Internet transforms process of screening graduates' applications

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The latest software enables the screening of candidates at the touch of a button. Recruiters are now able to isolate applicants of a certain type electronically. Maths students, French speakers or IT experts can all be instantly extracted and more easily examined on a like-for-like basis.

Nadia Capy, a recruiter at Deutsche Bank, says: 'If you have a really good online system, receiving a huge number of applications is no longer a problem. But you have to make the commitment to having a system that is 100% online - not accepting any paper applications or CVs, otherwise you lose the advantages of the candidate database.'

Not all banks have opted to do away with CVs entirely. Goldman Sachs undoubtedly receives no small number of applications, but continues to operate a hybrid paper and online system.

However, others such as Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley and UBS Warburg, now accept applications made only through their websites.

For those that have gone all the way, online recruiting does more than facilitate candidate screening. Problems can also be addressed as they arise.

'In the past, recruitment has sometimes been a matter of fire fighting: you're so busy dealing with the influx of CVs that it's only at the end of the season that you realise how successful your recruitment drive has been,' says Deutsche's Capy.

'Now we can look at application statistics weekly or daily and act immediately. If applications are down from any target school or region, we can initiate a marketing drive to increase application numbers,' she adds.

The online process also provides graduates with the tools to monitor their application. Whereas in the past recruiters were inundated with calls enquiring about applications, graduates can now monitor their progress, and if successful, schedule their interview online. This speeds things up: Deutsche Bank has finished its recruiting two months earlier than usual.

Deutsche Bank's system was built by GTI, the graduate recruitment specialist, also responsible for the sites of CSFB, Merrill Lynch, Arthur Andersen and KPMG.

Mark Blythe, GTI's managing director, says several features distinguish bad graduate sites. Some can only be accessed with a single type of browser, others require applicants to download software before they can begin or don't allow the entire form to be viewed, making the applicant wonder when the form will ever end.

GTI offers database and processing software that can be customised according to clients' needs. The fundamental package allows candidates to answer questions in different sittings. With forms taking up as long as an hour and a half to complete, this is imperative for undergraduates whose computer time is often restricted.

'It's essential that students are able to begin filling out the form and to then come back to it later. If your system can't do that then you're not even on the playing field, let alone playing the game,' says Blythe.

Recruiters who have opted for the entirely online option argue that the net effect has been a reduction in recruitment costs. With online applications, they no longer need to employ external response handlers, who can cost more than 150,000 each year. The software itself costs 150,000 to buy, so banks can make substantial savings.

The next step in the evolution of graduate websites is likely to be online testing. Numeracy, literacy and general competency, can be assessed using multiple-choice questions.

UBS Warburg has adopted online testing with some enthusiasm. Applicants are asked to respond to questions such as, 'What do you do if you are pressed for a decision?' by selecting from answers that range from, 'I don't usually make instant decisions' to 'Make a decision as quickly as possible'.

UBS is ahead of the pack. 'Online testing is an area that will definitely happen but there's still a lot of work to be done,' reflects GTI's Blythe.

The current dangers are that the site infrastructure will collapse under the weight of candidates responding to test questions or that the systems operating across the site prove incompatible. It is also difficult to ensure that the test taker is actually the applicant.

Banks are likely to begin hiring more than just graduates via their own websites. Already, Merrill Lynch enables candidates to search its site for vacancies by region and job description.

Most of Merrill's current online vacancies are for back-office and technology-related positions, but a wider spread can be expected in future.

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