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Steve O'Dell


Managing Director UK

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How to select the right employee for the job


With scores of applicants chasing fewer roles, UK plc needs better candidate screening, says Steve O’Dell.

In an economic downturn, recruitment processes need to be especially effective at selecting the right employees. Not only is there increased pressure on each new recruit to deliver, but in the midst of a deep recession, redundancies and unemployment result in more applicants for every vacancy. 
With supply exceeding demand in all labour markets, efficient screening of candidates is absolutely key for all organisations. However, with such large numbers of applicants to consider, the risk is that the costs of screening will increase considerably, at the very time that companies are under increasing financial constraints.
So which of the different methods is currently considered best practice and, crucially, which will deliver the best value and the optimum return on investment?
Thanks to valuable research by my colleague Dr Alan Bourne, it is possible to evaluate the effectiveness of screening processes using the following criteria:
  • Validity – the predictive effectiveness of the techniques used is a key measure of the quality of any screening process, identifying candidates likely to be strong performers, versus those who may not.
  • Risk – applicants who would pose a significant risk due to lack of relevant basic skills or a criminal record should be deselected.
  • Bias –criteria included in a screening process should avoid significant and unfair bias on the basis of ethnicity, sex or age.
  • Applicant screening ratio – the greater the ratio between the number of applicants and the number of candidates that can practically be brought forward to the next stage of selection, the greater the need for a balanced screening process that doesn’t eliminate too many applicants who could become good performers.
  • Potential vs. experience – the sifting process should not screen out candidates who are high potential simply on the basis that they lack experience.
  • Candidate experience – the right message needs to be communicated in order to attract candidates with the closest fit to the company ethos.
  • Cost – What is the overall cost of screening and is it acceptable to the organisation? Here the use of technology really plays a part in helping to make screening economically viable.
  • Return on investment – the balance of identifying higher performers versus the cost of doing so underpins ROI in terms of screening.
The main screening techniques available present different benefits and pitfalls:
  • Unstructured telephone interview – simply checking the applicant’s credentials without a clear scoring process is probably the least-effective screening method and is also costly.
  • Manual CV screen –screening out CVs which show little relevant experience is also labour intensive and costly. Whilst deselecting those applicants who don’t meet basic requirements, it risks failing to identify higher performers. 
  • Referencing checks – though time consuming administratively, using references to check the validity of the roles outlined in a CV is obviously a simple check to conduct, and criminal checks may be required to control risk. However the contribution to ROI from such screening is minimal.
  • Intelligent CV-reading software – widely available technology can scan CVs for key terms and help identify the most promising candidates, but is less effective than other approaches.
  • ‘Killer questions’ telephone screen – a structured ‘killer questions’ approach focuses on a number of critical aspects of biographical data and is effective in ensuring that key areas are covered, such as relevant experience. But telephone interviews are labour intensive and expensive whilst the danger is that simplistic ‘killer questions’ eliminate good candidates.
  • ‘Killer questions’ online screen – automation significantly cuts costs. However, the online experience must be engaging for the applicant in order not to damage the employer brand.
  • Competency telephone screen – short competency-based interviews benefit from being relatively personal. The downside is that they are expensive to carry out in large volumes and poorly skilled interviewers can often limit their predictive validity.
  • Competency screen online – online methods use either short structured questionnaires or open questions which are reviewed remotely by assessors. Problems arise from trying to develop a quick ‘bespoke’ solution rather than drawing on more robust measures and integrating them into the screening process.
  • Personality fit assessment – a significant step up from online competency screening and often available at a reasonable cost, more robust personality assessments that have been fully trialled and can be mapped to your organisation’s competencies are quick to complete and predictable.
  • Ability / intelligence assessment – one of the most reliable predictors of performance, ability testing benchmarks verbal, numerical or logical reasoning. Testing is typically completed online, and newer approaches benefit from using adaptive testing, whereby the complexity of each question is modified in response to a candidate’s performance as they progress.
The importance of striking a balance between delivering an engaging candidate experience and controlling the costs of screening depends partly on the supply/demand situation, which has now clearly tipped in favour of employers. Delivering a ‘high touch’ brand experience is a little less critical in more open labour markets, compared to the need for cost effectiveness. But in any case, online screening processes can be cost-efficient and still provide a positive experience, if they are carefully designed.
All things considered, what delivers the best brand experience for candidates, cost effectiveness and overall ROI through good prediction, are typically the processes that involve using the more robust techniques in a staged programme. Firstly, the online ‘killer questions’ screen can deselect applicants who obviously don’t fit the requirements. An online competency screen may also add value at this stage but better prediction is usually only available through online ability and personality fit assessment.
Progressive providers of psychometric assessment will offer fixed fees for higher volume projects, so delivering better value and certainty about costs, compared to the traditional ‘pay per candidate’ model. For any recruitment process where applicant numbers reach the hundreds, online solutions offer considerable cost benefits over manual approaches, a key consideration at a time when HR needs to be seen to deliver value.
The online nature of the assessments also means that with small scale recruitment projects, such as recruiting senior executives, a better candidate experience can be provided. Remote testing, which doesn’t rely on the geographical location of the employer, also helps to extend reach when looking for talent.
In summary, HR functions which seek to automate their screening processes where feasible, apply the most valid techniques, and ensure a well coordinated process to ensure the employer brand is supported, will be those who can both save money and deliver much greater return on investment.
Steve O’Dell is chief executive of people assessment company, Talent Q.
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Steve O'Dell

Managing Director UK

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