Dr Stephen Fletcher, occupational psychologist at the OPC reflects on the growth of digital recruitment and psychological assessment within the rail industry and explores if it’s the way forward

Traditional recruitment methods using an application form or CV, shortlisting and an interview have been around for a very long time. Within this process, paper and pencil methodologies, including psychometrics have played a part to a lesser or greater degree. Since the early 1990s, online and digital technologies began to be used more frequently, but many organisations still use human evaluation alongside their digital recruitment elements today. With the recent Covid-19 crisis, lockdown and the dominance of working from home, at the OPC, we believe the acceleration towards full digital recruitment and assessment will only increase.

Ultimately the desired outcome for any recruiter is to have the best fit person in a role performing to the best of their ability, to the right quality. To achieve this, managers and HR teams should aim to spend the most amount of time on a shortlist of the fewest, highest calibre candidates. The question is, can a digital process really be as effective, efficient or as accurate as the more traditional, ‘tried-and-tested’ methodologies?

Automated online sifting tools

Automated online sifting tools can help recruiters rationalise applicants quickly, effectively and fairly. When many rail companies across the world have thousands, if not tens of thousands of applicants for a job role, e.g. train driver, an efficient sifting process at the beginning is fundamental. A bespoke online sifting form with automated scoring that incorporates key questions and short exercises can help recruiters sift large numbers of applicants quickly, effectively and fairly.

Once we have a valid, unique set of applicants, those completed sifting forms can be objectively scored against a given set of criteria, previously built into it. But the beauty of it is, that if the form and applicant’s data is all online this can happen at the touch of a button! This gives huge time and cost savings compared to a more traditional manual sifting of CVs or application forms that can be incredibly resource intensive, tiring, and is more likely to be subjective.

Psychologically assessing applicants online

Once we have a valid set of applicants who have passed the online sift then a second screening phase can happen digitally through the use of online assessment tools. These could include assessment tests for concentration, reasoning, numeracy and verbal ability for example, and are designed to identify potential and present capability in job applicants or job holders.

OPC Assessments’ tools are rigorously researched and trialled. Based on comprehensive job analysis, we apply psychometric principles from first design. They may assess one or more competencies which have been shown to be central to effective performance in a number of roles e.g. concentration, customer service, verbal ability etc. This means our clients have the confidence that the tools they are using have clear, demonstrable links to successful job performance as well as being confident in their psychometric properties.

Twenty-five thousand train driver applicants sifted and assessed online in a month

Recently one of the OPC Assessments’ international clients advertised for train drivers and had over 25,000 applications. In just a month, OPC Assessment was able to sift them, objectively score their online forms and administer online tests including the mini SCAAT to assess concentration, the RAAT to assess aptitude for rule learning and a bespoke situational judgement test to assess a range of safety competencies.

These unsupervised sifting tools helped reduce applications down by about 94 per cent, saving the client valuable time and money. More importantly this stage helped identify those candidates who were most likely to pass the next stage, and more likely to learn and perform well through the training. It helped predict if candidates had the required concentration and ability to learn the necessary rules and procedures to perform the role to the correct safety standard. The client was delighted with the quality of trainees and went on to take the best candidates over the next 12-18 months.

Generating in-depth intelligence about candidates

Utilising digital recruitment with online assessment tools means you can have immediate results with no lengthy scoring procedures. It can also be possible to produce numerous in-depth, online report options e.g. a profile form indicating a candidate’s personal attributes and abilities or, where appropriate, a full narrative report, or interview prompt forms based on a personality profile. When using digital assessment tools, you can export a project report providing data on all candidates’ results in a single file. This allows a quick and easy comparison between candidates and is extremely useful at each shortlist stage.

Confirming identity

How can we check that the person completing online assessments is in fact the candidate?

One of the advantages of digital recruitment is that organisations can shortlist large numbers of applicants quickly and effectively without actually seeing them. However, it is really important that we know it’s the right person completing an assessment tool, that collusion has not taken place or that the person completing them is indeed the candidate! This is particularly important when recruiting for key safety critical roles. There are ways that we can authenticate an applicant’s data and have confidence in the result. For example, candidates who succeed through an online assessment can be asked to complete a shorter version of the same or similar assessment tools at a face-to-face assessment centre. Video technology can also be used so we can supervise candidates during an online assessment too.

Beyond online assessment tools

Digital recruitment doesn’t stop at specific assessment tools. Many organisations combine them to run virtual assessment centres which may include online ability tests, role plays, personality questionnaires and interviews etc. These are increasingly popular, especially in the current Covid-19 environment where there is a need to maintain social distancing and restrict numbers of candidates in one place.

During lockdown, online meetings boomed and with it more opportunity for virtual interviews. A final stage virtual interview still has the benefit of the recruiting manager being able to ‘see’ the candidate and allow for an exchange of key information. Yet, some managers may still feel the need to see a final candidate ‘eye-to-eye’ before offering a position. If a virtual interview is undertaken carefully, using a structured format and assessing the key job competencies then a remote interview may indeed suffice, without the need to invest more time in a follow up face-to-face meeting.

Enhancing the candidate experience too?

Organisations aren’t the only beneficiaries in a digital recruiting process. Candidates also benefit by being able to complete applications and online assessment tools at a time and place of their choosing. There is little or no time off work from their current job. They save hugely on travel time and possible expenses, particularly if there are numerous steps in the process.

Additionally, if there are good sifting procedures in the digital process, they may find out more quickly if they are progressing further in the process or unsuccessful and need to look elsewhere, saving emotional energy. Digital technology can also help provide successful and unsuccessful candidates with quick, rich, bespoke and detailed feedback on their assessment performance. A quick response from a recruiter can have a big impact on the organisation’s perceived professionalism by a candidate.

Dr Stephen Fletcher reflects: ‘As an organisation, we’ve had the opportunity to help clients re-think their recruitment strategy to incorporate more digital opportunities. We are looking to move more of our products and services online. Our online testing platform allows clients access to a large number of assessment tools including ability tests, personality questionnaires and situational judgement tests. We are adding to these with either new tests or converting paper and pencil tests to a digital format. Since the Covid-19 pandemic there has been significantly more interest in doing online assessments, digital training, webinars, online Post Incident Assessments (PIAs) or running full assessment centres digitally. We believe this need will only continue to grow.’

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Visit: www.theopc.co.uk