July 29, 2004, 12:00 AM

Risky business: Retailers learn tough lessons on how to use web-based hiring systems

Some retailers are learning the hard way to trust web-based hiring management systems. Like the store manager who trusted his gut over the system and hired someone who stole $400 in food from the deli.

Some retailers are learning the hard way to trust web-based hiring management systems. Like the store manager who trusted his gut over the system and hired someone who stole $400 in food from the deli. “The store manager learned the hard way to trust the system,” says Katherine Jones, managing director of Aberdeen Group’s human capital management practice and author of the recent study, Managing the Hourly Workforce. “He said afterwards that he would never argue with the system again.”

Such systems use web-based tools to evaluate candidates and send a recommendation to the store manager, usually even before the candidate leaves the store. They’re great in identifying good candidates. But the downside, observers say, is that with competition rising among retailers to hire the best candidates and with more merchants using automated systems to quickly review job applications, some retailers can be pushed to hire too quickly. “You can hire better employees faster, but you can also hire bad employees faster,” Jones says.

In the case of the grocery manager who hired the thief, the applicant answered test questions in a way that indicated a tendency to disregard company property and possibly steal, so the system recommended against her being hired, Jones recounts. But the store manager overrode the recommendation because the applicant had worked at a nearby supermarket. “The manager figured the candidate would bring along loyal customers from the other store,” Jones says.

The corporate HR manager persuaded the store manager to offer the applicant a position where she wouldn’t handle cash. “So they put her in the deli, where she stole $400 worth of food,” Jones says.

Job candidates using web-based hiring systems can fill out and file an application, including a test of personal attitudes and level of honesty, at in-store kiosks or from home computers. The application automatically recommends to managers through an administrative web page whether or not they should hire the applicant. The same information goes to corporate HR for review. “Retailers in general are seeing the value in these systems and learning to trust them,” Jones says.

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