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Understanding the candidate screening process

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How do you effectively screen to find the best candidate for a job? This is the question facing many employers when it comes to recruitment. Here we discuss some of the main screening techniques and the pros and cons of each.

The cost of getting recruitment wrong

For any business a bad hire is more than just an inconvenience; it can be a major risk. According to a 2017 report by REC a poor hire at mid-manager level with a salary of £42,000 can end up costing a business more than £132,000 including the hidden costs associated; money wasted on training, lost productivity, and the cultural and organisational impact of increased staff turnover. In the same study, just under half of those interviewed admitted that the interviewing and assessment skills of their staff should be improved.
With such high costs involved in getting recruitment wrong, screening is arguably the most important part of hiring and having an effective and robust process is crucial. In an increasingly fast paced environment where businesses are challenged to grow and hiring therefore critical, it can be easy for companies to become complacent, hire too quickly and make ill-informed judgements. However, done well, effective screening can support long term, sustainable growth and positively impact productivity.
In this article we discuss some of the main types of screening options that exist and the pros and cons of each.

  • Traditional CV screening

Traditionally, CV screening is the first opportunity an employer has to assess a prospective candidate. A good CV offers a full and detailed summary of the experience and skills that a candidate brings, their education and perhaps their personal interests. It also allows employers to build a thorough picture of the person and provides a basis on which to interview or phone screen. However, a CV alone presents some challenges in that a good one should be around 2 A4 pages in length, but for experienced candidates they can become much longer and are time consuming to digest. Furthermore, a CV is prone to heavy bias given that it is written by the person it is designed to sell and therefore easy to embellish. According to HireRight’s 2017 screening benchmark report 85% of candidates were found to have embellished their CV.
Traditional screening, while still present is becoming a thing of the past. According to our 2017, global talent acquisition survey of nearly 7,000 employers and candidates, the vast majority agreed that tests for culture fit, cognitive abilities and personality are more effective and that recent developments in technology matching systems and online assessments are becoming more popular.

Cultural assessments 

In some companies, cultural fit is becoming just as important if not more so, than technical ability. When looking to assess for cultural fit there a couple of popular methods;

  • Testimonials 

Speaking to a former hiring manager to complete a testimonial or reference can be a helpful way to understand if your candidate will fit your organisation. A good referee will know the candidate well and ideally will have worked closely with or managed that person for a significant period of time. Their view should be impartial, but quality of the reference relies on good questioning from the person conducting the conversation and also works on the basis that they fully understand what ‘good’ looks like. As referee’s are often provided by the candidate themselves, they may be more likely to provide the details of someone who they know will give them a good reference which could reduce the validity of the reference itself. Furthermore, many HR functions often discourage qualitative conversations about someone’s performance and personality and this can limit the quality of a testimonial reducing it to factual information on items such employment dates and role performed thus not truly addressing culture.

  • Face to face interviews

A face to face interview is the best way see your candidate “warts and all” and an opportunity to probe more on the skills and experience detailed in a CV. The challenge comes with the fact that interviewing is a skill in itself and not all leaders are well trained or experienced in the art of conducting a good interview. In the absence of skilled interviewing techniques, the interviewer will often rely on their innate bias to make decision, favouring people they perceive to be like them rather than those who can do the job. When hiring decisions are made under these conditions the result can severely hamper diversity in the workplace.

Cognitive Assessments & Personality Tests

Cognitive assessments are pre-employment skill tests that measure an individual's aptitude, or ability to solve problems, digest and apply information, learn new skills, and think critically. This is a great way to analyse someone’s way of thinking and can work well in industries or jobs where analytical skills are needed. However due to the way that they are created they can be seen as unfair, disadvantaging certain minority groups and like with other methods of screening very open to bias.
Similar to cognitive assessments personality tests can also seek to compliment other screening methods and can help support the cultural fit. The effectiveness of both tests depends on their robustness and company hiring must be clear on the personality fit and cognitive ability that they are seeking to attract. In many organisations and in the absence of clarity or robust tests, recruitment bias will still kick in and could skew the integrity of the hiring decision. 

Social media-based and technology screening

Time is a precious resource for any business so when it comes to hiring many traditional screening processes are becoming more reliant on technology to speed things up.
With any approach where technology or systems are present it is important to couple this with human reasoning after all at the very centre of the recruitment purpose are people.

The 4 C’s of Screening

When it comes to implementing the perfect screening process, we advise you to consider the following;

  • Clarity – for any type of screening to work, the hiring company must have a clear job specification and thorough understanding of the technical skills and cultural alignment being sought before screening commences.
  • Communication – with clarity on the above it is essential that the message is communicated and that those conducting interviews and making decisions are clear on the objectives of the hire and trained to conduct the screening and to assess suitability.
  • Continuous improvement – the screening process is continually evolving with new ways to screen emerging as a result of new tools and technology, so it is important to evolve and take advantage of these new services.
  • Creating conscious awareness of unconscious bias – All types of screening methods can become vulnerable to unconscious bias that can limit the effectiveness of the recruitment process, impair diversity and create a clone like culture. It is therefore important for organisation to understand the types of bias that can occur, how it can set in and follow steps to prevent it.

In Summary

Overall, screening is an art and not a science and there is no way to guarantee success. However, with the many tools and techniques that are at the disposal of hiring managers, we recommend a blended approach to best support the outcome of a ‘good hire’. When companies are screening for talent, while fast, automated solutions are tempting it is important not to lose sight of the human touch and remember that data alone will rarely (if at all) present the full picture of your candidate. While AI and other technologies are becoming increasingly prevalent in many industries and have their place in recruitment, they are best served to process repetitive or static data but must work in conjunction with the people behind them. Once your blended approach is selected, keeping the 4 C’s in mind is a simple way to keep your process in check, limit the presence of bias and help ensure your next hire is a success.


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