Fast Track: The great Gatsi's new recruit

Now you can ring in the changes with a paperless job application, says Michael Greenwood

You have just spent four months writing your dissertation - or you did it in a week chained to a library desk while popping caffeine pills. Then some company that wants to pay you money to do a job after graduation has the audacity to ask you to fill in a form. But it isn't just a form, is it? It is a weighty tome that outsizes your dissertation by 30 pages.

Once you have invested in health insurance for your postman and an extra large letter box, the application forms begin to arrive. The questions aren't just multiple choice either, you have actually got to think about these open-ended self-assessing conundrums. Page after page of questions demand examples of occasions when you demonstrated leadership or teamwork skills. So what do you do? You fill in the easy bits, the equal opportunities form, your name and address and then you "file" it under the bed until two days before the deadline.

On the day before the deadline you panic and make up some fantastic lies about the time you navigated your scout troop across the Gobi desert in 1986 - how's that for leadership? You rush to the post office and spend a fortune on next-day delivery postage. Three months later the reply arrives: "Dear graduate, thank you for applying, the standard of entries was very high ..."

All this could end if recruiters followed the example of assurance firm Standard Life, which has started to use the Gallup Automated Telephone Screening Interview, or Gatsi, a new recruitment technique that means you can avoid all that form-filling with a simple telephone call at any time of day or night. There are no essays to be written about your team work, all you have to do is respond to questions by dialling numbers on your phone.

Devised by Gallup's parent company in America, Gatsi saved the Standard Life recruiting team an estimated 143 worker days during the 1997 milk round.

Nick McMenemy, 22, is one of the 15 graduates Standard Life recruited using Gatsi. Like many students he found that interviews and application forms came at the peak of his final-year studies. "I was at Stirling University doing marketing and I applied to Standard Life. I got a letter saying they wanted me to take part in a 20-minute automated phone interview, they said it was a unique feature and I had certainly never heard of it before.

"I was given a PIN number and asked to call the free-phone number any time during the next 14 days. I waited for a time in the evening when it was quiet, got all my notes around me and I put a message on the door so I wasn't disturbed.

"When you get through you are given a series of questions with a number of response options which correspond to the digits on the telephone key pad. It was quite stressful because you were told at the beginning that your response time would be calculated along with the answers you gave.

"Once you have pressed the button that is it, it is not like a face-to- face interview where you can justify your answer. But for a first stage of interviewing graduates I think this is a good idea. I applied to other companies and their initial selection often involved travelling to London for a half-hour interview. If you can do that first interview in the comfort of your own room it's a lot less hassle."

Kenny Notman, the company's senior recruitment consultant, said they used Gatsi for several reasons: "We always get big numbers of applicants: last year we had 3,500 for 35 jobs on the graduate programme and it was very time-consuming to sift through them. Students were telling us they spend a lot of time filling in a number of application forms and we wanted to remove that burden from them when it came to applying to us.

"At Standard Life, we aim to recruit people with key competencies such as team work and pro-activeness, and the automated interviews enabled us to check those with applicants.

"There were 80 statements and questions that we recorded the responses to. Once we have collected the responses we can build a profile of each applicant.

"The questions were devised so that they matched with the best of our currently employed graduates and so far it's been very successful.

"It will not replace the face-to-face interviews - it is just a way of sifting through the large number of applications. Those that get through go on to do interviews, aptitude tests and visit assessment centres. We will continue to use the automated interview and we will refine it to ensure that it is in line with our top performers - it is a living thing that will develop.

"We hope that students believe this is a move forward, giving them the chance to apply in their own time.

"The 24-hour telephone line allows for some who are evening people and for those who like to work at other times. We hope they see it as a step towards an objective screening of their abilities."

how would you score?

The Standard Life automated interview asks graduates to respond to 80 statements - below are four examples. Dialling five on your phone would indicate you strongly agreed with the statement; dialling one would indicate you strongly disagreed. Which number would you dial?

I have a gift for seeing the strengths in others.

Overall I enjoy working more than playing.

I will work 50 or more hours a week in order to

achieve my goals.

I believe I can excel at anything I put my mind to.

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