportunities, and breadth of
experience and work which they could provide.
The partners interviewed were aware of
targeting `second tier’ graduate trainees, or
professionals who would respond to the
company’s work culture, rather than to the
image of the large firms. Informal negotiations,
and particularly interviews, were considered a
valuable means of providing information which
would `sell’ the firm and the job to the candidate.
Partners remained aware of available talent
through unsolicited correspondence and
discussed staffing issues frequently, both at
regular partner meetings and informally, in light
of current or future business and expected
turnover. Thus, for smaller firms, staffing
appeared to be a continuous process, in a
`constant state of flux’ (Arc.5), rather than a
discrete event in response to job vacancies.
The survey also indicated that partners in
smaller, independent and less bureaucratized
firms tended to have longer tenure with the
practice. Management status and experience are
recognized as a significant component of
strategic decision-making (e.g. Spender 1993)
and for professional practices, partners’ tacit
knowledge of their profession may be a
significant underpinning of the apparent
informality of selection. Partners begin their task
with considerable information about national
qualification routes and the quality of candidates’
undergraduate studies through links with
colleges and course tutors; they possess technical
ß Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999 Volume 7 Number 3 September 1999
knowledge of the work/client quality and base
of previous employers; and they may even
know, through networks, individual candidates.
Experience in selection practice is largely gained
through years as a senior partner dealing with
staffing issues and training. The survey data
indicated that only dedicated personnel staff
possessed formal qualifications such as
management or personnel degrees, IPD
membership, or certificates in psychometric
testing. Where there were attempts to formalize
selection practices, this was usually in the form
of short in-house courses (e.g. on interview
skills) or through established links with
recruitment agencies and guidelines issued by
the professional bodies to which firms are
A consistent theme in the case studies was the
importance of local networks for smaller
companies and amongst senior partners,
especially those with longer tenure in the firm.
The professional labour market was described as
`frighteningly close knit’ (S.4), or based on `the
informal friendship with senior staff in most
firms’ (Acc.2). There was an added dimension of
Scottish-based qualifications precluding the
search for candidates from other parts of the
United Kingdom, and even distinctions between
East and West of Scotland. A medium-sized
architects’ firm described Edinburgh as a `series
of linked villages with architectural practices
which know each other and each other’s work
loads’ well (Arc.4), while another referred to the
Glasgow association of architects as a
`tremendous source of contacts’ (Arc.8) ±
unsolicited correspondence was often passed
on to firms known to be recruiting (Arc.6).
It is possible that networks act as informal
information acquisition and validation
mechanisms, providing information about
industry developments and trends and other
firms’ client workload. Through such networks,
partners in firms learn who is winning which
projects, which qualified professionals may be
leaving their current firm, the quality of their
work and their suitability for the firm (L.1, Acc.2,
Arch.5, S.2, S.5). Partners, thus, may already
have a considerable base of information about
candidates before the formal selection process
begins. Larger firms, which tended also to have
shorter tenured partners, were aware of the value
of local networks over advertising as sources of
recruitment (Arc.3), but felt themselves to be
`outsiders’ (Arc.4), and interacted in networks
more relevant to their larger scale and UK-wide
activities, e.g. swapping contract work and staff
across branch offices (Acc.4, L.1). In the five
larger case study companies with dedicated
personnel departments, networks were directed
at building good relationships with recruitment
agencies to ensure they understood the firm’s
needs. Larger practices, then, may have less
access to the codified knowledge of local labour
market and networks than partners in smaller
In general, the findings support the notion
that the use of past experience, personal
networks and interviews for selecting
professionals is less about predicting person-job
fit and more about the socialization process
through which candidates and organizations
gradually perceive a match (Anderson and
Ostroff, 1997; Chatman, 1991). Selection
processes facilitate candidates’ information
acquisition about the organization as well as
the organization’s interrogation of candidate
qualities. Thus, a `socialization impact’ already
may be `designed in’ (Anderson and Ostroff
1997, p. 427) to the selection procedures
reported by these firms, as evidenced by their
ability to access different sources of information
and the attention paid to recruitment processes.
Our interviews with decision-makers suggested
that this access is possible because of the
particular context of professional practices ±
the standardized and limited number of training
routes, professionals’ common experience of
these entry routes, the small-scale and cohesive
nature of inter-firm relationships, the generic
nature of work (despite evidence of increasing
variation), and the relatively continuous stream
of applications targeted at professional practices
from qualified, or newly qualified, professionals.
Within this context, both selectors and
candidates may value opportunities to interact
informally (e.g. on the telephone) in order to
explore the congruence between their
expectations of the job, the organization, and
each other; hence the importance of methods
with face and social validity (Herriot 1989). For
employers, the interview may provide a vehicle
for `selling’ the company, or negotiating the
`match’. Herriot (1984) also argued that
interviews and other selection methods for
professionals should target information about
professional accomplishments relating to the
emergence of future role expectations, e.g.
potential client contacts or market knowledge.
One accountancy firm identified this future
orientation as the sole purpose of conducting
interviews (Acc.5).
In conclusion, the relatively informal
processes which seem to be used by professional
practices to select qualified professionals are
shown in this study to be partly a result of the
type of qualities sought and the ability of the
firm to cope with its recruitment context. No
attempt was made in this study to collect
performance data for qualified professionals and
so evaluate the actual predictive validity of these
methods. The survey and qualitative data,
however, do provide an illustration of how
Volume 7 Number 3 September 1999 ß Blackwell Publishers Ltd 1999
selection forms the early part of a wider social
process, with its potential value lying in the way
it can shape the relationship between
organizations facing a changing business
environment and their future employees.
This study was part of a research project funded
by the Leverhulme Trust (F273/R). We wish to
thank Elspeth Campbell for her contribution to
this project and Edward Snape for his detailed
and helpful comments on earlier drafts of the
1. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in
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Manual on Practice Management; and the
Institute of Chartered Accountants of
Scotland contains advice on personnel
practice in their Internal Procedures Manual
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