Caught in the (Pre-) Screen

Monday, October 1, 2012
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From a headshot attached to a LinkedIn account, to the content of a video interview, many critics believe that adding multimedia components to the traditional hiring process encourages discrimination.

But the CEO of one hiring website contends that the old-school paper resume is actually the most discriminatory part of today's hiring process.

Suki Shah, co-founder and CEO at Palo Alto, Calif.-based, says that once a hiring manager posts a job online, they likely receive hundreds of applications in the form of a paper resume.

"To sort through the 'noise,' " he says, "the hiring manager will likely filter candidates based on where they went to school -- Fancy Private College vs. State Party University, their date of graduation -- 'Are they old?,' their name, any gaps in employment and more."

But, by creating a more comprehensive profile that includes a job seeker's responses to a set of pre-screening questions, he says, those candidates can show hiring managers who they really are beyond such (potentially) discriminatory factors.

Some employers, though, feel that pre-screening questions exclude certain job seekers that may otherwise be a good fit for the company, says Shah. Others may be concerned that pre-screening questions will discourage qualified candidates from applying because they feel they simply don't have the time to respond to the questions, he says.

However, pre-screening questions can "give the candidate more control over the process, while taking the onus off of employers to sort through hundreds of resumes arbitrarily," he says. "It is a great bridge to the future of hiring."

But that bridge can only be so long before candidates decide to turn back, says one industry expert.

Mark Mehler, co-founder of CareerXroads, a Kendall Park, N.J.-based staffing strategy consulting firm, says his firm's annual candidate experience report -- in which they apply for an open position through the website of each of the companies on Fortune's Top 100 Companies to Work For list -- found some companies are asking candidates literally hundreds of questions, including asking for their Social Security numbers.

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"Why companies would ask a candidate up front for their Social Security number, we just don't know," Mehler says.

While the firm's latest annual experiment in job candidacy found that 65 percent of the Top 100 ask candidates some sort of pre-screening questions via their hiring portal, he cautions that pre-screening isn't exactly a fool-proof proposition.

"The downside is that people can lie or simply have someone else answer the questions," he says. "Somewhere along the line, you still have to pick up the phone and ask the questions directly. It's not a be-all, end-all process."

Mehler advises HR leaders to keep their pre-screening questions short, "four to eight questions, max, and make the first few about basic qualifications and then a few specific questions that relate to the open position.

"It saves time, which equals money, which equals people getting hired faster," he says. "Just don't go crazy and try to do the entire interview through pre-assessment questions."

Michael J. O'Brien can be reached at

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