Capital One: A Semi-Automated Assessment and Screening Process

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Many large companies, in an effort to screen thousands of applicants,

have created semiautomated hiring processes that help screen candidates

based on their suitability for various positions.

Capital One Financial Corporation, with a payroll of more than

15,000, screens candidates by having them take a battery of tests that

have already been validated by 1,600 top-performing employees,

from call center operators to executives. Employee test results are

fed into a database with detailed profiles of the tested workers’ job

performance. Capital One’s staff psychologists and statisticians then

analyze the results to design new tests that predict on-the-job success.

This highly efficient process allows a call-center employee to be

screened, tested, tried out, and subjected to one face-to-face interview,

all in five hours’ time—a process that used to take twenty hours.

But does it result in a better matching of people with jobs? The

company believes so. Capital One’s attrition rate has dropped from

45 percent to 10 percent, also due partly to better pay and benefits.7

The idea is to supplement an in-depth interviewing process by using

the same battery of assessment instruments to screen job candidates in

search of those whose profiles look most like the top performers.

Some companies add depth to the validation process by conducting

focus group interviews with top performers. One large hotel chain gath-

ered eight of its best housekeepers from around the world into a room to

find out what they had in common. They described how they try to see

the rooms through the eyes of the hotel guests (empathy), and put on a

show for the guests by doing things like arranging children’s toys and

stuffed animals on the bed to make it look like they were interacting (desire

to please and delight).8

Other companies may go one step further and conduct one-on-one

‘‘behavioral event’’ interviews with ‘‘water-walkers’’ in key jobs, in which

they are asked to tell detailed stories about exactly how they achieved a

previous successful outcome for a customer or client. Interviewers listen

carefully, probe with clarifying questions, and take notes about the talents

the worker was using in each achievement. Still others use consultants to

observe successful workers while they go about their daily business, taking

notes and questioning as appropriate to gain a deeper understanding of why

the workers do what they do.

Whatever combination of methods is used, the desired outcome is a

short list of critical success factors for each job, no matter how low it is in

the organization’s hierarchy. The mistake most companies make here is

that they invite too many people to help construct a list of skills, talents,

and traits they would like the ideal candidate to possess. By the time the

employment requisition and job ad are written, there are so many job

requirements that not even Superman could meet them all. As a result,

many perfectly qualified candidates are screened out, and the job goes unfilled

for weeks or months.

Finally, it is a cardinal rule that no outdated job descriptions will be

used as the basis for constructing employment ads and interview questions.

In an ideal world, every job description would be updated every time a

new person is hired, reflecting the particular needs of the organizational

unit at that moment in time.

What Qualities to Look for and Why

Hire and promote first on the basis of integrity; second, motivation;

third, capacity; fourth, understanding; fifth, knowledge; and last and

least, experience. Without integrity, motivation is dangerous; without

motivation, capacity is impotent; without capacity, understanding is

limited; without understanding, knowledge is meaningless; without

knowledge, experience is blind. Experience is easy to provide and

quickly put to use by people with all the other qualities.

—Dee Hock9