Big Data continues to transform the way businesses accomplish numerous critical functions. For the human capital industry, Big Data is being leveraged to improve the efficiency of the candidate screening process. Yes, pre-employment psych and personality screening have been around for a while, but the contemporary models heavily leverage Big Data and algorithms to “crunch” the information gathered and claim it is more accurate than ever. The raw computing power applied to these screenings has helped the tests become far more difficult to manipulate by candidates who may have grown accustomed to the questions or who have figured out how to answer “properly” as opposed to honestly. But are these screenings effective? Are they ethical? What is the potentiality for abuse? What are the potential liabilities? Here’s some information culled from recent writings on this subject that HR practitioners should be aware of.
This article in the Wall Street Journal reports on the recent advancements occurring in the design of applicant screening tests. They have been redesigned to make it far more difficult to “game the results” by answering more obvious questions according to what the applicant assumes the employer wants to hear. These advancements – like many technology solutions for HR – are designed with the intention of reducing the time and manual effort involved in sourcing quality candidates. They are a type of shorthand intended to help HR speed the screening process through automation and Big Data intelligence. Given the ever-increasing workload of workforce management personnel, these screenings are not likely to go away.
It should be noted that the commenters responding to this WSJ article were categorically derisive of the new, harder to beat, screening technology. They questioned the veracity of the results they provided and bemoaned the perceived over-emphasis on standardized screenings they encountered in their own career searches. The consensus seems to be that the tests couldn’t possibly be accurate enough to warrant their widespread use. Despite workers’ distaste for the screenings, and outside of the legal challenges against some companies claiming the screenings were used in a discriminatory fashion the results seem to indicate that the tests do provide value to the organizations that use them.
WSJ reports, “Automated personality tests can screen out the 30% of applicants who are least qualified before an employer even looks at a résumé”, according to Ken Lahti, VP of Product Development and innovation at CEB, an Arlington, Va., company that provides pre-employment tests. Even eliminating the efforts involved in filtering out the preliminary 30% of under qualified applicants makes using these screenings a valuable proposition for many companies. Just like any other technology, there is the potential for it to be used properly and improperly. To ensure these tools are not being abused, workforce management organizations should have clear policies to avoid unethical use of the screening software available in the market.
All the way back in 2008, David Hakala at HR World published a piece titled, “Applicant Screening Solutions: What’s Ethical and What’s Not?”. Although the technology has advanced greatly since then, the underlying guidelines for their ethical usage remains the same. We recommend Hakala’s piece as a primer on how to ensure your screening technology is being properly engaged.