HR Applicant Systems Need Some Tough Love

I came upon a great article on PBS recently written by Nick Corcodilos.  You may recognize that name from “Ask the Headhunter”.  Nick hit on a topic I find the team discussing here in our office all too often.  Corporate recruiting/HR systems do a woefully inadequate job at their function.

Taking a look at his summary of the issue sounds like he has been listening in on us – and I’m sure thousands of other recruiters – when this topic comes up.

In Nick’s opinion the HR technology seems to:

  • Encourage irresponsible “recruiting” — solicitation of too many people from untargeted pools of candidates.
  • Promote automated, reductionist “matching” of candidate keywords to job keywords. The algorithms make it look like HR is recruiting when HR is doing nothing but diddling keyboards. (See “Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.”)
  • Result in rejection of good candidates because the keyword model is woefully inadequate.
  • Turn HR into rationalization central. “We’re doing our job incredibly well using state of the art technology, so there must be something wrong with the talent,” they say. (See “Why HR should get out of the hiring business.”)

From my own experience I can provide an illustration of the evolution of hiring process as systems became more complex, more prevalent and more relied upon.  When I was first in a position to hire staff the applicant system was open to me as well as my HR rep.  We were able to review every candidate that applied for the position and determine who was a good fit together.  It was a lot of work to review everyone – but the reward was hiring a quality candidate in a reasonable amount of time.

Within a year or two, after implementation of a new system, HR took steps to reduce the amount of work required of me to make a hire.  Based on my criteria they posted the position and reviewed applicants.   I was able to see everyone who applied but the HR team came to me with a list of candidates they felt were best for the role.  Often these were not the people I had selected from the list.  We were able to work together and make a hire but over time that relationship started to become defensive on both sides.

Eventually I was no longer able to see any candidate that had not been selected by HR.  The time required for me to review everyone was eliminated – but I definitely had concerns about the candidates being passed along for review.  The time to fill roles increased significantly.  This was also the timeframe where templated job specifications became prevalent.  While a few bullets were added specific to my role – a Systems Administrator came with a canned set of requirements right out of the gate as well.

Interestingly this story carried over into my new career in staffing.  I regularly saw candidates who had applied to my old company.  They had a variety of questions and observations that played right along with my experience as well as some I had not previously considered:

  • Well qualified applicants who did not make it past the automated system review.  Not enough or not the right keywords in their resume – much like Nick observes in his article.
  • Candidates who were recruited for roles – but upon phone screen realized they were not a match at all.
  • Candidates who received automated communications from the system about roles marketed as a fit that were not aligned with that person’s skills or experience.
  • And the dreaded – well qualified applicants who never heard anything…

All in all a really good summary by Mr. Corcodilos and one that likely deserves attention at your company.  It may be that hard to fill role is not indicative of a lack of candidates after all!