Automated hiring increases applications

Study: Identifying Talent through Technology: Automated Hiring Systems in Federal Agencies, August 2004

Automated hiring systems could help human resources officers search for qualified job candidates and get new hires on the payroll quickly, according to a new study.

A report by the Merit Systems Protection Board titled "Identifying Talent Through Technology: Automated Hiring Systems in Federal Agencies" was completed in August but released last month. It states that automation could cut the costs and delays of paper-based hiring.

The primary reason for automating the hiring process is to reduce the time between applying and hiring, the study states. Automated systems eliminate much human labor by distributing job information electronically, accepting online applications, assessing applicants and notifying applicants of the outcome of the hiring process, according to the study.

Researchers found that automated systems also tend to be more consistent and less biased than human examiners. Before automated hiring was introduced, the process of filling a government position took months. Now software and Web portals allow applicants to apply online instantly and shave weeks off the process, according to the study and human resources officials.

Steve Nelson, director of the board's Policy and Evaluation Office, said automated hiring allows agency officials to create progressive hurdles, attract more applicants and select the best candidates.

"If you're the best of 10,000 who applied, you're probably an amazingly exceptional candidate," Nelson said. "If you're the best of 10, you're probably not as good."

But the study found that automated systems could create more work because user-friendly job sites can bring in more applications and create extra steps. For instance, applicants to the Forest Service might have to prove citizenship for the first hurdle, meet qualifications for the second round and demonstrate a high degree of competence in certain skills, such as forestry management or firefighting, in step three.

Nelson said automated hiring raises two issues: integrating the process into the federal system and eliminating confusion, such as the belief that automation will do away with human resources departments. That is simply not true, he said, adding that automated hiring supports other recruitment efforts.

The government already has a number of success stories. Officials at the U.S. Geological Survey have cut hiring time from months to 39 days during the past five years using Monster Worldwide Inc.'s Monster Government Solutions QuickHire software. Other automated systems include products from Avue Technology Corp., Yahoo! Inc. and USA Staffing Inc. The Commerce Department has its own application system, Commerce Opportunities On-Line.

QuickHire has "allowed us to expand our applicant pool," said Gary Blackburn, a human resources information systems specialist at USGS.

Such systems don't solve all problems. "A bad part of automated systems is you get a lot of applicants," he said. "It is very easy to put out an announcement that does not accurately get to the best applicants available."

NASA's automated system saved the agency more than $1 million a year in lost productivity by eliminating the time some technical managers spent manually rating applicants.

"We use [Yahoo!] Resumix for the core of our hiring system," said Candy Irwin, manager of the staffing program and the agency's automated Staffing and Recruiting System. The system automatically grabs and stores information by case number in file folders.

Implemented in 2001, NASA's system brings in 10 times the number of applicants, though not necessarily a proportionately large number of qualified candidates. Previously, it took 50 days between the time a manager requested that a job be filled and when a selection list was given to him or her. It now takes 30 days, she said.

Irwin said there are challenges, as with any technology. Applicants using the system must do a better job on their résumés, for example. "An automated system just cannot make assumptions," Irwin said. "You have to make sure that you've clearly described your experiences and skills."

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Hiring with pizzazz

Federal officials can identify ways to hire job candidates faster using software tools that automate many of the procedures previously handled by the human resources staff. Here are some tips for making the most of automated hiring tools:

Treat hiring as a critical process, not an administrative function.

Manage an automated hiring system as a change for the organization, not simply an information technology or human resources initiative.

Invest in resources for automated hiring.

Use automated hiring systems to support recruitment programs, not to replace them.

Communicate roles and expectations to line managers, human

resources professionals and

applicants.

Make sure human resources professionals have proper training.

Source: Merit Systems Protection Board

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