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Answer me this!: How screening can deliver better candidates to employers

screeningIf you look at any survey of employers that I’ve done over the past several years, you’ll find that the number one issue for employers is quality of candidates. Now, ‘quality’ is one of those wonderfully fuzzy terms that can mean just about anything to anyone, but in general, when employers talk about quality candidates, they’re talking about candidates that meet the skill and experience requirements of the posted job. Poor quality candidates, in other words, are those that have just thrown their resume in the till, regardless of their qualifications.

Can you guess what really bugs employers about job boards? It’s when they get poor quality candidates for their job postings.  Imagine that!

This is not an easy problem to solve (although if you listen to the advertising from some job boards and social recruiting services, you might think it is). Why is it hard?

  • Definition: As mentioned above, the employer actually has to tell you, the vendor, what a quality candidate is. Sometimes that’s easier said than done
  • Control: You can’t control who applies to the job. You can control – to an extent – where the job is promoted, and to whom.
  • Honesty: You can’t make the candidate honest. Let’s face it – sometimes the candidate lies.


There is a relatively simple way to increase the number of qualified candidates that make it to the employer. It’s not a silver bullet – it won’t absolutely prevent an unqualified candidate from getting to them. But it improves the odds.

So what is it?

Screening questions. Ask the candidate something pertinent to the job, something that only a qualified candidate would know. Or ask them if they have a specific type of training or certification that only a qualified candidate would have. You get the picture. One to three questions should be enough to dramatically narrow the applicants down – to those that can correctly answer the questions, and are thus more qualified than those that can’t.

Well, if it’s this easy to improve candidate quality with screening, why isn’t everyone doing it?

  • Employer involvement: The ultimate judge of what constitutes a qualifying question is the employer. They must be involved. Often, that’s easier said than done.
  • Technical issues: Some job boards and recruiting sites lack the capability to provide screening questions.
  • Fear: Some employers (or their lawyers) worry about the legality of screening questions for certain jobs.
  • Hypocrisy: Some employers don’t want to give up the quantity of applicants – even if some of them are unqualified. They want better candidates, and too many of them, too!

What can you do? I encourage you to explore screening questions of delivering higher quality candidates for your clients. It’s not the perfect solution, but it helps. And just think – if you retain just one or two clients a year because of this, it’s time and money well spent. Good luck!

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. There actually is a ‘perfect solution’ to this dilemma – and that is for the agency to be the sole owner of the vacancy and to have been paid an advance to fill it.

    That way, everyone wins – including the candidates.

  2. Hi,
    We have some pre-selection questionnaire with elimination questions, and it really makes job easier for employers with massive response on jobs openings. This is additional free of charge service along with job ad – not obligatory. Employers appreciate it, but as long as it is free.
    Maybe free of charge is good, if we develop new tool for marking and ranking the best candidates or make first round of CV screening…
    The future will tell us what is next step.
    I’ll try to keep you in touch on results.
    All best,

  3. Jeff — My recollection is that a few years back the OFCCP held a job board to be liable for discriminating against a candidate in large part because the board took an active role in writing the posting. I believe the consensus at the IAEWS meeting was that the board would not have been liable if the employer had posted the job and the board had not done any editing. If that’s the case, then if boards get involved in screening and assessing candidates, doesn’t that open up the boards to huge potential liabilities?

  4. Steven – I think the key issue here is that the employers are simply using a tool that the job board provides – similar to using an assessment tool provided by an assessment vendor. I don’t advocate job boards actually writing the screening questions for clients – but I do advocate them encouraging the use of these questions to produce better quality applicant flow. – Jeff

  5. We agree that pre-screening questions are valuable. In fact, our whole online application system is built around the ability to ask the right questions in a legally defensible manner with statistically optimal weighting. Not only does this allow us to eliminate clearly unqualified candidates, it also allows us to rank order the rest in a manner that is about 40% more accurate then a resume/application screen. Fast, fair, and cost effective . . . what more could you want?

    Sorry for the infomercial . . . I agree with your post but it’s just the beginning.

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