Maximizing the Effectiveness of Your Applicant Screening Process

Third and final part of a three-part series on the topic of Validating Minimum Qualifications.

The two previous articles focused on developing accurate minimum qualifications that were supported by the content validity model. Today, we will introduce the concept of externally imposed minimum qualifications and then touch on the other components of the application screening process that are necessary to ensure it has the desired impact on this critical component of the selection system and, ultimately, the success of the organization.

Quite often in human resources, the focus shifts from developing procedures that are valid and reliable to developing systems that can withstand legal challenges. The paradox is that if systems are valid and reliable they can withstand legal scrutiny and, more importantly, they become effective tools for selecting the best possible work force available.

While we often focus on internally imposed and established minimum qualifications, it is also important to remember that most public entities have a number of minimum qualifications that are imposed on them by entities outside of human resources. Typically, these outside sources come in the form of laws. For example: in order to become a peace officer in the state of Nevada, an individual has to be a citizen of the United States and at least 21 years of age. There is no way to get around these requirements, so it is important to include them in the minimum qualifications.

While this will typically withstand legal challenges, it is important that agencies do their homework when including these types of requirements in their minimum qualifications statements. This means that the actual laws should be researched and that the legal requirements are indeed imposed by law. It is also important to monitor laws and be sure they continue to remain in effect. In particular, some blanket requirements for high school diplomas and possession of driver’s licenses have been successfully challenged. So the point is to review each job and its minimum qualifications carefully.

In addition to establishing valid minimum qualifications, they need to be communicated clearly on the class specifications. In particular, one of the widely used statements referring to “an equivalent combination of education and experience” needs to be clearly defined. It is imperative that agencies utilizing any form of an equivalency statement create a document that spells out how equivalencies may be demonstrated. That is, if the minimum qualifications require a Bachelor’s Degree or equivalent, the agency needs to outline in writing what they believe is equivalent in education. An equivalency will usually be something along the lines of an Associate’s Degree combined with two additional years of experience. Regardless of what it is, the equivalency needs to spelled out for everyone screening applications.

It is valuable to actually list equivalencies on class specifications and/or job announcements. In their eagerness to qualify for jobs, applicants will interpret equivalency statements in the manner that is most beneficial to them. Giving written examples of how the equivalencies can be met helps avoid disagreements between applicants and staff.

In addition to creating good minimum qualifications and writing clear minimum qualification statements on class specifications and job announcements, it is important to train technicians and analysts in the art and science of screening applications. It is particularly important to train staff in the concepts of equivalencies and their application. Training should encourage analysts and technicians to work together with subject matter experts to discuss minimum qualifications and how they have been interpreted and applied in the past. Remember, if your minimum qualifications are not applied consistently, they cannot be a valid screening tool. The time spent developing and writing them will have been of little value.

The overall effectiveness of the applicant screening program, in addition to incorporating all the aspects previously discussed, also requires the collection of accurate and consistent information. That means that the application is a critical component of the process and it must be designed to elicit all the information from applicants necessary for application screeners to make sound decisions regarding qualifications.

In that regard, the relatively recent advent of online applications has given the HR profession a giant step forward in the area of application screening. I have never been a fan of resumes in that there is no uniformity in the information that is provided or the format in which it is provided. It is extremely time-consuming to search through multiple pages to find the information necessary to determine an individual’s qualifications. Even more frustrating is the fact that the information necessary for accurate screening is not there. These days it is also difficult to determine if a resume was even prepared by the applicant thus raising more questions about their accuracy and whether or not they actually reflect anything at all about the applicant based on content, format, style and other factors beyond what is written.

Applications should be considered the first exam in the selection process. Therefore, they should be just as standardized as other testing procedures. To the extent possible, we want to put all applicants in the same situation and collect the same information from all of them. As suggested earlier, the online application process has greatly facilitated the uniformity of information collected. Just the fact that the process requires all applications to be typed, instead of handwritten, is a huge benefit in terms of legibility and reliability.

The key to designing a good application is creating it around the information necessary to evaluate each applicant’s qualifications. Evaluating applications is the first step in the selection process, but they should be developed as one of the last steps in the job evaluation process. As we discussed, the minimum qualifications should flow from a thorough job analysis as part of the content validity model and then, just like the other tests that are developed as part of the overall process, the application should be designed to capture the data necessary to evaluate applicants’ suitability for continuing to the next step in the selection process. Putting these components together, and utilizing feedback from analysts and technicians in the process, establishes the basis for effective and defensible application screening.

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