article and research by Charles Handler and Mark C. Healy
This revolution in the way companies recruit and hire people is moving quickly. So for the third straight year, I’ve asked users of online screening and assessment technology about their current and future use of web-based hiring systems. This year we were able to collect data from 90 hiring professionals. The data offers us an excellent snapshot of current organizational strategies, concerns, and insights around the use of technology-based screening and assessment tools.
In Part 1 of this article series on our findings, we detailed current usage rates and feelings about screening systems such as online job applications, applicant tracking systems, qualifications screening, and resume scanning. We also investigated trends in tracking the effectiveness of these tools, and how organizations could do a better job of understanding the systems they have in place.
In Part 2 of this series, we dove deeper into automated hiring processes by taking a thorough look at the current and future uses of online assessment tools. In this installment we take a higher level look at our results, drawing some conclusions and identifying trends that we feel will continue to develop in 2006. The most important findings from our recent survey:
- The use of applicant tracking systems is ubiquitous, with a very high percentage of organizations adopting or soon-to-adopt a system.
- The use of an applicant tracking system does not appear to relate to perceptions of hiring effectiveness.
- A majority of organizations are using some form of automated prescreening to sort applicants, eliminate candidates from the hiring pool, and move qualified candidates forward in the hiring funnel. Nonetheless, these tools are not as common as an applicant tracking system.
- A significant number of professionals queried seem to feel that their use of prescreening tools is not effective for the organization.
- Few companies formally assess their prescreening tools or use metrics of any kind as a decision-making aid. Those who do tend to be aware of the effectiveness of their hiring systems and perceive greater value in them.
- Adoption of prescreening tools is still in its infancy, with a lack of understanding of their value as well as tentativeness and excessive worry about their effect on hiring success.
- The use of pre-employment assessment tools continues to grow; however, most organizations are using these tools for only a small portion of their positions.
- The rate of integration of assessment data with applicant tracking system products continues to increase.
- Organizations are still failing to collect the metrics needed to understand the impact pre-employment assessments are having on their bottom lines.
- The biggest obstacles to the use of pre-employment assessments remain the belief that these tools are too costly and a skepticism about their ability to provide meaningful results.
Some Forms Are Rapidly Going Mainstream
Now that most large organizations are firmly committed to online recruiting and hiring systems (and since many screening and assessment tools are little more than cyber-versions of their paper-based counterparts), it seems odd to talk about these tools and techniques as “innovative” or even “new.” Nevertheless, many companies seem to be in the midst of a real revolution in how new employees are brought into the fold. One clear finding throughout this entire study is that a few select hiring tools — qualifications screening, skills testing/certification and cognitive-ability tests among them — are becoming standard features of a strategic hiring process. Whereas the use of some methods (e.g., online interviewing) appears to have remained relatively rare, consultants and vendors have made it easy to implement online versions of many of the most valid employee selection devices available. There’s still a lot of room for expansion. Two prime examples come to mind. In terms of screening, you would do well to investigate the use of online employment applications and the elimination of resumes. Sorting and evaluating candidates at the initial stage of hiring is often viewed with stress and despair by recruiters and hiring managers alike. A structured application process that helps organize and relieve this paper-heavy workload and guesswork is likely to add value to any organization.
At the assessment end of the spectrum, work samples and simulations — some of the most valid and accurate hiring systems available ó are rapidly going online and becoming less expensive and easier to implement. Usually perceived by applicants as fair and job-related, online simulations (deployed to assess skills as wide-ranging as coaching, selling, delegating, and prioritizing tasks) don’t require expensive role players and stacks of paper. This is an exciting trend in the pre-employment assessment world. Hiring practitioners should investigate these tools. Another notable — and fortunate — trend is that some organizations are in the next phase of the online revolution. They’ve gone beyond beta-testing and the wait-and-see approach to strategically eradicating paper-based and human-heavy traditional tactics from their recruitment and hiring systems. They are no longer early adopters, and can be considered to be more advanced than those hiring organizations who fret about going online. It takes a great deal of feedback, continuity, and dedicated resources to bring a company to this point. Collection of metrics and real-time evaluation of each aspect of one’s recruitment and hiring systems are essential to becoming a savvy user of online pre-employment assessment.
Let’s return to the discussion of obstacles and worries about the adoption of online screening and assessment, and take a look at how important these concerns are and what companies should actually be worried about.
The first set of issues centers around skepticism about benefits and a lack of budget as the reason for limited or slow adoption of online tools. As we have noted in earlier phases of this research, organizations continue to be penny-rich and dollar-poor when it comes to dedicating monetary and human resources to their recruitment and hiring processes. Yet the value of comprehensive recruiting and selection tools has been established since World War II, and there is little reason to suspect that they are any less effective in their online form. The cost of entry and ongoing maintenance of such systems is lower than it was five or even 10 years ago.
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Survey respondents also tended to mention candidate lying, “gaming,” or faking of their qualifications as the biggest threat to the success of their online hiring tools. This applies especially to the enhancement of qualifications, traits, and skills on front-end screening tools and personality inventories. But inflation of job skills has always been with us. This includes both the high level of “impression management” engaged in by candidates during interviews and the inflation of qualifications present on a significant proportion of resumes received by recruiters and hiring managers. Luckily, the online environment does not necessarily exacerbate nor mitigate these very natural forms of impression management. In fact, a number of studies have detailed a distinct lack of difference between applicant responses on paper-based tools compared with online systems. In summary, enhancement of qualifications — and outright faking or lying — will always be with us, and the online collection of data likely does not lessen or increase its impact on hiring accuracy. But what should an organization really worry about as it stumbles into the world of online screening and assessment? To name just a few:
- Ensuring positive collaboration with company IT personnel
- Determining specific needs for data flow, security, reporting, and sharing
- Matching the hiring tool to the demands of the job (i.e., using job analysis)
- Establishing metrics and an evaluation strategy before implementing tools
- Building support for a piloting period
- Formally evaluating vendors and spending wisely
Focusing on these objectives will surely build the foundation for a successful implementation of online screening and assessment.
The High Cost of Poor Education
Most of the obstacles detailed above are taken seriously due primarily to a lack of education, experience, or knowledge. In this way, hesitation over the adoption of online hiring tools is not any different than paper-based hiring tools. An obvious solution is the systematic collection of metrics and evaluations of success. Actual data can then take the place of the hearsay and anxiety that characterize decisions regarding the adoption of online screening and assessment. If not, misunderstanding by decision-makers will likely remain with an organization. Decision-makers and recruiting/HR professionals alike will often cite the uniqueness of their organizational culture in their resistance to scientific pre-employment assessment. Yet perceptions of the problems — and advantages — of online hiring tools aren’t unique to most companies. Most are common to anyone who hires people. Unless recent legal action or collective-bargaining issues have affected a company’s recruitment and hiring activities, business leaders have few worthwhile reasons to limit their foray into effective selection techniques. Yet, instead of adopting hiring technologies, some organizations do nothing. This is probably more damaging than any other strategy.
Modern and Thoughtful Selection Strategies Will Pay Off
Perhaps it is helpful to review the advantages of thoughtful, comprehensive prescreening and assessment (online or otherwise). Taken as a whole, these benefits always outweigh the concerns and obstacles discussed above.
- Personnel selection is one of few human resource practices to be put through the whole legal ringer. In most cases, making the effort needed to ensure legal compliance will also help to ensure increased accuracy and return on investment.
- Some of the most realistic and candidate-friendly job assessments/simulations are the most valid and accurate tools. These assessments, which emphasize real-world job experiences and decisions, add to positive candidate impressions of the hiring process while significantly increasing the impact of the hiring system.
- It is very unlikely that using tried and true tests and assessments will result in negative outcomes such as decreased performance or increased turnover. There is tons of evidence demonstrating the clear linkages between the use of assessment tools and positive organizational outcomes related to increased job performance.
- In the real world of work, many of the same traits (i.e., facets of cognitive ability such as problem-solving, facets of personality such as conscientiousness and extraversion, or work values such as team orientation, to name a few) predict success across jobs. This means that best-practice based approaches to both assessment and structured interviewing techniques tend to evaluate customer, teamwork, and communication skills better than conventional approaches (such as subjective fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants interviews) to screening and hiring.
- Many of the benefits of technology-based screening and assessment tools may seem pretty obvious and unexciting, but they have had a tremendous impact on the way we hire employees. For instance, simply removing manual, paper sorting of resumes and hand-scoring of assessments has greatly reduced the workload in most recruiting and HR operations, allowing staffing personnel to focus on more important things.