The explanation for national differences in selection can only be tentative, as to date there has been very little systematic research exploring this issue. Rather, there has been a tendency for authors to speculate on reasons for differences once these differences have been observed- As Ryan et al. (1999) note: 'none of these studies has focused on why one might expect variability across nations in selection practices' (p. 360). This is not peculiar to the study of national differences in selection methods since demonstrations of differences in the ways in which particular technologies are unbundled, modified and (re)designed across nations are relatively rare (Swan, Newell & Robertson, 2000). We will draw on these previous speculations about the reasons for national differences in selection method use in this section, but will consider these explanations in the context of broader theorising about national differences in the diffusion and adoption of new ideas (in this case ideas about selection methods that can improve the effectiveness of selection decisions).

It is possible that the observed national differences in the use of selection methods are the result of national differences in task environments (Miles & Snow, 1978). And of course it is clear that the kind of selection methods used will be affected by the task environment. So, for example, the methods used to select a secretary are likely to be quite different to the methods used to select a university lecturer (e.g. giving a university lecturer a speed typing test may not be considered to be appropriate while for a secretary this would be deemed quite appropriate – even though, ironically, a lecturer may spend a majority of his/her time in front of a PC, typing!). However, the evidence on national differences suggests that there are cross-national differences in organisational practices related to the use of selection methods even when recruiting for similar tasks. Therefore managers will be selected using different methods in Italy compared to the UK even when controlling for organisational size (Shackleton & Newell, 1994). This suggests that there is a societal effect (Sorge, 1991) that needs to be used to explain the variation in selection practices across countries. A societal effect implies that differences in institutional networks, regulatory environments, economic factors and national culture are related to differences in selection method use. Each of these will be explored in turn in the next section.

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