In an earlier blog post, we explored what we might learn from the devastating and, as we now know, intentional crash of a Lufthansa jet in March 2015. As the investigation unfolds, the facts coming to the surface suggest that a more rigorous employee screening and monitoring process likely would have saved the lives lost on the tragic flight. In addition, the investigation has revealed that the negligence may have not been an isolated case but rather part of a widespread denial in the airline industry about lax and uneven screening and monitoring processes for pilots and other air industry employees. In an age of heightened security, especially in the airline industry, these revelations are both shocking and worrisome. The revelations also remind people across industries that employee screening is essential. But what constitutes a robust screening program? Moreover, is there a risk that prescreening may result in a loss of potential talent?
The Advantages of Prescreening Employees
Prescreening takes place before an organization has invested any substantial resources in a potential employee. Prescreens are typically carried out by human resources staff who are not involved in the actual hire and/or by a third party specializing in prescreening services. The advantages of prescreening candidates are immense. Most notably, it means that by the time a candidate has an in-person interview, the hiring committee can be assured that they won’t need to waste their time investigating suspected falsified claims. More specifically, prescreening can effectively ensure that potential employees have no criminal histories and eliminate unqualified applicants (notably, as many as 30% of applications contain some fabricated information). In addition, with a prescreening process, one can gain vital information, not necessarily negative, that can be further investigated during phone and in-person interviews. In other words, prescreening job candidates can save time, money and support a more rigorous recruitment process from start to finish.
The Disadvantages to Prescreening Employees
Despite the obvious benefits, there are some disadvantages. Since prescreening is usually carried out by human resources staff or by a third party with no connection to the actual hire and no specific expertise related to the hire, there is always a fear that talent may get lost in the process. For example, from time to time, a candidate without the stated academic credentials may be the best candidate based on their knowledge and experience. Such a candidate may be deselected at the prescreen stage since the process is not designed to assess candidates’ knowledge but simply to verify claims made about their credentials or experiences and to assess their personal background. Similarly, candidates with unusual career paths may be screened out because it is simply too difficult to quantify their “relevant years of experience.” For example, a candidate who spent several years working for Teach for America and later worked for an NGO in Africa and eventually came back to the US to work on an organic farm but in his or her 30s, abandoned organics to retrain as a robotics engineer may not pass a prescreening process simply because their career pathway fails to fit neatly into any recognizable career path in the field. In an interview setting, however, the candidate’s eclectic background—their demonstrated ability to work with people and adjust to different cultural contexts and work environments—may be seen as an asset that outweighs the fact that they have only been working in the field for a few years. Unfortunately, translating seemingly disparate experiences into relevant currency for a specific position is something that can only be done by an actual hiring committee, and this is where the risk of prescreening candidates arises.
To Prescreen or Not?
Prescreening processes, whether they are carried out internally or by a third party specializing in prescreening, tend to be highly objective. They verify facts and provide raw data on candidates’ credentials. However, prescreening processes may on occasion result in a loss of talent, since they can deselect candidates who may, despite their atypical backgrounds, have much to offer.
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