The Benefits and Pitfalls of E-Selection

A review of research on e-selection systems shows that, if done correctly, such selection systems can improve both the candidate experience and recruiting results. But when it's not, would-be qualified candidates may seek employment elsewhere.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013
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Human resource professionals can find ways to maximize the staffing benefits of electronic, or "e-selection systems" -- and at the same time avoid potential pitfalls that could turn off qualified job candidates, according to a literature review to be published in the March issue of Human Resource Management Review.

The review of e-selection research, titled, "Factors affecting the effectiveness and acceptance of electronic selection systems," examined the effectiveness and acceptance of such systems at each stage of the selection process including job analysis, job application, pre-employment testing, interviewing, selection decision-making, evaluation and validation.

"Overall, there are some definite pluses in terms of why companies are using e-selection and why they should be using it," says M. Lukaszewski, associate professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz, and one of the authors of the study. "But there are also some potential unintended consequences -- things that maybe companies haven't thought through and may cause problems that might offset the benefits from using the system."

The reviewers analyzed e-selection research to gauge the effectiveness of e-selection in meeting organizations' goals in hiring qualified people, Lukaszewski says.

"In addition, we looked at how often selection research doesn't really address the acceptance of such systems or how employees or potential candidates feel about the favorableness of the system," she says.

After reviewing research on the use of e-selection systems, the authors concluded that the more likely candidates obtain jobs or promotions after applying through e-selection systems, the more readily they will accept and use such systems.

While in a tight labor market, applicants may have no choice but to use such systems, the authors found that if the process is perceived to be "extremely inflexible and tedious," the applicants may form negative beliefs about organizations, thereby reducing their longterm retention rates.

There is also concern that some e-selection systems may be inadvertently weeding out qualified candidates who may be more skilled at computer tests than others, the authors concluded.

"Overall, we believe that organizations should use several application methods (e.g., paper applications, kiosks or interactive-voice-response systems) rather than only relying on those that are web-based," the authors concluded in their review. "Likewise, they should allow staff members to enter data on web-based systems for applicants who lack computer skills in cases where such skills are not needed on the job. Although these alternatives appear feasible, research is needed to determine if they enhance the diversity of the workforce and influence the costs of processing applications."

The other authors of the review were Dianna Stone, Eugene Stone-Romero and Teresa Johnson, all professors at the Department of Management, University ofTexas at San Antonio.

Richard D Johnson, associate professor, department of management at the University at Albany, SUNY, says organizations have to think about e-selection not only from the perspective of what the organizations can get out of it, but also the impact on employees within the organization as well as those applying for jobs.

"It is important to create a system that is attractive to applicants or else they may respond negatively if the e-selection system is not well-designed," Johnson says. "In other words, there are multiple stakeholders to consider."

HR managers should also keep in mind the concept of "equivalence" between computerized and paper tests, including situational judgment, cognitive, ability and personality tests.

"Organizations need to make sure their online tests are equivalent to paper tests, to remain in compliance with EEOC and other applicable state and federal regulations," he says. "HR managers should always make sure they assess the validity of their tests for their organization."

Mike DiClaudio, a director in Towers Watson's Chicago office, says HR leaders need to segment their workforce, as e-selection is most viable for bulk jobs, such as when an organization has to fill 100 call-center representative positions, all with the same criteria -- people who are bilingual for certain markets, people with specific computer skills, people who already have a background in call centers, particularly if they are looking for call-center managers.

"An e-selection system will work very well for jobs like that," he says, "but the systems don't work well for jobs where there is management discretion, such as for higher-pay-band employees -- jobs that are a little bit less specific and more amorphous, such as a consultant or a reporter or a pharmaceutical sales rep," DiClaudio says. "A lot of sales reps in pharmaceuticals have some or no sales experience; in fact, some of the best sales reps have had no sales experience. But e-selection systems likely screen out those kinds of people. There are very few factors that e-selection systems can screen for this kind of position -- whether the candidate has a criminal record, whether they are willing to travel -- so organizations are not going to have the same rigor in e-selection for this kind of position."

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E-selection systems can provide a substantial return on investment, but it requires spending a lot of effort setting it up, differentiating jobs and segments, he says.

"The more the requirements are defined, the more chance they'll use e-selection for the right employees," DiClaudio says.

Chris Gould, senior director of talent acquisition solutions at Aon Hewitt's Kansas City office, says HR managers need to consider the demographics of their target audience to determine whether they would have access to computers to complete applications and take assessments. If not, organizations either need to set up computer stations in local offices or solicit the aid of local community organizations or government offices that could provide computer access to job seekers.

Organizations also need to have proctors on hand, he says, to help people use e-selection systems, if necessary.

Regarding privacy and security issues, Gould says most people are getting more comfortable with having their personal information on the Internet, as more people are buying online products and services and putting their personal information on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

"That being said," he says, "organizations have to have rigorous safeguards in place, and be able to explain how the information will be used, particularly if it's going to be used globally. As long as your communication is thoughtful and well-articulated, I don't believe many people are going to have an issue with that."

The future of e-selection will likely include more simulation and gamification to assess candidates' competencies and skills, Gould says.

"There are vendors who can provide simulations or games about [what] it's like to deal with a customer or how to respond in certain situations," he says, which can "engag[e] candidates by making it more interesting and fun.

"I think organizations can get better results from simulations and games, and improve their brand with a better candidate experience," he says. "As we continue to see the increased gamification in America, more folks see this as the natural next step for e-selection."

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