Acknowledging the Elephant in the Room

Over the past few months there have been numerous articles, blogs and commentaries related to handling the increased volume of candidates applying for positions; the continued lack of response from companies once someone applies for a position and what if anything candidates can do; and suggested new “tools” for addressing these issues. Companies complain, candidates complain and vendors develop and market services and technology to address the complaints.

Meanwhile, the big elephant is still in the room and no one seems willing to acknowledge it. So what is the big elephant? It is the hiring process and more specifically, the piece that usually starts the process, the job posting.

HR Leaders, Talent Acquisition Managers and corporate recruiters should understand that you control the process, and thus the flow of candidates responding to open positions. Write and post a poorly written job description that has little or nothing to do with what the job actually is; write and post qualifications for the job that are often more wish-list than actual must haves to be successful in the job; require the candidate do nothing more than attach a cover letter and resume if interested and you have created a situation that is doomed to failure and will always produce a flood of candidates that you can continue to complain about. You have created busy work, not work that leads to a successful outcome, finding the best talent for your positions.

Too harsh? Not by a long shot. The truth is that candidates have no skin in the game. Candidates with a click or two of their mouse (and remember, elephants are deathly afraid of mice) can send their resume and cover letter, doing exactly what you asked them to do, and because so many of them do so, you are inundated with a flood of candidates that you can’t easily manage. You complain and because of the volume of applications, the candidates get very little or no attention and they complain.

And because both sides have issue with the process, the companies that provide technology or services come to market with solutions for the problem that should never have been a problem in the first place.

Here are some suggested steps to remove the elephant from the room.

  • Job postings should have more to do with the actual work the candidate will be expected to do, short term (first 90 days) and long term (see Lou Adler’s Performance Profiles). Candidates could read the posting and decide that they could or could not do that job.  
  • Job qualifications should be listed as must haves and nice to haves and the must haves should require the candidate to do something to demonstrate that he/she has it. If the job requires “good written communication skills” because the candidate will be writing and sending out proposals then have the candidate write a proposal. Some will decide not to apply at this point. If the job requires the ability to develop and deliver PowerPoint presentations to groups, have the candidate prepare a PowerPoint presentation around a topic related to what the company does.
  • Once the candidate has applied, have a system that allows the candidate to check the status of application, identifies where the application is in your pipeline and provides information on next steps, requirements and timeframes. (see Gerry Crispin’s April Fools Letter)

I am convinced that taking these steps will eliminate the volume of candidates applying (only those willing to put in the effort to apply will do so), will eliminate the complaints from neglected candidates and provide your company with a pool of qualified, interested candidates from which to interview and hire.

And, as for those service providers who have been developing products that address all the complaints some will go on to other problem areas, others, like our company will be there with you to help you manage a true well functioning talent acquisition and retention process.

Any one see an elephant in the room now?

Views: 1691

Comment by Christopher Poreda on April 11, 2011 at 5:35pm
@ Jerry...I understand it's become cool and practicably an Olympic sport to bash job boards...but come on.  It's a tool like any other and should be used accordingly, as part of any total search strategy.  And we've all made some quick placements using the boards.  Truth is, it's the #2 source of hiring and for most has the highest ROI of any other tool.
Comment by Jerry Albright on April 11, 2011 at 5:50pm

@Chris - I realized that shortly after posting which is why I decided to delete it.  From time to time I post on Craigslist or other free boards.  Half the time though - I wish I wouldn't have after sorting through all the fork lift drivers, day care teachers and guys that have fixed PC's from time to time.....



Comment by Henning Seip on April 11, 2011 at 6:43pm

The job posting may be perceived as the problem but in reality it's not. There is no way to make people write job postings a certain way. Therfore it is useless to muse what if everyone would write the job postings in a specific format.


I believe it is more helpful to look at why job seekers apply for jobs that are poor matches for them. It starts with the keyword search. Any keyword search is a game of guessing some words. A typical job posting has 20 to 50 requirements. Nobody can guess the keywords for that. The keyword search leads to poor matches. Job seekers have to read many job postings and match the requirements manually. This is very time consuming and tedious hence the don't do it. You can get angry with them and complain about them but that does not solve the problem because you won't change their behavior.


What is needed is a job search mechnism that produces better matches between job seeker and job posting. Better matches lead to more qualified applications and less work load everyone.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 11, 2011 at 7:46pm

@Paul @Luke.  At least i know who i can send the tear sheets of my book to for the first review.  I think the title is going to be, "Ya wanna REALLY know why they didn't hire you?" 


Henning, while i agree with you that it's a  terrible burden for all those job seekers to have to read all those job postings manually and it becomes tedious and time consuming.  I always thought that one person looking for one job might want to take the time to actually read the job ad.  I only get angry with the few who act like the jackdonkey i referenced above. Do you really think that there is some technology or any keywords other than "dont' do it dumbass",  that can keep a fork lift driver from applying for a position as a programmer. Or some dope from sending a resume for a  c level marketing position that starts out, "I am looking for a job in law enforcement"


I wish job boards would charge people $3.00 to apply for a job.  they spend that much on a beer, surely a job is worth a beer.  Or maybe they would decide they would rather have a beer than apply for something they can't belabor themselves to read.  I use the big boards and a lot of niche boards as well as direct recruiting.  I like to cast as wide a net as possible and i'm willing to do the work my client doesn't want to do.  It is however amazing the thought process that sparks some folks to just hit the send button.  Talk to me about the "Recruiter Experience"  I enjoy a lot of the "Candidate Experience"  It continues to strike horror in my heart that if they pay so little attention to something as important as a job that they vote.  Maybe we should have keywords on ballots so they don't have to read the paper or watch the news. 


Comment by Henning Seip on April 12, 2011 at 8:08am

Sandra, there is a technology possibility. A job board has to show job seekers only jobs that match their skills and education. Today this is not happening. When you post a job the job board takes it as is and publishes it. The job board needs to do more.


What I suggest to do is to index the requirements in every job before it gets posted to the job board. Job requirements are not unique. Example: If a recruiter is looking for people with "Finite Element Analysis (FEA)" skills, that recruiter is not the only one. There are many job postings where recruiters look for people with FEA skills. You can apply this approach to your requirements: "Agriculture ,Food, Not for Profit - Charitable". You are not the only one who is looking for people with "Agriculture" experience.


In the second step job seekers fill out a master index and store it as a profile on the job board. In this master index they select all requirements they can match (education, certifications, licences, skills, other assets like citizenship, drivers licence and so on). This is a one time effort for them. 


Finally, every day the new indexed job postings are matched to the profiles of job seekers. The job board sorts the job postings by best matches. Before job seekers start reading a job posting they review which of the requirements they match and which ones they don't. Based on that they decide to apply or not. 


This approach saves them considerable time. It focuses them on good matches and makes them more successful with their job application. They can use their matching requirements directly in their resume and cover letter which facilitates the work of the recruiter.


By using such an approach job seekers and recruiters spend more time interviewing and less time sifting through poor matching job postings and poor matching job applications.


Comment by Cory Carpenter on April 12, 2011 at 12:08pm

Sounds like the question is “how do we let only qualified candidates apply?” This seems like a problem that can be mitigated, but as has been mentioned, it will require both sides (both candidate and employer) to put just a little more time in up front.


Simply require candidates to answer pre-application questions regarding the minimum criteria for the given job. How many years experience do you have with X? Do you have Y certification? Do you have a bachelors degree in Z?


Yes, candidates can misrepresent themselves, but this is different (and hopefully less frequent) than candidates simply ignoring requirements. Going through and directly specifying whether you meet the criteria question by question should help the cream rise to the top.


Of course, this approach requires employers to take the time to actually build this  “prescreen form”, but it would save a bunch of time in the long run. Also, the form will only be effective for quantifiable (yes/no, how many, etc.) criteria; soft skills like “strong communication skills” or “must work well with teams” will have to be assessed in other ways, but at the very least there would be some level of scalable screening. 

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 12, 2011 at 12:25pm
The problem I see with that is that many candidates do not have a profile until try see a job posted. Then they simply fill out the profile to include the keywords whether they actually have them or not. If candidates are unable to see a posting until they fill out a profile they simply call or email the recruiter direct. People have always applied for jobs they want to do or think they can do. I think it may impossible for technology to control behavior or evaluate a person unless they have an electrode in their brain.

Fortunately or unfortunately that is why god made recruiters with the ability to do what machines can not do.

Can you just imagine the screaming about the "candidate experience" if they were not allowed to apply if they didn't have the right keyword. It is already causing the mess on a resume that looks like somebody did a cut and paste of half the dictionary.

I think the reason linked in has been such a treasure trove for recruiters is that everybody can play like it's not a job board. Recruiters can look at a person and reach out. Qualified people can pretend they are not looking and don't have to go to a job board.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 12, 2011 at 1:33pm
Luke, how did you get that unicorn to bow and how do you keep all that glitter on his horn while you are pracing up and down the rainbow gathering up fair maidens with flowers in their hair who are gourmet cooks, have a big trust fund and believe in free love.?
Comment by Christopher Poreda on April 12, 2011 at 1:35pm

I couldn't agree with Sandra MORE!


There are two flaws in the technology proposal: 1) You're dealing with humans.  Furthermore, there is no universal standard regarding entry of data or checking of boxes just as there is no standard to writing a job description,  2) To Sandra's point, I have placed dozens of candidates who to look at them on paper, a computer would pass by.  There are so many intangibles when making an application/hiring decision and each recruiter will see those connections differently.  That's what makes one recruiter, internal or external better than another.


As for the job board, it's a tool.  Like an ATS, computer, telephone, note pad, etc.  Those who rely on any one tool will be left at the back of the line.  Manage your tool box based on the search, front of the line.

Comment by Henning Seip on April 12, 2011 at 2:44pm

Luke, every job board that operates a keyword search as their primary search mechanism can only fail to deliver results. Here is why:


1) Any keyword search is a game of guessing words. There is no guarantee that the (guessed) keywords really appear in any job posting in the database. 


2) Any keyword search stalls after entering a handful of words. The job board either does not give you anything back or you get some junk back (i.e. when you enter the "and" as keyword on Monster, Monster will show you jobs that contain the "and" in the job posting).


3) A typical job posting has 20 to 50 requirements. If every requirement is just a word (it is typically more) and a job seeker has to match at least half of the requirements to find a useful posting for him/her then the job seeker has to guess at minimum 10 correct words. Now, when you play the lottery you guess 6 numbers out of 49. In this game you have the luxury that you know the 6 guessed numbers are actually in the pool. With the keyword search you don't have that luxury. You have to guess 10 words out of thousands and you don't even know whether you guessed words exists in any of the job postings.


Bottom line is that job search on job boards with keywords is just lottery. Job seekers cannot guess 10 correct words out of thousands. It's impossible! They cannot find any close matches to their skills and education. On top of that they are under pressure. They feel the whole process is gamble and they know if you want to win the lottery you have to play alot. That's where the recruiters get hit. They see the floods coming in but cannot sort it out.  There in no feedback to job seekers. Result: Everybody complains.


What needs to happen is to stop the lottery approach and allow job seekers to know what requirements are in the database of job postings BEFORE they start searching. This list of requirements is the master index that job seekers go through once and store as a profile. All requirements in new jobs that come in are matched to the job seekers who have a stored profile. Job seekers simply review their best matches and apply. There will be fewer job applications but more quality.


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