Select the Right People

A person’s character is the most important criteria when recruiting new members for your team.

A colleague was running a selection process for an elite and prestigious unit of a police service with more than 1500 sworn officers. He had concerns with the process and asked me for my opinion.

He described the try-outs to me which began with the candidates attending the firearms range on Day 1 and shooting the service firearms qualifier. If they were successful, they would move on in the process and if they weren’t, they would be eliminated from the competition. 

I asked him why he was asking people to shoot the service qualifier, to which he responded “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  

Although firearms proficiency is important for any position in a police service, some units more than others, every member of the police service is required to shoot a service qualifier such as this one annually, at minimum. So I posed a few more questions… 

  • What are you asking them to do that they haven’t already done? 
  • What are you going to measure and learn about your candidates?
  • What if they fail the service qualifier? This may now place a liability on the service if they are involved in a shooting and say, kill an innocent by-stander, for example.
  • How is this fair for the potentially stellar candidate that may be an asset to your unit who is just having a bad day on the range, or maybe just finished their nightshift; as opposed to the magnificent target turned in by the candidate who is in a job position that allows them to practice as often as they want? It’s a bias evaluation. 

Moving to my point I asked him…

  • But wasn’t there a memorandum announcing the anticipated vacancies in the specialty unit? 
  • And in that memorandum, wasn’t there a directive to the potential applicants that “NO JEANS” will be permitted during any part of the selection process?

Low and behold, there were candidates that attended the selection process wearing jeans. 

Now this particular specialty unit was one which was responsible for the protection of high profile political figures who were visiting the city and I can assure you that possessing the ability to follow directions is critical! Now you have a candidate who has just proven that they don’t possess that characteristic. 

If this were my unit’s selection process, unfortunately that candidate would be dropped from the process but most importantly, told exactly why.

This is what you should be measuring, not a score on a target.

Shooting at the range may very well be an excellent way to observe and evaluate your candidates but the target’s score is not what you should be measuring. You can improve people’s shooting ability but good luck improving their character. You can try, or you can just pick the candidates who already have the character you’re looking for.


Many people know that character should be the most important criteria in selecting people but most don’t know how to do it. To do so you must define, elicit and measure the characteristic effectively.

Defining the Behaviour

Before you measure character, you must first define it. As a team leader or evaluator, you must first define the characteristics that have garnered members of your team success, and even provide real world examples.

If you don’t know where to begin, start with a dictionary definition and tailor it to your needs. Involve your supervisory group and keep your list of characteristics to a minimum of core characteristics for simplicity in measuring.

Elicit the Behaviour

You cannot measure what you don’t observe. You have to elicit the behaviour. This needs to be integrated into your selection process. In the case of following directions, for example, this can be done easily, by giving specific instructions to candidates, written or orally, and grade them on their ability to carry them out, such as with the written memorandum cited earlier.

Measure the Behaviour

Once defined and elicited, you need a means of measuring the desired characteristic on each of the evaluation day’s scoresheets. A simple way could be a score of 1-4. 1 being poor and 4 being excellent. By using 1-4 as opposed to 1-5, you force evaluators to choose a pass or a fail. Research suggests that the evaluators default to 3 out of 5 for sub-standard performances, probably because they don’t want to fail their peers. They want to be nice. Rating a performance from 1-4 encourages the evaluators to make a commitment.

I’ve used the character trait of following directions up until now but any characteristic can be defined, elicited and measured.

For example, coach-ability is a desirable trait for most recruiters. To elicit coach-ability you can teach a candidate something that they don’t know, a new skill, and see how they adapt to it, how they take instructions and how they handle the stress.

Another characteristic may be composure. You can test composure by assigning candidates difficult, even impossible tasks, to see how they cope and push candidates to their limits.

Sense of humour is an enormously underrated characteristic in selections and speaks volumes about a person’s nature. Also, it’s very easy to elicit and measure. Let’s face it, we are going to have to spend long hours with the people we select and having a positive and colourful personality is important.

Following Directions, Coach-Ability, Composure and Humour are only four of the dozens of qualities and characteristics that may or may not be important to you as a recruiter. 

The bottom line is that character should be your selection criteria, not pass or fail objective and meaningless scoring. And to accomplish this you must define, elicit and measure what characteristics you are looking for.

At the conclusion of your selection process, you will have a set of scores which reflect the characteristics you desire. You will select the right candidates for your team, be able to defend your position and provide honest and evidence based feedback for the unsuccessful applicants.