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: 1749

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 9, 2011 at 9:39pm

Yeppers Nick that big blue elephant of instant gratification is still in the room  That is a great idea you have, unfortunately even if the MUST HAVES are posted in caps.  Candidates will ignore them.  I never met any candidate who didn't think they could do that job...if they just had a little training.  Ask them to do a power point or a presentation they will simply email or call you telling you that they will need to know all about the company and the job before they could possibly do something like that.  if we had a way for candidates to check on the status of their application they would check it find out that they were not being considered due to not fitting the qualifications, then they will call you or email you to find out why they don't fit or argue that they do.  If they are notified that they are under consideration they will call you or email you to find out when they will be able to move on to the next step.  Or they just pick up the phone and call the hiring manager to find out when they will be interviewed since they checked and found out they were under consideration.  Only a slight electric shock will discourage the unqualified candidate from applying for every position that has four words that appear on their resume that also appear on the job posting.  Post a salary range of 180K top and you get 40 resumes of people making 275 to 300K who just know that the money is there for someone with their experience if they could just waste somebody's time to get in front of them.


That big blue elephant of instant gratification has always been in the room and i think it probably always will be.  The only thing that will ever keep unqualified candidates from applying for jobs they don't fit, can't do and have never had the industry experience that is a firm requirement is if when they pushed that button the resume was scanned and they got an error message that caused their program to shut down every time they applied for something they didn't fit.  Or the resume was scanned and a buzzer went off with a flashing sign in red  that came on the screen.  NOT QUALIFIED.  Then you would just get a call to say there must be a mistake.


It's a lovely idea right up there with world peace and enough food for everybody.  Honestly, most candidates who fit the must haves of a posted job do not get neglected.  If there are four clear must haves and they have one.  They will apply then tell you that they didn't have all the requirements listed for their last job but they are a quick learner.



Elephant Trainer who spends hours each day telling the elephant who managed a fast food  joint in the 80's that he does not fit an SVP of marketing position requiring Ag. industry food production experience.  Then have to explain that yes, pizza is food and yes there is marketing involved in promoting the 5.99 two for one special but, aw crap.  let's put it this way, they want 10 to 15 years CURRENT Food production and it's been 20 years since you were in the industry.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 10, 2011 at 2:16pm
I sometimes wonder if technology is not the real elephant in the room. The ease of hitting the button or setting up an automatic apply based on only title or keyword has in a lot of cases taken any personal interaction out of the process. That followed by an automatic response further depersonalizes the interaction.

Do I want to go back to the stone age absolutely not. But I am not sure that more technology can fix the problem that technology has created in the first place.

I am however getting a bit bored with all the screaming about "the candidate" experience" when I get 100 resumes with no cover letter, no indication of salary requirements, no dates on jobs prior to 1998, no indication of why that candidate wants to make a change or why they left their last job. Yes, it is my job to get that information but it seems to me that if candidates were a bit more personally involved with applying for a position they might receive a bit more of a personal response from recruiters and HR within the company.

How did it come to be that candidates see a posting, push a button with no other personal information then spend hours posting and bitching about their "candidate experience". I postulate that the ones who make some small effort are not the ones who are making all the noise about their experience. Elephant trainers are always interested in working with elephants who show some interest rather than walking through the room leaving a deposit then demanding attention for the deposit.

Perhaps it all boils down to the old saying. "I shot an arrow into the air.". "it came to earth I know not where."
"screw it, got lots of arrows"
Comment by Gavin Redelman on April 10, 2011 at 7:37pm

Excellent article Nick!

You mention in that Job qualifications should be listed as must haves and nice to haves - this is similar to selection criteria and I agree with you that by listing these criteria will weed many candidates out. The more precise a job advert can be the more will always have an effect of reducing the amount of candidates that apply. The problem I see is that too many job postings are too generic. 

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 10, 2011 at 9:06pm

I would suggest that all of the technology vendors, resume writers and job coaches try posting just one job in management, marketing or sales with very specific requirements for industry background, years of experience and as many other specifics as you can think of including salary range posted, with salary range over 125K.  After you do that come back and tell us how well it worked and how many of those candidates you get paid any attention to the selection criteria and how well received you were when you declined them.


Warning, be sure you don't have anything else to do for two weeks, your ego is in order and make a hash mark on the wall everytime you wanted to say, "what the hell are you thinking?".  Be sure you include on the post, "we will respond to all applications" and be sure you do it.  You may understand why recruiters and the guy who cleans up after the elephants in the circus many times consider leaving show business.

Comment by Paul S. Gumbinner on April 11, 2011 at 10:42am

The real problem is that most hiring managers and, sad to say, most HR people don't know how to write a proper job spec.  I always say that if a candidate is rejected for a reason not in the job spec, then the spec has to be reworked.  This, of course, has nothing to do with responding to a job posting.  As someone pointed out, job boards are no different than the old fashioned classified ads.  The only difference being that we get more responses.  (At least when posting in the NY Times years ago, we could be reasonably sure that most responses would be from the New York City area.  Today they come from everywhere, even when our postings clearly state that there is no relocation.)


There is no substitute for a quick screening call once the resumes have been culled down to a workable few. 

Comment by Beth on April 11, 2011 at 11:27am

Love it, Sandra.  :) 

Gotta keep our senses of humor, right!?  I never grow tired of those over confident folks who just KNOW they are qualified, regardless of what the silly posting says!  LOL

Comment by Robin Stanton on April 11, 2011 at 12:38pm
Nick, I hear what you are saying and I too feel your pain.  I believe @Sandra has hit the nail on the head with the candidates who feel they "can do anything".  I believe they think they could do brain surgery with 6 weeks of training and some of them would even try, but I don't think anyone would want to be their patient.  As @Rayanne has said our job is to sift through those overconfident folks to find the hidden gem.  A sense of humor is essential in this business.
Comment by Doug Boswell on April 11, 2011 at 2:38pm

Try this and see if it's a money maker for you.

Post a job listing the must haves, the should haves, the nice to haves and maybe even the please don't haves.

Email a reply back to the resulting huge supply of job seekers and tell them to meet you at the downtown park for an interview. As they arrive, you of course, are already there selling hot dogs. You'll make much more money, much faster selling hot dogs to the crowd, then trying to place unqualified candidates at companies with useless, broken hiring processes.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 11, 2011 at 3:51pm

I declined a candidate yesterday one hour after his resume came in.  This is the email i got back.


"You've got to be kidding Sandra. My background is the job description and it is a sad commentary you don't have the vision to see that. As far as dates of education are concerned, why would it matter given my depth of background. I think you need to re-evaluate your competency in reviewing candidates for the position."


Normally i would hit delete, write him off as just another arrogant jerk and go on down the road.  The wind was blowing 60 miles an hour in the Texas panhandle yesterday.  Wind pisses me off and makes me a little crazy.  Couldn't do anything outside except walk in a controlled fall so here is what i sent back.


Diet products and nutritional supplements were not food the last time I looked.  However given your personal attack on my ability to review a resume it seems I have saved my client from wasting time with a hostile personality.


To which he responded:

"Absolutely not hostile just some constructive criticism regarding your evaluative short comings."


About that time a big branch blew off an oak tree, knocked over the fountain in the front yard and broke two sprinkler heads.  So i thought , "do i ever want to interact with this ass ever again and do i care if he gets elected president of the United States in two years.\?  "Nope, he's an ass and i'm in the mood to kick one.  So my response went as follows:



Here is some constructive criticism for you for  future interaction.  Read the post.  Very clearly stated:  Industry background firm requirement.  Agriculture ,Food, Not for Profit - Charitable.


You have never been associated with anything even closely related to agriculture.  Most people do not regard diet pills as food or sports drinks as food.  None of the companies you have been associated with have been in the non profit vertical.


You have no indication of having done anything since 2009.  Many candidates have been out of permanent work since 09'.  They have done consulting, worked outside their field doing something or have taken over responsibilities at home while looking for a new position.  They say so on their resume.  Have you just been firing out resumes then throwing a Nellie Bitch fit when you are declined since 2009?


You do not provide a full resume of all career experience.  Employers are automatically dropping those resumes in file 13.  They don't care how old you are they simply want to know your career experience.  If only dates, companies and title on early career.


Employers are requiring dates of education as are recruiters because if a candidate puts a degree on a resume and a degree is required both recruiters and companies will verify the degree.  Recruiters verify before we submit a candidate who states they have a degree.  It does not matter if you have 50 years of experience if a degree is indicated it will be verified. Nobody not even God can verify a degree without the date.  A lot of people have graduated from your school in the past 20 years and some of them have the same name you have, unfortunately.


If a recruiter is courteous enough to respond to your application within a few hours of submittal even if it is to let you know that your background is not a fit.  Accept that we know what our clients want, have done you the courtesy of reviewing your resume and have bothered to respond rather than just hit delete and let it go into the black hole .  A lot of recruiters do not do so and your jackass attack is the reason why.


The reason I have been a successful recruiter for over 35 years is that I can and do evaluate resumes effectively.  As it seems you are having a problem finding something I would suggest that you might have better results if you evaluated the job description carefully.  Made your resume as complete as possible.  Wrote a cover letter addressed personally to the person posting the job correlating your experience to the industry and product that is required.  And above all it will be in your best interest to not attack someone who tells you your background is not a fit and why.


  It is highly possible that next week I will be looking for an SVP of marketing requiring the exact background you have indicated on your resume.

Due to your response your resume will not be considered for any future positions and will be deleted.  Our clients rely on us to screen out candidates who exhibit obnoxious, arrogant personality defects.

I have been doing just a tad bit of marketing of both people and professional services for about twice the time frame you bothered to include on your resume.  There is one thing i know for sure.  Responding to someone who doesn't want to buy what you are selling by telling them they don't know what they are doing does not an effective marketer make.  I would suspect that this is not the first time you have responded in this manner which might have something to do with the fact that nothing shows up on your resume since 2009. 

Your resume was one of over 300 i have reviewed for this position.  To give you more feedback yours fell in the bottom quadrant of the 300.  Of the 297 declines i have sent several have argued, they were managing fast food joints and did not understand the posting.  I consider myself fortunate that you are the only jackass who felt in necessary to tell me i don't know how to do my job because you can't read.

Have a lovely Sunday, i have wanted to tell a jerk they were a jerk for about the last five years so let me  assure you made my afternoon.   You might want to give some serious consideration to my response .  Any further communication will be deleted unread.


Comment by Paul Alfred on April 11, 2011 at 4:45pm
@ Sandra " It's a lovely idea right up there with world peace and enough food for everybody."  I am trying to leave the office but I am on the floor again Sandra I can't stop laughing U KILL ME ! ...   You should get into Comedy the funny and sad truth is You are so right LOL ....  Because of you Sandra I am going to prepare notes for my next Blog  The Recruiters - The Movie !


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