Removing Barriers Part 2


The fundamental purpose of assessment for personnel selection is to determine people's competence to perform the work and, where appropriate, their potential to progress along a foreseeable career path.

Fair assessment provides all candidates with equal opportunities to demonstrate their qualifications. As such, fair assessment is barrier-free. This section describes six principles underlying fair assessment. Subsequent sections deal with the importance of awareness of potential biases when using these principles, and provide examples of applying the principles to remove barriers to the fair assessment of members of visible minorities and Aboriginal peoples.

The principles are not a set of rules but rather a framework that can help to put staffing values, such as fairness, equity, transparency, respect and integrity into practice. They provide guidance in making the many choices and decisions required in a selection process so that all candidates have an equal opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications. As such, they contribute to the goal of creating a public service that is competent, representative and non-partisan.

Principle 1:

When reviewing the work to be done, take into account the diverse ways in which the work can be accomplished.

Fair assessment begins long before any qualification is assessed. Qualifications must be based on the work to be performed. Accordingly, fair assessment begins with a thorough understanding of the duties to be performed in the job(s), the scope and level of these duties, and the context in which they are performed.

Further information on analyzing the duties of the job(s) to be filled can be found in the Standards for Selection and Assessment.

When thinking about the work to be done, the manner in which it is carried out, and the work environment, it is essential to think about diverse ways in which the work can be successfully performed. Under the Canadian Human Rights Act, an employer is required to accommodate the needs of an individual, or a class of individuals, to the point of undue hardship. Accordingly, you need to provide opportunities for people to perform these duties in different ways. Understanding that work can be accomplished in a number of equally effective ways is the foundation for ensuring that qualifications are barrier-free.

Principle 2:

Ensure that all qualifications are required to do the work, and are clearly defined and barrier-free.

Qualifications must be based on the work to be performed, and include the following types: Knowledge, Abilities/Skills, Aptitudes, Personal Suitability, Experience, Education, Occupational Certification, and Official Language Proficiency. Future, as well as current, organizational needs may be considered in specifying qualifications. In addition, it is critical to establish the relative importance of each qualification up-front and to avoid overemphasizing one aspect, for example Experience, as this may exclude otherwise capable individuals.

All qualifications must be clearly defined to be fairly assessed. It is often useful to define qualifications (including Abilities/Skills, Aptitudes, and Personal Suitability) concretely in terms of the observable behaviours that a competent person would perform when displaying the qualification.

Consulting with members of designated groups and/or experts in diversity is an important step in ensuring that a Statement of Qualifications is barrier-free. This review should ensure that the qualifications are both clearly understood and defined broadly enough to capture the full diversity of effective work styles and to recognize the value of diverse experience. A review of the Statement of Qualifications and any related behavioural definitions can help to identify qualifications that are unduly restrictive or culturally specific. Replacing or revising such qualifications with a broader perspective and more inclusive approach in defining them will remove potential barriers to otherwise competent and qualified candidates.

Information on defining competencies can be found under the heading "Competencies"on the Human Resource Management (HRM) Information section of the Personnel Psychology Centre Web site.

Principle 3:

Choose or develop assessment instruments that are valid and reliable, and that provide candidates with an equal opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications.

After the qualifications are specified, the Selection Board decides how candidates will be assessed. Varied methods are available to assess qualifications including, for example, reviews of past experience and accomplishments (e.g., reference checks, self-reports, or samples of previous work), written tests, simulations, and interviews. A fundamental requirement of any assessment instrument is that it be valid; that is, the instrument must measure the qualification that it is intended to measure. For example, an instrument used to measure "Teamwork" must accurately assess the qualification as defined by teamwork behaviours. Another requirement is that any assessment instrument be reliable; that is, the instrument should yield consistent results. For example, two people trained to review candidates' self-reports of experience should evaluate a given self-report in a comparable manner.

In addition to being valid and reliable, assessment instruments must provide candidates with an equal opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications. No single assessment instrument can take everything into account, and candidates may react differently to different forms of assessment. Accordingly, when feasible, it is advisable to use more than one source of information, not only across different qualifications, but also for the same qualification. For example, information from an interview and a reference check can be combined to assess an ability. Multi-method assessments increase candidates' opportunities to demonstrate their qualifications and can also provide more complete and hence more valid assessment.

In addition to using multi-method assessments, it is also important to ensure that each assessment instrument reflects diversity. For example, language that requires culture-specific knowledge that is not work-related can be replaced by language that will be equally familiar to a diversity of candidates. The content of tests, interviews, or simulations that present hypothetical situations or scenarios can be examined to ensure that these convey the message to all candidates that diversity is recognized and valued. This can be achieved in part by varying the gender and other personal characteristics of hypothetical characters portrayed so that diversity is represented in a positive light.

Information on developing and using valid assessment instruments (e.g., structured selection interviews, simulations, paper-and-pencil tests) can be found under the heading "Assessing for Competence Series" on the Human Resource Management (HRM) Information section of the Personnel Psychology Centre Web site.

Principle 4:

Provide candidates with the information that they need on the assessment process.

Candidates cannot perform at their best unless they understand what they are to do and how they will be evaluated. To the extent that some candidates have less direct experience with certain assessment processes or have limited access to information about assessment processes through informal channels or networks, they will be disadvantaged. Consistent, clear, and adequate information about the assessment process should be provided to all candidates before the assessment so that pre-existing information gaps among candidates can be minimized. Another opportunity to provide candidates with information on the selection and assessment process is after the selection decision is made. At that time, candidates can find out more about the selection and assessment process - for example, additional information on selection criteria - and information about the assessment of their qualifications. Such post-selection feedback can help candidates prepare for future assessments, and may also provide departmental personnel with information on candidates' reactions and experiences in the process that may be useful for improving future selection and assessment.

Information on the most frequently administered exams and sample questions can be found under "Sample Exams" on the Public Service Commission'S Web site.

Principle 5:

Gather assessment information in a way that provides all candidates with an equal opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications.

When an assessment method involves interaction with candidates (e.g., an interview), it is important to conduct the interaction in a way that optimizes candidates' opportunities to demonstrate their qualifications. The Board's interaction with every candidate should be characterized by respect, and should reinforce each candidate's belief that his or her performance will be evaluated solely on the basis of his or her qualifications, and not extraneous factors. Selection Board members should be knowledgeable about employment equity and human rights legislation, including knowing the types of questions that cannot be asked in an employment interview because they are related to prohibited grounds for discrimination. Communication that is clear and adapted to different candidates' communication styles will also help to ensure equal opportunity to demonstrate qualifications. Finally, the composition of the Selection Board can have an impact on candidates' comfort levels and possibly their performance. Accordingly, it is useful to have a knowledgeable, respectful, and to the greatest extent possible, diverse Selection Board that is representative of Canadian society.

For more information about questions related to prohibited grounds for discrimination, see A Guide to Screening and Selection in Employment, a publication made available through the Canadian Human Rights Commission

Principle 6:

Evaluate candidates' qualifications based on work-related assessment criteria, avoiding sources of potential bias.

Evaluation of a candidate's qualifications takes place after the assessment information has been collected. Selection Board members need to evaluate qualifications based solely on work-related assessment criteria.

It is important for Selection Board members to be aware of their own potential biases in order to avoid potential sources of error when assessing qualifications. For example, a Selection Board member may consistently evaluate certain qualifications more positively than others (e.g., when reviewing résumés, placing higher value on experience gained inside versus outside Canada, or on experience gained inside versus outside the Public Service).

Such errors in assessment can occur because people tend to evaluate more positively those whom they perceive as similar to themselves than those whom they perceive as different. As well, people can be influenced by stereotypes that they have about others. These stereotypes can be positive or negative. Consequently, when evaluating qualifications, Selection Board members need to be aware of their own values, culture, and assumptions ("pre-judgments"), guard against the influence of these sources of potential bias in making evaluations, and focus solely on work-related criteria in assessing each candidate's qualifications. One of the potential benefits of a diverse Selection Board is the availability of a broader understanding of the ways in which diverse candidates may demonstrate their qualifications, thus better enabling the Board to make sound selection decisions based on work-related criteria. Part III provides additional information on increasing awareness of potential sources of bias.

Learning from experience

Although the six Principles for Fair Assessment are straightforward, putting them into practice can present challenges. It is essential to learn from experience and monitor progress. Systematically asking candidates about their experience of the application and assessment processes, and tracking candidate performance can help to identify areas for improvement. Analyzing the experiences and outcomes of designated employment equity group members can help to identify specific systemic barriers and eliminate them in future assessment processes.

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