Candidate Reduction Strategies: Part 1

From time to time, the issue of candidate reduction strategies becomes the center of discussion in the Human Resources Field. In the current economic times it is not uncommon for employers to be besieged by far more applicants than necessary to fill current vacancies with well qualified candidates. In addition, many agencies are being forced to do more with less, in particular, less staff and less money. Combining these factors makes it imperative for HR shops to be efficient and this means working smarter, not harder, so appropriate candidate reduction strategies should be included with their other HR tools.

Reducing the number of candidates in an applicant pool can save time and money, but it is only beneficial if the process still allows the agency to make selections from the best candidates available. This means that the strategy for reducing applicants has to match the needs of the agency in regard to saving money, and reducing manpower needs, yet still provide a viable applicant pool. For example, supplemental applications, while not typically thought of as an applicant reduction strategy can function as one in that they require applicants to provide additional information. This means that the candidates who are not truly interested in the position most likely will not invest their time in responding to questions requiring lengthy responses regarding their specific job related experiences. However, they would apply if it only required filling out a short application and thus add work for those managing the recruitment.  While supplemental applications may be a valuable tool for higher level positions their use would not be appropriate for jobs that are considered entry-level with minimum qualifications that are possessed by large numbers of applicants.

Numerous strategies for reducing the applicant pool have been discussed and widely utilized by many agencies over the years. In that regard the Western Regional Intergovernmental Assessment Council (WRIPAC) held a symposium on applicant reduction strategies that I attended over twenty-five years ago when similar economic conditions were creating large applicant pools that taxed the resources of many governmental agencies. Some of the simplest, most common reduction strategies have included limiting the number of applications that are given out, limiting the number of applications that will be accepted back, severely limiting the days a recruitment is open, and assigning random numbers to applicants to determine who will be allowed to apply or whose pre-screened application will be included in further testing. Less transparent and perhaps more controversial forms of applicant reduction have included charging candidates for testing and/or applying, preventing candidates who have tested and failed recently from reapplying, and, as mentioned earlier, using supplemental applications that make candidates do more work.

In particular, applicant reduction strategies should be considered when experience has shown that the number of applications received greatly exceeds the number of viable applicants necessary to fill current vacancies. This situation usually occurs where there is high interest in particular jobs that have relatively low minimum qualifications and yet pay rather well compared to other types of work. My experience has shown me that this typically includes jobs like; fire fighter, police officer, parking enforcement officer, meter reader, animal control officer, corrections officer, parole officer and parole officer assistant.

Quite often screening applications for these positions and then conducting all the related testing puts a strain on agency budgets and manpower. This can be particularly disconcerting when resources are limited and many of the individuals that make it to the eligibility list never get considered for selection anyway. Limiting the number of applicants admitted to these pools by one of the previously mentioned strategies becomes a viable option under these conditions. The primary concerns expressed by agencies considering such strategies focus on possible adverse impact or reducing the applicant pool to the extent that the applicants that survive the selection process will not meet the requirements of the agency.

Both of these concerns can be handled rather easily with proper planning. By backtracking through the selection process agencies can determine the pass rate for each portion of the selection process and use that information to calculate starting numbers that are needed. Agencies could look at the number of applications accepted compared to the number filed, and to look at the number meeting the minimum qualifications versus those that don’t and then to apply the same principle to each step in the process. For example, if an agency knows that 80% of those selected to become dispatchers pass the academy and they need eight dispatchers, they need to send at least ten candidates to the academy. If the same agency knows that 75% of the candidates pass the background, they know they need to send approximately 13 candidates to the background to get the 10 they need for the academy (13 X .75 = 9.975). Again following this procedure to establish the number needed at each step will ultimately lead to the number needed at the application stage to fill the projected vacancies.

Once the number needed is determined, the agency can determine which reduction strategy will provide the projected starting number as well as achieving the necessary reduction in costs and manpower. It is important to remember that each time an application or applicant is “handled” there is an associated cost to the agency. Thus savings are maximized by utilizing reduction strategies that require the least “handling.”

This concept of savings can be illustrated by comparing the difference between setting a limit on the number of applications to be given out as opposed to limiting the number to be accepted back. Just on the face of this comparison, it can be seen that, since some applications given out will not be returned, it will take more manpower to continue to “handle” applications that are returned until the desired number is reached as opposed to a one time distribution of applications. Of course the key here is determining the needed savings and calculating the number of applications necessary to give out to get the projected number back so the necessary number of people can continue in the process.

From what I have seen and experienced, the other concern regarding adverse impact has not proven to be an issue as long as the reduction strategy does not disproportionately reduce a particular group. During my experience in HR, I worked for agencies that limited the number of application given out, limited the number received, greatly reduced recruitment time periods, and utilized differing forms of random selection and we never had a challenge. In particular, we utilized recruiting strategies that announced recruitment dates and application procedures significantly in advance of actual recruitment and test dates.  It is also important to thoroughly explain the reduction strategy that is being used to candidates/applicants and explain why you are using the strategy.  This should assist in lowering complaints about the process.

While I believe this advance notice was the key in the success of our reduction strategies, other professionals have made a strong case for random inclusion of candidates after applications have been returned and screened for minimum qualifications. While this process has its advantages it may not meet the needs of some agencies in that it can still be more labor intensive than some of the other reduction strategies.

In the next article in this series I will summarize some reduction strategies.  The final article in this series will outline issues surrounding the charging of candidate/applicant fees for police and fire testing and summarize results from a short survey IPMA-HR conducted on these issues.

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