2M01 Distinguishing Objective from Subjective Selection Criteria

The contractor’s selection criteria fall into two broad categories: “objective criteria” and “subjective criteria.”

a. Objective Criteria. The central characteristic of an objective criterion is that it can be independently verified. With objective criteria, different people measuring the criteria will reach the same results because they are clearly defined or quantifiable in nature. For example, whether or not the individual earned a certain diploma or degree is an independently verifiable fact.

b. Subjective Criteria. Subjective criteria require judgment in their application. Therefore, people can differ in opinion on whether a particular candidate possesses and meets such a criterion. For example, two selecting officials may easily have differing opinions on whether a candidate “has good leadership skills.” In this example, if disparities exist in the application of the subjective criteria between groups, the CO would gather information to determine if the contractor applied the subjective criteria based on bias or stereotypes. An example of this might be a statement made by hiring official that men commonly display leadership qualities that women do not.

In most cases, the CO will first analyze a contractor’s use of objective criteria and the resulting impact, followed by an analysis of the contractor’s use of subjective criteria and the resulting impact. Decisions based on subjective criteria involve the use of “judgment calls” by the contractor. Clearly, it can be difficult to assess whether subjective criteria are applied equally to all similarly situated applicants or candidates, or whether the application of subjective criteria is tainted by bias or stereotyping. Generally, when the CO cannot attribute an adverse impact to objective criteria, it is likely attributable to the use of subjective criteria. This situation is most likely where the CO finds that the reasons for the decision are undocumented or the contractor characterizes the decision in a subjective manner like saying that the applicant was “a good fit.”

In some instances, the CO will find that the contractor used multiple criteria when making the hiring decision. When this occurs, the CO must determine if the person selected was required to meet each criterion individually or whether the contractor balanced the criteria (e.g., assigns weight to each criterion) in reaching a decision. If meeting each criterion was a requirement, the CO must perform the appropriate analysis for each one. If the criteria are weighted, the CO must establish how they were weighted in order to determine how to conduct an analysis.

For example, a contractor gives each criterion a specific weight but one criterion is not met by a candidate. The contractor, however, selects that candidate. The CO must analyze each criterion independently to, among other things, determine the relevance of each criterion in the selection process. If, however, a contractor gives each criterion a score, and it is the cumulative score that determines whether a candidate is selected, the CO would analyze the cumulative criteria. The contractor may also refer to criteria as “minimum” or “preferred.” Minimum qualifications are usually treated as “pass/fail” whereas preferred qualifications are those that the contractor may prefer but are not necessarily required. The CO must determine whether, and how, the contractor is using this criterion in making employment decisions.