Leading-edge Candidate Screening, Interviewing, and Assessment Practices

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Candidate selection and assessment is one of the most conservative processes in all of talent management. Many think the topic is not worth a detailed examination, but a weak assessment or interview process can be the primary cause for not hiring top candidates. For decades, the majority of firms have relied heavily on the basic trio of resume screening, interviewing, and reference checks to choose the best candidates. Fortunately, the growth of metrics, the Internet, and technology in HR is now challenging these traditional approaches.

Over the last couple of years, a significant number of new approaches have evolved, and as a result, recruiters and hiring managers now have a wide range of alternative approaches to consider. This article is designed to make you aware of some of these alternative leading-edge candidate assessment approaches that firms have tried. If you are bored with interviews, you should enjoy reading about these new approaches.

A Long list of Alternative Candidate Assessment Approaches to Consider

The most dominant approach, as well as alternative approaches, is listed under each phase of assessment. Firms that you can learn from are also listed. Remember that even though some of these approaches might seem outrageous to you, they have all been tried at one or more firms.

Phase 1 — Pre-screening before they apply

  • Dominant approach — External contests — Identify and assess prospects using external contests — Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Harrah’s, and Nationwide.
  • Referral screening — Have employees pre-assess and screen out weak prospects as part of the referral process (skills and cultural fit) — Many firms.
  • Problems presented on the corporate Website — Self-assessment using a real problem that is provided on the corporate website or a later assessment by a recruiter — Marriott, VHA.
  • Gamification — Assessment or self-assessment using games on the corporate website — USAF.
  • Professional talent communities — Use talent communities based on learning to build relationships and to assess over a period of time — Microsoft. 

Phase 2 — the initial screening of their resume or CV

  • Dominant approach — Recruiters’ screening resumes — Most have a recruiter read and assess a candidate’s cover letter and resume — Most firms.
  • ATS scan — Scan resumes using your ATS software — Larger corporations.
  • Video cover letter — Encourage a video in lieu of a written cover letter and use it for assessment. Being given the option of providing a video can excite candidates and provide more detailed information than a cover letter — Zappos.
  • Use a LinkedIn profile — Have a recruiter read and assess their LinkedIn profile in lieu of their resume — A growing practice.
  • Review their work portfolio — Ask candidates to provide a portfolio containing samples of their work — Advertising and media firms. 

Phase 3 — Assessment prior to the interview

  • Anonymous employee assessment — employees that come in contact with the candidate assess their behavior prior to the interview — Zappos, Southwest Airlines.
  • Job assignment — Give them an actual job assignment before the interview (example: recruiters bring in qualified resumes for an open job) – FirstMerit.
  • Identify their preferences — Provide candidates with a questionnaire that is designed to identify their preferences, interests, and motivators to assess fit for the manager, job or firm — A few firms.
  • Job acceptance criteria — Provide a questionnaire for identifying their decision criteria for accepting a job, so that you know if they are a fit and what you need to sell them on — A few firms.

Phase 4 — In-person interviews

  • Dominant approach — Traditional interviews — an initial phone screen and one or more in-person behavioral interviews by recruiters and managers — Most firms.
  • Speed dating — Quick initial interviews modeled after speed-dating interviews that are designed to minimize a hiring manager’s time by quickly screening out the unqualified — Nokia, Travelodge.
  • Peer or group interviews — Using peers (individuals in the same job) to provide accurate assessment, authentic answers, and to help sell the candidate — HealthEast.
  • Develop a statistical algorithm — used past hiring successes and failures to statistically predict which candidates will succeed on the job — Google.
  • “Screening in” innovators — Modifying interview/selection processes and educating recruiters and managers to capture innovators that are often lost during traditional screening processes — Google, Facebook.
  • Stress interviews — Putting candidates in a stressful position during the interview to assess a candidate’s ability to handle pressure — Law enforcement.
  • Interview for competitive intelligence — Purposely including candidates from key competitors for gathering CI — A few firms.
  • Hire with absolutely no assessment — Hiring candidates without any assessment due to time constraints, low candidate flow, or because it actually improves the quality of hire – C-cube, FirstMerit. 

Phase 5 — Remote interviews

  • Dominant approach – Live remote video interviewing — Using video interview vendors or Skype to assess candidates over the Internet in order to ease scheduling issues, to save travel costs and to show that the firm uses technology — Zappos, Pepsi, Google.
  • Videotaped Interviews — Pre-taped interviews that are sent to the recruiter, where the candidate either responds to pre-set questions or the candidate decides on their own what to present — Occasionally used in college hiring.
  • Internet questionnaire — Putting the interview in a questionnaire format and scoring it with software — Nike.
  • IVR interviews — Using IVR technology or touch-tone automated telephone interviews for preliminary interviews — An older approach. 

Phase 6 — Problem-solving and interest approaches during and outside of interviews

  • Dominant approach — Verbal problems during interviews — Ask candidates to solve a verbally presented real or brain-teasing problem — Google, Microsoft, Pivotal Labs.
  • Virtual reality simulation — Use a job-simulation tool to assess either college students or professionals — KPMG.
  • Bring work samples — Have candidates bring in work samples for review during the interview — Advertising and media firms.
  • Work with the team — Have candidates actually work with the team the rest of the day to assess their fit and teamwork — Toyota.
  • Shadow employees — Have top applicants shadow employees for the rest of the day after their interview for assessment and job preview purposes — Reliant Services.
  • Project the future — Ask candidates to forecast the future in their functional area during the interview in order to assess whether they are “forward-looking” — Agilent.
  • Assess their laptop — Assess them based on the organization of their desktop and how they use their own laptop immediately after the interview — An entrepreneur.

Phase 7 — Tests as supplements to interviews

  • Dominant approach — Commercial tests — Use commercially available skills and job fit assessment tests — Many firms.
  • On-line tests –– Use online technical skill assessment tests to supplement interviews — T-Mobile.
  • In-basket — Give candidates a paper-based in-basket exercise to assess their work and prioritization skills — Many firms.
  • Psychological tests — Use commercially available psychological or personality tests to assess job fit — Many firms. 

Phase 8 — Visibility scores as supplements to interviews

  • Dominant approach — Google score — Use a Google score to assess their Internet visibility or to find examples of their work (26% of hiring managers have used) — Many firms.
  • Social media scores — Use a Klout and PeerIndex score to assess a candidate’s social media visibility or impact — Growing in popularity, especially in communications and social media jobs.
  • Network size — Using LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter to assess the breath of thier contacts and connections — A few firms. 

Phase 9 — Assessing their references or background

  • Dominant approach — recruiter phone calls — Using recruiter phone calls or vendor-supplied database reference checks to assess work, educational, and credit history — Most firms.
  • Assess them on their social media site – Visit their personal social media sites for assessment and to identify potential problem areas (12% of hiring managers have used) — Many firms.
  • Crowdsourced references — Use a candidate’s network to assess their background using 360° type reference surveys (i.e. Checkster) — Growing usage. 

Phase 10 — Assess them on the job after hire

  • Assessments during onboarding — Follow-up assessment during extended onboarding and then drop the failures — Facebook, Zappos.
  • Pay mishires to leave — Allow new hires to self-select out during training for a payment — Zappos, Cisco.
  • Internships for assessment — Hiring interns and assessing them during their internship can be an excellent way to assess potential college hires — Many firms.
  • Overhire — Purposely hire two or more for a single opening, and after a lengthy period of assessment, release the weak performers — Many academic institutions.
  • Train them and then assess — Bring in people with a core aptitude for technical work and then spend six weeks “teaching them.” Then release the underperformers — IGN.
  • Train promising high school grads — Identify promising high-school students whose families can’t afford to send them to college and train them. Then release the under-performers — Zoho.

Phase 11 — Temp-to-perm assessment

  • Dominant approach — Convert temps to permanent — Hire prospects as a contractor/temp and later convert the best — Google, Microsoft.
  • Use an internal temp service to assess — Create an internal temp service and use placements to assess — HealthEast.

Phase 12 — Strategic assessment approaches

  • Corporate fit interview — Require a second interview by HR for ensuring all hires are a corporate values fit — Zappos.
  • Use a hiring team — When hiring for “this and the next job,” use a hiring team in lieu of an individual manager — Google.

Phase 13 — Internal assessment for promotions and succession

  • Use projects — Assign or let employee self-select virtual part-time projects for development and assessment — Google, Whirlpool.
  • Contests for promotion — Use anonymous Iron-chef type internal contests for promotions and to excite and improve selection — MGM Grand.

Final Thoughts

As more and more firms begin to measure their quality of hire it will become increasingly obvious that many hiring processes don’t produce great results. Management guru Peter Drucker stated years ago that only one third of our hiring decisions were good ones. Another research study by Leadership IQ found that over three years, 46% of newly hired employees will fail within 18 months, while only 19% will achieve certain success.

Part of the reason for this high failure rate is based on the fact that under most selection processes, there is no way to know if top-quality candidates are being screened out early on in the process. One firm for example put the disguised resumes of their own top five engineers through their corporate resume screening process and surprisingly they found that only two would have been called in for an interview. If you don’t have hard data to back up the accuracy of your screening, now might be the opportune time (before hiring ramps up) to reassess your candidate screening process.

About the Author

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Dr. John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions. He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

  • Ty Chartwell



    What the heck is so ‘leading-edge’?


  • Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Dr. Sullivan. This is very through. I’d be interested in finding out how well or poorly these work under what circumstances. For example; I’d think a lengthy pre-application assessment/test that (if passed)leads directly to an in-person interview would significantly increase the candidate pool, whereas if it were merely another requirement it would substantially decrease it.



  • Lisa Chase

    Great suggestions for changing up the recruiting process. My caveat is that many organization use the same hiring process for all positions. Some follow whatever the procedure is more or less stringently depending on the position but in general use the same process for service level up to management. I think it demonstrates a lack of attention to the subtleties required for each level and for the organization as a whole.

  • Bree J

    My experience shows the more impersonal, questionnaire type of testing/screening is employed in the recruitment process the more likely it is that good potential employees are found to be unsuitable. Many candidates actually give up once there are too many hurdles to jump, simply because they know the chances of being rejected increases. Recruitment selection and assessment tools notoriously under perform.

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  • Kristen McKenna

    I’m interested in others perspective on temp to perm hiring? I’m skeptical that this approach is really yielding the quality that companies are looking for. I would argue that the available talent for temporary hiring is not necessarily the best of the best that would consider a permanent opportunity so are companies settling in the long run? Looking for contrary view points!

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