Technology: E-recruitment and psychometric testing

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Incorporating psychometrics into the online recruitment process could cut down the volume of applications HR has to deal with. Mary Cowlett asks if recruiters should pre-judge applicants.

E-recruitment has a proven track record when it comes to changing to embrace a variety of sophisticated back-office technologies: sifting job applications, tracking and responding to candidates, and storing and analysing the data given. Indeed, according to the latest data from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 75% of organisations now use their own corporate website to attract applicants.

The benefits of this evolution are well-documented and improvements typically focus on cost and efficiency savings, reduction in time to hire and better candidate reach. But what appears to be missing has been technology that better ties online recruitment to candidate quality and fit.

Astonishingly, a survey of 200 senior HR professional published earlier this year by psychometrics specialists Talent Q reveals more than 70% of companies do not measure the overall relationship between talent and business performance. "As budgets are cut, organisations are adopting a slash-and-burn mentality, rather than thinking about core competencies and business performance," says Talent Q's chief executive, Steve O'Dell.

He argues this is where incorporating personality assessments and ability tests, or psychometrics, into the online recruitment process itself comes in. "Integrating the two technologies allows HR people to assess candidates quickly and cheaply, enabling them to deal with the volume of applications they may receive. Most importantly, however, it also means that the pendulum swings towards the quality of the candidates much earlier in the process."

While there is a view that this technique has the potential for abuse - offering a legally-compliant excuse for screening out the bulk of applications organisations receive at the earliest possible point - others maintain that such testing removes much of the subjectivity from the hiring process, creates consistency and therefore more informed hiring decisions.

"Comparisons between hiring and attrition show that experience is the least reliable predictor of success in a new job," says Roger Philby, founder of Chemistry Recruitment. He claims there are five areas recruiters need to examine: intellect, values, motivation, behaviour and experience. He says the first four are the most important and the hardest for employers to measure in an interview, but they are something psychometrics can pick up. "Most organisations only look at experience, rather than profiling what makes their existing people successful and exploring these key criteria at the point of hire," he says.

This is something Harrods is examining to improve the performance of shop-floor staff and reduce staff churn. It is currently in the process of profiling its top 100 performing sales personnel, with the intention of merging online psychometrics into its e-recruitment later this month.

However, the retailer's head of resourcing, Isabelle Hung, stresses that despite receiving more than 1,000 applications a month, the firm will only be testing candidates after they have been through a CV and telephone screening process and had a face-to-face assessment. "Cost is an issue, but use of psychometrics is also not regarded as best practice without interviewing first, as otherwise you may reject people who have learnt to adapt their behaviour around their profile,' she says.

Telecoms company Cable & Wireless, which has been using online psychometrics as part of its e-recruitment strategy since 2006, is taking the technique one step further. Confident that testing has transformed the firm's accuracy in predicting the success of recruits in any particular role from 25% to more than 75%, C&W head of talent management Mathew Lowery says: "It's also helped transform the business, from one that was burning £1 million a day to one that is now cash positive."

This has been driven in part by using the insights generated to develop a 'talent book' for each new recruit, which feeds into their ongoing professional development. Meanwhile, Lowery is now applying the technique to internal processes, such as pulling together cross-functional teams and matching them to key clients.

There are still a number of barriers to more widespread adoption of online psychometrics at the application stage, however. Not least of these is the ongoing debate about how accurate such tests are and the extent to which they provide a truly subjective measure. In addition, candidates trying to cheat the system remain a problem, while there can be issues around the point at which it is most appropriate to integrate testing into the selection process.

"There are massive trade-offs between the time candidates are prepared to spend doing such tests online - the general rule is between 15 and 20 minutes - and the accuracy of the results that come out," says Phil Brown, service director of recruitment process outsourcing at e-HR specialist NorthgateArinso. "A more common problem is that for the tool to be effective it should be sharply focused on what organisations are looking for. This means there is a need to constantly re-benchmark tests against the existing talent in an organisation, in order to avoid skills gaps or over-delivery."

At the root of many of these dilemmas are the technological demands of integrating psychometric solutions with wider e-recruitment and talent management packages and the costs involved. However, Richard Doherty, vice-president of solutions consult-ancy at JobPartners, which offers its ActiveRecruiter e-recruitment solution, says merging these technologies has never been simpler.

"Many of the leading online psychometric providers now use standard interfaces that we can just plug in to, allowing us to embed the assessment in the process seamlessly," he says. "This means our clients never have to leave ActiveRecruiter to access the data, while our system will automatically perform tasks such as sending candidates repeat invites for assessments."

Similarly, with costs previously ranging from a couple of pounds to several hundred per assessment, many online psychometric providers are also now developing new fixed-price service models, offering unlimited usage. This naturally opens the market to mass volume, attracting retailers, call-centre operators and, crucially, graduates.

Last September, logistics and transport specialist DHL Exel Supply Chain extended its UK-based graduate recruitment programme to 60 placements across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Having previously relied on a manual and largely outsourced process, this involved working with psychometrics provider SHL to develop an e-recruitment solution that identified the core competencies of the firm's existing top graduate performers.

The end result was a bespoke Talent Screener featuring a series of behavioural and motivational tests, tailored to the culture of the organisation. "I wanted to develop a level of consistency in terms of the candidate process and experience as well as 24/7 access for our target audience, so that we could offer an end-to-end process," says the firm's graduate programme manager, Alison Bending.

Depending on their success at each stage, this progresses candidates from their initial application and a quick CV screener, through a situational test, inductive reasoning and an occupational and personality questionnaire.

Bending says a major advantage is that the system acts as a self-selection tool for graduates with scant experience of warehouse or transport-based operations. Furthermore, with candidates able to progress from initial application to an invitation to attend a final assessment in the space of five days, the system has already removed almost six months from the recruitment process.

Clearly, online psychometric testing alone is not the silver bullet for e-recruitment. Indeed, those with experience highlight the difficulties of selling the technique to senior management and line managers, plus the challenge of training internal HR personnel to administer the tests and analyse the results. However, it could provide valuable ammunition in the months ahead. As C&W's Lowery says: "It's all about ensuring that we have the right kind of managers to drive our business out of the back-end of a recession."

BRIGHT FUTURES

As graduate recruitment becomes a mass-volume activity, not-for-profit student society Bright Futures is developing technology solutions enabling employers to streamline the process and increase the speed to hire.

For a base annual fee of between £3,000 to £5,000, corporate sponsors, which currently range from Capgemini and Reckitt Benckiser to Rolls Royce and HSBC, can engage with career-savvy students face-to-face on campus and by text, email, blogs, forums and webinars.

"The more applications employers receive, the more costs they incur. So we're focused on driving fewer better applications by helping employers identify quickly, easily and cost-effectively career-driven students in innovative and creative ways," explains the society's national director, Simon Reichwald.

This includes working with graduate recruitment specialist Gradintel.com, to encourage student members from 32 of the UK's top universities to create their own online 'wiki' profiles, outlining their skills, academic achievements and work experience, coupled with psychometric profiling covering verbal and numeric skills.

Corporate sponsors can then match members against vacancies and text or email the most suitable candidates with an online link, encouraging them to apply.

With a recent survey by executive search firm ExecuNet showing 77% of recruiters use search engines to evaluate applicants, Reichwald highlights the benefits of the service for both sides. "Students hate prospective employers accessing their online social space, such as their Facebook profile, so we never give out their personal details," he says. "At the same time it saves HR professionals from having to sift through thousands of applications to find the 25 of so quality applicants that fit the bill."

WHAT ABOUT?...

...developing an online recruitment process that mines your internal talent pools first, then flows into options covering job boards,media advertising and recruitment agencies?

Procurement and supply chain management specialist Comensura has just extended its Cnet recruitment solution for requesting and managing temporary staff for use in the permanent staff process.

Currently used by the likes of Smith & Nephew, this system enables employers to prioritise their cheapest recruitment options through a web-based application. "The system is configured to each individual client and the entire process automated to streamline online recruitment and enable organisations to identify which recruitment routes are the most efficient," explains Comesura CEO Mike Trevor. He adds: "It also means the first port of call is those who are predisposed to want to work for your organisation." This includes those who have applied for positions previously, speculative applicants who register their CVs, and existing staff looking to develop their careers. One of the advantages of using this system is that online psychometric testing can be integrated into the initial application process.

In addition, the firm operates a gain share financial model, where instead of charging a management fee, payment is an agreed percentage of the savings the Cnet generates. "With our huge volume and buying power in the market, we can make savings of between 5% to 40%," concludes Trevor.

CRIMINAL RECORD CHECK

Psychometric tests, face-to -face interviews and even role-play may reveal what appears to be the ideal candidate, but do you really know who you are hiring? According to background checking service BackCheck, there is a significant number of applicants out there either lying about their history or being economical with the truth.

"Of all the applications we process, 5% turn up a criminal record that hasn't been disclosed, while 30% throw up a red flag around employment history and 10% around education," says BackCheck's assistant V-P of operations, Chris Hawkins.

Typical fibs and fudges revolve around academic qualifications and length of employment service.

With applicants' consent, the firm can check everything from the right to work, criminal records, education and employment history through to credit ratings. And evidence suggests that this scrutiny of past behaviour is usually the clearest indicator of how people will behave in future. "If people have a history of fraud, theft or being late and missing deadlines, the chances are that they will continue to do that," says Hawkins. "And while psychometric testing is becoming more popular, I would never assume that it could replace a criminal records check."

WHO TESTS AT THE APPLICATION STAGE?

COMPANY: Deloitte

Website: http://careers.deloitte.com/united-kingdom/students/studentgrad.aspx

What's good about it? Recently named 'Best UK Graduate Website 2008' by Potentialpark Communications

What applicants see: Refreshing free of flashy gizmos, the site has sections covering graduate training and development, company culture and benefits, career events and opportunities for undergraduates and postgraduates. Redesigned just over a year ago, numeric and verbal reasoning tests are included at the first stage of the online application process. "The nature of most of our careers means that it's important people are comfortable with numbers," says UK head of HR Stevan Rolls. "From a logistical point of view online testing is still the way to go."

COMPANY: 3

Website: http://www.three.co.uk/Company/Careers_Centre

What's good about it? Search & Apply category winner of the Hire Strategies 'Top 100 Retail Employer Career Sites'

What applicants see: The site is being refreshed later this year to give an updated picture of the firm's culture, the sort of people it looks for and why they should choose 3. "Getting these things right means we can build our employer brand and attract the right people who like what they see," says head of recruitment Louisa Scott. The firm is currently looking at incorporating an online assessment tool. "But we're definitely not about testing for testing's sake," says Scott. "We want to ensure it's part of a simple candidate application process and that the results have a high validity."

COMPANY: LV=

Website: http://www.lv.com/careers

What's good about it? It was relaunched in March 2009

What applicants see: LV='s new careers website is divided into seven clearly defined sections, each hosted by a current LV= employee. Special features include the opportunity for potential candidates to ask questions of these current employees directly and an option to register for job alerts, alongside a straightforward fully online application process. The mutual financial services provider is planning to integrate online assessment this autumn. "We want to understand people's strengths, behaviours and competencies to ensure the people joining LV= share our values and behaviours and fit with the LV= spirit," says Stuart Affleck, head of HR operations.

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