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Missing Out: Five Ways to Misuse Online Screening Tools - Part 4

By Evan Sinar, Ph.D.

By Evan Sinar, Ph.D.

Misuse #4: Generating Legal Risk via Haphazard Screening

The flexibility of online screening systems to enable idiosyncratic filtering of large candidate pools, if not carefully monitored and managed, can be an unrecognized source of legal risk in at least two ways. First, it can increase the potential for differential treatment of candidates with similar backgrounds. If one such candidate is a member of a legally-protected candidate group and is screened-out while another non-protected group candidate is progressed, this can be considered a form of discrimination. Second, using an online screening tool to search or prioritize candidates may automatically classify all individuals searched against as formal applicants. This can substantially impact the necessity to document the job-relatedness of each requirement or search term. Although these legal risks can be managed through careful planning, if left ignored they can quickly threaten the defensibility of the entire selection system.

Misuse #5: Neglecting the Untrainables

A final common misuse is factoring a candidate’s past skills, experiences, knowledges, and other “trainables” too prominently into the selection process in general, and within online screening tools in particular. New hire ramp-up time is a critical concern for many employers given lean staffing levels and low budgets available to support extensive training and on-boarding. Hiring an individual who already possesses many of the perceived prerequisites to effective performance is one way to counteract these restrictions.

However, this approach also brings some important caveats. Taken too far it can lead to a situation where “untrainables” – attributes that are difficult or impossible to develop someone in after they have been hired – play, at best, a minor role in progressing candidates to a final interview. These attributes include vital building blocks such as adaptability, integrity, learning adeptness, and innovation, which can be the foundation for an employee expanding his or her role within and beyond the original job description. Hiring processes that fail to early and adequately capture information about these characteristics, using tools designed specifically for this purpose such as cognitive tests and personality inventories, waste the opportunity to understand the “hows” behind a candidate’s background for the sake of knowing only “what” was achieved.

What a candidate brings to the job on day one may indeed help him or her ramp up quickly, but without pairing this knowledge with insights about untrainables, an employer risks bringing on board an employee with a severely restricted ceiling for future growth. Exercise caution to ensure that online screening tools do not overweight trainable characteristics merely because they are more easily searched and screened upon.


Making the perfect the enemy of the good is a critical misstep when online screening tools are used to target the mythical ideal candidate. But it’s far from the only caution to keep in mind, and other consequences of squandering the potential of these tools can be equally damaging or even more so. Online screening is here to stay and can add immense value and efficiency when deployed appropriately. However, if the recent negative attention directed toward online screening systems is causing you to re-evaluate and seek to improve the way you use these tools – and it should – consider this broader set of potential concerns while redesigning your processes and approaches, and when you’re determining the influence online screening tools will have within your broader hiring process.

How is the role of technology changing your processes for large-scale, geographically-dispersed candidate screening and selection? What do you see as the next evolution of technology-driven hiring

Evan Sinar, Ph.D., is chief scientist and the director of DDI's Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research.

This article was originally published by Recruiting Trends and is reprinted here with permission.

Posted: 21 Sep, 2012,
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