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Staffing Management: Online Screening Saves Time & Money

Stephenie Overman   7/1/2005

Staffing Management, July  September 2005

Vol. 1, No. 2

User-friendly tests and carefully thought-out assessments can help you find better candidates faster.

Technology cant make your hiring decisions for you, but effective online programs can add efficiency to your screening and candidate assessment processes.

Used properly, these programs are particularly good at the early step of weeding out unqualified candidates.

Asking applicants to begin the process by answering a few basic questions online can save a company tens of thousands of dollars, according to Joseph Murphy, principal and vice president of Shaker Consulting Group in Cleveland.

This approach also frees up recruiters, Murphy says, to do recruiting rather than administrative stuff. They can spend more time in the community building relationships. National City Corp., one of the 10 largest banks in the United States, reported a savings of two person-days per week per recruiter by using online applicant screening, he says.

One advantage of using online screening programs is that there are no resumes, not one outbound phone call, Murphy notes, adding that the process eliminates the resume from the front end of the process. A resume has all the wrong information in it. With a resume you get what [candidates] chose to give you.

The goal is to build a questionnaire that elicits what you need to know about a candidate and that allows staffing managers to divide applicants into yes and no categories.

But be sure to keep that initial online contact brief, Murphy emphasizes. The biggest mistake companies make when using prescreening, he says, is asking too many questions, which can drive interested candidates away.

Jason Phillips, senior manager in the human capital practice of New York City-based Deloitte Consulting Research, agrees that the initial screening shouldnt take too much of a candidates time.

Go to some company web sites, and they ask 15 questions. They want to leverage the prescreening with so many questions. But you need to make it user-friendly. If it takes 20 minutes, chances are youre going to miss a big chunk of the candidate poolthose who give up before finishing the questionnaire.

Phillips advises: that employers ask three to five questions designed to eliminate candidates who dont have the most basic requirements for the jobcollege degrees, visas, a willingness to relocate.

Screening is just that; its not determining job fit, Phillips says. Find another mechanism for profiling.

Do the Homework

After the initial screening, but before the interviewing process begins, technology can be used to effectively assess candidates. This is the opportunityonlineto go beyond whether a candidate has the basic job requirements to start determining how well the person will fit into the organization.

Technology can play a useful role in assessing candidates, says Don Andersson, author of the book Hire for Fit (Oakhill Press, 2001), but staffing managers still must do their homework. Many companies dont cover the basics before they go looking for someone. They equate position description with what they really need and if they just pull the description off the shelf, its probably outdated.

In addition to having a clear idea beforehand of what it takes to fill the position, the other basic building block that needs to be in place is an understanding of the companys own culture, according to Andersson.

Culture is pooh-poohed by a lot of people. Its not just personality. Its more concerned with what it takes to navigate and get results in a particular context. Frequently a company looks for technical skills but doesnt look at what will make a person successful in its culture. One culture is not better than another, just different.

There is a whole series of questions you need to ask to help you define your culture and that help you determine what interpersonal and teams skills are needed in a new hire, Andersson says. Otherwise, he notes, even with the best of intentions, the person hired may work at cross-purposes with those already on board.

Key questions that need to be discussed about the company itself before questioning candidates include: How do we make decisions and resolve differences? What are the obstacles we face in getting the job donea lack of money, a lack of skills? What actions are critical if we are to achieve our mission? What changes are taking place in our marketplace and to what extent should our mission be redefined or modified as a result? What objectives must new hires meet if they are to contribute to the implementation of our mission?

Once youve got the building blocks in place, then you can work out some kind of technological approach. But you need to start with the basics. Most organizations glibly pass over them, Andersson says. Its like Im going to build a houseam I going to build it on rock or a sandy base? I can build in both places, but the way Im going to build it is very different.

Mapping the Brain

To create a performance thinking code, Global Performance Technologies isolated the performance thinking section of the brain and mapped it much like mapping DNA, according to company CEO Gary Morais. This code was then converted into a blueprint to measure the 12 critical performance drivers tied to individual performance and the companys productivity.

We wanted to be able to quantify the thinking algorithm of the brain to create a human tape measurea standardized measure of performance thinking, Morais says.

Using that tape measure, Global Performance Technologies, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., is able to develop a profile of what works best in a particular company. It identifies the top 10 percent of achievers within the company, determines the top three to five drivers that are critical success factors for their positions and creates a template for assessing candidates based on those drivers.

This process ensures an 85 percent success rate in hiring top performers. We have had clients with perfect track records for upwards of two years, according to Morais, meaning that there was no turnover and the new hires performed at the level expected.

You find as you profile people within your own company, you see patterns and trends that give insight about the corporate culture, Morais says. What you need for a salesperson in Manhattan may be a little different than for a salesperson in Biloxi, Miss.

Profiles can be created to assess any job position, he says, and the company has created thousands: We quit counting after 25,000. Some examples include a bank teller, who should rank high on interpersonal relationship skills, or an engineer, who needs to be skeptical when dealing with complex formulas.

Candidates might try to provide what they think are the right answers, but its not easy given all the variables. People want to put their best foot forward, but they have no idea what drivers are most critical for a particular companyits different by culture and position. The right fit is an honest fit, Morais says.

Drivers are like gears. People have to be able to shift gears. A police officer has to have the ability to be skeptical. But, when interacting, he or she needs interpersonal skills.

River Ranch Fresh Foods, a produce company in Salina, Calif., uses the Global Performance Technologies assessment system when hiring administrative personnel, salespeople and management supervisors.

We look for different things, depending on the position, says Carolyn Humphreys, River Ranch vice president of HR. For example, when hiring accountants, we look for skeptical and organizational drivers.

Were better at finding people who fit our culture than we used to be. In general, it works for us, she says.

Jim Tierney used Morais profiling system when he was a partner in a Richmond, Va.-based group that operated more than 40 Pizza Hut eateries.

In the restaurant business theres a factor that you cant measure: the X factor. A restaurant can be clean, the food can be good, but theres no energythats the X factor, Tierney says. To find that X factor, you take the known top performers and build your profile. You know those people have the X factor. Then hire against that profile. The profile gives you the picture of whether a person has his foot on the accelerator or the brake.

Global Performance Technologies can attach a link to a companys web site, according to Morais, so you can say please tell us a little about yourself. The person answers a few questions and [the program] automatically ranks all applicants against one another.

That way, in real time you have a fresh list of top performers on your desk. You dont have to review a thousand resumes; you only have to go through the top, he says. It sorts the performance, not the resumes, based on what the applicants are telling you about themselves.

Explore Virtual Jobs

Some companies put traditional assessment tests on their web site, but thats not really leveraging technology, says Shaker Consulting Groups Murphy.

Another mistake is trying to assess too much of the population, he says. A company should reserve online assessment for key positions, not everybody. It becomes cumbersome; theres too much data.

Leading-edge technology allows companies to give candidates a virtual job try online, according to Murphy. You can put candidates into little slices of job and let them perform. Advanced technology allows you to be interactive. It allows you to build work samples, to engage candidates in problem solving and interactions and see how they respond.

The realistic job preview (RJP) allows a candidate to learn about both the job and the company itself. RJP was popularized by Dr. John Wanous, a professor at Ohio State University; research on the subject goes back to the early 1970s.

An effective RJP shows what people typically find rewarding and what may be demanding about a particular job. It can have day-in-the-life scenarios that give candidates a sense of what the work environment is really like, Murphy says.

A small percentage of candidates will decide they dont want the job. But, more important, Murphy says, down the road, the person hired will say I knew what I was getting involved in. It increases commitment to the job. It improves retention.

Murphy, a member of the Society for Human Resource Management Workforce Staffing and Deployment Panel, recommends a multi-method, scored assessment process that evaluates a candidates situational judgment and work style as well as skills testing and technical problem solving.

Assessment allows you to do three thingsdescribe, compare and evaluate.

You can compare and contrast candidates, see that two candidates are the same on this trait, that one has less of this. Youre always balancing. There never is a perfect hire, but if you have done effective job analysis work, you can evaluate or predict performance.

One of the greatest benefits of assessment technology is that it can help eliminate candidates who are really off the mark, Murphy says. The winners stand out. Managing the bulk of the candidate population is where assessment is most valuable. It helps prevent us from making a poor job decisionchoosing someone who requires too much training or is not the right fit.

And good online assessment creates a road map for the next stepthe interview, Murphy says. You can collect information before you even sit down to the interview, so the interview is more productive and effective.

Stephenie Overman is an Arlington, Va.-based freelance writer who specializes in HR issues.

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