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Applicant tracking technology goes psychometric

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If you'd like to learn about more effective screening techniques, register for our free webinar, The End of an Era: The Time has Come to Demote the Resume, coming up on November 27, 2014. You'll also get a sneak peek of some exciting new changes at CharityVillage!

If you’re a human resources professional or hiring manager and you’ve been paying the least bit of attention to the news this year, you couldn’t help but read – and probably be alarmed by - the story of Jose (aka “Joe”) Zamora, a job-hunter in the US who demonstrated that discriminatory hiring practices based on race and culture are still all too present in our society.

But what if there was a way to track online applications to your job openings that was based purely on qualitative and quantitative science and psychology? For HR departments and hiring managers/committees, it would mean the elimination of hours of tedious sifting through resumes and cover letters; a streamlining of applicants based on complex algorithms and psychometrics to produce optimal matches of candidates to jobs.

For those not in the know, such a thing already exists. It’s called predictive applicant tracking and it’s revolutionizing the way both for-profits and nonprofits staff their workplaces. Additionally, self-identifying information from applicants such as race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation can be masked, leaving various skill indicators showing for a fairer, objective hiring process.

Tracking the history

For some 15 years, numerous organizations have relied upon basic applicant tracking systems (ATS) software as a sort of digital resume repository for HR departments. A 2013 report from Recruiter.com - Recruiting Technology Trends - notes that the tech has recently taken a leap forward (some now refer to it as “Smart ATS”) and will soon become the new standard of the genre.

“These systems will use a combination of biometric data and proprietary algorithms to predict which candidates are likely a fit, and which are not. Think of this as the evolution from keyword matching to ‘DNA matching’ that’s company specific, job specific, and much more accurate,” writes Adam Robinson, CEO of Hireology, in the report.

Smart ATS, he adds, “will come vertically integrated with lots of other tools that support decision making; things like online skills testing and background checks - and they’ll be offered at prices that will make the legacy vendors start to look over their shoulders.”

It’s OK, don’t have a Fitzii

While there are a few software developers out there creating this tool, one of the more established in the game – in Canada, at least – is Toronto-based Fitzii.

CharityVillage caught up with its co-founder and managing director, Ian Yates, for a small chat on how his product is changing the HR hiring game plan for small and medium sized businesses across the continent.

An interesting fact: with regards to the Jose Zamora story referenced at the beginning of this article, Yates notes that the inspiration for starting up Fitzii in 2011 was to “level the playing field” for all applicants. Yates felt discriminated against when looking for a job after leaving the US to come to Canada, he said. The need to eliminate biases in the hiring process led directly to Fitzii’s creation.

So how does Yates describe predictive applicant tracking? First he tells us what it is not.

“A [non-predictive] ATS is simply that - a way to track applicants that apply to jobs. For some organizations, it may be sorted piles of resumes; for others, an email inbox and an Excel spreadsheet; or, for many larger organizations, it’s a dedicated software tool,” he explained. “These tools generally do a good job of tracking and sorting, but they don’t really help businesses find the right people to hire. A predictive ATS on the other hand, includes hiring intelligence to allow organizations to not only track, sort and manage applicants, but also predict those that are most likely to succeed in a given role.”

In short, a predictive or “Smart” ATS is a tool that allows HR professionals and hiring managers to very quickly identify a shortlist of high-potential applicants to focus on.

Sounds like a dream come true for organizations looking to hire not only skill, but fit. But is it?

Addressing the naysayers

ATS technology has been in use for nearly two decades. Ever since people could send their resumes in for job applications online, organizations have developed the means to store and track digital mountains of curricula vitae. But that didn’t necessarily mean more jobs were being filled or applicants being reviewed.

Instead, some industry reports in the US as late as 2012 indicated that due to the use by recruiters of screening for keywords in applications, between 65% to 75% of all resumes submitted were automatically discarded as being bad fits without further review or deeper analysis.

Concerns abounded about how basic ATS could be missing prospective “great hires” simply because they were missing keywords on their resumes. This concern even spawned an industry dedicated to helping applicants “beat ATS” using “tricks” for seeding resumes with the top keywords necessary to get the attention of recruiters.

The criticisms pushed ATS to evolve. Enter predictive ATS and organizations like Fitzii that make zero use of keywords. Instead, candidates self assess and evaluate how well their qualifications and experience match the requirements, completing a “prove it” statement for each job requirement as posted by the employer.

But how smart is it?

Like any new tool, predictive ATS has its detractors. Some critics say the impact on candidates’ experiences of and the length of the predictive ATS application process is a disincentive to applying. In Fitzii’s case, its screening process is longer and more in-depth than its competitors. Yates readily acknowledges this.

“Our process is longer than some on-line applications, but we measure candidate satisfaction and feedback continually to ensure that their experiences are positive ones,” he says.

Another concern about predictive ATS is that it’s turning the hiring decision into a robotic endeavor with decreased human interaction. Yates dismisses this last argument.

“The truth...is that while we score each applicant, the data is presented in a very intuitive and human-readable format with the relevant context allowing recruiters to make a decision based on more complete information. We view this as enabling the human touch, not removing it.”

In Fitzii’s case, the science behind their technology rests with an expert psychometrist. The psychometric tool has gathered the results of thousands of successful applicants matched to hundreds of roles within organizations, assessing the factors most likely contributing to job success.

And the reviews of the product are glowing.

Providing jobs on the Frontline

The Weston Frontlines Centre (Frontlines), a Toronto nonprofit, has adopted Fitzii as a hiring tool.

Kristy Opoku, Frontlines executive director, said using the ATS helped her small organization discover a grant and proposal writer who filled the role admirably. In the past, she said, job postings for the role would often only attract about five candidates to interview and they were never quite the right fit.

Using a Fitzii-fied posting for the first time last year – through Internet-based hiring firm Hirefly – Opoku was able to screen nearly 50 applicants. More importantly, candidates who were better fits for her organization’s roles, culture and talent needs were brought to the fore by the predictive ATS.

“As a small nonprofit, we have limited resources and personnel to go through the interview process. So to be able to have a very tight list of candidates that we can explore before we even go into an interview process, was very helpful,” she said on a testimonial video posted by Hirefly earlier this year.

For Yates, it’s a gratifying feeling to hear this type of feedback from clients. And it goes beyond business and profit. He sees huge potential for predictive ATS in the nonprofit world as well. There are a couple of main reasons, he said.

Firstly, nonprofits often receive numerous applications from jobseekers that identify with the vision and mission of the organization. While this passion is important and desired, Yates said, it doesn’t necessarily translate to better job performance and retention.

“In fact, sometimes the opposite occurs, since job seekers do not always have a realistic picture of how that vision translates into actual work,” he says. That’s where a predictive ATS like Fitzii can help out - by allowing nonprofits to identify candidates who not only have the passion for the cause, qualifications and experience well matched to the position, but also the other personality traits that will allow them to succeed in a particular job.

Secondly, Yates continues, nonprofits typically have fewer resources in HR and recruiting than similarly sized corporations. “And the vast majority of nonprofits are small and hire infrequently, so they typically have less expertise when it comes to hiring best practices. In these cases a predictive ATS is a great tool to guide them through the process of adding new staff to the organization and helping the nonprofit hire with confidence.”

Lastly, since nonprofits are attractive, mission-driven places to work and with more job seekers looking for meaningful employment, they tend to receive more applications per position than similarly sized corporations, Yates notes.

“Because Fitzii scores each candidate, those that score below average don’t need to be manually screened, which can save up to 70% of the time spent screening resumes. The savings a nonprofit can expect from using ATS fall into two categories – short-term and long-term,” he explains. “The short-term savings include time and labour savings as well as reduced advertising costs. The long-term savings are a lot more significant and are the result of both increased productivity by high-performing employees and reduced recruiting costs due to lower turnover.”

Th-ATS a wrap

While predictive ATS require a shift in hiring practices and thinking, evidence is mounting with each successful hire that this new type of tool is here to stay and that it will only get better as ATS-designers evaluate and tweak their science based on experience.

Want to learn more about how predictive applican tracking systems are replacing traditional screening techniques?Register for our free webinar, The End of an Era: The Time has Come to Demote the Resume, on November 27, 2014. You'll also get a sneak peek of some exciting new changes at CharityVillage!

Andy Levy-Ajzenkopf is a professional writer living in Toronto. He can be reached at aajzenkopf@yahoo.com.

Photos (from top) via iStock.com. All photos used with permission.

Please note: While we ensure that all links and email addresses are accurate at their publishing date, the quick-changing nature of the web means that some links to other web sites and email addresses may no longer be accurate.

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