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Screening Questions and the Cost of Information

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

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Jan 12, 2006 12:03:00 PM

Read Part 2 on Screening for Minimums

If you ask a vendor how their ATS improves productivity, one of the most popular responses is "screening questions." In my experience, it's also one of the more popular features among recruiters, albeit one that people buy and fail to use to the extent they expected. Today I want to explore the problems with this approach and how it can hurt an employer's recruiting results.

ATS-driven screening questions are typically presented to the applicant when they want to apply for a job on the employer's website. Before the applicant can submit a resume, he or she is required to fill out a webform which contains the questions. Many recruiters I speak to see this process only in a positive light: as a way to weed out all those plumbers who apply for electrician jobs, or kids one year out of college who think they're ready to be the director of marketing.

The Cost of Information
But you can never obtain information without a cost. Online application forms (as opposed to emailing a resume to an address) have a very powerful impact on the experience of the jobseeker on your website. At worst, the use of such systems will actually reduce the quality of applicants because the best people will simply go away.

Think about it: when you go walking through a mall, do stores require you to prove you have sufficient cash or credit to make a purchase before they let you in and take up their precious clerks' time? We may all have stories of scruffy rich uncles who got the cold shoulder at a Mercedes-Benz dealer but the moral of such stories usually turns out to be that the one salesperson who gave the scruffy guy respect got the deal.

The Internet is the world's ultimate shopping mall, and no matter who you are, you're competing with hundreds of other companies for the applicant's attention. You're not just a jewelry store in a mall, you're a jewelry store in a mall with nothing but thousands of jewelry stores.

Customer Service or Customer Deflection?
In many ways, screening questions are like those interactive telephone systems that your credit card company uses to make sure customers never talk to a human. They can get away with systems built for their convenience because you, the customer, have very little choice in the matter. If you could click a few buttons and switch your account to someone who promised a human at the other end of every call, things would be different. And that's just how easy it is for a casual jobseeker to click to another site.

The bottom line is, you can't do customer deflection if your customer has any kind of power. That's why Tiffany's lets hundreds of people in every day who aren't qualified to purchase their products. Implementing a labor-intensive application process will definitely reduce the volume of junk, and recruiters will feel that right away, and perceive it as a success. But what you won't notice, because you never measured it before, is that it will also reduce the number of really awesome applicants who say "@#$! this" and move on.

Read Part 2 on Screening for Minimums