Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How Employers Evaluate Job Applicants: 1. The Recommendation Process

This is the time of the year when many illustration and design students will be graduating from college having achieved their degrees. It is also the time they will begin searching for a job. With portfolio in hand or online, their resume, and other formatted bits of information and credentials, graduates will approach prospective employers with hopes of being hired. In nearly every case, applicants will be doing so without any idea as to how employers go about evaluating them for employment.

© 2014 Don Arday.
Employers are well prepared when it comes to evaluating and making decisions about candidates they are considering for hire. Many companies have instituted specific systems of evaluating an applicants skills and qualifications that provide metric information to contrast and compare them with the job description at hand, and also with other applicants. Even small businesses have information sets that provide a standard by which they consider a job applicant.

Unfortunately most applicants are often unaware of this well thought out set of standards and the process of evaluation, but wouldn’t it be nice if job applicants knew what those standards were in order to prepare a better application.

Now in all practicality it is virtually impossible to tap into all the standards and rubrics that every company could possibly use, but there a certain common categories that, in one form or another, can be expected to be part of the evaluation process.

Process Overview

Employers rely upon three resource streams of information to evaluate candidates for a position.
  1.  Recommendations. These come from outside people that supply information based on personal familiarity with an applicant, which can be in the form of a formal written letter or a direct conversation. 
  2.  Knowledge. Acquired and measured in-house directly from an applicant and the credentials presented by that applicant, which can occur face-to-face or through remote resources and correspondence.
  3. Verification. Sources of information that verify basic employee requirements a well as the accuracy of the information presented by the applicant, which might include drug tests and skill based tests that are required, disclosures about citizenship and residency, non-compete issues that could exist from past employment, etc.
This article concentrates on the recommendation process including what is typically asked of a recommender and the content that is sought after by employers.

Familiarity

Not only are job applicants queried about their qualifications, but recommenders must qualify themselves as well. To evaluate the recommender employers request the following information.
  1. Longevity. How long the recommender has known the applicant. A recommender must state the length of time, usually in months and years. The rule is—the longer the better. Persons who ask for a recommendation after only a few months, or students who ask for a recommendation after only having a teacher for one course, are putting themselves at a disadvantage.
  2. Circumstances. In what capacity does the recommender know/has known the applicant. Is/was the recommender the applicant’s employer, supervisor, co-worker, school administrator, academic advisor, professor, professional mentor, fellow student, close friend, relative, etc. The rule is—a professional affiliation is better than a personal association.
  3. Expertise. How well a recommender is familiar with the profession or type of employment being sought by the applicant. Can the recommender offer specific knowledge as to how an applicant performs/performed in a prospective employers field or a specific job? The rule is—a practitioner in the field is better than a non-practitioner.

Capability

Concerning an applicants capability, recommenders are generally expected to provide three forms of information that make up the bulk of the content that is used to evaluate a job applicant.
  1. Description. Recommenders are expected to provide a useful description of the skills, knowledge, and habits the applicant possesses. So it is important that recommenders be in possession of as much descriptive information as possible.
  2. Comparison. For applicants already in a profession, how an applicant compares to his/her fellow workers when it comes to job performance or challenges, and an overall commitment to his/her work. On the academic side, how an applicant compares to his/her peers when it comes to academic performance including the rigor of a chosen course study, and the overall commitment to his/her academic success.
  3. Opinion. This is the most sought after and scrutinized information by employers provided by a recommender. And it is where a single opinion voiced on one recommendation can influence the outcome of an entire job application. How an opinion is stated is very important in influencing an outcome. For example, which of the following opinions sounds better?
                           a.     Please consider     Name     for the position of concept artist.
b.     I sincerely recommend     Name      for the position of concept artist.
c.      I strongly recommend     Name      for the position of concept artist.
d.     I wholeheartedly recommend     Name      for the position of concept artist.

Character

Recommenders supply prospective employers with another crucial set of information about a job applicant—character traits. Information about personality and interpersonal skills can provide the deciding factor in an employer’s decision to hire an applicant. There are several types of traits that are desired by employers.
  1. Leadership. The ability to manage projects and situations; and provide direction and guidance for other employees.
  2. Teamwork. Applicants who are willing to collaborate and work on group projects; and are eager to help and support coworkers.
  3. Initiative. Inventiveness and the ability to propose ideas; self-starters and go-getters; and the inclination to volunteer.
  4. Work Ethic. Demonstrating a potential for hard work and the capability to see a project through to completion.
  5. Time Management. The ability to be on time for work and meetings; and to realize deadlines and work on several projects simultaneously.
  6. Organization. Applicants that can demonstrate a sense of order and that utilize a practical workflow or a methodological style of work.
  7. Self-Discipline. Applicants who will not require constant direction and supervision; and who are trustworthy and reliable.
  8. Judgment. Possessing analytical skills and the capability to make decisions when needed; and to show maturity and be an estimable representative of the company.
  9. Creativity. The capacity to generate a multiplicity of ideas and to be innovative and original; and to demonstrate problem-solving abilities.
  10. Communication.
                    a.     Verbal. The talent to write clearly and concisely; to make verbal 
                          presentations; and to sell a concept or product.
b.     Interpersonal. Overall collegiality and the ability to be conversive and receptive to others.

Rubrics

As mentioned earlier, employers can take all of the categories and considerations stated above and apply them to a rubric, which is a guide for listing specific criteria for grading or scoring them. Each company has its own rubric criteria and system of assessment when it comes to job applications. As part of the recommendation process, applicants are ranked in specific categories, sometimes on a numerical scale and other times on a percentile scale according to the opinion of the recommender.

     1.  Percentile model. (The final percentage is averaged from all categories.)
                    a.     Below average (lowest 40%)
b.     Average (40-75%)
c.      Above average (75-90%)
d.     Outstanding (90-95%)
e.     Truly Exceptional (highest 5%)
f.      Cannot judge

    2.  Numerical model. (The final score is the sum of all categories.)
a.     5 (highest)
b.   4 (high average)
c.     3 (average)
d.   2 (low average)
e.     1 (lowest)
f.     Cannot rank