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Software Tool Gives Voice to Recruits

Software by HarQen Inc. enables automated phone screening of applicants, but the technology takes getting used to.

December 21, 2012
Related Topics: Plan, Interviewing, Talent Management Systems, Recruiting, Recruitment, Staffing Management, Technology, Talent Management
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Tasked with hiring 1,200 loan officers in Texas for a major mortgage bank, Adecco's Recruitment Process Outsourcing unit breathed new life into a familiar technology: the telephone.

Using automated telephone-interview software by HarQen Inc., recruiters several years ago quickly and efficiently sorted through thousands applicants to present the most-qualified candidates to its client, says Mir Ali, vice president of information technology at Adecco RPO, based in Toledo. It is part of Swiss-based staffing and consulting firm Adecco.

The software, known as VoiceAdvantage, cuts down on the time needed for in-person interviews, Ali says, since recruiters aren't relying solely on written résumés. Instead, they get to hear each applicant's verbal responses to a series of prearranged questions, especially "knockout questions" designed to eliminate the pretenders from the contenders.

In fact, Ali credits the VoiceAdvantage tool with helping Adecco RPO win the competitive recruiting contract in the first place. "From a timing perspective, we were able to deploy a recruiting team to hire loan officers much quicker than our competitors were."

Other startups have tried pioneering the voice-recruiting segment. The most notable is Jobflash.com, which launched in 2003 before being acquired by talent-management vendor Taleo in 2007 for roughly $3 million. Then there's Chester, Pa.-based JobCircle.com, a job board that lets companies record a verbal recruiting pitch that gets targeted to jobseekers in its database.

A related approach is on-demand video interviews. Salt Lake City-based HireVue offers to let recruiters send a link with questions to candidates, who then record responses via a webcam.

VoiceAdvantage breaks ground by presenting the voice of candidates, says Kelly Fitzsimmons, chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based HarQen. The tool enables "virtual interviews" that help recruiters "go from being screeners to advocates" for the most desirable candidates.

Here's a primer on how VoiceAdvantage works: A hiring manager uses a telephone and a Web-based dashboard to record a greeting and a series of interview questions. VoiceAdvantage also lets the manager invite candidates to interview by phone, either through a link contained in a personalized e-mail or via an "Interview Now" button, which can be inserted in online job postings.

Moments later, the applicant receives an automated phone message that contains up to 12 interview questions. The hiring manager receives an e-mail alert once the applicant completes the phone interview, and can listen to it at a convenient time.

The benefit is that organizations get to hear the voice of would-be new hires before inviting them for face-to-face interviews, Fitzsimmons says. "There are more than 1 billion interviews happening worldwide. We want to give recruiters the two minutes that matter the most," she says.

Ali credits VoiceAdvantage with speeding up recruitment and hiring. "We discovered that the average response to interview questions is 52 seconds, because it's difficult for a candidate to speak much longer than that without the back and forth of personal interaction," Ali says.

VoiceAdvantage-driven campaigns, on average, resulted in recruiters conducting eight 15-minute interviews per hour, double the usual number, Ali says. Consequently, the average cost per interview has dropped from $3 to about 50 cents.

"Plus, I was able to use junior-level recruiters since they were doing more processing of applications than actual recruiting," Ali says.

Companies are desperate for any advantage they can get in recruiting topnotch talent. Despite stubbornly high unemployment, 49 percent of U.S. companies are struggling mightily to fill critical jobs, according to a May 2012 survey by Manpower Inc., a staffing company.

The advent of smartphones and tablet computers also means that recruiting activities are migrating online.

VoiceAdvantage probably isn't suited for every hiring situation. Ali says Adecco recommends it to clients depending on the type of jobs being filled, the organization's comfort level with technology and its cost structure.

When used wisely, VoiceAdvantage helps companies winnow down large candidate pools, says Jill Zoromski, senior vice president of human resources and director of talent at Associated Bank, based in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

The automated approach, though, takes some getting used to.

"At first, I thought it seemed too impersonal. But then we found that applicants prefer this method, since they're already used to leaving short, succinct voicemails. They also like the fact they don't have to dress up and leave the house for a [preliminary] interview," but can do so at their convenience over the telephone, Zoromski says.

Associated Bank hires about 1,000 people a year, mainly for retail teller, call center and other customer-service jobs, Zoromski says. "VoiceAdvantage gives us a quick and fairly accurate snapshot of how someone applying for those jobs communicates."

Zoromski says it used to take about 10 hours of interviewing before a hiring decision was made. "We've skinnied that down to about four hours per hire," she says.

Retail banks, call centers and staffing companies are among the earliest adopters of the VoiceAdvantage software, which launched in 2007 with nearly $1 million of private venture capital. In an unusual twist, the software originated out of an online joke-telling service, ComicWonder.com, that Fitzsimmons also created. Registered users of ComicWonder call a special phone number and record their favorite joke, which is then rated by other members.

But the online telephony platform for ComicWonder was no joke. "We wound up with incredibly well-tested software that showed investors it really worked," Fitzsimmons says.

Still, automated telephone recruiting is not a panacea. To reduce the risk of discrimination claims, Fitzsimmons says recruiters should make sure the exact set of scripted questions is the same for each interview.

And at Associated Bank, VoiceAdvantage is used selectively as one step in the hiring process, which may also include personality assessments and other tools to determine if a person is the best fit, Zoromski says.

Some of Adecco RPO's senior recruiters also have had a tough time adjusting to the automated approach, Ali says.

Nonetheless, Ali acknowledges the power of the technology is far-reaching. Adecco RPO has taken it to the next level, building mobile applications that enable applicants to answer interview questions via secure instant messaging.

"What's amazing about that is they conceivably could be hired within two or three days of having first learned of the job," Ali says.

Garry Kranz is a Workforce contributing editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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