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Regardless of what you call them (screening questions, knockout questions, or something else), we all have them. Those questions that, at least in our minds, help differentiate the candidates who will be successful from those who will not. So at what point in the selection process are you asking these types of questions?
In my experience, I typically come across organizations with three different situations:
- Employers ask knockout questions later in the process during an interview, while only basic info and a resume are collected at the point of application;
- Organizations practice a blended approach and ask some screening questions on the application, while reserving other job-specific screeners for the initial interview; or,
- The hiring organization asks general and/or job-specific questions on the employment application.
How To Approach Hiring Questions
The approach your organization has taken up until this point will depend on these factors:
- The complexity of open positions, unemployment in your area, and how willingly candidates complete your employment application. If you’re concerned that adding screening questions will make your application too long for highly competitive positions, then your company might go with a two-step application process. This approach asks applicants to complete education and employment history later in the process.
- The manner in which you collect applicant information . Are you using a web-based applicant tracking system, or are you still collecting resumes in your email inbox and putting them in various job opening folders?
- The extent to which your organization has done proper job evaluation. Do the people writing the job descriptions have a core understanding of the competencies required for success in the position; and, do the screening questions asked during the selection process properly unearth whether a candidate possesses these competencies?
If you haven’t guessed it already, my preference is for all true deal-breaker questions to be asked at the point of application in a standardized way. After all, if an applicant is not going to answer a critical question in such a way that your organization requires, in order to qualify this applicant as meeting an essential job requirement, then you’d want to know that from the start…before wasting time on reviewing the rest of an application, waiting on hiring manager feedback for an application, or conducting phone screens.
Asking Knockout Questions Early
If you wait to ask knockout questions further into the hiring process, how does that impact your quality of new hires? Besides simply feeling that you are doing the right thing, have you actually measured your success? Are those screening questions always asked by hiring managers during the interview phase, and are the answers being recorded consistently? Does your company quantify the number of people that you hired and how they worked out? Here’s what I mean by “worked out”:
- How long did they stay with your company – assuming they left?
- Were they A players (top performers), or B or C players?
- Would you hire them again; or, if they left, would you be concerned?
Let’s assume you have done this analysis and you are pleased with your hiring process. My experience is that most companies wait too long, and get too far into the process to bring to light the real questions that matter the most to us. Early on, we ask about education, work experience or outside interests. Yet, why do we wait until the interview to ask the more meaningful questions that seem to be deal breakers – the knockout questions?
Frankly, there is no good way to get this information if you are allowing the candidates to just submit resumes on the application and nothing more; resumes never include this information. Why, because resumes are brochures. How do you get around this? One way is by using an applicant tracking software solution that allows your company to:
- Get responses to these key knockout questions up front…not only gather the “normal information” like education and work experience, but also ask job-specific questions;
- Use applicants’ answers to these knockout questions to automatically qualify/disqualify and/or score applicants based on your organization’s essential criteria for a given position;
- Then, auto-filter and sort your applicants for a specific position based on their answers to these questions.
In my opinion this is where the analysis of candidates should start. Assuming you regularly conduct thorough job evaluation for all of your positions, you should first review candidate answers to these important questions and take advantage of automatic sorting/qualification filters in your applicant list. Once you have identified candidates that are qualified and have scored the highest according to your legally-sound, predetermined criteria, you would then look at their work experience, education, and continue the vetting process.
Opportunity Cost of Delaying Knockout Questions
If you’re still not convinced of the value of asking for more than just the resume at the point of application, consider this – how much time is spent on reviewing resumes, phone screening, and arranging interview times only to find that many applicants are a disappointment during the interview? Many times this is because we don’t ask them even just a few of the right key questions early enough in the process. So, in your consideration of whether or not a change to the selection process is in order for your company, ask yourself these questions:
- How much time would this save?
- Would this improve the quality of your candidates being interviewed?
- Would this allow you to find the best candidates before your competition makes them an offer?
If you are using applicant tracking software…congratulations! But, if you aren’t already taking advantage of your ATS solution’s screening question capabilities, please act now to make this change.
If you are not using applicant tracking software, then I suggest you look at many ATS options available in the marketplace and ask specific questions about how to automate the scoring and qualification of applicants based on answers to specific questions.
Beyond constructing an effective application process as a means to identify which applicants meet the essential job requirements for a position, the next step is to consider the use of an employee assessment tool in order to investigate whether the cognitive and behavioral traits of the potential hire will ensure optimal job fit with the position selected. Stay tuned as I will discuss that subject in more depth in my next blog.
Would you like to better automate the scoring and qualification of applicants at the onset of your hiring process? Please contact us for more details about our applicant tracking system.