HR | Atlantic - Positive Change at Work

Is Staffing A Science Or An Art?

Mar 12, 2009

By Lindsay Sinyerd
As a Saint Mary’s University student a few months from graduation, I have been presented a number of varying perspectives on human resource-related practices. There’s one theory in particular that has important implications for the HR field: Staffing as a Science.
At the beginning of this school semester, my Staffing and Selection professor opened his course quoting a Chairman of the Board of Directors for a large provincial organization: “Hiring people is an art, not a science.” My professor’s response: “Not true.”
According to the theory, staffing, which is the process of acquiring, deploying, and retaining an effective workforce, can and should be approached using scientific methodology. By applying scientific method characteristics (analytical, objective, systematic, and empirical), it is argued that staffing processes will be more likely to result in the attraction and retention of people best suited for the job. The scientific process includes measuring job applicants through screening tests to predict future performance, involving statistical analysis. This approach to staffing does its best to eliminate subjectivity concerning the best fit for the job.
Personally, I’m not really convinced on the scientific approach to recruitment and selection. I have always agreed with the local Chair (and Starbucks Chairman, Howard Schultz): that there is an art to staffing.  Hiring the right person for the job is not just about a scientific résumé screening process and a job applicant’s score on some test.  It’s also about thinking creatively about an applicant’s experiences and work history. Creative, growing companies that are always looking for new ideas, and new ways of doing things avoid locking themselves into fixed job descriptions; instead, while they are guided by job and competency needs analysis, they are always on the look out for talent that would be delighted to have on board, but not captured in their automatic screening tool.  Sometimes the best candidate for the job isn’t the person the employer initially expected. Furthermore, in order to really assess an applicant’s fit, a good interviewer who asks the right questions and follows up is essential. This approach allows for the potential emergence of information that can’t be picked up in the rigid scientific measurement tool. To me, looking at staffing as an art can help job applicants paint a clearer picture of their potential fit.

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