A recent post, Congress to Employers: You’re not proctologists, drew a comment that reveals the dangerous new cracks in our employment system  — and hints at the problem employers need to address if the quality of hiring is to improve.

In a comment on that post, dated October 19, 2009 at 6:52 am, reader Nic says:

This to me is all about people fuelling their new crackpot ideas for business modelling and human resources; and in my view, it is all lunacy. What does this really mean? The quality of employee has declined drastically over the past 20 years. Does this mean a further dumbing down?

I don’t think the quality of the employee has declined. Rather, the quality of the selection process has declined. It has become so automated that it is now counterproductive.

The personal judgment of managers no longer filters the best job candidates into the final interview process. The first cut of candidates is made thoughtlessly using key word searches and is further dumbed down because the pool itself is limited to people who list themselves in data bases. Gone are the candidates a manager seeks out for their rare and relevant qualities.

The Human Resources Soup Kitchen waters down the quality of the hiring process by ladling resumes out of the huge job-board swill pot — and those are the candidates the hiring manager is permitted to choose from. That’s where the “talent shortage” starts. When your head is stuck in the swill pot, all the world is a mediocre candidate — and you always have an excuse for mediocre hiring: We use the latest technology but today’s candidates just suck!

I was recently on Minnesota Public Radio to discuss trends in job hunting and hiring and to take questions from listeners. Joining me was an executive from Monster.com.

A caller who runs a management consulting firm challenged Monster’s Doug Hardy over the “task matching” — or “keyword” — method of scanning resumes for matches to jobs.

Listen to the question and to Hardy’s response:

The consultant says that he advises his clients to

“generally avoid hiring anybody who has the full set of skills listed for a job. That’s usually a symptom of somebody who’s coasting, not somebody who’s aggressively trying to grow… The way the job boards work is skill-to-task matching… I want to get your response to that.”

Here’s what Hardy and Monster.com offer to hiring managers today:

“You are talking about the kind of data base management that was happending in job boards before… If you look at Monster now, it has much more associative types of search in it, especially the new beta search… we’re trying to go beyond exact word matching.”

Yah, well, bull dinky.

Monster and other job boards scan their data bases to match key words. The data bases are dumber than a magnet “searching” for iron filings. What Hardy doesn’t tell us is that Monster’s new data base algorithms don’t work any better than the old ones. Since 2001, Monster’s success rate — the percentage of hires that companies make using Monster’s data base — has not changed appreciably from about 3%. In fact, between 2008 and 2009, Monster’s success rate has dropped. The other big job boards have fared no better.

In 2008 Monster pumped $1.3 billion worth of the same old swill into HR departments that need to be called to task for wasting their investors’ money. One extremely frustrated HR vice president at a Fortune 50 company complains to me that, “The big job boards aggressively wine and dine our top executives, who sign up for yet another year. Virtually our entire recruiting budget goes into the job boards, with the result that I can’t get any money to spend on going out to actually recruit good people.”

To answer reader Nic’s question, the employment system is as dumb as ever and it’s getting worse because that same-old problem today has gargantuan implications. The shortage of capital that’s available for hiring means that hiring well is the single most important strategic advantage a company can develop. Companies cannot afford to hire lots of people in the hope of getting a handful who might actually make a difference to their business — like they used to do. The problem is not with the “talent” — it’s with the clucks doing the “recruiting” and hiring.

Whether they’re relying on a job-board data base, on their own data bases or on software that sorts and “selects” people to be interviewed, “the process” has become a pathetic excuse for actually finding, recruiting and hiring the workers a company wants and needs.

Human Resources departments spent over a billion dollars on one job board alone last year — Monster.com. HR is clearly to blame for wasting people’s time, their companies’ money and their companies’ futures. Even when HR relies on other sources of hires, the automation of recruiting and hiring has become so prevalent, and the arm’s-length candidate-review process has become so distant — using outsourced reference-checking services and “scientific tests” to judge candidates –, that hiring has become a dumb show in many companies.

The egg on corporate America’s face is this: Workers, job hunters and job candidates see what’s going on. They get it. They know your company is hiring stupidly.

As the consultant from Minneapolis points out, America’s employment system drives, at best, the hiring of people who are coasting. At worst, companies choose people who come along via a data base rather than the best people a manager takes time to go out and hire.


  1. Some good news? ‘Monster Worldwide, Inc. today[4/30/09] reported total revenue declined 31% to $254 million, compared with $366 million in the comparable quarter of 2008.’

  2. More good news? Check out http://www.workforce.com/section/10/feature/26/53/44/# titled ‘Special Report on Talent Acquisition Technology—Logging Off of Job Boards’.

    The article quotes an HR VP on the big boards efforts to remain (become?) relevant:

    But it may be too little, too late to convince Infinera’s Paul Whitney. Whitney, whose firm uses Jobvite, says traditional methods of recruiting, including job boards, “have failed us. They failed us badly.”

    Sounds like ATH!

  3. Nick,

    I could not have said it better myself!!!

    I’m a talent management expert that has been helping companies improve profits and performance through recruitment, assessment and development of high performers for over a decade. I am continually amazed at how much money is spent at “automating” the hiring process or making it more “efficient” (driving down the cost of hire, the recruitment cost ratio, or time to hire) without any real measure of how it affects candidate quality (and hiring manager satisfaction at 60 or even 180 days after hire is not a real measure of candidate quality!).

    In my humble opinion, no investment in the hiring process should be made (this includes investments in candidate sourcing tools like job boards) until a company can quantify the output of a position, understand what amount of output equates to percentile rank (i.e. what amount of output is produced by people at the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile), and has the ability to reliably predict performance (or output) of a prospective hire before extending an offer. Once these things are known, or are in place, a company can make data driven decisions about where to invest their money to improve the hiring process by estimating the impact on overall worker productivity to see if the investment generates an acceptable ROI.

    To quote one of my favorite management guru’s, Peter Drucker, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” The reverse is also true, “If you can measure it, you can manage it.” To me the problem is that companies do such a poor job of measuring worker quality that when they ask “what do I get for a dollar spent in HR” they often focus on what they can measure…drum roll please…the process. Cost of Hire and Time to Hire are easy to measure and most companies have this data so this is where they focus. Worker quality is hard to measure and to do it well I think you have to take a very impassionate view of human capital, which most people can’t do.
    If you have additional questions you can email me at cordell DOT larkin AT cordellandcompany DOT com. For more about me see my LinkedIn Profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/cordelllarkin.

  4. @Chris: Thanks for the Workforce link. I dunno how I missed that article when it came out last June. Quotes from Infinera are priceless.

    @CorDell: Great comments. No problem with a link in your ID or even mentioning your company, but please don’t advertise on this board. I visited your company site. Odd that there is no information there about you or the principals of the firm. Lack of info about the people at a search firm raises my antennae immediately.

  5. Nick,

    Sorry if I offended you. Can you tell me what I should do differently so you don’t feel I’m advertising my firm/services on your Blog?

    As for the information about myself, I have added that to my company website based on your comment. Thanks for the suggestion.


  6. @CorDell: No offense taken. You have impressive credentials, was just surprised there were no bios on your website. Your closing lines were like an ad. If you’re going to include a link to your website, at least make it to an article or info that’s potentially useful to others.

  7. Great posts, very relevant. I had a “conversation” with someone in HR along these lines yesterday. Thankfully they don’t work where I work. But they were defending the submit a resume and go through the HR hoops as the best method. I really don’t understand why HR continues to beat what to me looks like a dead horse. There has to be better ways to hire, so why aren’t more HR departments looking at those methods in a more aggressive manner?

  8. This is all very scary given how important it is to our ecomonic well-being that we get talent into the workplace.

    I’m confused by the comment about avoiding candidates with a full skill-set because they are coasting and not growing. You don’t know that someone is coasting anymore than you know someone is “over-qualified” What am I missing?