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: 1595

Comment by Christopher Poreda on April 12, 2011 at 2:55pm
henning...try and test the filters.  I'd like to know your thoughts.  type accounting in the What box and use the filters on the left.
Comment by Henning Seip on April 12, 2011 at 2:56pm
Chris, no technology can evaluate a candidate. There is no such thing and that is not what I suggest. What I suggest is to narrow down a pool of candidates based on pure data obtained from job seekers and the job posting. The pool of candidates per job is smaller and has more likely candidates in it than a keyword based search approach can deliver. This alone will save you as a recruiter a lot of time and aggravation.
Comment by Henning Seip on April 12, 2011 at 3:16pm
Chris, this is not about "accounting", it is about matching the requirements in the job posting and they are much more elaborate than just a word or two.
Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 12, 2011 at 3:47pm


I love the pixie wand.  You are correct.  I tapped the crankiest hiring manager i have with it three times and turned her into an artichoke.  Please send lemon and butter.  I tapped 200 unqualified candidates with it and they all fit the specs of multiple job listings.  Who says technology doesn't work.


I love the wand, it takes so much less time than all the keywords, filters, forms, profiles and honestly it is so much more attractive to have it on my desk rather than all those scruffy geeks running around trying to figure out what is wrong with all the programs we bought.


I hope you have a patent.  I will sell it for you and write a million testimonials.

Comment by Bonnie on April 12, 2011 at 5:47pm

My space is Oil and Gas.  I work with the "Majors" (the multi-billion dollar operators whose brands are household names.  Think the "Microsofts" of O&G).  You know them well - by Memorial Day, you'll be paying upwards of $4 per gallon for their main marketing mechanism - consumer GASOLINE.  


As a rule, over 80% of the experienced engineering candidates we "find" have already applied directly to my clients' websites at some point.  After all, they are the coveted employers.

We provide services to help our clients "cull" the massive amounts of candidate data and identify those we need to know personally; to further sell value propositions and screen.  


Upon request, we will work in our client's databases directly.  To make sense of the data, we rely heavily on technology in the beginning "science" so that the we can focus on the "art" of putting people together and creating what technology cannot - a relationship.  Technology has it's place.


We're not talking about placing 3 candidates on contingency per month; the projects are high volume, high skill and require process orientation.  This commitment to People, Process and Technology enables high quality and success (for example - the hiring of 300 engineers for a project in Latin America within 6 months). 


Technology should enable the relationship that makes the most sense for both parties, not replace it.

Comment by Tim Keene on April 13, 2011 at 9:25am
Great post, and I agree with most of what has been said.  There is certainly a big problem, but its one that is very difficult to fix.  Its impossible to create a blanket fix.  Recruiters are always going to want to find the right candidates with the least effort, there's just not enough hours in the day to follow up with every single person who applies for a job, especially when some have no business bothering.  But, we also have to remember that even something simple like a job post and how it handled says a lot about a company.  No company or recruiter wants to be known by candidates as "those people who never return messages."
Comment by renee zabalaoui on April 13, 2011 at 1:30pm

I once worked with a fellow at NASA who had a shirt which read, "Yes, I really AM a rocket scientist!"  Those of us in the HR/Recruiting space certainly can't make that claim however we do have to be crazy - CRAZY LIKE A FOX and " . . . check every . . . warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse" for these wiley and often elusive characters.  In the rush to get candidates into the pipeline perhaps adequate time isn't always devoted to the job description.  I don't believe the Post said a job description with the Must Haves is the "end all be all solution" but it's certainly the preferred 1st step in our process.  Of course it won't keep the taxi driver in Oman from applying to my Sr. Drilling Engineer position in Houston but luckily my Client uses a few great screening questions which shield me from reviewing the 200ish taxi driver resumes so now I have to use my honed ninja recruiter skills to review the 100+ profiles and only forward the 15 or 20 who are spot on.  Loved reading all the posts!

Comment by C. B. Stalling!! on April 14, 2011 at 9:55am
Comment by Ken Forrester on April 14, 2011 at 12:54pm
That's great, now we're blaming the applicants that respond to the very job that we advertised!  Hmmm...It sounds more like buyers remorse than recruiting to me.  I agree with Sandra, that instant gratification is the the elephant in the room.  But it's not just from the job seeker side-it's more from the recruiting side.  Post an job and instantly find qualified/interested applicants.  Yeah right...
Comment by Lori Siets on April 14, 2011 at 7:17pm

I think that Nick makes a good point in suggesting that if we make an effort to be more specific and detailed in communicating the “must have” requirements when we first begin developing the job ad, then we have a better chance of receiving quality responses. Will this discourage all candidates from applying for positions for which they are not fully qualified for? Probably not, but it could play a role in improving the overall talent pool and possibly identify potential candidates for future opportunities in the same industry sector.  For example, I may be looking for a senior level geophysicist today, but in the future I may have opportunities for that junior or mid-level person who responded.

With the unemployment rate staying above 9% in the US and over 12% here in California, can we really blame candidates for pursuing opportunities even when they only partially meet the requirements?  I have tremendous respect for any candidate who takes the initiative to attempt to sell me on why he should be considered for a particular opportunity, but this doesn’t mean that I will ignore the critical requirements. However, I will engage in a positive dialog with that individual. Creating a positive candidate experience may seem like a wasted effort to some, but I can say from experience that these little seeds that we plant today can lead to great referrals as well as new business opportunities later.  Most often, we get back what we give.  It’s a perk of the recruiting profession that makes it all very rewarding. 


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