Is the recruitment database dead...?

Before I got into recruitment I spent a period of time developing and implementing technology solutions for the recruitment industry. For years ‘the database’ has been a key competitive edge, the USP for many recruitment businesses, especially those that operate in a niche. They guarded it fiercely and bragged about it in equal measure.

How ironic then that one of the reasons the industry has failed to modernise has been this obsession with the database and the fear of wayward consultants walking off with the data or accessing it remotely and downloading it. As a result the industry has lagged well behind in introducing flexible work practices and smart, ‘deployable anywhere’ technology solutions that would have helped modernise the recruitment consultant as we know them today.

Things have changed of course, particularly in the last 10 -12 years but it is client organisations, in the pursuit of efficiencies and a desire to ‘own’ more of the recruitment supply chain, that have driven this change not the 3rd party recruiter.

This subject is now top of mind for me, as we are in the process of reviewing our technology solutions. Having spent the last 17 years developing our own propriety system, we are currently reviewing that strategy. In the process, we are having the usual beauty parade of suppliers showing us their wares and I must say, in the main, it’s not the inspirational experience I might have expected.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some great features in there, although social media integration seems lacking even with the bigger, more established, players. And what I look at today seems a lot more intuitive than what was on offer 10 years ago. But overall, the vast majority are still working on the same principle – its your data and we can help you pull it all into one place – your place. Yes, some are offering us the chance to relocate ‘our place’ to theirs in the form of ASP or SAS solutions but these are technical innovations/differences, not fundamental changes in practice or thinking.

It seems they are catering, increasingly so in some cases, for the recruiter who wants to ‘stockpile’ candidate records or CV’s, and pushing features that appear on the face of it to be value added and time saving but in reality are just perpetuating the same problems. Candidate access to their own records and client log in areas are two examples. But this is folly. Even systems that are hot- wired into the recruiters website have little chance of improving validity of candidate data.

Candidates increasingly don’t want, or need, to sign in and update their record with every different recruiter, and so they don’t. Solutions like iProfile have tried to overcome this to some extent by ‘centralising’ the candidate profile on the web across multiple recruiters but speaking as a previous customer, the vision didn’t quite meet the reality. CV parsing tools have also automated and improved the candidate updating process but we are still in the ‘my database territory’.

Also much of what I see before me at the moment falls short in the area of overall candidate and client experience, primarily I guess because recruitment consultancy solutions are still built around the ‘money shot’ – the placement. Is this a ‘male’ thing do you think?? If this software was developed largely by women would they focus more on the overall experience – starting earlier and finishing later?! I digress, but comments welcome on that one!

So, as I sit in front of yet another provider being bombarded with the ‘features and benefits’ I find myself wondering if we actually need a database – in the current meaning of the word – at all, especially for functional professional level recruitment. Due to the way recruiters have resorted to ‘fishing’’ for candidates rather than direct sourcing, we are now caught in a doom loop where we have to invest so much time in processing CV’s and applications. I’m not sure if the database is of as much value to the consultant and business as we think it is or if it’s really just an ever-increasing carcass for holding word documents.

As I look online and think about the tools like LinkedIn, I can see that as these evolve there is no real point in having an in house system at all. Sure, LinkedIn is not a recruitment solution or ATS as we currently understand them, but just looking at its current recruitment features it’s not hard to imagine how these will develop and become more widely adopted.

Sometimes less is more, and having reviewed the cost of replacing our own system with one of the current solutions on offer, or indeed, sticking to our own and swallowing the ongoing development costs I confess I’m struggling to feel convinced about either option.

What say you?

Views: 353

Comment by Shane McCusker on March 5, 2010 at 11:53am
Great post Gareth. As a designer of recruitment databases I agree with a lot of what you are saying.
In the past there was lots of value to a database of candidates but now, with linked In and the like, there is so much information that the value of raw data is very small. In fact the problem for most recruiters isn’t being able to find people but being swamped with the masses of candidates available to them. The value therefore, of recruitment software is not about simply storing data but being able to manage it and extract value from it.
I have spend my career looking for ways to help recruiters work more effectively and get more value from what they already know. Most recruiters have thousands of candidates and they will know tens of thousands of other people within their industry. If a recruiter can effectively tap into this resource then I see little reason how they could want for more.
If you would like to hear more about the work I do, please check out my web site or call me +44 7973828811

Shane McCusker
Intelligence Software
Comment by Damian Newland on March 5, 2010 at 12:13pm
Thanks for the post Gareth. I've seen this debate come and go over the years, and things have certainly changed since the recruitment pitch centred around the size of the database!
I agree with you and Shane that the value in holding the same raw data as everyone else is minimal. However it is the candidate source, specific application history, communications that have revealed additional information that set the relationship that you have with the candidate apart from the 'relationship' that they may or may not have with anyone else that has ever received their CV. Recording this information is what makes a recruitment CRM so vital.
I think the basics of storing data apply in recruitment just like anywhere else. Data must be current (keep it updated), it must be accurate (record the right data effectively) and avoid duplication wherever possible (e.g. one copy of data with links to other online, dynamic data sources?).
If on top of that you can get access to tools that extract value from the data and automate everyday tasks, then in my opinion the question of whether a 'database' is required should be a no-brainer.
Comment by Paul Alfred on March 5, 2010 at 7:21pm
I love it .... This is great blog Gareth - The data question and how Recruiters can fully utilize it can get complex.... I have consulted in companies where Recruitment Companies have solid Database applications but more importantly their Recruiters are trained in how to best utilize the Data base "input" and access the data they need "output" and I have seen this used successfully - The key here is in the Best Practice and more importantly having end users adhere to these practices. If its enforced one can get tremendous results right down to measuring the metrics per recruiter from a end Report perspective.

I have also seen companies where they have a great database application but in this case its used differently for each end user. Some users would only utilize the calender for setting interview appointments... It really makes no business sense to invest in a Database tool - if you don't have clear objectives as to how it will be utilized within the enterprise amongst its users ... In this case you do make a good point Gareth "Sometimes less is more ..."
Comment by Paul Alfred on March 5, 2010 at 7:34pm
@Ninette a lot of Recruiters might take offence to your blanket Statement

"I have a personal connection with someone who deals with recruiters....all the time. They are often idiots (sorry I don’t have a better word) who probably only read keywords and have a robotic process. On a scale of 1-10 there is about a 2 of acceptable communication in the process."

Not sure what kind of Recruiters your friend works with I can assure you that Recruiters who make $150k -$250k a year would definitely have a much stronger command of the English Language than a 2. When I used to work for IBM, I used to underestimate how Recruiters effect the talent pool of a Company right up to the CEO level.
Comment by Pushpendra on March 7, 2010 at 7:52am
I agree with Gareth Jones's but there is certain need ATS which can not be ignored. We may not need a voluminous database but certainly we would like to process the right candidate and keep track of its progress during the recruiting cycle.
Comment by pam claughton on March 7, 2010 at 8:38am
You get out of a database what you put into it. If you focus on putting good candidates in, people you have spoken with and makes notes on, that information will help you in future searches and in generating referrals. If you don't have a strong database, you are starting from scratch with each search, and why do that? Why not the leverage your past efforts to generate strong candidates more quickly and effectively?

I use PCRecruiter, and one of my favorite features is that I can access my database from anywhere and any computer as it is web based.
Comment by Shane McCusker on March 9, 2010 at 10:23am
Just posted a bit more more on this topic on my blog page.
Comment by Paul Alfred on March 11, 2010 at 10:28am
@Brian ... You are right ... If you don't get full buy in on how to use the system and then train staff on its best use it will be money down the drain....
Comment by Gareth Jones on March 12, 2010 at 2:24pm
First off, thanks everyone - some great comments. I really appreciate the effort to respond and its appreciated. I’m learning more with every post. And what a great debate - just what we want!

Certainly, and for the record, I do see a role for technology. Having spent a number of years in CRM technology and strategy I'm more convinced than ever that candidates should be treated like customers. And to achieve that you need good technology. Would I recommend that client companies ditch their customer marketing systems? Of course not. In high volume businesses especially, you will find that behind the great customer experience is a really smart crm set up.

But, somewhere, for some reason, it all went wrong for recruitment. We thought it wasn't worth investing the money and so recruitment business processes and the software solutions that have emerged over the years to support them are woefully lacking compared to other enterprise level CRM type solutions. Take vodafone, first direct or any other similar business and whether I'm an existing customer, a potential one or just some jocky who wants to shoot the breeze, I can contact vodafone and get a response. And that response is likely to be human, it will be recorded, tracked, assessed and acted upon. Oh, and followed up too. Not so in recruitment.

Regards linkedin I was referring to the fact that essentially they ARE the database. And when you look at the app tracking and crm type features they are building into the recruiter tools they sell, you have to question the sales pitch and the positioning of the existing recruitment solutions.

The fact is that there are recruiters who are using linkedin as their database and ats, and their success along with the experience they are giving the candidate is as good as any other recruiter out there who is sitting on a big, fat and largely out of date, database or ats of their own. Not a solution for everybody of course, but the development is fascinating!

Some interesting comments here particularly regarding unnecessary bells and whistles, poor input and output of data (Crap in, crap out as we used to call it!), poor execution and overall use of the system and, yes, some poor recruiters too. But I blame the leaders of the recruitment businesses for that. I also think that clients have the recruitment service they deserve in some ways. I say that because they tolerate poor practice in the industry. In some cases, with poorly devised and managed PSL's they actually encourage it. And for even some large organisations, resourcing is not strategic enough for them to demand a much higher quality supply chain.


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