Senior Selection Interviewing: From Individual Skill and Intuition to Habitus and Practice
Research into choosing individuals to fill positions at or near board level in organisations is scarce; however we know that interviewing is the dominant selection practice. The research into selection interviewing at junior and middle levels is extensive. Overwhelmingly it takes the form of scientific (typically psychological) studies of independent, interacting individuals understood in either rational agent or stimulus-response modes. This research narrates the author’s involvement as an expert adviser to the board of a UK non-profit in the selection of their chief executive. The narrative material is interrogated using the concepts of habitus and practice as developed by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. This work builds on explorations of power, skill and intuition which use further narratives of the author’s experience as an interviewer and a leader, and also a participant in the management doctorate programme at the University of Hertfordshire. Previously the author worked for eighteen years in executive search. The author argues that both the practice of senior selection interviewing and its theorisation are damaged by too narrowly scientific a discourse which neglects substantial strands of relevant scholarship (for example within broader management studies, sociology, critical theory and philosophy). Behavioural competencies and transferable skills – bedrock concepts in contemporary human resource ‘best practice’, including selection – are called into question. The author experiences the practice of senior selection interviewing as stuck, caught between cynical and scientific interpretations of itself (that is, self-interested power play and disinterested measurement). Neither perspective yields a productive dialectic. The ideas of habitus and practice open a different understanding which does not simply reject the preceding perspectives but attempts to advance beyond them.