Keeping the Horse in Front of the Cart

Lately my discussions with clients who are considering using some type of online screening have led me to notice a trend: Everyone seems to want to put the cart before the horse when it comes to the process of choosing a screening vendor. By this I mean it often seems that companies who are interested in using screening start by identifying the vendors that they want to use before taking the time to really understand their own screening needs. But successful screening initiatives require you to do some homework before you begin evaluating vendors. The Wrong Way: Putting the Cart Before the Horse When I talk to someone about their interest in using online screening, the conversation often begins something like this: “We’re thinking about using online screening, and we’ve heard good things about [insert vendor name here]. We want to use them; what do you think?” This actually isn’t surprising, when you consider that most people’s initial interest in online screening is often a result of:

  • Pre-existing relationships with a vendor
  • Talking with a vendor at a trade show
  • Recommendations by friends/colleagues who have used a certain vendor
  • Vendor marketing/advertising efforts

But while these are certainly important sources of information that should not be ignored, they do not represent a good starting point in the search to find an online screening partner. Think about it this way: The only way to get maximum return on the investment you make in screening technology is to choose a vendor or product whose core strengths most closely match your goals. If you begin talking to vendors before clearly understanding what your goals are, you run the risk of letting the vendor define your goals for you. This is a classic example of letting your cart get in front of your horse. To combat this problem, I encourage anyone who is thinking about online screening to do some homework before even beginning to think about what vendor to use. As with most homework, it may not be the most exciting or fun way to spend your time. But it is a critical step in the learning process. Do Your Homework: Identifying Your Goals and Constraints I recently partnered with a colleague to produce a review of the major vendors in the online screening marketplace. An important component of this review is the development of a system for understanding the goals one may have for an online screening initiative. In the process of developing this system, we identified five areas that represent the most important things to consider when thinking about your online screening goals. It is important to understand that the information presented here represents a set of rough guidelines. It is not intended to lead you directly to any one screening vendor or type of screening; rather, it is intended to help you think about your reasons for using screening, your goals for the screening process, and some of the constraints that you must deal with when choosing an online screening vendor. Once you have thought about the issues in each of these five areas, you will have the information you need to compare your goals to the services offered by the vendors you choose to consider. 1. Overall goals for using screening This has to do with answering the question, “What is the overall reason you want to use screening?” I view this as the most important question in your decision making process, because the answer will dictate the type of screening you should be considering. There are three types of overall goals for screening:

  • Increasing applicant flow. These goals have to do with filling your applicant pool with qualified individuals. It may not seem like this goal is related to screening, but it is. Screening begins with the message you present to job seekers. Getting an applicant pool that contains candidates with the right skills and background requires a healthy employment portal that presents a consistent employment brand. If you’re having problems getting applicants with the right qualifications or seem to be failing to reach your target market, you may want to think about making sure your screening goals are focused in this area before setting goals that involve other types of online screening.
  • Managing applicant flow. These goals have to do with screening that is used to help narrow down an initial applicant pool and manage candidate information. If you are bogged down by having to evaluate large numbers of applicants or you are having trouble figuring out how to get candidates with the right skills to the right place, then you may want to focus your goals on using screening to help eliminate these issues.
  • Predicting success. These goals have to do with using screening to define success at a given job and investigating how well an applicant matches this definition. If your goals include hiring people with a very specific skill/knowledge profile or addressing specific issues such as turnover, poor sales revenue, or finding employees who will fit into a challenging work environment, you might want to focus on using some form of predictive screening.

Identifying which of these three types of screening best match your goals will allow you to begin to understand the type of vendors you should be considering. It is entirely possible that your goals may fall into more than one of these areas. There is nothing wrong with this; it just means that you will have to make sure to account for each type of goal in your vendor search/review process. 2. The scope of your screening initiative This area has to do with how broadly your screening initiative will be focused. It is important to determine whether your goals are to install screening for every job within an organization, all jobs in a business unit, or just a few targeted jobs within either the corporation or business unit. The intended scope of your screening initiative will have a major impact upon the type of screening you choose and can represent some constraints that you should be aware of. For instance, some scientific screening systems require quite a bit of effort to configure, so using such a system for every job within an organization could prove to be impractical. On the other hand, while some non-scientific screening systems would be excellent at an enterprise-wide level, they won’t provide the best option when you are interested in obtaining high quality predictive data about a candidate. 3. Information about the job This area has to do with understanding individual jobs or jobs that you wish to use screening for. When you get down to it, no matter what your other screening goals may be, your choice of screening tools should be tightly linked to the specific characteristics of the job or jobs in questions. This means that your goal for this area should be to understand the characteristics of the jobs you will be screening for, so that you can determine what type of screening tool or tools will be most effective. There are five things that can help you to determine what type of screening you may want to use:

  • The complexity and level of the job
  • The knowledge, skills, and abilities (a.k.a. competencies) associated with job performance
  • Objective job requirements/minimum qualifications
  • The environment in which the job takes place
  • Specific problems associated with the job (for example, are you experiencing high turnover, a lack of certain skills, poor performance, theft, etc).

Taking the time to understand each of these things will help you outline exactly what should be measured by your screening system. Once this is taken care of you can concentrate on identifying a screening vendor who can provide the screening tools needed to measure these characteristics. 4. Technology goals and constraints This area requires thinking about technology in two ways. First of all, it requires you to think about the role technology will play in your screening initiative. Secondly, it requires you to think about and plan for the technology-related constraints that you may face during the process of adding new screening technology.

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  • Technology goals. Defining your technology-related goals requires you answer the questions, “What is my current level of online hiring technology?” and “What are my technology goals for the future?” The gap between your current and desired levels of technology will help you determine your technology goals for the screening initiative. If the gap is large, then you may want to make sure you look at solutions that represent innovative technology capable of taking you to the next level. If the gap is small then you can focus less on technological innovation and more on maintaining your status quo.
  • Technology constraints. Technology can also pose some constraints that you need to be aware of. For instance, the screening system you choose may require a level of technology that you currently do not have and are not prepared to meet. It’s important to understand the capabilities of the systems you have in place so that you will be able recognize possible problem areas during the vendor evaluation process. Discovering major mismatches farther down the road could throw a serious wrench into the works.

A good place to begin investigating your goals and constraints in this area is with an audit of your existing technology and technology-related resources. The result of this effort will be a very clear understanding of your current level of technology, the ability of your existing infrastructure to support new technology, and the technology-related roadblocks you may face. 5. Resources A clear understanding of the resources available to you is critical for your vendor evaluation process. Before beginning any screening initiative it is critical to understand your boundaries and constraints in the following areas:

  • Time. How soon you need the system to be up and running?
  • Money. What is your budget for this project?
  • Staff. How many internal employees will be needed to install and maintain the system, and what type of skills will these people need to have (e.g., IT skills, project management skills, account management skills)?

Your goal should be to clearly define your available resources in each of these areas so that you will be able to compare the requirements of each vendor’s system to your available resources. Bringing It All Together Installing an effective online screening system requires investigating each one of these five areas discussed in this article and documenting what you find. This information can then be used to create a summary document that will serve as your screening mission statement. This document is an excellent foundation for an RFP or RFI that will place you in the driver’s seat by allowing you to present vendors with a well-defined list of your needs. While adding these extra steps to your process may seem like extra work now, ensuring that you have chosen the best system for your needs will pay for itself many times over in the long run.

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, 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.







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