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Small companies that are managing to hire during the downturn face a challenge: Too many candidates are applying to the companies' job listings.

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Instead of reading through each résumé, the company sent an email to each applicant, thanking the candidates for their interest and asking them to attend an open house in Toronto. "That's self-selection," reasons Razor Suleman, the company's founder and chief executive."It's so easy to apply for anything but 800 didn't take the first step.That lowered the screening process." Over a few hours, Mr.Suleman and 31 of his employees arranged the two-story office so that the first floor was designated as an area where employees could mingle with the candidates.The second floor became a so-called speed-dating area, where the prospects had one-on-one contact with the employees for a few minutes.

"It was perfectly systematic because everyone had a time slot," says Mr. "And in five minutes, we'd ask a few questions and see if they were right for the role.It was different but so efficient because you could remove people who aren't wildly enthusiastic." By the end of the evening, the team had found the top 68 candidates, who will be called back for group interviews and then individual interviews.Especially in a time when firms are watching overhead closely, the cost of advertising the job, paying headhunter fees and finding a successor if a new hire doesn't work out can be a major financial setback. Herbst says he and others at the firm would trust their instincts during the interview process, but that didn't always produce the best hires."We are much more strict now because we waste a lot of time and energy when the hire is not a right match," says Bob Herbst, a partner at the accounting firm of Fisher, Herbst & Kemble PC in San Antonio, which is now relying on personality tests by Mercer Systems Inc. Now, he isn't taking any chances, making all candidates fill out 15-minute questionnaires designed to forecast behaviors such as interpersonal style, outlook and motivators."It's our defense [against] getting the wrong kind of people," Mr. "It's a much more important factor than a résumé or anything else." Physician's Choice of Arizona, or PCA Skin Inc., a 100-employee company in Scottsdale, Ariz., that develops clinical skin-care products, started administering personality tests in June.Developed by Professional Dynametric Programs Inc., the test takes about 10 minutes and consists of dozens of trait descriptors.