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Prepare to justify why your hire beat rest of applicants

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Do you routinely receive many applications from people who are clearly well-qualified for open positions? If so, how can you safely narrow the field to only the most qualified?

The larger the applicant pool, the more likely it is someone will sue for discrimination. To whittle down the number of applicants and interview only the most qualified requires careful thought before you even place the ad.

Begin by making sure the job description is current and accurate. Have you included minimum-level requirements, as well as ideal experience and education levels? That will help you sort the best or most ideally qualified applicants from those who are merely “qualified.” Review each application using the same checklist.

Finally, interview those who come closest to the ideal candidate.

Recent case: Esteban Sarmiento, a Hispanic male with a Ph.D. in physical anthropology, sued Montclair State University when he wasn’t called in for an interview. His application was one of approximately 54 that the university received in response to an ad for a professorship.

Montclair interviewed three applicants it thought were the best qualified and hired a white female. Because Sarmiento met the basic qualifications, the court said he met his initial burden of proof: He was a qualified member of a protected class who was rejected in favor of a non-member of his class.

But the court said that wasn’t enough in light of the university’s selection process. A committee picked the top three candidates based on specific courses they had taught and their research interests. While Sarmiento worked in primate research, the others all worked on human research similar to projects already taking place at the university. That made those candidates the most qualified.

It also didn’t hurt that the court knew Sarmiento had filed an earlier unsuccessful failure-to-hire lawsuit against another university. (Sarmiento v. Montclair State University, No. 04-4176, DC NJ, 2007)  

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