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Screening Questions, Part 2: Screening for Minimums

Posted by Colin Kingsbury

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Jan 16, 2006 1:59:00 PM

This is a followup to Thursday's post on how screening questions will prevent top candidates from applying. Today I'm going to describe how they can fail even when applicants fill them out.

Probably the most common use for screening questions is to filter out applicants who don't meet the minimum requirements for the position they apply for. A typical example is a Programmer-Analyst position that specifies, say, five years experience with Oracle.

If you add a screening question, "How many years of experience do you have using Oracle," you should be able to easily filter out anyone who says "less than 5," right? The problem in this scenario has nothing to do with the technology, which is stupid simple.

The problem is that no one will answer "less than 5" because the screening process is too transparent. Applicants will rationalize reading a newspaper article about Oracle five years ago into the necessary five years of experience. At best you will filter out the people too lazy to read the job description.

The "Fake Good" Problem
But even this comes at a price, and in this case it can be high. The "Fake Good" problem occurs when your process favors resume-padders over applicants who give honest responses. Let's say 25% of the people with at least 5 years of real experience pad that to the "7-10" category. Your ATS will let you sort the applicants based on their responses, and you will proceed to review them from the top down, thus favoring the fabricators over the honest people with the same experience.

As with resume padding, jobseekers are going to learn about the mechanics of screening questions and treat them similarly. In the end, even many normally honest people will inflate their accomplishments out of concern that "everybody else is doing it." And if your hiring process--which can have enormous life consequences for the people who go through it--is based in large part on such simple questionnaires, can you really blame them?

Part 3: How and When to Use Screening Questions: Coming soon.