Think Employers Have It Easy? Try Sorting Through 65,000 Applications

We know employers sometimes get a bad wrap in this economy. Look at the backlash revolving around Mott’s and their decision to cut pay even as they raked in extra profits. Or how about the sad existence of the unemployed and how some companies are asking them to not apply (or disregarding them at the screening process).

There are companies that do it the wrong way. They abuse employees and job candidates and then complain that they can’t hire anyone. Funny how that works, huh?

Then you have companies like Volkswagen, a company that is in the process of adding 2,000 jobs to its soon to be operational Chattanooga, Tennessee plant. When I read through the story though, another figure jumped out at me.

Would you believe 65,000 applications?

TV station WDEF covered the plant’s ongoing hiring when I stumbled onto this part:

Jackson says with Chattanooga workers designing and improving the work process, the company will meet its goals of tripling U-S sales by 2018.

VW reports hiring will continue through 2011, until the plant reaches full production.

65,000 people applied for work at Volkswagen’s-Chattanooga plant.

At the very bottom of the story, it said 65,000 people applied to work at the VW-Chattanooga plant. Just for your own reference, the Chattanooga metro area only has a half million people. And out of the 65,000 that have applied, only about 1,000 have been hired so far. For every person with a job, there are 64 others who got the reject letter.

How to select among the thousands?

So how do you get the best 1,000 out of 65,000? This is a tough one.

For starters, fully automated ways are almost certainly out the window. Why? Jans Herbert Jagla with Volkswagen HR said in the interview, “Its important that we get open minded people, people that are able to learn, this for the production team member is more important than experience in any other automotive plant. They have to adjust for themselves and learn by themselves.”

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Most automated systems can sort for keywords (so if you were looking for automotive experience, you could type in the keywords of your competitors and their vendors). Unfortunately, open-mindedness and learning ability can’t be screened for by keywords alone.

It looks as though they used a human-intensive process (one that spanned into the months according to one successful hire). Even if a minute per applicant was devoted to each review, it would take a team of 10 people working full time over two weeks to select candidates for additional screening.

And each one of those screening steps takes more and more commitment from the company hiring team.

Commitment to a process, or something else?

While it is commendable to essentially open your doors to anyone who is willing to learn and be open-minded, it does leave some issues for the automaker. For one, when the plant is up and running full time, will the process of hiring and on-boarding be more expedited? Will they have the same crush of applicants for single positions? Can you ever be sure you’re selection criteria is getting the best bang for the buck?

How would you sort through 65,000 applicants?

Lance Haun is the practice director of strategy and insights for The Starr Conspiracy, where he focuses on researching and writing about work technology. He is also a former editor for ERE Media, broadly covering the world of human resources, recruiting, and sourcing. 
 
He has been featured as a work expert in publications like the Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, MSNBC, Fast Company, and other HR and business websites.
 
He's based in his Vancouver, Wash., home office with his wife and adorable daughter. You can reach him by email or find him off-topic on Twitter.

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