Candidate Reduction Strategies: Part 2

Building on part 1 of this series on candidate reduction strategies, today we will provide more detail regarding the use of random numbers as part of a candidate reduction strategy. We will take a closer look at the issue of charging fees for filing a job application and/or testing, which can serve as an intentional or unintentional means of reducing the applicant pool.

Utilizing Random Numbers

There are a number of ways to utilize random numbers to reduce the number of candidates in an applicant pool and the choice of the one to implement will depend upon the needs of the agency as well as the sophistication of the HR administrators, along with the sophistication of the available computer technology and software. The simplest method involves dividing the number of applications received by the number that was announced in the job announcement and then using that number as the interval for selection. For example, if after alphabetizing the applications received it is determined that there are 2,000 applications and the announcement indicated that 500 would be accepted, you would go through the stack of applications and select every fourth application (2000/500 = 4).

If your agency has the time and manpower you can also screen applications for minimum qualifications before making the random selections. However; in addition to requiring more time and work, if applicants that are disqualified for not meeting the minimum qualifications successfully challenge the screening of their application, it may be difficult to include them in the random selection pool.

If your agency has the time, the manpower and the computer software to do so, Lance Seberhagen, PhD., of Seberhagen & Associates1 recommends the use of random selection. In a post to the IPAC listserv on March 12, 2012, Dr. Seberhagen states:

For example, assume 3,000 people apply for the job, and you want to administer the written test to a maximum of only 1,000 applicants. Here are the steps that I would recommend:

  • Screen the 3,000 applications for minimum qualifications to screen out the obviously unfit applicants.
  • Assign a unique code number in consecutive order to each of the remaining applicants.
  • Use a random numbers generator (e.g., RANDBETWEEN in Excel) to list the numbers in random order.
  • Select the first 1,000 random numbers (applicants) to invite to the written test. Place the remaining random numbers (applicants) on a waiting list, or discard them.

In addition, he states that:

By definition, random selection gives each applicant the same probability of being selected. Therefore, the method is objective, fair, and nondiscriminatory, provided that you always assign code numbers to applicants BEFORE you run the random numbers generator each time. However, by definition, random selection also has zero validity or job-relatedness.

Therefore, there could be an issue if Civil Service Rules or an agency’s Charter require all selection procedures to be merit-based, but most agencies should be able justify random selection for part of the selection process as long as the overall process is based on merit.

Approximations of random selection (e.g., date of application, birth date, Social Security Number, alphabetical order of last name) should not be used because these methods have zero validity AND they may have adverse impact due to hidden biases. Therefore, they could be discriminatory. There is also the possibility of cronyism if applicants are selected by date of application and “insiders” can give advance notice of job opportunities to their friends and relatives.

The last points made by Dr. Seberhagen point out the additional issues raised by incorporating a random selection technique after applications have been accepted and evaluated for minimum qualifications which is why it is often much easier, less expensive and less difficult to defend a procedure that limits the number of applications accepted. As stated previously, this can be accomplished by setting a numeric limit or a time cut off. Since these are not specifically selection procedures, but rather administrative procedures allowed under the Uniform Guidelines on Employment Selection Procedures (UGESP), 1978, I believe that they are not subject to the proofs of validity.

Dr. Seberhagen also advised that identifying clusters of entry-level jobs that have the same skill requirements can assist in reducing the number of candidates to test. If you identify job clusters you can administer one test battery for each job cluster. In other words, test applicants once and then use test results for many jobs, rather than testing applicants separately for each job.

Charging Candidate Fees

While not typically identified as a candidate reduction strategy, it is well recognized that charging candidates to apply or to test would reduce the number of applicants willing to spend the money necessary to participate in a particular recruitment. This discussion has been going on since I began my career in human resources more than thirty years ago and has not been resolved. Ultimately, I believe it boils down to what works best for a particular jurisdiction.

Ever since the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission launched their attacks on local jurisdictions regarding adverse impact as defined by the UGESP published in 1978, local governments have been gun shy about doing anything that would smack of adverse impact. Thus charging for testing and applying has been seen in the past as having a greater impact on those in the lower socio-economic class which has typically had an over representation of minorities and thus the potential for creating adverse impact. The argument on the pro side for charging fees has advocated keeping fees minimal and thus avoiding any adverse impact. The counter then has been an attitude of “why bother” since the administrative time and costs would exceed the fees collected.

This being the state of the argument, the challenge remains to find an amount significant enough to recoup costs and discourage frivolous applicants without being so high that it discourages serious candidates, particularly those among the minority ranks. I happen to be one that believes that number can be determined. In the State of Nevada, we charge for fingerprinting and background checks and I believe that with the current state of governmental finances that it is appropriate to charge those individuals that want to participate in the selection process.

I have seen numerous people abuse the system by the number of applications they have filed and the number of tests they have taken so I encourage jurisdictions to establish reasonable fees to discourage abuse of the system and help recoup costs to assist in making HR more of an enterprise fund that can support local government.

The next article in this series will provide additional research and information on the topic of charging fees for testing.


  1. Lance Seberhagen, PhD., of Seberhagen & Associates provided this information with permission.

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