Screening candidates isn’t helping you.
In technology, user experience design is very close to our hearts. We are constantly trying to
make it easier for our prospective customers to gain value from our products and services.
We try to make the experience as welcoming as possible and take them on a journey.
When it comes to our prospective team members, perversely, we seem to take the opposite
approach. When people express an interest in joining our teams, we seem to go to great lengths
to push them away. We actively discourage them. We screen them.
“To test or examine someone or something to discover if there is anything wrong with the person
– Cambridge Dictionary
That’s how traditional recruitment works. When people want to join our ranks, we try to find out
what is wrong with them so we can rule them out. There is something inherently wrong with that
What does that say about us? What message are we sending to people? When I try to put myself
in the shoes of a candidate, this quote comes to mind:
“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.”
If the journey is obstructionist and unpleasant, if I’m being screened as if there is something
wrong with me, that must say something about the destination.
So let’s change that.
Why we should change how we think about screening candidates?
Recruitment is based on a mentality of keeping people out. Too many applications, too little time.
So naturally, we put barriers up. But in doing so we are in danger of sending the wrong message
to the people we want to bring in, which is counterintuitive.
Is that our intent or is it by necessity?
I don’t believe that all companies want to be portrayed as unwelcoming, impenetrable fortresses.
Especially when there is so much talk about the importance of the candidate experience.
I don’t believe that startups, who are obsessed with attracting the best talent, want to signal to the
very people they want to attract that the door is closed.
Screening may have been a necessary evil once upon a time, but that is no longer the case. With
the help of technology, we can align the way we approach prospective team members to feel
more like the way we approach prospective customers. We can take them on a journey and give
them a great experience — and the good news is that it’s not difficult to do.
Thinking Like Designers
If you asked a designer to design a candidate journey it would probably look something like this:
CEO: We want to hire great people to help us grow. Can you help us out?
Designer: Sounds interesting. Who is our ideal candidate?
CEO: I knew you’d ask that. We want people who will be great at their jobs, share our values and
be super motivated about working with us every day. If we tell a compelling story about our
company’s purpose and the way people can be part of our journey, that will convince them to join
Designer: So you want to convince everyone to join us, but then reserve the right to knock some
people back. Typical CEO attitude.
CEO: Well… ideally we’d take people on a journey that reflects what it’s like to actually work with
us. Not everyone can get the job, but at least everyone will get an opportunity.
Designer: Ok, leave it with me.
… four design hackathons later …
Designer: I think we should accept every application.
CEO: What? How? Who has time for that?
Designer: We do. We accept every application and interview everyone. We let everyone through
to the first interview stage. Then we can decide based on merit who to invest more time in.
CEO: I know where you’re going with this. You dropped out of college and you’re a self-taught
designer. So, you want people like you to be able to get through.
Designer: I’m a great designer, aren’t I? Who cares what college degree I have or don’t have?
CEO: Fair enough. So you want to interview everyone and give everyone a chance. I can see the
benefits. But isn’t that a waste of time? I’m pretty busy.
Designer: Give me some credit. I’m not suggesting you physically interview candidates. We’ll ask
them to do automated interviews …
… We give our customers free trials, don’t we? So why not do the same with candidates? We’ll
give them a taste of what it’s like to work here with some scenarios that simulate the role they’ve
CEO: Nice. And in the process we’ll learn a bit about how they approach relevant tasks.
Designer: Now you’re catching on.
CEO: And it all happens online right? I don’t have to actually be there.
Designer: Of course. We’re in the 21st century, aren’t we?
Let’s Open the Doors, There is Nothing to Fear
If we change the way we approach talent acquisition the prize is huge.
By replacing screening with an open journey, we can interact with candidates in a more productive
way. Instead of worrying about where they went to school, we’ll focus on what they love doing and
how well they can do it.
In turn, each candidate will get a glimpse of our company or team and be left with a positive
An open process is a more optimistic way to approach recruitment. It’s a more respectful way to
interact. And it’s far more efficient.
The trick is not to get better at screening by using artificial intelligence or other fancy tools to draw
conclusions about about candidates based on their profiles. The trick isn’t even about technology.
It helps, but first we need to change our mindset. We must think about people as more than a static
collection of data. We are living and breathing beings. We are dynamic. We therefore need to see
candidates in action, not frozen. Looking from a distance isn’t enough.
This approach is based on performance, not background. On giving people a chance in relevant
situations, not trying to rule them out.
Making hiring about merit, not background | Co-founder and CEO of Vervoe