Recruitment and selection

The principle that positions are filled on the basis of merit is fundamental to the recruitment and selection of employees in the public sector. To ensure that the best person is selected, public sector agencies need accurate information about the skills, training and qualifications of applicants.

The NSW Public Sector Workforce Office advises that merit selection is "designed to ensure that:

  • all eligible members of the community have a fair chance to gain a job with the Government
  • selection is based only on a person's ability to perform the work
  • the best person is selected, resulting in a quality public sector workforce capable of effectively designing and delivering services and programs to the people of NSW."1  

Improperly conducting recruitment and selection can constitute corrupt conduct as defined by the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988. Corruption-free recruitment and selection helps to "set the tone" for the whole agency.

If recruitment selection processes are questionable or corrupt, then agencies are unlikely to be able to recruit or keep people who will improve the ethical climate of the agency. It is essential that favouritism, nepotism, and other conflicts of interest do not influence recruitment and selection processes. 


Corruption risks

A risk assessment of recruitment and selection in a public sector agency is likely to identify some or all of the following corruption risks:

  • An employee (convenor/panel member/other) manipulating selection procedures to secure the appointment of a close friend or family member.
  • A selection panel member failing to declare a conflict of interest and acting to advance the interests of an applicant who is a close friend or a relative.
  • The convenor of a selection committee appointing members to the selection panel whom they can influence in order to ensure their favoured candidate will be selected.
  • An applicant falsifying qualifications or employment history to enhance his or her prospects of securing a position.

 

Managing corruption risks

As a minimum your agency should:

  • Introduce policy and procedures for recruitment and selection which contains elements listed in the Policy Development Model.
  • Include in the policy sanctions for any breach of the policy and procedures.
  • Review the policy every two years.
  • Refer to recruitment and selection in all corporate documents such as codes of conduct.
  • Train all relevant employees in the policy and procedures to ensure they are aware of their accountabilities.
  • Include recruitment and selection as a risk to be assessed in the agency's internal audit and corruption risk management processes.
  • Throughout the process document why the applicant was chosen, why other applicants were culled and who was responsible for the key decisions.2

 

Risk management strategies

Following your risk assessment of the employee recruitment and selection process, you should consider these risk management strategies:

  • Retaining interview notes made by each member of the selection committee on the recruitment file.3
  • Recording verification of all academic and professional qualifications. 
  • Including independents from outside the organisation on the selection panel.
  • Filling vacancies promptly so that periods during which employees undertake more senior duties are not unduly extended, to the disadvantage of other potential applicants.
  • Screening pre-employment candidates and undertaking thorough reference checks.4 Each referee should be asked the same questions relating to the selection criteria and responses documented.
  • Verifying personal details with original documentation or certified copies.5
  • Advertising positions widely enough to maximise the potential field and including appropriate selection criteria.

Strategies for internal recruitment and selection

  • Demonstrating fairness and impartiality when dealing with internal applicants by:
    • Not involving potential internal applicants in any part of the recruitment process, such as acting as the contact person for potential candidates, preparing position descriptions or framing advertisements.6
    • Keeping information confidential prior to the interview.7
    • Avoiding preferential treatment of internal applicants such as coaching or providing advice not available to other applicants or encouraging an expectation of success or failure.

Strategies for reducing the risks from fraudulent qualifications

  • Verifying qualifications of job applicants as part of their claim to a position prior to appointment.8
  • Informing all applicants in clear terms that falsely claiming qualifications will lead to their dismissal and/or prosecution for any relevant offence.
  • Ensuring all applicants sign a certificate declaring that the qualifications they assert are genuine and that they acknowledge any falsely claimed qualifications can lead to their dismissal.
  • Including a provision that permits an employer to terminate the employment of an applicant who falsely claims qualifications in all letters of appointment or other contractual documentation.

Record-keeping and reporting strategies

  • Recording if no referees were consulted in making a selection decision and the reason the selection committee found it was not necessary to do so.
  • Recording all the reasons where it was deemed appropriate that competitive processes were not used and keeping these reasons in a manner and place that readily permits scrutiny, if required.9
  • Clearly stating why applicants were considered unsuitable and culled before interview in the selection committee reports.
  • Including selection committee comments on each applicant interviewed with reference to each selection criterion in these reports.
  • Providing copies of the selection panel reports to all members of the selection panel and integrating these comments into the joint deliberations of the selection panel.

Recruiting for state government positions

The following risk management strategies should also be considered when recruiting for state government positions:

  • Ensuring the policy is consistent with the NSW Government Personnel Handbook Chapter 2, Recruitment, selection and appointment.10
  • Making temporary appointments in accordance with the NSW Government Personnel Handbook 2.7.2 (that is, only in the stipulated circumstances).

Recruiting for local government positions

The following risk management strategies should also be considered when recruiting for local government positions:

  • Ensuring the policy on recruitment and selection is consistent with sections 348 and 349 of the Local Government Act 1993, which respectively require the advertising of positions, and selection on the basis of merit. [Section 350 exempts appointments by way of demotion or lateral transfer].
  • Making temporary, local government appointments conform with section 351 of the Local Government Act, which stipulates that such appointments can be made if a position (including a senior staff position) within the organisation structure of the council is vacant or the holder of such a position is suspended from duty, sick or absent. (Such appointments are limited to a period of 12 months.)

 

Case studies

Case study 1

An ICAC investigation in 2003 revealed the theft of more than 2,000 specimens from the collections of a major natural history museum over a five-year period. The culprit had been employed on a 'temporary' basis for six years, initially as assistant conservator (pest control) and later as a caster/plasterer.

The ICAC found that the employee had acted corruptly, and recommended that consideration be given to his prosecution for the offence of larceny. Prosecution action was successfully taken, and a sentence of seven years with a non-parole period of five years was handed down in April 2007.

The ICAC recommended that the museum develop a policy on recruitment, referee checks, access, accountability, supervision and training of volunteers and that temporary employees be employed in accordance with the provisions of section 38 of the Public Sector Management and Employment Act 2002.

Case study 2

In 2003 an ICAC investigation found that an employee had falsely represented his tertiary academic qualifications from three institutions for the purpose of applying for and gaining positions with five state agencies, and an appointment as Conjoint Professor, in the graduate school of business at a university.

He had also created and used false documents purporting to be academic degrees, and falsely represented to a Justice of the Peace that these documents were genuine. The intention was that the Justice of the Peace would certify copies as being true copies of original documents.

The ICAC noted that the employee's reliance on false academic qualifications went undetected from 1987 until late 2001, due to repeated failures of the agencies concerned to make any enquiries with the relevant academic institutions to verify his claims.

The ICAC found that the employee had engaged in corrupt conduct and recommended that consideration be given to criminal prosecution. Several detailed recommendations were made in relation to the recruitment of employees with relevant qualifications, including:

  • sighting original certificates or certified (by the institution) academic transcripts;
  • contacting issuing institutions to verify qualifications
  • keeping records of verification checks, especially when performed by recruitment consultants
  • requiring all applicants to sign a certificate declaring that the qualifications they assert are genuine and
  • providing, in letters of appointment or other contractual documentation, that an employer may terminate the employment of an applicant who falsely claims qualifications.
Case study 3

The ICAC received complaints about the recruitment procedures used by a regional council to fill a labourer's position. The selection criteria included a requirement that the successful applicant be a qualified electrician.

This surprised many people because in the past, the council had not employed an electrician and used contractors to undertake any electrical work. Only one applicant met all the required selection criteria and he was appointed to the position after the interview. That applicant was the son of the council's director of engineering.

The council could not adequately explain why a labourer's position required a qualified electrician, as no job analysis had been undertaken and there was no up-to-date position description. Neither was there any record of who had authorised the changed selection criterion.

The ICAC advised that:

  • acting impartially would have required anybody with a potential conflict of interest, such as the director in this scenario, to be removed from the process
  • transparency could have been increased in this situation by explaining any reasons for changing the position description and job advertisement to people who may otherwise have had an expectation of applying for the job
  • the process would have been more accountable if appropriate records of the key decisions in the recruitment process had been kept, helping to eliminate suspicions that the process had been unfair.

Frequently asked questions

What if the selection panel members are friendly with an internal applicant? How friendly is too friendly?

The presence of a close friendship (delineated by such factors as regular socialising outside work) should be treated as a conflict of interest, declared and managed (see the module Conflicts of Interest). Panel members should be required to sign declarations in the selection panel reports about any conflicts of interest they have in relation to any applicant. 

If it is difficult to find panel members from inside the organisation who are not close friends with applicants the organisation can recruit additional external panel members to replace them.

Is it OK for agencies to use the same independent on a number of different panels?
This is not a desirable practice because it can be important that the panel member is independent not only of the recruiting agency, but also of other parties and agencies. Choosing the same independent on a regular basis could result in the agencies or parties with whom the independent has associations having an inordinate influence on the staffing of the recruiting agency.
How far can a public sector agency go in screening applicants? Should all employees be subject to a criminal records check?
Employee screening can be very useful. There have been legal cases in the USA that found that employers have an obligation to ensure that those they serve do not suffer at the hands of their employees. However it is an intrusive process and can only be used when it is justified by the type of job being applied for. Generally the greater the position of trust the more justified an employer is in screening applicants. For example, it is considered reasonable to require people who work with children or in high security roles to submit to a check of their criminal records (see Australian Standard AS 4811-2006, Employment Screening).
What risks in the selection process should my agency be aware of and manage?

An employee can manipulate the selection process by:

  • misusing delegation to make a long-term temporary appointment to evade selection procedures
  • restricting advertising or timeframes
  • writing selection criteria in such a way as to favour the intended appointee
  • concealing negative referee reports from the rest of the selection panel
  • appointing a fellow employee, who is a friend, to a more senior position than their current role or
  • repeatedly extending the term of a position occupied by a friend in order to provide them with an advantage when the position is advertised substantively.

Resources

Other publications

  • Personnel Handbook, NSW Public Sector Commission
  • Practice note no 5, Recruitment of the General Manager and Senior Staff, NSW Department of Local Government, 1994
  • Model Code for Local Government, NSW Division of Local Government
  • Australian Standard AS 4811-2006, Employment Screening
  • Manual Delegations to Department Heads 2004, NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet
  • Merit selection guide for NSW public sector panels: picking the best person for the job NSW Public Sector Workforce Office 2002, updated 2008.

 

Relevant ICAC investigations

 

Relevant websites

 

Related topics on the ICAC website

 

Endnotes 

  1. Merit selection guide for NSW public sector panels: picking the best person for the job NSW Public Sector Workforce Office 2002, updated 2008
  2. See Best Practice, Best Person: Integrity in Public Sector Recruitment and Selection, May 1999, pp.4, 5.
  3. See Best Practice, Best Person: Integrity in Public Sector Recruitment and Selection, ICAC May 1999 p.11.
  4. See Current Progress and Future Directions NSW Audit Office p.4, AS8001-3.8 in new draft, and The Fraud Control Plan- Fraud Risk Assessment, op cit , p.12
  5. The Fraud Control Plan- Fraud Risk Assessment, ibid. P.12 
  6. See Recruitment and Selection, ICAC 2002 p.15
  7. Best Practice, Best Person: Integrity in Public Sector Recruitment and Selection, ICAC May 1999 p.17 
  8. Report on investigation into Mr Glen Oakley's use of false academic qualifications, ICAC December 2003 p.23
  9. See Best Practice, Best Person, op cit, p.16
  10. See Best Practice, Best Person, op cit, p12.