A Matter Of Fit

A Discussion about the Use of Matching Tools and Recruitainment in the Selection of Applicants.

Answering questions about their experiences with matching tools: Petra Meinking (middle l.), Head of Recruiting and HR Marketing Department at Tchibo GmbH and Swantje Ziegert (middle r.), Team Manager Recruiting at Gruner+ Jahr GmbH & Co.KG. Both met with brandsync editor Thomas Hornung (r.) in the Henry-Nannen-Room of Stern magazine in Hamburg.

An Interview with brandsync: Petra Meinking, Head of the Recruiting and HR Marketing Department at Tchibo GmbH, Hamburg. Swantje Ziegert, Team Manager of Recruiting at Gruner+ Jahr GmbH & Co.KG in Hamburg.


Corporate reality puts new brand communication trends to the test again and again. Particularly in employer branding, there has been considerable movement in the past few years due to changed target groups and market conditions. Which is why we talked to the two representatives of both companies- about background, motives and knowledge gained with the use of web based assessment tools. Both companies employ e-assessments, aptitude-assessment-selection tests in which the candidate’s performance directly impacts subsequent steps in the selection process. At the same time, Tchibo and Gruner+Jahr offer a self assessment and matching tool through which applicants can find out, with playful methods, whether the company is a good fit for them and which positions they’re qualified to apply for. In doing so, realistic job previews give candidates simulated, realistic insights into the daily life of an employee.

brandsync: Ms. Ziegert, Ms. Meinking, you use e-assessments and matching tools for the selection of candidates. Why?

Swantje Ziegert: Some time ago, we were faced with a challenge as a media company: Our need for journalists was known on the market, but not the fact that we were also interested in other professions. So first, we needed to convey that we’re also open to other areas for our trainees and high potentials. Because more than half of our employees are not journalists. That’s how we came up with the use of self-assessments.

Only when the applicant, who becomes our employee, really feels comfortable, did we do a good job.
– Petra Meinking, Tchibo

Petra Meinking is the Head of the Recruiting and HR Marketing Department at Tchibo GmbH in Hamburg. As the head of HR Business Services, she deals with various personnel topics. She has a degree in industrial engineering from the Technical University in Hamburg. She has been with Tchibo for the past five years.

Swantje Ziegert deals with all questions surrounding personnel development, as the Team Manager of University Marketing and Recruiting at Gruner + Jahr GmbH & Co. KG in Hamburg. She’s been working for Grunder + Jahr since 2004. Before that, she worked for EXPO 2000, 3i GmbH in Hamburg and at the Hamburg University among others. She studied sociology in Hamburg and Dakar/Senegal.

Petra Meinking: We’ve been using e-assessment for some time now, but we just implemented the matching tool. Our motives are fairly similar. When people hear Tchibo, they automatically think that we employ sales representatives, which is absolutely right. But we have a lot more than that. That’s exactly what want to show: the spectrum and variety of jobs. Another reason is that we were trying to transfer internal know-how outside. For this reason we collaborated with our agency “Cyquest” to develop this tool.

How exactly do you use it and what’s the specific goal?

Meinking: The goal is not only to test the performance of applicants, with classic cognitive exercises. We also want to give them something content-related and answer questions like: What is Tchibo? What do we do here? What kind of people work here? Which is why we purposely used real people that introduce our self-assessment exercises. So every task is accompanied by a story. The simulation will show employees who give some insights into their position- from logistics to acquisition and marketing. This simulated sequence is supposed to show what we’re like. Besides the measuring of aptitude, we want to educate about the spectrum of jobs at Tchibo.
Ziegert: Another reason for the use of matching tools is the desire to include target groups that we did not find as interesting before when we didn’t have the right selection mechanisms yet. For example: If we hire the classic business administration graduate, we know exactly what he has learned. But you don’t know it that precisely for less standardized areas of study. But since more eccentric courses of study hold an incredible bandwidth of interesting personalities and skills, we are trying to open this target group for us by means of this tool. E-assessment allows us to do that.

What do job applicants think of this matching tool and what is the role of emotionalizing the employer brand?

Meinking: The emotionalization is one the central arguments of course. On the one side, we attempt to increase our efficiency and to make quantities more manageable. However, on the other hand and more important to us, is to present ourselves more authentic as an employer. Only when the applicant, who will later be our employee, feels comfortable, have we done a good job. That’s why emotionality is important not only with assessment tools, but in general: for job ads, the online presence and on the career page of the website. Two central aspects of generating emotions, are appreciation and authenticity.

Ziegert: If it was all about the reduction and maneageability of the target target group, we would surely choose more specific instruments. But we’re trying to address a combination of functionality and emotionality. Addressing emotions, but also generating them. Ultimately, this emotionalization enables you to control the entire process. Sure we can talk about facts and data, but most of the time, the applicant makes his decision based on a gut feeling. This is the reason we don’t use any actors for the e-assessment, but real and authentic employees. Furthermore, we purposely demonstrated our natural speech and corrected it only slightly in order to show the applicant how we talk among each other. The feedback was positive: the candidates attested our high level of authenticity. They would have known from the very beginning what they’re getting into.

Your employees are prominently integrated in the e-assessment as avatars. Is this external presentations as effective inwards in it’s own company?

Ziegert: It depends. Employer branding comes into existence very much from the company’s own employees. We took advantage of that: when we had a booth at trade fairs, we would always take a lot of employees with us – and suddenly they were involved very closely in this microcosm of employer branding.
Meinking: Indeed, it had a very strong effect internally. Particularly in the phase we were developing the concept for the e-assessment, we recruited internally and were looking for presenters. At some point, it generated a considerable momentum. Our employees asked us whether they could be a part of it. We thought that was great. We felt that a lot of them were proud of seeing themselves in the ad and being approached about it. This means that our employees turned into significant brand ambassadors through this tool. We experienced an even bigger influx at the in- house events and campus trade shows- it really gave us a big internal push.

What was the effect on the applicants?

Meinking: Initially we created a stir with this new tool on the market, because to be honest, nobody would imagined we could do it. In this respect, the positive effect was even bigger. Even today people approach us about it and personally, it delights me very much when that happens.
Ziegert: It brought us a lot of attention in the beginning. It was mostly young people approaching us. Even today it still happens a lot that former applicants approach us and say “this exercise was the reason I applied”.

What do candidates mention in their feedback? What’s particularly important to them: information or sentiment?

Meinking: Of course, the content is important as well– applicants want to acquire information that they simply did not know before, for example the fact that Tchibo has a very large logistics sector. But even more important is the emotional factor, the gut instinct. We often receive feedback from our employees.

And how about you?

Ziegert: Of course there are new information for applicants, but we also could have conveyed them in an easier way. The additional value of this tool is certainly not the distribution of data and facts. It’s more about the playful elements. Especially young people prefer to engage in playful elements as opposed to reading pages of text. And in this game, there is the important effect of emotionalization, that we can transport much better in this special representation format. How do we know? For example, many applicants suddenly start using “we”. Sometimes I think: “Well that was quick. You’re not even part of us yet”. But it’s not insincere. They simply identify much faster with our company. And that can only be achieved though emotionalization and is the actual additional value of the tool.
Meinking: Right. The applicants often feel that they already got to know their counterpart and act accordingly different.
Ziegert: There is also a certain benefit of the doubt. On one side it causes emotionality, on the other side appreciation for the fact that we created an assessment for the applicants.

In the feedback, we often hear: You really put a lot of thought into this. It was an enrichment for me. So there is also a certain gratitude.

When you match online, the computer makes a technological decision. Is that an uncomfortable feeling for you as an HR person to know that algorithms are at work to influence your decision?

Ziegert: It’s important for us that test results are not the only relevant factor in the hiring decision. The e-assessment if not a knock-out criterion. Rather, it’s an additional piece of information or lead for us. It gives us the opportunity to question certain aspects again in a personal interview.
Meinking: Congruently, nobody skids of the road for that reason. There is no algorithm that says yes or no, but we give the applicant ideas about which kind of jobs they could be interested in and an authentic presentation of what we’re like here at Tchibo. Unfortunately, school grades are not very meaningful. We always say: a good sales person does not distinguish herself with a B in math, but the motivation to really want to sell products and serve the customer. Because the register does all the math by itself. For the evaluation of other competencies, other positions than grades are much more important.
Ziegert: There are applicants who place themselves fairly well at first, but that we end up rejecting. And then there are candidates, who objectively do not perform that well, but who we really want for various other reasons. The applicant plays it the same way. That’s why matching tools are important. The applicant has a tremendous spectrum of possibilities to find a fit. In my experience, candidates are much more likely to want to work for us if we want to hire them by the end of the process. Because from the very beginning, they knew exactly what they’re getting into. There are many companies complaining about candidates jumping off towards the end. Oftentimes, the reason for that is that the company did not manage to open up the world to the applicant that he moves in.
Meinking: That is a very important point Actually, there are no applicants that reject an offer after going through the e-assessment center.

It requires great effort to create a matching tool or e-assessment center within projects. What are the pitfalls in the implementation of such systems?

Ziegert: One difficulty presents when the guiding principles and values do not match the guiding principles and values lived by. When the preparatory work has not been done yet, it turns into an unmanageable project. That’s the difficulty for smaller companies, who know what they want, but haven’t boiled it down to a few keywords yet. It’s an extensive but necessary effort.

Otherwise, you may get on the wrong track leading to a unauthentic representation?

Ziegert: Or a representation that does not correspond to the desired result. For example, addressing applicants different from the one’s you’re actually looking for. Which is why the key question at the beginning, when you articulated the values, is: How do you transfer these values into the real system? You probably need some professional guidance for that. That’s when the internal support is particularly important since we’re talking about certain totals of course. After that, the introduction of such systems is a manageable project.

What remains unchanged in the classic selection process? And where does the development lead to in your opinion?

Meinking: The personal conversation always remains. I can’t imagine selecting candidates solely based on the results of matching tools and e-assessment centers without getting to know the candidate in person. However, a personal interview could also be conducted via Skype. Referring to the content, I imagine that we will gain more information about the candidate. Especially with young talents, we often notice that they already have quite a performance curve behind them. So the older generation raises the question: What is important to you personally- aside from scholastic and college performances? Not to evaluate them as good or bad, but to be able to tell: Do you enrich our culture? Can we learn from you? In specific, we are starting to implement the topic of video interviews with standardized questions as a pilot project. We’re aiming at better comparability and diagnostic.

Ziegert: It’s been a while since I’ve had a personal interview when selecting a trainer. They all took place via Skype. Surely it has advantages and disadvantages. But the personal contact, in whatever shape or form, is indispensable. Ultimately, it’s all a matter of fit – no matter how you define fit; whether it means a perfect fit or includes edges and overlaps. It’s rather a matter of job direction. Besides that, I believe that the topic of verifiable diagnostic will become more important in the future. Our profession demands that already and it won’t be any different for the next generation. But I believe, soon it’ll be: please show me your managerial verifiable data that substantiates your decisions.

It almost boils down to a certain kind of standardization like in the video interview and standardized list of questions you mentioned.

Meinking: I see that tendency as well. The increased standardization results from the call for fairness and equal opportunities. I would even go as far to say that the gut instinct will not play a role anymore in the selection of candidates. Already now and more so in the future, personnel decisions are made more transparently, comparable and fairer. The new online tools contribute to this development.

Thank you very much for talking with us!

Matching and automated assessments- whats behind it?

The significance of automated verification of aptitude and suitability in personnel recruitment has increased substantially in the past few years – keyword: (job) matching. A mixture of different developments is the cause for this.

In competitive job markets– especially in the DACH area– a power shift towards applicants is taking place. Good matching facilitates the finding of suitable employees for companies and simultaneously the finding of suitable jobs and employers for job seekers. In general, the meaning of suitability has increased compared to the meaning of aptitude. Therefore, matching is often about the decisive “soft factors”. Generation Y and Z face employers with an imperative demand for transparency. You want to know in advance what you’re getting into. Add to that the app economy.

Just like for travel planning or weather forecasts, the significance of digital helpers increases continually for UIF job search as well. Automated pre-selection screenings help companies with the identification of suitable candidates as well as job seekers with the identification of suitable careers, jobs or employers. Big data is another point in the evolution. Learning algorithms can intelligently comb through, sort structure large volumes of data and derive sensible proposals– for the benefit of companies and (latently) seeking candidates.

There are basically two kinds of automated assessments:

Onine- Assessment: Aptitude testing of applicants. Participation is by invitation and participants are known by name. The test result is relevant for selection. Here, skills (cognitive performance, knowledge etc.) and soft skills (work-related personality, interest, cultural preferences) are oftentimes measured.

Self-Assessment: Whereas online assessments don’t set in until somebody applied for a job, self assessments take effect earlier prior to a potential application). Self assessments provide TVQQPSU in the question, whether somebody becomes a candidate or should apply to a certain job. 1BSUJD is generally speaking anonymous, meaning only the user can see test result, not the company.

Essentially, three directions of impact are examined for the topic of self assessment. Those are self-tests designed to verify, or more precisely match skills, personality but also corporate cultural matching/ cultural fit. A similar procedure, the apprenticeship-finder of the employer’s association in chemistry, was selected as the 2015 HR innovation at the HR Excellence Award. Then there is matching via “learning algorithms” on the basis of big data and/or semantic and ontological technologies as well as matching via “improved familiarization or realistic insights”. Here, particularly examples of vocational orientation should be noted, that offer simulated but realistic tasks, allowing the user to get a clear picture of which tasks he will be faced with in a specific job or what the company really looks like. Numerous companies of various sizes and sectors employ such serious games in the framework of their employer branding (RWE, Deloitte, DAK, Commerzbank and many more).

CYQUEST is a specialized service provider in this sector and develops, implements and conducts online assessments, self asessments, as well as matching tool solutions for numerous well-known companies, organizations/associations and universities. Altogether, these methods are used by several hundred thousands of users every year.