the tough questions

Completing parts of the hiring process by way of Web, phone or kiosk can sidestep store-level shortcuts.

Faithfully performing every part of the hiring process every time youhire someone is just smart business. The problem, however, is that some hiringtasks are unpleasant and most are so repetitive that managers may be temptedto take risky shortcuts.

Take pre-screening. Asking the kinds of tough hiring questions that weed out potential bad hires is not only time-consuming but can be uncomfortable for the applicant and the interviewer. Moreover, a manager who is shorthanded may ignore answers and hire the applicant hoping that everything will work out. Considering the numerous legal messes that failing to ask those questions—or pay attention to the answers—can cause lends perspective.

The solution: Automate your prescreening. Let a phone-based, Web-based or kiosk-based hiring system handle touchy subjects, like if they’ve ever been arrested or used drugs and how they would deal with a co-worker doing something wrong or illegal. An automated system asking those hard questions helps protect you from discriminatory hiring lawsuits because automated systems treat everyone exactly the same. They also stop people who don’t pass prescreening from applying, which reduces legal exposure.

Companies that win at hiring play a consistent game, and automation is as consistent as it gets. It makes hiring for shifts impossible, thereby making strong managers stronger and weak managers better. Plus, research suggests applicants are more honest with an automated system than a human interviewer because they don’t see technology as judgmental.

Automating parts of the hiring process makes it possible for people to apply24/7, shortens hiring time, captures passive applicants who are already workingbut would like a better job and excuses non-qualified applicants from the systemin a manner that allows them to retain their dignity. Automated systems helpapplicants as well as employers by providing information about your companyand the available positions, and shortening the hiring response time. Anothervaluable benefit of an automated system: It stores data that for years has beendecentralized and difficult to maintain in one central place, which makes complianceand reporting easier.

Automation systems differ both in degree and in the features they offer. Companies’ needs differ somewhat, too— “one size fits all” doesn’t apply.

For example, Susan Schwaderer, manager of human resource administration for Sheetz Inc. (Altoona, PA), says her 312-store chain abandoned kiosks after the system it designed, built and tested over a year ago proved ineffective.

“Kiosks need to be in a highly visible area, which means they can interfere with traffic flow,” she says. “Privacy and security were also concerns. When you’re filling out an employment application, you’re entering personal data and don’t want people looking over your shoulder.”

Sheetz has almost completed rolling out an automated system that uses Web application and interactive voice response, or IVR, exclusively. As soon as Sheetz finishes placing a computer with Internet access in every store, managers will be able to access the secure Web site to view applicant data and assessment results. In the interim, Sheetz is handling in-store applications by giving applicants a postcard with the company’s Web site address and toll-free phone number, and distributing applicant information to store managers from a central location.

On the other hand, Amerada Hess Corp. (New York, NY) has found the kiosks suppliedby its automated hiring service provider so successful that all but 50 of its850 stores now have them.

“You can use exactly the same questions in an IVR system as on a kiosk,” says Hess spokesperson Nedenia West. “But people don’t always speak distinctly, and we ran the risk of not getting all the information we need using only IVR.”

Automate effectively
Efficiency and effectiveness are not synonymous.Unless you create interview questions that identify the high-quality candidatesyou want, automating will make your hiring system more efficient but not moreeffective. Some questions Hess uses to assess applicant quality include:

  • “How many full-time employers have you had in the past 18 months?”
  • “If you saw a co-worker doing something dishonest, what would you do: confrontthe employee, report it to management or nothing?”
  • “Are you able to perform the necessary job functions, (i.e., working thecash register, preparing food, stocking shelves, cleaning restrooms, etc.)?”

If you would like a list of suppliers to help automate your hiring system,e-mail me at

In my next column I’ll discuss the nuts and bolts of questions a good automated hiring system should ask. In the meantime, think about how your company can best automate the repetitive stuff and about how to save your human intelligence for more creative tasks—like bringing more customers through the front door.

Mel Kleiman, president of recruiting/retention specialist Humetrics LLC andthe author of four books, can be reached at 800-218-0930 ext. 119.


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