Online Screening: Natural Selection or Natural Disaster?

This is a summary of the panel discussion I moderated at the ER Expo last month regarding online screening. Online screening is often seen as a recruiting panacea. And what better place to show off your organization, test and screen applicants than a fancy website? Well, at least that’s the theory. There were several lessons learned from the panelists at this session – each of whom has extensive experience with online screening. The panelists were:

  1. Jeff Furst, Founder and CEO of FurstPerson. FurstPerson integrates staffing and sourcing with selection and assessment for call center organizations.
  2. Joe Colavito, a partner of Heidrick & Struggle’s. Joe spent a year building an ASP model for online recruiting and screening.
  3. Damon Berkhaug, Director of Staffing at XO Communications. Damon has extensive experience in online screening and recruiting automation processes.

This was a difficult subject to approach, because the only good (i.e., legally credible and effective) way to use online screening requires considerable time and effort – something people don’t like to hear and certainly something that takes more than an hour to cover. To meet the need of the broadest audience, we organized our presentation into three sections: 1) why use online screening, 2) the pros, and 3) the cons. Why use online screening?

  • You can reach a large number of applicants with a limited amount of human capital.
  • You can reach a geographically diversified audience.
  • Different stages of selection systems can be linked together.
  • Good to use with applicants who have ready access to the Internet.
  • The system is easily scalable to handle a large number of applicants.
  • Can be used as an initial relationship building opportunity.
  • It can standardize the DOL standards for business need and job requirements.


  • Allows control and standardization of hiring tools.
  • Controls the quality of basic information (i.e., reduces error inherent in resumes).
  • Allows more accurate comparisons between candidates.
  • Standardized record keeping.
  • Can add speed, quality, and productivity.
  • Can be designed to turn data into information.
  • The site is open 24 hours every day.
  • Can include knock out questions that minimize time with unqualified candidates.
  • Easy to keep track of protected group status at each hiring step.
  • Can be phased in instead of doing it all at once.
  • Can help you avoid the error-filled resume screening engine problem.


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  • Does not allow you to reach the “low end” applicant.
  • Not as effective when you have a small company with few applicants.
  • Should not be used to assess areas that can be trained.
  • Site purpose can easily be confused (i.e., image, recruiting, marketing, etc.).
  • Too much technology may interfere with building personal relationships.
  • Be certain your in-house IS department can handle both bandwidth and maximum uptime.
  • Be prepared for a significant change in work flow to accommodate a high-tech, high touch environment.
  • Don’t make the assumption that technology will do everything, people will still be needed to provide personal contact.
  • Taking tests online may lead to test faking and error.
  • Should be careful to follow the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures .
  • In the “eyes” of the law, an application may “start” with a web-response, not an application blank.
  • May adversely affect certain protected groups who do not normally access the Internet.

Summary Online screening can be a powerful tool when used correctly. Consider that even though it may be neatly wrapped up in a pretty Web site package, any tool used to “screen” an applicant must be treated as a test. Good sites have the following characteristics:

  • The hardware infrastructure is capable of is highly reliable and can handle the expected bandwidth.
  • The purpose of the site should be clearly understood before being built, such that marketing efforts are not confused with recruiting and screening efforts.
  • Tools, assessments, application forms, etc. should all be job-relevant; that is, they should be backed by job analyses that establish a foundation of business need and job relevance.
  • Test use should always be minimized and when used, should be backed with a validation study comparing test scores with job performance.
  • Testing should follow a “multiple hurdle” format that requires applicants to pass one step before encountering another.
  • Screening should always include people contact as part of the process to maintain a high touch environment.
  • Data is carefully collected and used as an information tool.



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