Before search engines, message boards and e-mail reduced the job-hunting process to a simple series of mouse clicks, a federal contractor’s applicant pool was relatively small. This made reporting race and gender information to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), the body in charge of ensuring that federal contractors don’t use discriminatory employment practices, a painless necessity.

But once job hunters took to the Internet, applicants bombarded employers with r?sum?s, making compliance a huge headache. To cope with the vast increase in applications, companies simply ignored the guidelines and the OFCCP did little to enforce them.

“A few years ago, you were really free to use whatever mechanism you wanted to weed down your applicant pool,” says Judy Duff, director of product management at BrassRing, a Waltham, Mass.-based provider of HR solutions. “Once you chose your top candidates, those were the ones you officially counted as applicants and reported on.”

But then in October 2005 the OFCCP revamped its regulations for reporting race and gender statistics to ensure companies report information about candidates they consider in light of the vast number of r?sum?s they now receive via the Internet. The new guidelines establish a four-prong test to determine Internet applicant status, specify more precisely when to solicit race and gender information, and establish new recordkeeping requirements. The OFCCP began enforcing the new regulations May 5. Failure to comply could result in a loss of federal contractor status.

These guidelines create new burdens for employers. Determining who qualifies as an Internet applicant is time-consuming. In addition, most human resources IT systems don’t support the new recordkeeping requirements. In response, software companies are releasing new products and add-ons to automate the compliance process.

“The goal is to use technology to help recruiters continue to be efficient in filling positions while complying with the new guidelines,” says Murray Simpson, a compliance consultant for Peopleclick, a Raleigh, N.C.-based provider of staffing-related software.

Recent Ruling

Under the old guidelines, an applicant was anyone who indicated an interest in an employment opportunity. This vague definition drove contractors crazy when trying to determine which applicants to report to the government, a requirement that ensures contractors aren’t using discriminatory hiring practices.

“Under the old definition, if the OFCCP really wanted to give you a hard time, they would force you to report on basically everyone who filled out an application,” says Ely Leichtling, a partner at Quarles & Brady.

The four-prong test clarifies who falls under the definition of an Internet applicant, a misleading term because under most circumstances it applies to all candidates regardless of how they submitted their r?sum?s.

To be considered an Internet applicant, an individual must first submit an expression of interest. Then the contractor must consider the individual for employment for a specific position. The third prong is if the individual’s qualifications meet the predetermined basic qualifications of the position. Finally, the individual must not remove himself or herself from the candidate pool.

“With this test, there is going to be a much larger set of applicants because if you look at an individual’s credentials, then you have considered them and if you have considered them and they meet the basic qualifications then you have to collect data on all these candidates,” Duff says.

In addition to the new definition, the regulations also establish recordkeeping requirements. These include storing all information on any pre-established limits the company used to narrow down the pool of applications, such as automatically rejecting all applications received after a certain date. In addition, when searching internal databases, recruiters must record search keywords, search dates and the position for which they conducted the search.

“If you only do three or four searches a day, maybe that’s manageable,” Leichtling says. “But if you do 50 a day, you’re probably going to need to add more people.”

Redrafted Definition

The new definition of Internet applicant places a huge burden on contractors. If done manually, deciphering who qualifies as Internet applicants greatly slows down the recruitment process.

This is why companies such as BrassRing and Peopleclick have rolled out software to help contractors automate the process of identifying which applicants fall into the official pool.

“To spend a lot of time processing who should be in the pool is frankly just a waste of time,” Duff says. “So we are automating that so recruiters can spend time interacting with the candidates they are actually considering for the position.”

Most of the software works like this: Employers post openings on either their own Web sites or on job sites. They list criteria for the position including basic qualifications and other objective job characteristics such as salary and shift requirements. When an individual sees a desired job, he or she clicks on a link that opens a window to an application, which oftentimes is directly linked to the company’s network. The individual answers questions about his or her qualifications and submits a r?sum?.

After completing the application, the user is then prompted to voluntarily fill out an electronic form with his or her gender and race information. Although no one at this point is technically an applicant, experts agree that asking all submitters upfront for race and gender information is the best way to ensure compliance.

Finally, applicant-tracking software automatically goes through all submissions, sorting those that meet basic qualifications from those that don’t by matching keywords in the pre-established qualifications to the r?sum?s. The software marks all candidates who possess basic qualifications and places them in a file. It then retains all the other r?sum?s in a separate file for recordkeeping purposes.

“At the end of the process, you now have a database where you can clearly see applicants that applied for a specific position but did not meet qualifications versus applicants who are qualified candidates,” says Lee McDermott, HR product manager at Ultimate Software, a Weston, Fla.-based HR and payroll solutions company.

Recordkeeping Requirements

In addition to retaining r?sum?s, contractors must also maintain records of all keyword searches they’ve used to scan internal databases for job candidates. Information that must be kept on file includes the objective keywords they used to conduct the search, the date of the search and the position for which they conducted the search. Because this requirement was previously absent from the OFCCP’s guidelines, old HR software doesn’t support such retention needs.

However to facilitate compliance with this new guideline, this new HR software and add-ons relieve recruiters of having to perform the recordkeeping manually.

“In the past, searches were being logged, but they were being logged in a garbled computer language,” Simpson says. “Our solution provides clients with the automatic logging of the position for which the search was conducted, the search criteria and the search date in a user-friendly format.”

In addition to keyword storage, contractors must also record what data management techniques they used, if any, to limit the potential Internet applicant pool, such as accepting only the first 100 applications or accepting only those applications that individuals sent within the last 90 days. These HR solutions now have this recordkeeping capability as well.

“These changes to the OFCCP requirements were caused because of technology,” says George Chaffey, a partner at Littler Mendelson. “And it is the very same technology that is making it easy for people to adapt.”