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Missing Out: Five Ways to Misuse Online Screening Tools - Part 1

By Evan Sinar, Ph.D.

By Evan Sinar, Ph.D.Online screening tools have recently come under fire as the focus of a June 2012 book by Peter Cappelli, “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do about It.” These tools are blamed for enabling the “purple squirrel” phenomenon where a hiring manager sets the expectation that a single candidate – the purple squirrel – can be found with an ideal combination of skills, education, and experience. These then become must-have qualifications used to filter a candidate pool, often using an automated screening system. Frequently, no candidates emerge from such a search, spawning employer claims of a pervasive skills gap among the available candidate pool.

Simultaneously, from the candidate viewpoint, the use of the ideal profile as a benchmark has excluded hundreds or even thousands of possibly suitable individuals from consideration.

Beyond these concerning outcomes, poorly-designed or unstructured applications of online screening tools also have other dangerous consequences, especially when these tools are key workhorses within large-scale recruiting processes. For online screening to fulfill the objectives it was put in place to achieve – improving quality of hire, increasing hiring process efficiency, and democratizing candidates’ access to new job opportunities – users must recognize and avoid several common misuses.

Misuse #1: Hiring Through a Straw, Not a Funnel 

Hiring processes work best when designed as a funnel with multiple selection tools ordered in a well-planned sequence in which the full candidate pool enters the mouth of the funnel and candidates move through a series of tools, some online and some in-person, each providing unique insights about likelihood to succeed on the job.  At each stage, information is captured to screen out those less likely to succeed, with remaining candidates progressed onward until a final hiring decision is made based on the full set of data gathered.

Contrast this model with an online screening approach that is more like a straw than a funnel, where these tools are used to screen out all candidates other than the very low proportion meeting a narrowly-defined profile of skills and experiences, with only this group remaining eligible for hire. Although this straw model can be credited for its focus, this minor advantage is often more than outweighed by its questionable accuracy, excessively constricted definition of suitable candidate backgrounds, and exposure to legal risk, each of which will be outlined further in Misuse #2 in the next part of this blog.

Evan Sinar, Ph.D., is chief scientist and the director of DDI's Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research.

This article was originally published by Recruiting Trends and is reprinted here with permission.

Posted: 10 Sep, 2012,
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