MAULDIN, S.C. -- Bi-Lo here will test a voice-activated automated screening system for job applicants in an effort to streamline the hiring process and attract better qualified employees.
In the next few weeks, the retailer will test the system in about 15 stores in Charlotte, N.C., where low unemployment rates make the hiring process especially challenging, said Gary Preston, executive vice president of human resources.
If the program proves successful in Charlotte, Bi-Lo intends to expand the system to other markets and may begin using it for hiring in its distribution centers, he said.
Job applicants dial a toll-free telephone number to access the automated interview system, which requests their Social Security number for identification purposes.
Bi-Lo will program the system to flag questionable employee responses as it asks a series of questions about drug use, honesty and personality issues.
"The applicant drives the questions that are asked. [The line of questioning] is based on how they answer," said Preston. He said applicant responses, or notable pauses of hesitation, may trigger follow-up inquiries to obtain details.
"It's more effective than doing a paper-and-pencil integrity test because the applicants are going to get a 'conversation,' " he said.
The system is designed to detect negative employee attributes. "There may be one question that says, 'My friends frequently smoke marijuana. Yes or No.' " he said. "If you answer affirmatively, or if you take too much time to answer, a flag's going to raise and four or five related questions are going to come up during the interview."
Bi-Lo will be able to access results of the computer interview almost instantly, and use the data for a more extensive phone interview conducted by a specially trained human resources employee.
"The telephone computerized interview is only a small part of the equation," Preston said. "There's a follow-up interview where our trained interviewer will go through a series of questions based on how the applicant responded on the telephone."
Such measures are designed to streamline and bring consistency to Bi-Lo's hiring process in Charlotte, which has an unemployment rate of about 2% and is saturated with a number of retailers, including Harris Teeter, Charlotte, N.C., and Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C.
"Charlotte's a tough market. It's a very competitive market and it's a very tight labor market," he said. "We decided we were going to test it in a market where it's tough to find people, where it puts more pressure on our store managers to find good people.
"If we can make it work in a market like Charlotte, we'll make it work anywhere," Preston added.
Use of the automated system, called H.R. Easy and developed by Talent Network, Prospect Park, N.J., will help standardize Bi-Lo's hiring strategy, which varies widely from store to store, he indicated.
"We don't have a structured interview process with our store management team," he said. "It depends on the strength of the store manager. What might be important to one might not be important to the guy down the street."
Preston emphasized that personal interviews between applicants and the store manager will still play a major part in hiring decisions.
"If the store manager feels this is somebody who on the surface seems to be a good applicant, then they'll go through the computerized interview," he said. "This isn't taking the place of a face-to-face conversation in the store."