Recruiters worldwide are turning to ever-more sophisticated tools to help them find just the right applicants for their openings. Though the programs are still generically referred to as applicant tracking systems, these new tools have more in common with matchmaking than they do with the sorting and keyword filtering that was the gold standard of recruitment not long ago.
Before Home Shopping Network began using applicant assessment tools last year, its call center lost 46 percent of its new employees within three months. Now that number has been cut almost in half, to 24 percent, saving training time and improving productivity as workers stay longer on the job.
Dan Fontaine, senior recruiting partner at HSN, and Lisa Letizio, executive vice president of human resources, say changes in the company’s hiring practices and especially the implementation of recruitment technology from HRMC deserve the credit for the turnaround.
"HRMC did play a significant part in (retention improvement)," Fontaine says.
When Tooling University needed a Chicago sales manager, the online training school for manufacturers posted the job opening on Monster. Five hundred résumés and 40 hours later, Tom Barrett, vice president of sales and marketing for the company, had narrowed the field to the handful he finally interviewed for the job.
"This was a grueling process," says Barrett, echoing the sentiments of recruiters and hiring managers who find themselves besieged by hundreds of résumés for each job they post. "There had to be a better way."
Tooling University turned to Redmatch, an Israeli company that offers both a job board and candidate screening tools. "I do this with Redmatch now and the process is done automatically," says Barrett, who now uses the time he saves weeding through résumés to do his primary job--making sales and growing revenue.
The new generation of recruitment tools that started to come to market in the past year or two marries assessment testing with résumé analysis to not simply weed out unqualified candidates or find the best match to the job description, but to help recruiters find the best fit. Résumé analysis goes beyond just finding the résumés that have the most words that match the job qualifications. The newer programs know that a programmer who lists Java as a skill probably also knows HTML. Plus, these programs will make some educated guesses about the strength of the skills from where they are located in the résumé.
"What we are doing now," says Steve Hunt, chief scientist for Unicru, "is more of a matching that takes into account the skills and competencies but includes an assessment of the individual and their capabilities."
Assessment testing was pioneered by the U.S. military. The armed forces’ new hires are mostly fresh out of high school with no job history and certainly no training in military skills. As Hunt observes, "There’s no vocational class for tank repair."
Vendors today build on the military’s studies, though each has a different--sometimes remarkably different--approach to how a candidate is judged. Most of the tools focus on the hourly worker or on exempt positions with clear-cut skills definitions. All of them incorporate varying degrees of artificial intelligence.
Here’s a look at some of the many players in the field:
Unicru offers a recruitment tool that combines résumé analysis with a set of assessment questions that may include testing of a candidate’s skills, personality and work habits. Unicru ranks candidates, mainly hourly employees, on how well they meet the job qualifications and on their potential. The system "learns" to better match candidates to jobs by collecting performance metrics on the hires and checking their assessment scores. As patterns emerge among the high performers, Unicru’s scientists alter the formulas so that candidates who score more like the high performers rise to the top of the recruiter’s applicant list.
The retail sector is one of Unicru’s key industry groups. High turnover at the clerk level keeps experienced career-minded managers in short supply. "Here," Hunt says, "if all the focus was on traditional experience and keyword matching, there wouldn’t be enough candidates to fill the jobs. So we focus on looking for people with a natural aptitude."
Deploy uses longer assessments for hourlies. For professional candidates, it uses shorter pre-screening questions and then relies heavily on résumé analysis. The system compares the entire résumé--not just keywords--to the entire job description.
The rationale for emphasizing the résumé over screening questions, explains Sham Sao, Deploy's global vice president marketing and business development, is that the best candidates are not going to spend time filling out forms before they're sold on both the company and the job..
"It’s more like (a sales force automation tool) where you track the top-level prospects. You can’t ask them to fill out your assessment forms or you lose them," Sao says. "The résumé is not dead. It’s a critical part of the hiring process. You can ask candidates for other jobs to fill out forms and you can ask for more the further down the chain you go."
HRMC, on the other hand, focuses mostly on screening questions to match candidates and identify their skills and experience. Says Ron Selewach, CEO and company founder: "Stop thinking of the résumé as an inherent part of the process."
The basic HRMC system does qualification matching, comparing the responses candidates give to the screening questions to the skills and experience detailed in the job description. It’s one of the few systems that accepts responses online or by phone. Selewach says that 75 percent of the candidates, even exempt-level pharmaceutical sales applicants, apply by phone.
Typically, psychometric assessment questions designed to measure aspects of personality and "fit" are integrated into the process.
Like most of the higher end systems, HRMC incorporates a feedback loop that improves the candidate selection formulas based on employee performance information provided by the employer.
Redmatch is unusual in that it incorporates a job board and network into its recruitment tool, giving recruiters access to job-seeker profiles that are posted to the network or are submitted directly to the company. Redmatch CEO Gal Almog likens what his company does to a dating site, meaning candidates get matched to jobs that are suggested to them from the inventory of relevant job postings. Thus, a candidate who might not be right for the job he or she applied for may be just what another recruiter is looking for.
Candidates’ résumés are analyzed for skills and qualifications. The prescreen includes qualifying and disqualifying questions, but not psychometric assessment data. The more closely a candidate’s qualifications and experience match the job description, the higher the candidate scores.
Mkt10.org, a new entrant, is a variant on the Redmatch model, focusing on the higher-end job market. Job seekers complete an extensive profile survey asking them about the importance of such things as benefits, travel, desired company culture and dress codes. Candidates are presented with potential jobs and are shown how well they match what the company--which has filled out a similar profile--says it is looking for. If a match is made and the candidate is hired, the company pays $2,000.
Rob McGovern, who founded CareerBuilder and is founder and CEO of Mkt10, says job seekers, even professionals who might resist filling out extensive questionnaires, are willing to put in the time because of the payoff. Once the profiles are completed, they’re offered matching jobs and they get to see how strong a match it is. They also get the opportunity to improve their score.
Mkt10 launched as a public site in July and claims to already have 20,000 employee profiles in its system. It’s also offered as a corporate recruiting tool under the name Precision Matching by PeopleClick. PeopleClick’s Kathy Barton says an especially attractive feature of the technology is its use for internal mobility. Employees can enter their profile, privately if they wish, and be matched to jobs they might never know the company even offers. It’s a good way of finding out what skills are in demand at their company.
TAI’s Pro Development is an executive coaching and assessment tool that has yet to be used in recruiting for the executive suite. Given how long CEOs last on the job--SpencerStuart says median CEO tenure at S&P 500 companies is about four years--TAI's Davis Taylor says it might make sense for retained search firms and corporate boards to use it in assessing the style and other leadership attributes of their candidates. Getting the right corporate leadership could have an even bigger impact than finding the perfect store manager.
New Web sites
Job boards that take their cues from dating services are sprouting up all over the Internet.
Jobkabob, EBullpen and Fillthatjob have all launched in the past few months. Each promises to match applicants to jobs and each requires job seekers to fill out forms about their skills, experience and, depending on the site, personality.
EBullpen.com is the only one of the new sites to charge job seekers. Otherwise, recruiters and candidates will find it similar to sites like Redmatch or Mkt10. Candidates enter their experience, skills and qualifications and complete an extensive personality assessment--no résumé needed. Companies pay anywhere from $99 to $1,000 to see which candidates best fits their openings.
Fillthatjob.com requires a résumé and has few assessment-style questions. It will match a candidate to a job, but it’s similar to traditional job boards in which candidates comb through listings.
Jobkabob combines a referral program with job matching. Job seekers fill out forms listing their background. They also complete an assessment revolving around their "desires, needs and abilities." The system will match candidates to jobs anonymously. When a recruiter selects a candidate to be among the company's top 10 picks, the candidate is notified. He or she is given the chance to apply for the position. Jobkabob also encourages co-workers, friends and others to refer people they know to the site. People whose referrals are hired receive $100 by Jobkabob.
There aren't many specifics about the program on the site, a shortcoming many of the new startups share. "The devil is in the details," cautions recruiting consultant Gerry Crispin. "The only way to determine if it is improving the job seeker experience is to ask the job seeker."