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UNICRU Beefs Up Screening Tool

March 17, 2006
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A better way to weed out quitters and delinquents before they’re hired may be at hand.

Unicru, an HR software company that focuses on businesses with hourly employees, says its latest applicant assessment tool breaks new ground in predicting which job candidates are likely to be fired for bad behavior or leave after just a short stint.

The technology, dubbed the Frontline Reliability Assessment, is based on computer analysis of the actual job results of 370,000 hourly workers in industries such as retail, grocery stores and food service. That number is more than 10 times greater than the company’s previous sample sizes and is rivaled only by studies of the U.S. military or postal service, says Unicru chief scientist David Scar­borough. The scale also means it has become trickier for applicants to outwit Unicru’s test, because profiles of deceptive test takers who turned into low-quality hires have been captured. "This tool is much more difficult to manipulate for a favorable score," he says.

For example, unscrupulous applicants might be tempted to portray themselves as very willing to trust the good intentions of others. But according to Unicru’s research, ideal hourly employees show a combination of high dependability and just moderate trust, Scarborough says.

The assessment asks job applicants the degree to which they agree or disagree with 50 work-related statements, such as "You don’t act polite when you don’t want to." So far, just one Unicru customer, a grocery chain, has adopted the new system. But another 24 customers are slated to do so as part of a free system upgrade, and Unicru hopes to gain additional clients with the technology.

Online assessments are seen as increasingly valuable as the labor market tightens. Other companies offering applicant assessments include PreVisor and Kenexa.

Unicru stands out for its narrow focus on entry-level employees, the scale of its sample size and the sophistication of its scientists, says Charles Handler, founder of consulting firm Rocket-Hire, which specializes in online screening and assessment. Retailers especially are keen to reduce turnover of hourly employees, which is a major cost for them, Handler says. In his view, the study size for Unicru’s latest product should prove helpful. "It’s a good product," says Handler, who has done consulting for Unicru and other assessment vendors. "You can have a lot of confidence that the effects that they’re claiming are real."

Unicru’s hiring management tools, including tests, are administered online or via computer kiosks at company sites. Clients pay from $10 to several hundred dollars per location per month for the system, depending on the size of the installation. Customers also incur $50,000 to $100,000 in setup fees.

Beaverton, Oregon-based Unicru has been on a roll for some time. Its revenue has grown by double digits every year for the past seven years, to nearly $38 million last year. The company has 101 customers and a staff of 280.

Ed Frauenheim

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