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Screening From The Eyes of a Recruiter

Monday, Feb 02, 2009

It was one of my earlier experiences as a recruiter. We were looking to set up a new function with a very limited budget. I was charged with the responsibility of hiring a quality professional with the ability to lead a small team. Due to budgetary constraint, the emphasis was of course on talent, not experience.

After preliminary interviews, we short-listed a few candidates. On top of the list, was a young, enthusiastic, qualified professional, working at a very reputed organization (both technically and financially). After careful scrutiny however, I dropped him from the race. He was marked overqualified. While technically he was the most suitable candidate, I reckoned him to be too refined for the given situation - both in terms of personality and organizational background. "He would just not stay with us... and why would he quit his current job in the first place?", I said to myself.

Days later I started receiving his calls, asking for his status. With each new call, he sounded more eager and desperate, making my job even more difficult. At the end, I took courage and told him, he was out!

After some time I came to know the main reason behind his eagerness. We had unconsciously "sold" him the organizational culture during the interviewing process - warm, informal, candid and supportive - no bossing around. He on the other hand came from a structured, formal and "cold" enterprise. It seemed to fill his basic need.

It was my earliest revelation that selection too can serve as a recruitment (attraction) tool, and a very effective one too.

Recruitment vs. Selection

Recruitment is about attracting applicants with desired competencies to apply for open positions. It can be paralleled with advertising and sales. You post job ads in the resource market (target market) with the aim of attracting your "customers" or prospective candidates. Effective advertising by HR results in a decent size resource pool with desired competencies. Successful recruitment requires selling two products - the job and the corporate image.

Selection is about screening and choosing the best fit for the job. It may include steps like preliminary application screening, interviews, tests and assessments, background check etc. Quality of selection partly depends on the quality of resource pool - a product of recruitment.

The Mindset

The typical mindset of recruitment is very different from that of selection. The difference emanates from the nature of the two processes - attraction vs. "filtering out". While a recruiter approaches the problem with a salesman's pitch, a selector wears an investigator's lens, scrutinizing, probing, doubting and even shaking the subjects to reveal their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Recruiters aim at broadening the pool; selectors target elimination. From a selector's perspective, it's a win-lose proposition; there is only one winner and many losers.

The Marriage of Recruitment and Selection

The selection process typically begins with numerous "good" candidates and ends up with one finally selected for the job. It is important to note however, that the ones who are screened out of the process are "not rejected". They are just not the best fit for the specific opportunity at that particular moment. All or some of these "left outs" could well be the most sought candidates for a subsequent opportunity. From HR perspective, it would be wise to consider them as future prospects. If the selection process is conducted with the spirit of recruitment, then you have successfully created a readily available resource pool, already screened and anxiously waiting to be onboard for a future position. The scope and value of this byproduct can be enhanced manifold by an effective redesign of the selection process.

Rethinking Selection

The key is to design the process in a way that multiplies the level of attraction or magnetism of the open position and the organization. The measures however must not undermine the quality of screening, though it would warrant some changes in the way it is approached. At the heart of this shift is the treatment of a candidate like a customer or a prospect (for now or for future) and not as a possible suspect (incompetent). Before we outline the key elements of a renewed approach to selection, which I shall call positive screening, let's examine some of the possible fruits of this approach.

Benefits of Positive Screening

Key Components of Positive Screening

The following section summarizes some of the key components of the selection process that require realignment for a more effective business outcome.

Designing Positive Experience

The selection process should be designed as an experience and not as a mere testing activity. The aim should not be limited to effective screening but should encompass creation of a strong positive perception in the minds of the applicants about the job and the organization. It should reinforce their decision to apply and enhance desirability of the open position. A very important ingredient of creating such an experience is a genuine interest in the candidates and implicit dissemination of a forceful message that they (and the existing team) are valued.

The Environment

We as humans are hugely influenced by our environment and all communication, both implicit and explicit is interpreted in a specific context. No message, written or otherwise, has any absolute or real meaning outside its relevant context.

In essence the environment chosen for the selection process should be inviting not repulsive. It should be free from noise (not just sound but all kinds of noise) and disruptions, and reflect the importance of the process. Organizing environmental elements include managing time and space, material etc. It also includes soft elements such as communication (both verbal and non verbal) and social interaction, which is pivotal in building bonds, and a key to salesmanship. The environmental arrangements should be representative of the overall organizational culture and be aligned with the goal and philosophy of the screening process as highlighted in the sections above.

The Process and Process Artifacts

The quality of the processes and their artifacts (forms, tools and other material etc.) speaks a lot about an organization. It especially highlights the strengths and weaknesses of its structure, systems, methodologies and the professional maturity and sophistication of the overall system. This could be especially important for individuals holding or aspiring for managerial or technical positions.

Each step in the selection process should be reviewed for quality, relevance and appropriateness and redundant elements and input should be eliminated or minimized. Similar scrutiny should be performed for all process inputs and outputs e.g. forms (whether online or printed), logs, tests, exercises, and/or other instruments which require applicant involvement.

Team Selection

The best of bread systems can fail miserably when administered by incompetent or untrained staff. The team must comprise people who are not just competent assessors but also good speakers, spokespersons and "salespersons". They must be effectively oriented on the philosophy of attraction as outlined above. They should approach to bring out the best in the candidates through open and interactive interaction instead of unearthing the worst. Finding faults is fairly simple and is almost second nature to most humans. Finding talent and revealing the hidden virtues is both art and science which requires much thought, training and practice.

Since part of the objective is to instill positive association and feelings among the applicants, skills in emotional intelligence would be very relevant and effective for the team members responsible for managing or executing the process.

Evaluation

What cannot be measured, cannot be managed. Before and after any significant change initiative, it is important to capture some important facts about the relevant processes to assess the success or failure of impending change. In case of the above process, some of the direct measures that could be reviewed include offer acceptance ratio, no. of subsequent hires after non-selection (for another opening), ease/difficulty level in salary negotiations, no. of follow ups on the open position from the candidates, no. of inquiries or calls for other vacancies or opportunities by the candidates in case of their non-selection, referrals by the candidates, etc.

Conclusion

Broadening the focus and scope of the selection process as outlined above has dual advantage of enhancing the quality of screening in some ways but more importantly positively contributing towards future recruitment and enhancing corporate image in the resource market. And since seeing is believing, no conventional recruitment method, which is primarily based on spoken and written words only, can be as effective in carrying the organizational message, as the experiential process described above.

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"What is now proved was once only imagined"

[William Blake]