With the latest generation of graduates coming on to the jobs market, and many people still out of work from the recession, recruitment managers face a tsunami of applications.

The problem is exacerbated by the multiplicity of job sites on the internet, and the ease with which slick CVs can be submitted in a few mouse clicks.

In 2008, organisations were begging for staff and positions were remaining unfilled; now, one vacancy might receive hundreds of applicants.

Traditionally, recruitment consultants were brought in to help sift and select the best candidates. But pressure on budgets has made this difficult—agencies charge up to 30 per cent of a year’s salary for a successful appointment.

With fewer resources, recruitment managers face an increasingly tough challenge spotting the best candidates. Moreover, lots of people are applying for jobs for which they are not qualified, thinking the greater the number of applications the greater their chance of success.

This makes the filtering process even more important. Employers don’t want to be sifting mountains of CVs, which is labour-intensive and difficult because of variations in what people include and omit.

The ever-inventive software industry has come up with a “solution”, in the form of online questionnaires and applicant tracking systems from US companies such as Kenexa, ExactHire and Taleo.

Walmart is using Kenexa to help select 20,000 staff from the 2m applications it expects to receive this year at its Asda and George subsidiaries in the UK. So helpful is the software, apparently, that the group plans to roll it out worldwide, from Mexico to China.

Such software is quick, produces candidates that accurately match requirements, and works for jobs at any level, says Sarah Beauerle, resourcing and technology manager at KFC, the fast food chain.

It ensures consistency, controls the format of applications, and keeps data in a central repository where it more easily managed. KFC has saved £380,000 it used to spend annually on agency fees to process its 350,000 applicants in the UK.

Getting people to fill in online questionnaires weeds out a surprisingly high proportion – between 25 per cent and 60 per cent, according to Jeff Hallam, a partner at ExactHire. It encourages applicants to look more closely at the job in question, helping them realise they are not interested or not qualified.

Microsoft uses online screening and evaluation to remove 64 per cent of graduate applicants in the UK virtually instantaneously, with questionnaires covering basic CV details and a few tests. In-depth situational judgment questions remove a further 40 per cent before phone interviews are done.

Large volumes of job applicants used to be a problem only for well established organisations. But the internet enables smaller companies to boost their profile and people to find them more easily.

Indianapolis-based Slingshot SEO, a search engine optimisation company, receives up to 100 applicants for each of the 15 jobs it advertises monthly. Tracy Morgan, the company’s human resources coordinator, used to employ professional recruiters to do almost all her hiring.

Now she does 80 per cent of it herself. It takes her five minutes to post a job description on multiple job boards, requesting simple CV details and adding a few multiple choice or open questions.

Online questionnaires are not without problems because candidates may try to outwit them. People don’t necessarily tell the truth, and you should certainly be suspicious of someone who claims never to tell lies.

It is crucial to know what competencies you want. Psychometric tests are often used to establish a personality profile, but the risk is that you eliminate the wrong people, says Anna Marie Detert, director, people and change, at KPMG.

One company she applied to for a sales role focused on whether she was driven by “hunting” or “farming”, as it wanted people to open doors and grow accounts.

“It filtered me out because I wasn’t solely concerned with hunting, yet it was missing out on my ability to build an account by being too specific,” she says.

Another common mistake is to test for intelligence rather than comparing people with those who’ve succeeded previously, though the latter is often a better indicator of the most suitable candidate.

The answer you are seeking shouldn’t be too obvious. Instead of asking if people will be rigorous about security, query whether they would be prepared to check if staff had left mobile phones on their desks or documents on the printer. Those who see this as an invasion of personal privacy might not be right for the job.

But the way ahead is an electronic twist on the traditional—the ancient art of networking, done via online social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Second Life.

Along with any number of special interest blogs, these hold the key to vast ‘talent networks’, many of whose members are potential employees with the skills and interests you are seeking.

Moreover, a relatively high proportion of them are likely to be electronically connected to your existing employees. Connect with them online, cultivate them, and hire them before your rivals do.

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