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Chapter 2 - Audit Findings in respect of External Appointment Processes

2.1       Introduction

The Houses of the Oireachtas Service carried out a number of open competitions from which permanent and fixed-term appointments were made in 2014.  The following processes were selected for review during the audit:

(i)     Web and Digital Marketing Manager – (Assistant Principal) 3 Year Fixed-term Appointment

(ii)     Advisory Counsel (Grade III) – Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisor – Permanent or Fixed-term

The Commission also considered issues highlighted in a recent complaint as well as its previous audit of the Office Holder.

The following information relates to the processes and procedures in place in the Houses of the Oireachtas Service for the recruitment and selection of candidates on foot of external appointment processes.  The Office Holder advised that these procedures described below are followed for all external appointments processes.  The report notes any deviations from the standard process, if appropriate. 

The findings set out below are based on discussions with relevant HR personnel and have been verified following a detailed review of the relevant competition files.

2.2       Overview of the appointment processes

All recruitment and selection in the Houses of the Oireachtas Service is conducted centrally by the HR Recruitment Division, which has responsibility for managing all stages of the appointment process from planning the competition through to making the offer of appointment.  Based on the information gathered during the course of this Audit, the staff involved in the management of the selection processes have the requisite recruitment experience and knowledge of the Codes of Practice.  New staff appointed to the HR area receive recruitment related on-the-job training and coaching before they are asked to carry out recruitment related duties.

Circulars

During the planning stage the Recruitment Division liaise with the Head of the Section where the vacant position needs to be filled in order to get an understanding of the relevant operational knowledge on the role, its principal duties and competencies required for effective performance.    

All positions are advertised on the Careers section of the Oireachtas Website and on the PAS website - publicjobs.ie.

Information in the Candidate Information Booklet covers all aspects of the process including background information on the post, duties and requirements for the role, key competencies, application and selection process and conditions of appointment.  The Booklet also makes reference to the Commission’s Code of Practice and the review procedures available to candidates.

Selection Boards

Where shortlising is utilised, members of the selection board will evaluate written applications to determine those candidates most likely to attain a competitive standard at interview.  The same selection board will also participate in the interview process to facilitate a consistent approach to the assessment of candidates.  HR Services retains a pool of potential board members who are trained and experienced interviewers and from which board members are selected for each competition.  Training for board members is provided by an external provider including refresher training as required. 

The selection board for a competition is supported by one external person, who is generally chosen from a list of PAS interviewers.

In most cases, the Office Holder selects two internal members, at least one of whom will have expert knowledge of the professional role.  The second internal board member is selected by HR Services and will be at an appropriate level.

All board members are briefed by a member of the Recruitment Division in advance of a competition and are provided with documentation relating to the competition.  An notetaker is provided for all interviews.  HR Services liaises with the selection board throughout and reviews the process when it concludes to identify any issues arising to be addressed for future competitions.  A report on the process is prepared for the file.

The Office does not employ multiple selection boards when conducting an appointment process.         

Application and Selection Process

Candidates are required to complete a standard job application form that includes particulars of qualifications and employment record, as well as providing details of experience under a number of headings that have been identified as relevant to the particular job.  Candidates are also required to provide the names of two referees to be contacted in the event of the candidate being successful at the interview stage.

The Information Booklet sets out that the selection process will include

(i)           shortlisting on the basis of information contained in the application form

(ii)       preliminary interviews may be required to reduce the numbers going forward to the main interview

(iii)      a competitive interview including a presentation on a topic notified in advance

The assessment of candidates at the shortlisting stage involves the examination of application forms by an expert board against pre-determined criteria based on the requirements for the role.  These criteria are discussed and agreed by the board members in advance.  A member of HR Services is present during the shortlisting process to ensure consistency and to address any matters raised by the board members.  

Candidates are assessed at interview under the headings set out in the circular and application forms, i.e. knowledge, experience, requirements and key competencies for the role as well as a presentation exercise, if considered appropriate for the position.  Scores are awarded by the board members at interview on individual marking sheets.  Candidates receive written feedback from the selection board in the form of summary comments and the scores awarded under each heading assessed at interview.   

Panels and Appointments

Following the interview process, a board report setting out the panel of candidates deemed suitable for appointment to the particular role is presented to HR Recruitment Division by the selection board.  Appointments are made from the panel in order of merit to fill permanent or fixed term contract vacancies as they arise in accordance with the sanction received from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. 

Referees/Validation

At the application stage all external candidates are required to provide the names of two referees who can be contacted if the candidate is deemed suitable for appointment after the interview stage.  In the event that a candidate is being considered for a job offer a member of the HR Recruitment Division contacts the two named referees by phone and requests a written reference in relation to the candidate.  No formal job offer is made until HR Services is satisfied with the references received.  The Office Holder has advised that it has procedures in place to manage situations where adverse references are received during this process.  In the event that a reference is not favourable to a candidate the candidate may be liable to disqualification.  All civil service appointment to the Service are also subject to Garda clearance.

Requests for Review

The Information Booklet provides detailed guidelines for dealing with appeals and requests for review in accordance with the provisions of the Code of Practice.

Of the two open competitions examined there were requests for review under Section 7 of the Code received from two candidates following the shortlisting process for the Advisory Counsel post.  An internal reviewer was appointed to carry out the reviews which concluded that neither of the applications reviewed merited progression to the next stage of the recruitment process.  A further request for review was received from one candidate which was reviewed by an external Decision Arbitrator who expressed satisfaction with the manner in which the Initial Review was carried out.