Effective Online Screening Begins With a Solid Foundation

Online screening has been getting a lot of attention lately. This is very encouraging for those of us who have been working hard to demonstrate the value that screening can add to the online employee selection process. Adding even the simplest screening tools can really supercharge your online hiring process, increasing efficiency and providing a significant return on the investment made in adopting screening technology. But despite the increased attention and positive outcomes, it is important to understand that screening is still in its infancy. While the future will certainly bring sophisticated new screening tools, there are certain basic truths about online screening that will always apply. The most important of these basic truths is this: The effectiveness of any screening process is limited by the quality of the foundation upon which it is built. By foundation I mean the process in which critical job requirements and competencies needed for effective job performance are defined. Any screening tool that is not built upon a foundation that clearly and consistently provides this information is wasteful. This article focuses on the importance of building a solid foundation for both scientific and non-scientific screening (see my earlier article for more information about the difference between these two types of screening) by discussing why building effective foundations is an essential part of any screening system, discussing the importance of solid foundations for the evolution of online screening technology, and providing some tips for helping build effective screening foundations in your organization. Three Reasons Why a Good Foundation Is Important The following are three reasons why it is critical to build good foundations for all types of screening.

  1. Selection is all about prediction. Any time you are choosing among applicants, you are trying to predict how well each one will do the job based on the information you gather about him or her. It is impossible to make these predictions if you don’t know what you are trying to predict. A good foundation will ensure the criteria used to make predictions are directly related to the job.
  2. Taking the time to build a good foundation is absolutely essential for legal defensibility. Job relatedness is the ultimate test of how legally defensible an employee selection tool or system is. The more closely the screens used are related to job performance, the more comfort you can take that your system is meeting basic legal requirements.
  3. A good foundation can be used to drive other human capital management initiatives. The measurement of critical job-related competencies upon entry offers great baseline data that can be useful for driving performance management and training activities and for providing metrics about the performance of a wide variety of HR activities.

Present Methods for Building Foundations Presently, there is a lot of variety in the way that screening foundations are created. The biggest differences are along the lines of the type of screening to be used. The process for building a foundation for scientific screening is very different from that used to build a foundation for non-scientific screening.

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  • Non-scientific screening. Foundations for this type of screening are often based on a job description or loose set of specifications that have been created by a hiring manager or recruiter. There is not usually a lot of consistency associated with the process of building foundations for non-scientific screening. The process used to identify screening criteria can vary quite a bit across divisions, jobs, or hiring managers. Non-scientific screening is used to some extent in all hiring systems. It is less complicated and expensive than scientific screening. It is also common in online hiring because it is a built-in function of many ATS systems. Despite the fact that powerful online screening tools are being made available to staffing personnel, many users are not provided with the information and training needed to ensure that these tools are being used properly. The result of this is a significant loss in the effectiveness of the screening process.
  • Scientific screening. Scientific screening requires a detailed foundation to be used. The process for building these foundations is quite the opposite of that used for non-scientific screening. Foundations for scientific screening are built on a very rigorous process that involves detailed job analysis studies. These studies provide precise definitions of job performance as they relates to competencies, traits, skills, knowledge, etc. The result is a clear picture of exactly what is required for a job and the relative contribution of each.

What’s Wrong With This Picture? The methods currently used to build foundations for both scientific and non-scientific screening are inadequate for building effective online hiring systems. Building a screening foundation using a loosely constructed job description is only slightly better than doing nothing at all. It’s a classic case of “garbage in, garbage out.” That is, the results you obtain using this method are limited by the effectiveness of the method itself. Job descriptions should not be the cornerstone of a non-scientific screening foundation. Rather, these foundations should be the outcome of a deeper process that involves a systematic evaluation of jobs relative to a clearly defined set of performance criteria. Building scientific screening foundations suffers from the exact opposite problem. Traditionally job analysis studies can take a long time to complete and often represent overkill. The information gathered has great detail about what is required for job performance. Foundations for this type of screening are rarely included as part of online systems and require the services of professionals trained in the art of job analysis. The systems of the future demand that we seek a middle ground that will allow the quick development of effective foundations useful for both scientific and non-scientific screening. The Foundation of the Future The future lies in the creation of integrated systems that allow users to quickly construct job-related foundations that can be used for both scientific and non-scientific screening. These systems will provide a simple, standardized process for building solid foundations. The key factor in the development of these systems is the construction of databases that contain detailed profiles of the requirements for all jobs within an organization. The information in these databases will anchor administrative tools that will allow users to quickly define job requirements to be used as initial screens as well as competencies needed to anchor more in-depth assessments using scientific screening tools. These tools will provide users with the capability to build screening foundations that are based on solid research rather than relying on the inconsistency of a job description. These tools will also eliminate the need for time-consuming and costly job analysis studies. We still have a long way to go until these types of systems are in use, but it will happen. Getting there requires organizations to make a commitment to providing a solid foundation for all screening activities while simultaneously focusing on building the databases needed to anchor the systems of the future. Working Towards the Future: Tips for Building Better Foundations Here are some things that organizations can be doing right now to help build solid, future-oriented screening foundations.

  1. Audit the process used to develop specifications for non-scientific screening. Ask questions such as: Is this process consistent across your entire organization? What information is used to develop these specifications? How is this information translated into screening requirements? Who is responsible for defining screening criteria? Are the results of this process used for online screening? Are current online screening systems being used correctly?
  2. Take a look at the way job performance is defined in your organization. Is there an organization-wide competency model? If so, are these competencies reflected in job specifications and job descriptions, are they used for scientific screening? If you have no competency model, how are the criteria by which candidates are evaluated defined? How consistent is this process across your organization? Are the results of any job analyses that are conducted used for anything besides anchoring scientific screening systems?
  3. Improve your internal process based on results of #1 and #2. Look at what you have learned and make the adjustments needed to ensure that your process consistently defines job specifications and critical aspects of job performance. This means integrating information used to anchor non-scientific screening with a competency model to develop a system for defining all requirements for a job. This system can then be used to add a solid foundation for all screening, because it will provide staffing personnel a way to consistently create screening foundations that are based on critical job requirements.
  4. Focus on building systems, not pieces. Do as much as you can to integrate the collection and organization of information used to define job performance and job requirements. Strive to drive all selection-related activities off of a common set of information. When adopting new online screening tools, focus on building an integrated system that can be used for both non-scientific and scientific screening.
  5. Develop databases of job requirements. Begin the process of cataloging all of the requirements and competencies associated with all jobs in your organization. Seek out new ways to help gather this information, such as partnering with other organizations who have an interest in developing databases of job requirements, seeking out opportunities to benchmark against industry leaders, forming consortiums with other companies in order to share data about jobs requirements, and seeking out vendors or partners who are willing to collaborate in the gathering of comprehensive information about job requirements. The information in these databases will serve as the foundation of integrated systems that will take the guesswork out of building effective foundations.

Taking the time to build systems that will generate solid foundations for selection systems will allow you to get more value from your existing screening, while also helping ensure your organization is prepared to use the systems of the future.

Dr. Charles Handler is a thought leader, analyst, and practitioner in the talent assessment and human capital space. Throughout his career Dr. Handler has specialized in developing effective, legally defensible employee selection systems. 

Since 2001 Dr. Handler has served as the president and founder of Rocket-Hire, a vendor neutral consultancy dedicated to creating and driving innovation in talent assessment.  Dr. Handler has helped companies such as Intuit, Wells Fargo, KPMG, Scotia Bank, Hilton Worldwide, and Humana to design, implement, and measure impactful employee selection processes.

Through his prolific writing for media outlets such as ERE.net, his work as a pre-hire assessment analyst for Bersin by Deloitte, and worldwide public speaking, Dr. Handler is a highly visible futurist and evangelist for the talent assessment space. Throughout his career, Dr. Handler has been on the forefront of innovation in the talent assessment space, applying his sound foundation in psychometrics to helping drive innovation in assessments through the use of gaming, social media, big data, and other advanced technologies.

Dr. Handler holds a M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Louisiana State University.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drcharleshandler