If you’re unlucky enough to be in the job market at the moment and, like many techs, use the Internet and online recruitment sites to search for jobs, you may have encountered a preemptive form apparently designed “to ensure that you meet the criteria set by our client for this job.” The form asks a number of pertinent questions as a prequalifier to uploading your resume. Welcome to online screening and filtering.

Yes or no—with no in-between
In a depressed job market with literally hundreds of applicants vying for each position advertised, recruiting is becoming an increasingly automated process. The aim of the form is obviously to screen applicants into the smallest possible pool of suitable candidates, in the shortest possible time. But, with the ambiguous nature of some questions, and provision for only a “yes” or “no” response, just how effective is this process? What if your answer is “some,” or “yes, but not current?” If one of those radio-buttons registers a click on “no,” have you just rendered your application null and void, with no further correspondence likely to be entered into?

According to Sandy McKellar from Workflow International, whose Deskflow and Resume Genie products are used by an increasing number of companies in filtering job applications, “candidate responses are not prejudged or filtered on receipt,” but are passed as a batch to a ranking subsystem, where “a weighted ranking criteria based on Boolean and quantitative attributes is applied to the candidate list. If a percentage weighting system is used, then automatic exclusion would not occur.” McKellar’s example was that “if three years of German is a 100 percent requirement, candidates without German would score zero on this one question, but depending on the total number of questions ranked, the candidate could still be the best of all the candidates”.

So, on the surface at least, it doesn’t appear too sinister. On the contrary though, one recruitment consultant interviewed for this story (who asked to remain anonymous) said that “answering no to any of the questions obviously meant the candidate hadn’t read the job spec properly,” and indicated it would be the quickest way to weed out contenders.

The majority of recruiters agreed that filtering software was of most benefit in placing contract technical staff, where the skills required were very specific and a fast turn around was required. Most considered it fairly useless for project management or other management roles, where the skills required were more subjective, and a tight cultural fit was required.

Emerging trend
While not all online recruitment sites use filtering techniques, what is clear is that this trend is gathering momentum. Particularly in the current employers’ market where fire-rather-than-hire is now the norm, screening is becoming ubiquitous, simply because of the deluge of applications received for each job, out of which often only 50 to 60 percent come close to meeting the job spec. In these desperate times, that’s not really an unexpected outcome. Add to this the proliferation of automation and screening products now on the market, many with quite affordable fee structures, and it’s not hard to see why e-recruitment is taking hold.

The only consolation for frayed and weary job-seekers is that more private companies may start to use this technology themselves, potentially putting the squeeze on the recruitment firms, many of which are already feeling the pinch as companies continue to downsize and lay off staff. If an HR manager (or heaven forbid, even an IT manager) had access to an online recruitment system which facilitated every step of the process— from posting ads on job boards and the company’s own Web site to producing a short list of screened and ranked candidates for interview, all without the involvement or expense of a recruitment consultant—the cost savings would be substantial. And it doesn’t end there. Many systems complete the process by transferring relevant information directly to the company’s HRIS system after a candidate is hired.

Mike Giuffrida, CEO of e-recruitment solution provider nga.net, noted that many top 500 companies and federal/state government departments are adopting online recruitment solutions to reduce the expense associated with recruiting staff. Giuffrida is also of the opinion that combining a job board entry with a comprehensive e-recruitment solution provides a compelling option for most companies. Interestingly, a number of the company’s clients provide a screened short list to their recruitment consultant for initial interview. This, however, “lends itself to an overhaul of how agencies charge for their services, with the 15 percent of starting salary placement fee losing its relevance, and the agencies asked to charge only for their time.”

With technology able to streamline the recruitment process and drastically reduce the associated costs, it is inevitable that more companies will consider bringing the recruitment process in-house. Particularly in a market where there is no shortage of suitable candidates, consultants may eventually be pushed into a niche at the top end of the market, where genuine networking and headhunting skills are essential, and well rewarded.

Cost considerations
One major deterrent to implementing a solution is often cost, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. Some outsourced or ASP solutions (Deskflow, for instance) start at around $60 per user per month, which is easily affordable for small HR Departments in SMEs, and most solution providers consider corporate HR departments part of their target market. As an example, e-Link software’s spiel for its Recruitmanagement product testifies that it “reduces the need for agency involvement, returning control to the employer.” And Glenn Smith, CEO of erecruitment.com (UK) Ltd, a company with a patent pending on its “matching engine,” concludes in a recent article that “companies have long complained that they want to wrest control of their recruitment processes back from expensive third parties.”

Screening technology isn’t only being used for technical skills. “Profiling,” where candidates rank themselves on subjective skills, such as teamwork, leadership style, problem-solving abilities, and creativity, is also starting to make in-roads. Onetest’s Managing Director, Steven Dahl said that “the trend is to place less reliance on the resume, and use it later in the selection process rather than earlier”—the implication being that prequalification forms, profiling, and testing would be relied upon more heavily than a resume.

The future of screening technology
What then of the future? Well, if the HR-XML Consortium’s assertions are on target, its staffing exchange protocol is well on the way to becoming the de facto standard for end-to-end e-recruitment, with a number of schemas already approved, including Competencies v1.0 and Resume v2.0. The Competencies schema is designed to capture information about particular skills and to facilitate ranking, weighting, measuring, and comparing them, while Resume v2.0, unsurprisingly enough, provides the definition for an XML resume.

It doesn’t end here

If you’re not yet reaching for the Prozac, then take a peek at Drake International’s “Top 100,” where candidates submit to a video streaming interview (select Sydney, Information Technology, IT Project Management, and then click on one of the candidates). So, even if you survive the angst of screening, filtering, profiling, and testing, you may just have to brush up on your preening, deportment, and on-camera techniques as well.