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The new rules of recruitment

Janine Milne Profile picture for user jmilne April 13, 2015
The key to recruitment is putting off applicants and attracting candidates. Bill Boorman explains the difference to Janine Milne

Bill Boorman

Bill Boorman is a self-proclaimed “recovering recruiter”, who is passionate about the art of recruitment, but equally passionate about the flaws in the way most organizations currently do it . That's because all too often, organizations are stuck following 20th century techniques and principles instead of using 21st century technology to best effect, he believes.

Boorman is a recruitment sector veteran. He’s worked in and around the industry for 30 years. A respected public speaker, Boorman helps organizations with their recruitment and social media strategies and is founder of #Tru, the recruitment ‘unconference’ company.

One of the chief flaws surrounding recruitment is the belief that we are in the grips of a talent shortage. In Boorman’s eyes, the talent shortage is a “massive myth”. With an average 204 applications per hire, he suggests that we are a long way from the icy grip of a skills shortage:

To me, that’s not a talent shortage, it’s a finding problem.

He estimates that 95% of job applicants are considered unsuitable or unqualified. Organizations are clearly attracting the wrong applicants, or as Boorman colorfully puts it:

We’ve become terrific sh*t-magnets.

It’s not volume but quality applications that organizations need. Part of the problem, maintains Boorman, is the “overdose of employer branding that has made all our organizations look pretty much the same”.

Creating enticing “shop windows” online, in social media and elsewhere to attract recruits means that company branding has become homogenized – the shop windows all look pretty much the same.


Recruiters have fallen into the trap of concentrating too much on recruitment branding, when their energies should be totally focused on recruitment. This attention on branding not only adds to recruiters’ workloads, but they also aren’t that good at it. Branding is best left to marketeers.

Boorman uses the example of his work with the BBC to show the effect branding can have on recruitment. The BBC found that many new joiners only stayed with the broadcasting organization for a year.

Talking to new joiners, Boorman found that there was a mismatch between their expectations and the reality of working at the BBC. People were attracted because the recruitment branding said it was a fast-moving and dynamic and all the other exciting things it said on the careers site. What joiners actually found when they got there was the organization was bureaucratic, slow and hard to get things done.

Far better, says Boorman, to hear the reality of what it’s like to work for an organization than the glossy marketing hype. The answer at the BBC was to encourage workers to explain what it was really like to work there.

Staff were encouraged to take pictures of where they work (identified as the number one thing people did when they thought about applying somewhere) and to make one minute movies about the organization, talking for 30 seconds about what they liked about their jobs and 30 seconds to talk about what they hated. In reality, these one minute videos ended up talking more about what they hated.

The BBC now had lots of content available for candidates to access before the decided to apply. As a result of this initiative, the volume of people applying for jobs shrunk, but the types of people applying changed and retention levels rose.

According to Boorman:

Branding systems are based on 20th century techniques and technologies – there’s very little source of hire data looking at where people came from.

For Boorman, this emphasis on connecting with potential candidates only when they actively apply to the company is another key flaw:

It’s like running a retail organization, but only being interested in people when they are at the checkout.

In fact, many people have been interested in a prospective employer for a long time before they make an application. Boorman tracked six organizations. The average hire monitored the company for seven months before they applied, looking at material on the likes of YouTube or Twitter.


People still applied in traditional places, but they weren’t strangers to the organization. Yet, existing recruitment processes assume that when someone applies, they know nothing about them and they know nothing about us. Boorman contends that it’s up to organizations to find out more about people who may become candidates and to build a talent ecosystem.

Reducing the number of candidates would also improve the experience of applicants. With fewer candidates to deal with, recruiters have more time to dedicate to making the process more personal.

Boorman makes a distinction between applicants and candidates. Applicants apply for jobs or a specific role, but candidates are attracted by the company: they go on LinkedIn, Facebook and investigate the company and interact with it.

Another distinction between the two is that applicants are rejected for a job, candidates drop out. Boorman has found that 90% of non-hires have no connection points with the organization. In Boorman’s view:

The idea is to reduce the volume of applications and increase the volume of candidates - that will make the job of a recruiter much better.

Triple distinction

The job of recruitment is also splitting into three key roles, he says. The top category is the “super recruiter” who look after the technology, methodology and strategy about how to attract candidates not applicants. Then there are the data managers or sourcers, who actually invite people to become applicants. Third are the administrators who can be replaced for the most part by automation or robots.

It’s the hiring managers who do the hiring and anyone in talent acquisition or recruitment is part of the supply chain involved in keeping that talent pipeline pumping. Boorman explains:

Talent acquisition is responsible for making sure there are qualified people in the pipeline – that’s where we should be building up tech and that’s where we should be building up methodology.

This pipeline should also include internal recruits as this is the biggest source of candidates. Boorman estimates that 45% of jobs are filled by internal candidates, 25% by referral, 10% through rehires and only 20% are sourced.

So, it’s vital that the pipeline includes internal recruits and also that the talent acquisition team has access to that data. But that’s not always the case in many organizations, as Boorman points out:

Where does your data on employees live? Is that accessible to your talent acquisition team if it’s going to be the most likely source of hire? The answer to that is, probably not.

The place for this information is the CRM system, which should include data on all the current employees, all of the ex-employees and contractors. The only thing the ATS (applicant tracking system) should be used for is for applicants, the rest of the time the data must live in the CRM.

Alongside a lack of knowledge about where data resides, there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding the whole recruitment process, according to Boorman. Few organizations seem to know the whole process behind hiring someone, which makes it difficult to map out and identify problems. People know who did the interview, but how did that interview happen? Many of these touchpoints could be either be automated or scrapped, believes Boorman.

Twenty-first century recruitment needs to change its viewpoint. The role of recruitment or the talent acquisition team is to build a big and strong ecosystem or network of contacts and connections. The ideal is for the organizations to be able to invite people, both internally and externally, to apply for jobs, rather than sift through hundreds of applications from unqualified people.

My take

Boorman is a charismatic speaker who can turn on their head some of the perceived wisdoms about the war for talent and recruitment.

I was particularly struck by the distinction he made between candidates and applicants. Existing recruitment processes and technology is geared up for dealing with applicants. Social media has opened up the possibilities of creating a far wider talent ecosystem of potential candidates.

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