Hiring for Innovation

Courting the Candidate

Overview: This is the fifth article in a series of six on HR in the digital age. Here, we complement the previous content on retention and talent management, “Talent Acquisition: Avoiding the Trickle-down Effect and Focusing on the Candidate Experience,” and focus on the latest tools for hiring and interviewing today’s candidates.

Job candidates are seeing opportunities everywhere and are running a race to find the best gig. If one employer takes too long to respond or the application is cumbersome, that candidate will sprint – digital device in hand – to the next job listing.

Social talent warns that a company that does not have a mobile-enabled career site could miss 50 percent of potential candidates. Also, if applicants cannot apply using a mobile site, a company could lose up to 50 percent of applications they otherwise might have received if there had been a mobile application option.

These rapid, digital applications often do not require the submission of a resume. No longer the be-all and end-all of the application process, Sunil Murgod reports that companies such as Unilever are replacing resume digital scanning tools with internet and social media aggregation software. These solutions scan the internet and social platforms to determine the skills, background, social circles, and organizational involvements of applicants to determine their suitability. Resumes are becoming defunct.

Here’s what you need to know about hiring in the digital age.

Meeting Expectations – How Big Data Tools Can Improve the Candidate Experience

There are two takeaways here: the candidate experience, which recruiters and employers must prioritize, and the use of big data and digital tools to streamline hiring.

The candidate experience is crucial, and it should be one that is convenient, fast, impressionable, and relationship-oriented. Employers need to maintain an open dialogue with candidates and provide them with information. Information is always a Google Search away, so keeping candidates informed of their application status keeps your company top of mind and satisfies the candidate’s thirst for feedback.

Candidates also want an easy application process, confirmation that they are being considered or not –  and they want answers to their questions quickly.

Applicants to SAP receive an assessment report that tells them whether they are the right fit for the role. The candidate reaction is, ‘Wow! I’ve had instant feedback.’ Even with a rejection, it is better than sitting on a database hoping a recruiter will call in six months’ time.
— Richard George, 2016.

Cognitive recruiting is a hiring method that applies new technologies and solutions to build relationships. For example, Chatbots such as Olivia guide candidates through the application process. Gamification draws in applicants by prompting them to take tests or quizzes. The interaction makes the application process more enjoyable for the candidate and more productive for the employer who can analyze the results and compare them against a job skills profile.

Traditional applicant tracking systems are being replaced by data analytics that can identify passive candidates who, if approached, might be likely to consider an opportunity. Predictive analytics help to prioritize workflow, conduct pre-hire analyses, and assess the quality of hires.

Aggregation tools using big data and artificial intelligence could become the most popular screening method. For example, video interviews with the application of AI can identify promising candidates and replace traditional interviews, saving money and reducing time to hire.

As digital solutions take over much of the rote sourcing and sorting, HR professionals can concentrate on building psychological and emotional connections with applicants – something that software can’t yet do. These relationships are important for both parties to feel certain that the right candidate is being selected.

But here’s the bad news.

As the application process has become quicker and easier, the volume of applications has increased. According to a report by Deloitte, there has been an exponential increase in the volume of applications through sourcing channels, which has been detrimental to hiring effectiveness.

Candidates apply to roles that may not be exactly what they want because they can do so with just a few clicks or taps. Consequently, the recruiter is spending inordinate amounts of time sifting through applications. According to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, close to 75 percent of employers surveyed said they had seen an increase in the number of applications from candidates who are not equipped to perform in the advertised role.

One way to combat applicant volume is to administer various tests to candidates during the hiring process, to increase the likelihood of a good hire. The graphic below shows which tests are better predictors of future job performance.

 Source:  HBR , 2014

Source: HBR, 2014

An algorithm scans those applications, 275,500 so far…The software weeds out more than half of the pool.
— Joelle Hutcheon, Spokeswoman, Unilever.

Here’s a guide to digital screening tools that can mitigate the problem of applicant volume and help identify the “best from the rest.”

Suitability Tools: Algorithm-based tools can take care of the first level of screening. They are optimized to assess candidate suitability based on requirements such as education, location, years of experience, and capabilities.

Elimination Tools: Elimination tools narrow down the pack by rejecting those least likely to be hired. Recruiters can then focus on the remaining candidates and factors such as cultural fit. McKinsey claims that this step in the hiring process provides a 500 percent return on investment.

Commitment Hurdles: These are typically try-out activities, such as a skills test of some sort, included as a compulsory component in the application process. The tests determine the commitment and interest level of candidates early on, so that time and resources are not wasted in interviews.

At Zulily, candidates for software engineering positions are given a take-home test to assess their ability to write code, merchandising candidates are required to pass a retail math test, demonstrating that they have a basic understanding of arithmetic … Analytics assessments are given to candidates vying for some jobs in marketing and operations.
— Bill French, Head of Talent Acquisition, Zulily.

It’s not uncommon for applicants to embellish their resumes, which can undermine screening tools and increase the work of the recruiter.  A “test first” approach can eliminate 50 percent of applicants who are not up to the job, despite what they claim on paper. The Harvard Business Review notes that companies in sectors such as retail or security can cut costs and realize better hires by administering short, web-based psychometric tests at the application stage, which can save resources for the later, costlier interview process.

Competence tools that use artificial intelligence decide whether a candidate moves on to the next stage, and candidates who fail to perform well in the tests are automatically removed from the process.

Unilever is using digital gamification for agile screening of graduate applications. Previously, recruiters screened six candidates to put one through the screening process; now recruiters are screening two candidates to put one through all four steps.
— Unilever, 2016.

Each of the above technologies complements a stage in the hiring/recruitment funnel. The technologies are invaluable for whittling down the number of applications, but as the candidate pool shrinks, a human touch is required. The figure, below, shows the recruitment process from attracting candidates to onboarding.

 Source: Deloitte, 2013

Source: Deloitte, 2013

The Human Touch – Sealing the Deal

Shortlisting is where the first real “human” activity should occur. Recruiters and talent specialists need to physically view the machine-selected applications and make decisions on who to interview.

Losing a potential candidate at the offer stage is a blow but not uncommon. From the candidate’s perspective, if multiple offers are received, the employer that provided the best candidate experience and made the offer that most closely meets their needs will most likely be the lucky one.

The screening and interview experience should be easy and convenient to seal the deal. It pays to find out what motivates a selected candidate by asking the right questions during the interview and then offering them something as close as possible to that which they expressed.

An employer of choice is one that offers a positive, unique, and exciting proposition that meets the needs of the candidate. An employer might be limited in terms of resources, but it might be able to offer mentorships or skills development that the employee is looking for but won’t find with another employer.

Unilever is a model case study for employee-centric IT talent acquisition. Rather than visit college campuses to recruit, the firm places targeted advertisements on Facebook and popular career sites like WayUp and the Muse. From there, interested candidates apply for entry-level jobs and internships in just a few clicks.

Unilever’s HR solutions pull information from the candidates’ LinkedIn profiles, an algorithm scans applications, weeding out over 50 percent, and humans take it from there.

Gamification, a strategy to engage applicants, is integrated into the entry-level recruitment process, and candidates are asked to play games to assess their concentration skills. Short-listed applicants submit videos of behavioral interviews on HireVue through a website or app. Artificial intelligence filters up to 80 percent of these candidates using data points such as how quickly they respond to questions, their facial expressions, and vocabulary. Depending on their responses, more candidates are weeded out according to their potential for success with the company.

The final step is the first time an algorithm is not involved –  the in-person interview with HR managers and executives. The whole process is an easy and enjoyable one for the applicant. It is revolutionary, convenient, and effective.

According to Unilever, hiring is faster and better. Eighty percent of final-round candidates receive a job offer; the same percentage accepts. The company saves on recruiting costs although exact numbers have not been disclosed. How’s that for building a reputation and branding?

The Initial Candidate Conversation

An increasing number of first-round interviews are being conducted remotely and using communication platforms such as Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime. Also, one-way interview videos are being submitted by applicants for later viewing by interviewers.

However, only a human can read between the lines of candidate responses. It’s important then, when developing interview questions, to think about the precise information you need to feel confident that the candidate is a good fit.

For example, does a candidate pause when asked why the job appeals to them? What do the facial expressions of the candidate reveal? Most communication is nonverbal, and only a human can interpret visual cues.

The CLAMPS (Challenge, Location, Advancement, Money, People, Security) model can reveal the motivations behind a candidate’s application. The model considers how the candidate ranks certain work factors according to their motivational significance.

The debate lingers as to whether structured or unstructured interviews can better predict a candidate’s suitability. The structured interview is highly prescribed by behavioral specialists yet fiercely resisted by hiring managers, partly because the consensus is that building rapport with candidates is difficult through this type of interview. Identifying what the person can do in comparison to others can be achieved through structured questioning but finding out who they really are is difficult.

Structured questioning might be a better choice for technical jobs where specific skills are crucial, while unstructured questions might give a creative person more of a chance to shine. However, unstructured interviews carry the risk that interviewer bias will affect decisions. It’s human nature for people to be drawn to those who remind them of themselves, which is an emotional reaction rather than a rational one and not conducive to creating a diverse and innovative workforce.

Again, rapport is important because the candidate is assessing the interviewers as much as they are assessing the candidate. The interview, ideally, should be an impressionable experience for the candidate. It is the main opportunity for the employer to lure the candidate in and convince them that they will be a good fit; it is also the prime opportunity for the candidate to feel assured that they will make the right decision if they receive an offer.

Incorporating both structured and unstructured techniques during the interview is an option.  Following a scientific format coupled with scenario-based questions and social assessment techniques is a good balance, although each company is unique and should experiment with techniques and measure the results.

Job Profiling and Candidate Personality Traits

Social media and job sites mean that corporate interview questions are available – and predictable as a result. Candidates today can excel at interviewing if they do the legwork. They know that they should appear motivated and energetic, and they are asked the same routine questions in similar interview circumstances.

Therefore, job profiling should coincide with corresponding personality trait testing if constraints allow, which is harder for candidates to manipulate. By verifying a personality fit by testing against job requirements, the screening process becomes more targeted.

Suggested questions to identify personality traits are available with a simple Google search, and the adapted version of the Big Five Personality Traits Model comes highly recommended by talent experts, as do DiSC, Myers-Briggs, and StrengthsFinder.

Candidates now routinely prepare and video their practice interviews to the point where their responses are universally impressive, if not genuine or accurate.
— John Sullivan, HR Thought Leader, Harvard Business Review

The strategies suggested in this article highlight the multitude of factors that go into the hiring experience. Firms won't be able to implement every single method, so it's important to stay flexible and find out what works for each unique situation. Keep an ear to the ground and borrow (steal) techniques from companies on the cutting edge of the hiring process.

The software platforms of pioneering companies have perfected candidate experience campaigns; Deloitte, Domino’s Pizza, Formaposte, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Google, McDonald’s, Unilever, and Zappos are all case studies to explore. The approach of these companies reduces hidden recruitment costs by minimizing vacancy costs. Ongoing branding and outreach combined with gamification and easy job application ensure a stream of incoming talent.

As with any experience design, the process should be flexible and focused on long-term outcomes. Don’t run the 100-yard sprint to secure exceptional candidates – run the marathon of continuously bringing aboard top talent for innovation in your organization.

Up next in human resources, “You Can’t Develop Talent if You Can’t Retain It – Talent Management for Innovation