A Case Study in the Effectiveness of Pre-Selection

Much has been written about hiring management systems and their ability to handle applicant tracking and recruitment workflow ó what I call middle-office applications. But in a series of articles I will be focusing on the front-office aspect of the recruitment life-cycle, namely the response management of high-volume candidate applications. Up until a few years ago, managing responses to advertisements was a relatively simple process, which mainly involved selecting appropriate resumes from a pile of hard-copy applications. But new recruitment sources (or channels), such as the Internet, job boards and employee referral programs, coupled with vastly increased hiring volumes, has necessitated new methods of dealing with the large numbers of responses from job applicants. I recently met with one of Europe’s largest retail organizations. They had two distinct resource problems (aside from staff turnover of over 40%):

  1. Managing corporate hires of professional staff using the Internet
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  3. Dealing with over two million hard-copy applications from potential store candidates (total number of hires exceeded 60,000 a year)

I’ll deal with the latter issue first, since a technology-focused front-end solution was not appropriate for their problem! When dealing with over two million applicants a year, the new paradigm of managing applications through Internet-based systems does not apply, because many of the candidates applying for these positions wouldn’t use the Internet to search or apply for a jobs. Demographically, they would fall under the non-Internet savvy section of the workforce. But any paper-based system would incur horrendous administration and time costs, negating the possibility of a cost-effective time-to-hire metric. To make matters worse, there was a customer relationship issue: every applicant who was not interviewed or hired or was managed improperly was a potential lost customer! Given that the average annual spending per customer for this type of organization is in the region of $2,000 to $3,000 and up, a poor recruitment process would have a serious, and potentially long-term, damaging effect on market share and company profitability! The solution was to manage all of these applications through a central call center. A set of pre-screening filters were developed using attributes gathered from the existing workforce. Data about these attributes was collected by creating scorecard assessments, similar to those used by credit card companies and financial institutions (I will be exploring how this can be achieved at a later date). Candidates could be quickly processed on the telephone by the call center operators, and the data was entered directly into the organization’s ATS and HR systems to manage the interviewing and hiring process, without the need to scan in huge numbers of hard-copy resumes. The second set of difficulties this company was having involved managing corporate hires. This brings us to the familiar challenges associated with critical skills and time to hire, challenges where we can apply Internet-based systems and a well-constructed ATS to handle the throughput. For these candidates, the organization is no longer dealing with relatively low-skilled hires but is competing against non-retail businesses for IT, finance, administration, sales and marketing, and management staff, positions in which the talent war is still raging. Here, tools that enable the recruiter to quickly identify key skills and attributes at the pre-selection stage, and apply them to all relevant openings in the organization, can greatly increase recruitment productivity. A common problem I have seen in the past is the “silo” mentality within companies, and especially within many corporate recruitment departments. The candidate is king and is managed serially. They applied for a specific job, and generally, that is the only one they have a chance at. By the time the recruitment process is exhausted and the candidate is rejected, they are generally not considered for any other post within the organization ó the candidate has somehow become tainted in the company’s eyes, often for no real reason. Frequently, too, the candidate is discouraged by the whole affair. This is unfair to the candidate, and also wasteful for the organization. But proper pre-selection criteria ó again, farmed from within the business and utilizing benchmarks ó can, in the first instance, identify suitable candidates across a number of roles within the business (which may be handled by different recruiters and hiring managers), and can rapidly achieve tremendous benefits to the hiring process, including increased candidate commitment and reduced time to hire and cost per hire. An additional benefit that cannot be understated is the behavioral change this imparts on the organization. When recruiters and hiring managers understand that good candidates may go elsewhere within the same organization, better attention is paid to the entire recruitment process. After all, if competition is said to be good within the free market, surely it also true within a single company! Rejected candidates from the pre-screening process must of course also be correctly handled with due regard to their feelings ó a subject that has been well-covered in previous articles. The development of effective pre-screening criteria and manual/automated filters can be seen to be an essential aspect of any comprehensive, end-to-end recruitment lifecycle. Already, I see some ASP solutions working in this area, but they are for the most part quite primitive. There is still a long way to go. The key lies within understanding what makes the existing workforce successful (or not), and building a flexible, scalable skills matrix that can be applied at the front office. Response management can be the one of the most expensive aspects of recruitment, not just in above-the-line administration costs, but also in lost opportunities in the ongoing talent war.

Andrew Ellis is a recognized authority on using the Internet as a resourcing tool. He has worked in over 30 countries in senior HR, resourcing and operations management positions with world-class companies such as Nortel Networks, IMPAC, SunGard and Algorithmics. Andrew now heads the Human Capital Management consultancy TalentDelivery.com, and writes and lectures extensively on resourcing and recruitment topics.


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