What is applicant screening?
Applicant screening is an essential process in the recruitment and hiring process. It involves evaluating job applicants to determine their suitability for a particular position. The screening process enables recruiters and hiring managers to identify the best candidates from a pool of applicants, reducing the time and resources required to fill a position.
The following guide will explore the benefits of applicant screening, how it works, the automation of the process, the types of screening assessments and the roles of recruiters and hiring managers in the process.
Benefits of applicant screening
Applicant screening provides several benefits to organizations, including helping to reduce the time and resources required to fill a position. By screening applicants, recruiters and hiring managers can eliminate unsuitable candidates from the pool, enabling them to focus on the most qualified candidates. This saves time and resources that would have been spent on interviewing and evaluating unsuitable candidates.
Applicant screening also helps to improve the quality of hires. By screening candidates based on their qualifications, experience, and other relevant factors, recruiters and hiring managers can identify candidates who are more likely to be successful in the job. This reduces the likelihood of turnover and ensures that the organization hires candidates who are a good fit for the position and the company culture.
Lastly, applicant screening helps to reduce the risk of hiring the wrong candidate. By evaluating candidates based on their qualifications, experience, and other relevant factors, recruiters and hiring managers can identify red flags and potential issues before making a hiring decision. This reduces the risk of hiring a candidate who is not a good fit for the position or the company culture.
How applicant screening works
Applicant screening typically involves several stages. The first stage is the review of resumes and cover letters. Recruiters and hiring managers evaluate resumes and cover letters to determine whether the candidate meets the minimum qualifications for the position. Candidates who do not meet the minimum qualifications are typically eliminated from the pool.
The second stage of applicant screening involves evaluating the candidates’ skills and experience. This may involve conducting phone or video interviews or administering assessments or tests. The purpose of this stage is to determine whether the candidate has the necessary skills and experience to perform the job.
The third stage of applicant screening involves conducting in-person interviews with the candidates. This stage allows recruiters and hiring managers to evaluate the candidate’s interpersonal skills, communication skills, and other factors that may not be apparent on paper or in a phone or video interview. This stage may also involve conducting reference checks to verify the candidate’s work history and qualifications.
Automation of applicant screening
Applicant screening can be automated using candidate screening software. Automated applicant screening involves using screening software or tools to evaluate candidates based on predefined criteria. This approach can save recruiters and hiring managers time and resources by eliminating the need to manually review resumes and applications.
One way to automate applicant screening is to use applicant tracking systems (ATS). An ATS is software that allows recruiters and hiring managers to manage job applications and resumes. ATS can automatically screen applications based on predefined criteria, such as minimum qualifications and experience. This can help to eliminate unqualified candidates from the pool, enabling recruiters and hiring managers to focus on the most qualified candidates.
Another way to automate applicant screening is to use AI-powered tools. These tools use machine learning algorithms to evaluate resumes and applications based on predefined criteria. AI-powered tools can identify patterns and trends in resumes and applications that may not be apparent to humans. With sufficient training on the desired criteria, this can help to identify qualified candidates who may have been overlooked in a manual screening process.
A final way that recruiters can automate applicant screening is to use short-form assessments, which can be used to screen for behavioral traits, cognitive aptitudes, hard skills and knowledge. The more advanced candidate screening software takes this a step further, allowing recruiters to screen applicants based on any criteria, using an organization’s own preferred language.
For example, if a Sales leader is only looking for new Sales Reps who are “hungry,” a recruitment team could create a screener that measures applicants based on “hunger level,” screening out any applicants who don’t meet a specific threshold. This process can even be automated using ATS’ or AI chat solution through an integration between the assessment vendor and the ATS or chat vendor, such that applicants can be automatically advanced based on their score.
Types of applicant screening assessments
A screening assessment can support a variety of use cases, including:
- Culture Fit: Many organizations have predefined aspirational values that they would ideally like all employees to align with. For example, one of Microsoft’s cultural values is a “growth mindset,” which they define as becoming “learners in all things.” A fictitious recruiter at Microsoft could create a screening assessment, in partnership with a modern assessment vendor that supports that capability, to assess incoming candidates to ensure they have a high “growth mindset.”
- Job Preview: A job preview is a screening assessment that shows applicants a video or a descriptive preview of the day-to-day responsibilities of the job, and potentially highlight some of the challenges they can expect in the role. This gives applicants insights into what is expected of them, and can help poor fit applicants self-select out in advance of being onboarded.
- Basic Qualification: A basic qualification screening assessment enables recruiters to ask applicants so called “knockout questions,” for example whether they are comfortable with the salary, or whether they lived within a reasonable distance to the warehouse. These minimum qualification questions, also called “min-quals,” historically had to be asked on a phone call, but with the right vendor partner, these can be built into a screening assessment.
- Resume Verification: A resume verification screener can be used to verify applicants experience or knowledge that they have stated on their resume. This can be useful as a primer for future interviews, or as a qualification mechanism following resume submission.
- Situational Judgement: A situational judgement screening assessment presents the applicant with specific on-the-job scenarios and asks how they are likely to respond to those scenarios. This type of screening assessment can be helpful in specific roles and sectors, for instance asking entry-level customer service applicants how they would react to an angry customer, or asking an executive applicant to react to a challenging team-based scenario.
Pre-screening questions for job applicants
Unlike traditional interview questions which can be used across multiple roles, organizations and industries, for instance asking where the applicant sees themselves in four years, pre-screening questions are often intrinsically tied to a specific role or company culture. This can result in recruiters or hiring managers developing questions on their own without input from experts, which in turn can lead to hiring bias which could adversely impact a protected group.
Rather than simply making up pre-screening questions or cribbing generic questions from the internet, recruitment teams should work with an assessment vendor that has both in-house experts who draft a set of personalized screening questions based on the needs of your specific roles and company culture and a modern technology platform to deliver those screening assessments to potential applicants.
Hiring bias in the applicant screening process
Hiring bias is a major concern in the applicant screening process. It refers to the tendency of recruiters and hiring managers to favor certain applicants based on factors such as race, gender, age, or other personal characteristics that are unrelated to job performance. Hiring bias can have significant negative consequences for both the applicant and the organization. Those include:
- Hiring bias can lead to a lack of diversity in the workplace. When recruiters and hiring managers favor applicants who are similar to themselves or who come from similar backgrounds during the screening process, this can result in a workforce that lacks diversity. Research has shown that diverse teams are more innovative and creative, and can lead to better problem-solving and decision-making. A lack of diversity can also harm the organization’s reputation, as it may be seen as discriminatory or exclusionary.
- Hiring bias can result in missed opportunities to hire the best candidate. When recruiters and hiring managers are biased towards certain applicants, they may overlook other applicants who are better suited for the job. This can result in a less qualified workforce and can negatively impact the organization’s performance. If the organization is competing in a global marketplace, a lack of top talent can harm its ability to compete effectively.
- Hiring bias can lead to legal issues for the organization. Discrimination based on factors such as race, gender, age, or disability is illegal in many countries, including the United States. If a candidate believes that they were not hired due to discrimination, they may file a complaint with a regulatory agency or file a lawsuit against the organization. This can result in negative publicity, legal fees, and potential damages to the organization’s reputation.
Given the risks that hiring bias in the screening process can bring, many organizations turn to specialists in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, often called workplace psychologists, who specialize in developing pre-screening questions for job applicants that are devoid of bias, are face-valid (applicants can “see” how the questions apply to the role) and address the underlying need. The leading assessment vendors include access to their team of workplace psychologists as part of a client engagement.
Applicant screening is a critical step in the hiring process, and one that can quickly become overwhelming for recruitment teams, especially when short-staffed or when dealing with high volume roles. Automating this step, even partially, can reduce time to hire and help short-staffed recruitment teams do more with less, however it can be challenging to find an assessment vendor that can build your organization an applicant screener that’s personalized to your specific roles and company culture and devoid of potential bias.