Main content

Fixing the recruiting process mess - Part 3, getting from zero to one

Brian Sommer Profile picture for user brianssommer September 10, 2018
How can technology make recruiting better and the acquisition of more and better-qualified talent a reality? How do we stop the leakage from the recruiting funnel and do so in a way that doesn’t add to the workload of recruiters? Can a better process for recruiting improve candidates’ experiences and those of recruiters?

Process organigram
In Part 1 of this recruiting process opus, I outlined the appalling state of ATS systems as a starting point for understanding how the recruiting process is broken, impacting firms' ability to hire the best people while at the same time making it hard for well-qualified job seekers to apply for the best opportunities. In Part 2, I discussed the variety of recruiter bias, arguing that recruiters are as much a part of the problem as the technology that supports them. In this third and final part, I offer some approaches that solve the talent fit problem.

Focus on the right outcomes

Too much of the available recruiting technology is focused on the wrong outcomes. Instead of finding the best candidates, we have software that matches an incomplete set of keywords to a resumé. Instead of solving for the war for talent, technology is overloading error-prone recruiting funnel with more resumés than are needed. Technology isn’t focused on improving the quality of candidates.

Too many technologies purports to improve the productivity of recruiters but where’s the focus on improving the experience for job seekers? Many recruiting tools are now smartphone, mobile friendly. But, if the job seeker was the focus of these processes, then we’d see utilities that show the applicant just what their data looks like in the employer’s ATS. We’d see resumé parsing software get better over time. We’d also see great workflow tools that proactively communicate the status of an application to the applicant. And, we’d also see systems where recruiters search the resumés/applications of prior applicants to assess whether they are a fit for new openings.

These shortcomings explain why applicants have negative perceptions of many employers. Their recruiting process is broken, error-prone, tone-deaf, never improving, opaque and bereft of communication capabilities.

If a business wants to win its war for talent, it must address the processes, technology and people involved in recruiting.

Create a better ATS

In Why Your ATS May Be Killing Your Recruiting Efforts, we read that:

You have to find where in the process your ATS may be hindering you. Does it make it overly long? Are you asking people to fill out personal and professional data twice? When they 'click to submit', does the system just erase everything? Is it rejecting ideal candidates for spurious reasons, like formatting? You might be losing ideal, wonderful candidates for reasons that are irrelevant to whether or not they can perform well in a role, and this is not acceptable in the current talent war," Medved says.

There are several things wrong with many ATS’ in use today. These include:

  • Pitiful resumé parsing capabilities that are opaque and never improving
  • No opportunity for candidates to see how their data did/didn’t map
  • No mechanism for candidates to correct the ATS’ errors
  • Limited support for keyword synonyms
  • Much of the data is never used/seen again once the initial job posting has been filled
  • The ATS is being used a compliance tool: a warehouse for storing job applications/resumes
  • Poor or difficult search capabilities
  • Long, data entry efforts for job seekers
  • A solution that doesn’t work well on smartphones
  • Solutions that require rekeying information already in the resume or social media profile

Employers and tech vendors alike need to chip away at all of these shortcomings if they expect to make any kind of headway in their war for talent. Let’s look at some of the needed changes/enhancements:

  • Every ATS should supply a tool like JobScan’s comparison tool. This tool compares a candidate’s resumé to the position description for which they are applying. Readers can learn more here. When job seekers can see how they are/aren’t successfully uploading their credentials, they can use this knowledge to improve their chances.
  • Add a workflow technology to the ATS. Recruiters AND jobseekers should be able to know exactly where they stand throughout the recruiting process.
  • Add a great resumé/application search capability into the ATS. This is actually tough to do right as the search needs taxonomy/synonym functionality built-in. Why is this needed?

Again from Why Your ATS May Be Killing Your Recruiting Efforts

Companies spend an inordinate amount of time and energy on finding, attracting and getting people to apply for open positions, but with traditional ATS, those candidates who aren't hired to fill a role are shelved. With legacy systems, it's surprisingly difficult to search for candidates within these systems, so unless a candidate applies for another role, or there happens to be a recruiter or hiring manager who remembers seeing their resume, you may have missed out, she says.

If the resumés/applications within an ATS are not easily searchable, then recruiters will not use them. One of the big problems with ATS technology is that data goes in but virtually none of it ever goes out. Sadly, few companies will review your previously submitted application for future openings because the search capability is so poor.

Even when an ATS’ contents are easily searched, many recruiters won’t use it. The thought behind this is that any worthwhile job seeker who submitted an application weeks or months ago should already have a new job at another firm. Or, the resumé they submitted is now out-of-date and the recruiter/ATS has no easy way to obtain one that is more current. Whatever the excuse, many recruiters just don’t like to use the contents of their ATS.

  • Design the ATS for job seekers not just HR. The solution should work well on smartphones not just on a recruiter’s desktop computer. Data entry should be minimal and data mapping from a document or social media profile should take only one click. Every part of the ATS and the recruiting process should be transparent (not opaque) for job seekers.
  • We need to get out of the one and done thinking with regard to ATS contents. Too many ATS databases are like the warehouse scene at the end of the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie. Stuff goes in, gets lost and is never seen again. Fix the search and find ways to use the data!

To put this into perspective, check this quote from Josh Bersin:

 “But the way in which your resume is written — not the information it conveys — is what the technology actually uses to decide. As a result, says Josh Bersin, principal at HR consulting firm Bersin by Deloitte, “Most companies have thousands of resumés sitting in a database that they’ve never looked at.” In fact, 75 percent are never seen by a real person.”

  • Move beyond keyword matching – If the technology is that limited in its power, can be so easily gamed, etc. then it needs replacing or eliminated altogether. At a minimum, give this tool a massive taxonomy database and find a way to reject applicants that keyword-packed their resumes.
  • Make the candidate match resume line items to key skills/requirements demanded in the job description – If the candidate can’t point to where they’ve held that position, accomplished that goal, etc. then that application can be dismissed.
  • Make the tool SMART – We know that:

And this from Forbes: general matching technologies aren’t yet able to infer that you have skills if you don’t explicitly state them.

The state of ATS’ today is weak. Think about a senior executive. Their resumé may have job titles like:

  • EVP & Chief Operating Officer
  • EVP & COO
  • COO and Executive Vice-President
  • COO & Executive VP

All of these titles are equivalencies but only a SMART ATS knows this. Furthermore, a SMART ATS could assess:

  • The degree with which one accomplished his/her goals or met their targets
  • The quality of their education and training
  • How desirable a job seeker from their current employer is versus one from a lesser known employer
  • The speed with which a person’s career has been advancing
  • A person’s willingness to change/adapt to new work locations, job requirements, bosses, cultures, etc.

Deal with the biases

Generational stereotypes and policies will not be removed by technology alone. This is a policy matter and tone from the top is needed to effect change.

What could technology do about this? Great recruiting technology should make it impossible for employers to initially know anything about a person’s age, gender, religious affiliation, etc.  Photos, ages, graduation dates, etc. should be absent from any consideration tools until the person is invited in for an interview: video or in-person.

Initial assessments should be done from applications not resumés. This prevents some of the gaming but it also prevents some of the discriminatory data from appearing and that can stop potential bias from occurring.

Create options for recruiters to ask questions of workers (e.g., “Our maximum salary for this position is $X Would you consider a position that pays this?”). Instead of assuming a response, hear from the candidate themselves on these matters.

Assumptions about:

  • What hours someone might/might not work
  • What compensation they would accept
  • How long before this person will retire
  • Will this person travel

are not a legitimate basis to deny employment. Your new recruiting best practice should be: Assume nothing – ask the candidate first.

Likewise, assumptions about the self-employed, unemployed, LGBT are wrong, too. An ATS should not point out employment gaps or identify potentially self-employed individuals until AFTER a person has been invited in for an interview.

Bias exists in the language that firms use in creating job postings/descriptions. Software should trap phrases like ‘digital native’ as it clearly indicates a desire to hire a young worker. One HR product does this. It also looks for gender preference (e.g.., “He, the applicant, should possess…”), age bias and other problematic verbiage.  More tools should have this capability.

Reimagine the process

Several video interview technologies now exist and, thankfully, they do more than simply capture a recorded interview. The better products permit recruiters to have all potential recruits undergo the same standardized interview and assess each applicant’s subject or domain knowledge, intelligence, and other factors. Only after candidates complete this video assessment and the software identifies the better candidates would recruiters need to review each finalist in detail.

This is important for three reasons. First, the technology allows for a significant increase in the number of people assessed than recruiting personnel. Second, candidates are assessed in a way that makes gaming less likely. Third, recruiters need only focus on a pool of qualified candidates to complete their due diligence on each. It’s a more efficient use of a recruiter’s time as they only spend time with qualified candidates. This step needs to be actively designed into the recruiting process.

Older workers may have longer resumes, possess multiple skills/capabilities, etc. and have resumés that take more than six seconds to scan. If the resumé looks long, are recruiters just blowing by them? Or are recruiters looking for single dimension workers who only possess the skills explicitly listed in the bill of materials for a given position? Workers who possess more than the required skills need not apply.

New technology needs to craft a fuller picture of job seekers based upon the full panoply of job requirements. Can’t we get technology that looks at more than the person’s current position?  Why can’t an ATS determine:

  • The skills and capabilities someone possesses especially those inferred on the different levels of responsibility they’ve had over their career? If someone has been rapidly promoted many times, can’t we stipulate that they probably possess a number of budgetary, managerial and leadership skills? My gut tells me this person would be a far better leader than someone who just graduated from college or has held the same position for the last twelve years.
  • Which prospective employees are most likely to be high-performers? If an ATS had some intelligence, it could see which job seekers have already demonstrated great performance. And while past performance is no guarantee of future returns which job seeker would you want to learn more about: the high potential or the no-ambition candidate?
  • Which candidates are more adaptable? An experienced job seeker may have already had many different jobs, job challenges, etc. that they had to overcome in their career. These multi-dimension players may be great additions to firms that are going through change.
  • Which candidates want a job versus a career? This is a big deal and some recruiting tools are better for one kind of job seeker than the other. How software evaluates the resumé/application of a career seeker MUST be different than how it evaluates a lateral job seeker. (see below)

Hire for today or tomorrow?

Most recruiting activity and technology is designed to find a person who currently has the exact job as specified in the posting. Unfortunately, this assumes that a job seeker wants a lateral move. That’s a flawed assumption as many people desire a career and advancement and not more of the same.

An ATS that matches what someone is doing currently to the job request will yield applicants that either have few or no career aspirations or gamers. It will not select persons who are quickly progressing in their career or are highly trainable/adaptable persons.

This is a serious shortcoming of recruiting technology that requires an urgent fix.

What to do at HR Tech

If you’re attending the HR Technology show in Vegas this month to see new recruiting technology, then here are your to-dos:

  • Ask for rethought/reimagined process designs/maps for the recruiting process. If it looks like your current sourcing process, then it isn’t reimagined.
  • Focus on technologies that address the candidate’s recruiting experience. If your own firm’s CXOs had to apply via your current systems, would they enjoy it? Would your ATS even select them?
  • Make ATS vendors show you how you can make their tool smarter, see if the product’s intelligence is opaque or transparent
  • Discuss how products actively fight against bias, preconceptions and discrimination.

Closing thoughts

It’s unconscionable that software vendors make products that harm so many people. Great workers, with no advance knowledge or means to correct, are having their resumés mangled and downgraded so they don’t get considered for positions for which they may well be well-qualified.

And yet, the use and continued use of such flawed technologies makes recruiting organizations and their employers equally culpable in this abhorrent practice.

Employers should demand better from technology vendors. Employers should radically change their processes to make recruiting fairer and permit greater connections with the talented people leaking out of these messed up recruiting funnels. For all the complaining about a lack of qualified talent and companies’ inability to win the war for talent, the reliance on bad tech, bad processes, and bad biases are three challenges businesses must address.

Will your company make the effort?

A grey colored placeholder image