What I learned from recruiting social workers

19 Apr 2017

Beware 'experience bias' when hiring - it can mean you miss out on the best person for the job, argues Blair McPherson

“On this occasion you have not been successful, you did a good interview but the post went to a candidate with more experience/ more relevant experience.”

Well you can’t argue with that or can you? As far as feedback goes this is meant to make you feel better but is it an example of, “experience bias”?

I mean if the decision on who to appoint was based on experience then they knew from the application forms who had the most experience. Was it a waste of time the rest of us turning up? The feeling can be quite raw after an interview.

I have sat both sides of the interview table and seen how experience bias can operate. It starts well before the candidates find themselves in front of the interview panel when the person specification is being drawn up.

Why state how many years experience an individual must have when what you really want to know is the range and depth of experience? What is better – 10 years’ experience which on examination is one years’ experience reaped ten times or three years in which every year brought new challenges and new learning opportunities?

What the interview panel want to find out is what the candidate has learnt from their experience that would better equip them for the post.

“Must have experience of client group”, is an essential criteria I frequently came across in social services. I was guilty of this when recruiting a manager for a residential care home for older people. I was rightly challenged on this and quickly saw the benefits of not putting in unnecessary restrictions.

For a start this opened up the post to a wider range of candidates and it refocused the questions from,” tell us about your experience of working with older people”, to “tell us what you consider to be best practice and the values that underpin your practice”.

As a result we appointed a young person with a background in learning disabilities who turned out to be an excellent appointment who wouldn’t even have been able to apply had we stuck to the original criteria.

I applied the same thinking to social work posts. As a manager of a specialist team for older people I was more interested in a candidates response to risk in relation to dementia and how they would challenge appropriately medical staff who were risk adverse than which client group they had previously worked with.

Which means I would consider a social worker with a child care background for a specialist adult care team. Perhaps more controversially I see no reason why a social worker with a background in adult services can’t transfer to a specialist child protection post provided they have the skills and can demonstrate the specialist knowledge.

Beware of experience bias. You may be ruling out the best candidate.

See full article on Community Care

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