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Kinko's Dials Into Automated Applicant Screening

November 1, 1999
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Last year, Ventura, California-based Kinko’s Inc. expanded its use of anautomated applicant-screening program to its 1,000-plus businesses throughoutthe United States.

The program allows non-exempt (hourly) applicants to call a toll-freetelephone number for an automated prescreening evaluation. Using a touch-tonephone, applicants answer a two-tiered series of questions by pressing 1 for yesor 2 for no. The first tier asks applicants questions typically found onemployment applications regarding experience and availability. If their answerssatisfy Kinko’s eligibility standards, they continue to the second tier ofquestions, which are designed to seek out candidates that match Kinko’sculture and business needs.

Ken Kunda is the managing director of Interim Assessment Services, theCharlotte, North Carolina-based company that Kinko’s contracted to spearheadits interactive-voice-response program. Kunda says that automated screeningprograms offer a high degree of fairness because "all applicants are askedthe same questions and can be assured that they’re job-related. This programeliminates the possibility of any unintended bias on the part of a local manageror recruiter."

To learn more about how the human resources department at Kinko’s expandedits use of automated applicant-screening programs, Workforce interviewed MarySperling, manager of national employment.

When did you first decide that perhaps an automated applicant-screeningprogram made sense?
Several years back, we wanted to ensure that applicants would meet ourculture and business needs, as well as the needs of our customers. We’re inthe custom manufacturing business. The people who work at Kinko’s aren’t thesame people who work in, say, a clothing store. There were many tools on themarket, but we felt that an interactive voice-response (IVR) system was the wayto go. We felt it would be a more efficient and effective method of allowing anapplicant to respond to a standard set of employment questions.

Our branch managers are extremely busy individuals. They don’t always havethe time to go through the complete assessment program that we had set up forthem. We felt we needed to give them a tool to provide them with knowledge aboutapplicants that they could match with their personal interviews.

What sort of information and research did you conduct before making thedecision to move forward?
There were probably 20 different outside vendors. We eventually narrowed itdown to two or three, and then we conducted an analysis on them. We interviewedtheir customers, tried to figure out how effective their tests and questionswere. We also analyzed their technology and if it would meet our needs. Was itcompatible with our system and those of our recruiters? How speedy was theprocess? How long would an applicant have to spend on the phone?

How did you financially assess if outsourcing the service was a smartbusiness strategy?
We wanted to find an expert who had done this successfully for othercompanies, especially companies in our industry. We didn’t want to reinventthe wheel, we wanted someone who had a proven track record. It can cost anywherefrom a minimum of $7.50 per call up to $11 per call, depending on the process.For example, if the applicant goes through the first 10 questions, that’s aminimum of $7.50. If the applicant continues to tier two, then that adds alittle more cost to the call. If the applicant goes through the entire screeningprogram and schedules an appointment, that costs even more. It all boils down tohow much time the callers spend in the IVR system.

Do they ever talk to a "live" person?
If somebody has a disability, the system is set up so they can request a liveperson to conduct the test, which doesn’t happen often. But it’s certainlyavailable. Sometimes there’s a language barrier, so the system is available inlanguages like French and Spanish.

Do they ever get a busy signal using this system?
Never. It will never happen.

Did you need to purchase special equipment to conduct the automatedapplicant-screening program?
There was nothing about the technology that we didn’t have. In other words,we didn’t have to install any new technology or software.

How did you go about choosing the best service provider for your needs?
We decided on Interim Assessment Services because they had the besttechnology available. We then developed the questions and customized them forKinko’s with the assistance of our field co-workers, branch managers, regionaloperations managers, recruiters, and area vice presidents. We wanted somethingthat would be quick and efficient so that if a recruiter found someone rightaway, he or she could put that person on a telephone, and within 10 minutes we’dknow if that candidate met our requirements.

Did you consider using Internet access for the same automatedapplicant-screening program?
That was one of our strong considerations up front, and it was something thatInterim Assessment Services offers. But the problem was we don’t always haveenough computers for applicants, especially for those applicants who apply atcareer fairs. Also, because our branches are so busy with customers who use ourcomputers, we felt we wouldn’t always have a computer available, even in ourbranches.

What type of advertising and promotions did you use to drive traffic to thetoll-free number?
Our recruiters have several different options. They can put the 800 number ontheir business cards or in an advertisement. Let’s say we do a big newspaperadvertisement on Sunday. John Doe can pick up the telephone and go through theassessment right then and there. Then, when the recruiters arrive in theiroffices Monday morning, they can pull up a list of people who called. They canthen schedule appointments or see how many interviews have been scheduled.

How were questions designed?
We wanted to bring our field management into the planning process. So weorganized a task force of 35 Kinko’s-related individuals and recruiters, andwe also had two people from Interim Assessment Services. They’ve done thisbefore, and they’ve successfully used questions to guide a task force.

From these questions, the task force developed questions in five differentareas: customer service, dependability, integrity, handling work demands, andcooperation. We also used first-tiered questions, which if an applicant answersincorrectly, he or she doesn’t go into the second tier. For example, aquestion might ask, "Can you work the hours that this job requires?"If they answer no, they’re knocked out of the running.

Is this a valid predictor of success?
Absolutely, because every question asked of each individual is job-specific.So it’s an excellent predictor of success.

What sort of response rate did you get?
After the first week, it was so successful that members of our task forceinformed us that there were so many calls. The first few weeks we receivedprobably 20,000 calls. It far exceeded our expectation. Kinko’s is ahigh-profile company. A lot of people want to work here.

How many applicants fit the "best match" criteria?
Roughly 50 percent fit the "best match" criteria. Then we conductedtelephone prescreening and live interviews. Approximately 25 percent moved on tothe next phase of the hiring process.

How many employees have you hired as a result of this process?
From October 1998 through July 1999, we’ve hired roughly 9,400 non-exempthourly co-workers.

How much time and energy does the human resources staff save using theautomated applicant-screening program?
At least one-third of the applicants right off the top do not make it throughthe first tier, which saves us time right there. But the quality of our hiringhas increased tremendously. Also, our retention is better and our turnover islower.

Ever receive any complaints?
Rarely. It may happen once in a great while -- for instance, an applicantwill call who didn’t make it through the process, for whatever reason. Butotherwise, very rarely.

Workforce, November 1999, Vol. 78, No. 11, pp.71-73 -- Subscribenow!

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