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You can’t recruit for competitive advantage if everybody’s got the same algorithm

In the May 29, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we take a look at how companies recruit the same and why it’s unwise.

Question

recruit

I run a sizable company. Like our competitors, we’re finding it difficult to recruit the people we need to grow our business. We all talk about competitive advantage being the crucial factor, and I’ve always believed a company’s competitive advantage comes from its people. But it’s easier said than done to find people with the skills we need. My vice president of HR gave me some of your articles and I find what you say troubling, that the tools we’re using to find talent are leading us astray. It’s easy enough for a headhunter to say that. Can you back up your claims that we’re doing it wrong?

Nick’s Reply

When I do presentations for Executive MBA (EMBA) programs at schools like UCLA, Wharton, Cornell, and Northwestern, I always take the opportunity to ask one of my favorite questions: How do you actually recruit the people you need to hire?

The managers in the audience — who are investing a lot of money to learn how to leverage talent into profits — almost always answer like this: “We create detailed job descriptions and post them, or we use headhunters.”

Then I make them nervous and ask why they pay a headhunter $30,000 to fill a $120,000 position, if they can just post jobs for five bucks apiece.

“Well, sometimes we need help.”

And how many candidates does the headhunter deliver?

“Usually four or five.”

Algorithms don’t recruit

Now I’ve got them. But I’m not trying to sell them headhunting services. I want them to realize that one recruiting method delivers just a handful of good candidates, while the other — automated, algorithmic recruiting — turns on a fire hose of applicants that all their competitors are looking at, too.

Why don’t they go off the beaten track and use a competitive recruiting advantage? I suggest that they should invest the time—personally—to go out into their professional communities and recruit as few candidates as possible, but make sure they’re all the right ones. (See Talent Crisis: Managers who don’t recruit.)

Their answer is embarrassing, and it usually goes like this:

“That’s incredibly time intensive! We have this model: We post a job description, and we get 2,000 applicants. But you want us to risk everything—all this time and effort—on four or five applicants? What about the other 1,995 applicants? What do we do with them?”

“You take a pass,” says Gilman Louie, a venture investor who rejects mass recruiting methods. And I think he’s absolutely right. Don’t listen to me. Listen to him.

What a VC knows about hiring

Gilman Louie is a founder of Silicon Valley VC (venture capital) firm Alsop Louie Partners, which invests in sectors including security and privacy, data and analytics, consumer products and services, and education technologies. In the 1980s Louie licensed the blockbuster video game Tetris from its developers in the Soviet Union. He’s also listed as one of 50 scientific visionaries by Scientific American.

You and your HR department would do well to consider that Louie is probably much more successful at hiring than your company is because he knows how to recruit. He doesn’t rely on LinkedIn, job postings, and the mass recruiting efforts HR departments use.

Employers love to proclaim their goal is to find the unusual, the star, the talent that will lead the organization into the future. So why does virtually every company rely on a recruiting method that’s designed to deliver staggering numbers of “candidates” that are all wrong?

You’re using the same algorithm

Gilman Louie: “Because of the competition for talent, employers are unfortunately using those typical HR filtering systems to put resumes in the right piles and to line up the interviews. The problem with that is, whether you’re an established company or a start-up, everybody has the same algorithm.”

I tested the question I ask EMBA students on Louie: “You can get 2,000 resumes online for about five bucks. Why not just get lots of candidates into HR’s pipeline?”

Louie: “You can’t go through 2,000 candidates! HR processes 2,000 candidates! They don’t look through 2,000 candidates! And at the end of the process, what they get is the same candidate that everybody else running PeopleSoft gets! So where’s your competitive advantage if everybody turns up with the same candidates?”

Eliminate the perfect resumes

You don’t review lots of resumes to find the best candidates?

Louie: “I put a job description out and all this stuff starts flowing in. I lay out those 100 or 1,000 resumes, or those LinkedIn files—and, all the things that everybody has that are the same, I just draw a line through them. What’s left over is what I look at because I’m trying to find the thing that distinguishes one candidate from another candidate. I’m not looking for the perfect resume. The perfect resume is vanilla.”

Louie spends a lot of time in his professional community meeting people. (See The Manager’s #1 Job.) That personal investment in face time yields the best hires for the startups he funds.

Go where your competitors are not looking

For example, Louie teaches MBA classes at Vanderbilt and Stanford Universities. He explains why it’s so important to go out into the wild and recruit in person.

Louie: “I recruited a kid who was a high-school dropout during a presentation we did at MIT. He was clearly different from all the other students. So I went and asked the admissions department about him. They said, when we interviewed him, one of our admission officers recognized the custom bikes the kid made when he lived on the wrong side of the tracks in Glasgow. He said, ‘We need this kid; he’s entrepreneurial! He doesn’t look like any of the other kids. He has a mediocre GPA, doesn’t have straight As, didn’t go to a private school, didn’t have any of the things MIT kids have. The resume popped.’ So he got in because he was different. We hired him, and he’s phenomenal.”

Employers look for their hires on LinkedIn, via job postings, and through the mass recruiting efforts of their HR departments. Louie refers to the kind of thinking that’s behind such hiring methods as too conventional, or “on the line.”

Get off the line

Louie: “The question that Steve Jobs always asked was not about the way the world is going to be, but the way the world should be, based on his point of view, based on his distorted reality. It’s some place off that line. So the trick is to get off the expected path line. It turns out, by the way, if you do the actual analysis, the world never turns out to be on that line. And the reason for that is, all the incentives go to the guy who figures out how to move off that line!”

If that sounds like natural selection—survival of the winner—it is.

Louie: “All the value that you create between the line you are on and the line everybody else is on is yours. When you’re selecting people, you can’t select people who are going to be on that line. You’ve got to select people who are off that line.”

Competency is not competitive advantage

Let’s get back to your question about whether the algorithmic recruiting tools your company uses are leading you astray. Your company’s HR department is not recruiting in some pool of rarefied talent, like Gilman Louie does when he sits in on a seminar comprising unusual participants. (See Smart Hiring: How a savvy manager finds great hires.)

Your HR department is drowning in the same rush of job applicants fed through the same fire hose every other HR department subscribes to — Indeed, LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, Taleo, and a raft of other undifferentiated keyword-matching systems. Worst of all, you’re paying dearly for their services.

Louie: “Here’s the problem with the algorithms. The algorithms are all looking for the same. Everybody is fighting for a handful of talent that the algorithm brings up. This jacks up the price, and it communicates that employees are kind of fungible. Employees are not fungible. I’m not saying those tools aren’t helpful. They will get you to competency. But competency is not competitive advantage. Competitive advantage is finding the unusual that everybody else missed.”

It’s personal

Gilman Louie makes it very simple when I ask him to summarize how he hires for competitive advantage.

You just told us three crucial things. One, you recruit by watching people in their native habitat. Two, you find people others missed. Three, you don’t rely on resumes, you go ask someone.

Louie: “Exactly.”

None of those steps have anything to do with traditional or automated recruiting.

Louie: “You’ve got to get there, and it’s personal. And personal is not digital.”

(Gilman Louie’s comments are from a discussion I had with him a few years ago while working on another project. If I thought he was prescient about “digital recruiting” back then, now I think Gilman’s advice is timeless wisdom.)

What does this venture investor’s advice about hiring tell us about the state of recruiting in today’s economy? Can these methods work in normal company settings? If you’re an employer — a hiring manager or an HR exec — can you “get off the line?” How can you put these ideas to work if you’re a job hunter?

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42 Comments
  1. I don’t think many companies would like the results from this type of direct recruiting/hiring. It results in people who don’t work well under rules and procedures used by people who like to use packaged algorithmic HR methods. It results in people who tend to be unconventional or challenge the way things are done. After all, they’re probably not applying to (or getting through) your ATS right now.

    Don’t get me wrong. That’s great….if you’re willing to let those people do what they can do once you hire them.

    But if you’re going to hire those types of people by just changing your recruiting method and not your culture (which helped you develop your current ineffective recruiting methods), things are not going to work out well.

    • @Chris,

      Excellent point. If the practice evolved as a result of wanting folks who will “fit the mold” despite their protests to the contrary, then finding those rare folks will end poorly.

    • Chris, I’m going to counter your anxiety about this week’s post with one of my favorite quotes, which I believe sums up my sentiments best:

      “We find comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t.” – Frank A. Clark

    • @Chris: Good point. But I’m not interested in companies that don’t know what to do with “off the line” people or whose culture doesn’t support what people like that can accomplish. If they can’t figure out how to run a successful, innovative, competitive business, it’s just as well they also don’t know how to find and hire those kinds of people.

      That means I’ve always been right :-) : There’s really not as much competition out there for great people and great jobs as we’re told. But the challenge remains for those people and companies to find one another. Maybe that’s all we should be focused on.

    • Agree. Corporations look for people who fit their minimalist job descriptions and who work well in a culture where people fit together like lego-pieces or parts of an engine. If any one is out of line, the whole structure could be at risk. The productive, innovative, high performer would be disruptive and out of place. Probably wouldn’t last long either, unless shielded by someone at C suite level. But, if change is to happen, then it needs to start wherever it can, and hiring is a good entry point for corporate change.

  2. How do I make sure I’m the “great people” and not just another middle-of-the-road candidate?

    I’ve been reading AtH for years. It’s not the techniques I lack, it’s the self-assurance to aim for the “great jobs.” I find myself doing very well in jobs that I get bored withg because they become too easy after a while. So I look for other work, do all the AtH methods to get in to meet the hiring managers, convince them of my value, learn a lot in a short period of time, and soon yearn for something else.

    Now, I’m changing careers again. I’m lining up networking events and meetings, setting up internships and learning the lingo so I can “talk shop.” But this time is different. I really >want< this career in Information Security that I am training into. I have an emotional attachment. So my self-confidence is very, very low.

    How do I change that so I can finally start a career that will challenge me and I will enjoy for the long-term?

    • I try to battle self confidence issues by “becoming an expert” in the area where I feel that I am lacking. Perhaps if you look for opportunities to speak with other people who do that line of work and hold a good conversation with them, you will become more able to see your capabilities?

      It’s an easy problem to talk about solving but it’s not an easy problem to actually solve (at least for me.) I have worked my way to the awkward position where I am in an important position and many of my coworkers look up to me being relatively young and new to the organization. I feel like I’m just doing my job so the complements feel unjustified (or just too emphatic). I know I’m more than competent but it can be hard to let it truly sink in.

      It’s a complex issue I could probably ramble about more than most people would want to read about. Trust in yourself and open your eyes to how lost many people are. If you can look at yourself and honestly admit you’re doing your best, that’s a good start. That’s my short version.

    • @Michael: I think Admin Al is on the right track. Part of the problem is that we’re too hard on ourselves and never feel truly qualified. We feel like fakes when we’re not. I agree with Al that much of this is about becoming as expert as you can be while realizing no one ever knows everything about something.

      Some of the best managers I’ve known tell me they relish the person who clearly has studied and knows a lot — but still admits what they don’t know and confidently says so, asks good questions, isn’t defensive, and craves an open discussion and learning experience. That’s who they want around. Someone who brings a lot to the table, including the ability to ride a fast learning curve without falling off, and a willingness to engage to share knowledge.

      So I guess my advice is, when you’re with a manager or with someone who knows more, don’t try to demonstrate your savvy or prove anything. Instead, just talk shop and show that there’s plenty more you’re eager to learn and discuss.

      • There have been times when if I’d written a set of job requirements to replace myself, I wouldn’t feel qualified to apply.

        Perhaps its the flip side of Dunning-Kruger effect.

        And since I just did a search for it, this is from the top hit:

        In their classic study, Dunning and Kruger found that high-performing students, whose cognitive scores were in the top quartile, underestimated their relative competence. These students presumed that if these cognitive tasks were easy for them, then they must be just as easy or even easier for everyone else. This so-called “imposter syndrome” can be likened to the inverse of the Dunning-Kruger effect, whereby high achievers fail to recognize their talents and think that others are equally competent. The difference is that competent people can and do adjust their self-assessment given appropriate feedback, while incompetent individuals cannot.

        • Thanks, Timothy — that’s what I couldn’t remember: the imposter syndrome. It seems ironic that some of the most talented people suffer from it. Perhaps it’s a problem of also trying to be exceedingly honest!

        • That’s probably a big part of my problem. Even as a kid in school my teachers would tell me I needed to toot my own horn, but it’s incredibly difficult when you tend to underestimate your abilities – plus we are raised not to brag on ourselves. It seems like incompetent people, however, have absolutely no problems bragging on themselves despite their incompetence.

          And guess who’s more likely to impress the know nothings in HR?

        • @Timothy Byrd
          “There have been times when if I’d written a set of job requirements to replace myself, I wouldn’t feel qualified to apply.”

          I write resumes for people professionally, and when they offer to send me their official job descriptions as background information, I’ve learned to reply that it will be useful (which it is) but that I will have to ask them about every single point in the job description to make sure that it actually applies to their own capabilities. There are always significant elements in the JD that don’t apply to the present incumbent. I have repeatedly found this to be true even when they wrote their own official job description.

          @ Askeladd
          My father used to cite to me a maxim from Damon Runyon that went something like this: “If a man bloweth not his own horn, then that same horn shall not be blown.”

          • @Ken: Ah, a resume writer who starts from scratch! There is no other way to do it. My compliments.

            • Thank you Nick! And for people writing their own resumes, starting from scratch is still the key. Way too many people forget that, misled by all the hype about resume-writing tricks.

            • @Ken – Serious question here: What resume-writing tricks should be avoided?

              If you’re fishing and not getting any bites, you’re either 1) fishing in the wrong spot, and/or 2) using the wrong bait. I figure I probably have to change my bait.

    • @Micheal,
      Instead of only trying to catch up with those already in IS, why not focus on figuring out how the skills you already have (and those who have been in IS all their careers don’t have) can make you the best candidate, the unique candidate. Real advances come from crossing boundaries, not staying in the lines. That doesn’t mean your work on learning IS is wasted. To think outside the box you need to know what is inside the box, after all.

  3. Game changing managers aren’t going to be interested in candidates who can’t think of a better way of finding a job than spamming resumes onto job boards. Game changing candidates aren’t going to be interested in managers who can’t figure out a better way of finding candidates than wading through 2,000 resumes.

    As for the comment about what to do with the 2,000 resumes: is the job really so standard that all or most of those 2,000 resumes are qualified? If not, getting quickly down to 5 is a win. The comment is like someone looking for a needle in a haystack asking what to do with all this straw.

    • @Scott: I like how you explain that. But another view is, laff hard at the suggestion that you should invest your time looking through the 1,995 straws somebody handed you. How can they possibly hand you so much chaff and suggest it’s not their job to deliver just the 5 needles?

      HR and employers have come to really, really believe that a 99.75% failure rate is just par for the course and worth getting paid for. (2000-1995)/2000=99.75%

      Yet America’s entire employment system today is founded on the idea that more is better even if it’s mostly no good.

      • Exactly. Candidates send out 100 resumes and wonder why no one gets back to them. I suspect the average job hunter today sends out more resumes in five minutes than I did in my entire career. My success rate was very high, but I networked and chose carefully.
        A hiring manager who follows your advice could just skim resumes looking for a rare jewel, since she would have good candidates on tap.
        I did that. Much less stressful and you get better people.
        The same thing applies to colleges these days since they standardized applications. And high school seniors sending out 20 wonder why the accept rate is so low.

        • @Scott: Good point. Colleges are doing the same thing employers do. Today they over-solicit applicants. But colleges do it for a different reason. Because – unlike employers – they publish acceptance rates, colleges benefit from the marketing edge it seems to give them. “Look! We’re very exclusive! 2 million applied (because we mailed them invitations to do so and the suckers fell for it!) and only .0000001% got in!”

  4. There is a problem with unexamined analogies here. Companies that succeed in hiring the candidates who are genuinely best able to do the job are companies that don’t follow today’s usual tracks. But among the more prominent markers of the usual tracks is superficial thinking that starts from the ancient and unexamined needle-in-a-haystack analogy and, instead of applying reason and experience, goes only one very obvious step beyond.

    For the usual “professional management” types, whether they are HR or in other departments, the usual obvious step is to buy the same haystack-sorting gimmick that all the other professional managers are buying (algorithms, as it happens). It doesn’t matter that the gimmick doesn’t work–as long as everyone else is doing it, one’s own ass is covered.

    However, when professional management types try to “!!!***think out of the box***!!!”, they react no less simplistically. If approach A doesn’t work, “thinking out of the box” means automatically discarding approach A completely and starting from scratch with any other approach that happens to be singled out by their finely honed minds.

    They do not think about the actual task of finding the needle in the haystack, and see if there isn’t some way to do it that may be “off the track” for them but is, perhaps, standard operating procedure for people with specialized knowledge in other fields.

    (They don’t think of this because professional management types, including HR, tend to really believe the professional management sales pitch that a qualified Professional Manager must, obviously, have a higher, broader consciousness than the people he hires and manages–the holders of mere specialized knowledge–, and therefore that anything the little people suggest that he hasn’t already thought of is obviously not worth considering. Cf. the fable of the Belly and the Members.)

    Back to analyzing the analogy: If you have, literally, haystacks coming in, and have an economic incentive for extracting the (literal) needle in each one, there are economically feasible ways to do it. They are to be found in industries such as mining, and crop and food processing. There are people who supply sorting machinery to those industries who will be happy to help you. Their solutions are not fancy white-collar things like algorithms. In the case of extracting needles from haystacks, the solutions would involve spreading out the haystacks and running them past powerful magnets. It would be a matter of adapting, for haystacks, existing systems for extracting ferrous bits from bulk crops or crushed ore. (How crude!)

    In hiring, the function of the powerful magnet was routinely filled, before the Age of Professional Management, by people who knew the jobs they were hiring for, usually because they had successfully done those jobs themselves. (How crude!) For such people, sorting though a pile of hundreds of resumes, or a couple of thousand, is not at all the dreadful task that it is for professional managers and HR people. With their specialized knowledge, they can reject the unsuitable ones in the proverbial five to ten seconds each. The likeliest ones–usually very few–get a few more seconds, and are then put on a pile for further examination and sorting. (Once you’ve been through the pile, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how picky you can be at the next stage, which speeds that stage up considerably.)

    That’s about 300 resumes an hour for the first sorting–well worth the time for something as important as hiring, far more reliable (and informative) than algorithms, and at least as productive as not soliciting candidates and waiting for the right person to seek you out.

    There are only two things that might beat it. One is to already know good candidates–again, something that professional managers and HR people can’t do. The other is a good headhunter, for high-level jobs where the possible candidates are few enough for a good headhunter to find many of them, and who are not very likely to send in resumes on their own.

    (At lower levels, employment agencies don’t do a very good job–they’re in too much of a hurry to get a warm body into the spot and get the commission before somebody else does. They’re no more capable of identifying the best candidates than are HR people anywhere else, and the best candidates tend to avoid them.)

    Professional managers and HR people, on the other hand, are incapable of any sorting at all, because they do not even have the knowledge to determine which choices will even cover their asses, let alone identify the best candidates. They are especially unlikely to choose candidates with unusual backgrounds, because they cannot distinguish between those candidates and completely unqualified ones. These are the people for whom haystacks are unspeakable horrors.

    The smart candidates are the ones who look especially for companies–and industries–where the resumes are reviewed by people who are capable of recognizing good candidates. To the extent that your industry is dominated by professional managers and HR, most of the very smartest people will prefer some other industry.

    • @Ken: Are you suggesting that HR isn’t a powerful magnet scanning over acres of straw and a few iron filings… but that HR is really just a block of wood at the end of a string hung off a long stick waving over it all?

      :-)

      I am.

      I love your point about dispensing with the fundamental assumptions. And I think assumption #1 to be thrown out is that SCANNING is necessary or desirable.

      I think the good answer is in the middle of your comment: Already know good candidates. Now the challenge is, how do you know good candidates and how do you teach your team to know them?

      Here’s one tactic: Figure out where the iron filings hang out. Go there.

      All we know about scanning is that it doesn’t work well at all. But as you note, there’s plenty of cover in scanning. Everybody’s doing it, and the venture firms are pouring $$$ into new ways of scanning!!!

    • Magnets were on of my ideas to find a needle in a haystack.

      The best way, though, is to throw it all in water. The hay floats. The needle won’t.

      • @Paul: I recall a grade school science experiment that involved making a needle float on water. Has to do with the tiny mass of the needle and the power of the water’s surface tension. So do all needles always float? :-)

  5. Good Q&A, and it is the converse of last week’s Q&A. The lesson is nobody should be clicking anything to either change careers/get a job OR to hire someone, be it for a burger-flipping job or for chief of surgery (and everything in between).

    Technology has made the hiring seem “easy” (just plug in the keywords for your fantasy employee et voila, he will appear with the click of your mouse), but it isn’t. You can miss too much by relying on algorithms and keywords. Nor does “more” mean better or that you’ll weed out the dreck. How about not attracting the dreck in the first place? Get out there, talk to people at conferences and at meetings. Talk to salespeople–they will know who the good people are at your competitors. Be willing to train the person who meets most of, but not all, of your requirements. Give him a chance to learn something new and to grow. Have a path for advancement/promotion–most people don’t want to do the same job for their entire life. If you’re hiring for entry-level, don’t expect 5-8 years of professional experience–hire the recent graduate or the woman who is looking to return to work after taking time off to care for children or sick parents/in-laws. Imagine that it is 1975 and there is no internet, no ATSes to do the screening and hiring for you. How would go about hiring people if you didn’t have today’s technology? Then do it, and you’ll be ahead of your competitors.

    • @MaryBeth

      I think you nail it for this weeks question-asker (along with Nick).

      It seems to me the person asking the question actually answers his own question: If current methods are yielding desired results, then maybe try new methods. It’s like the old Seinfeld episode when George Costanza does the opposite of what he would normally do because the status quo wasn’t working out for him.

      Secondly, what you mention about requirements is spot on, but I would even go farther into what is considered blasphemy by many. Sometimes, the best match doesn’t even have any of the specific keywords you’re looking for.

      For example:

      I recently started a new position at a local college that is pretty SQL heavy. I did not have much (any?) SQL or higher ed experience but I did have significant report writing experience in another industry. So far, the job has been nothing short of a success for me and the college.

      The great irony in all of this is in the relatively short time I have been here, I’ve had several recruiters (almost to the point of harassment) contact me including those that no less than 6 months ago were telling me that I’d be “hard to place.” It is not like my “skill set” has magically changed over night, so my hypothesis is that a lot of these people are keyword driven as opposed to capability driven, then complain of a talent shortage. That’s not to mention that others and myself who didn’t have the “qualifications” to do a particular job/project haven’t had to go in and clean up the messes of so-called “experts” if you know what I mean.

      Oh, and by the way, they could have had me cheaper 6 months ago, my personal salary target to get me to leave has increased significantly.

      • @Dave: I agree with you wholeheartedly that many recruiters are keyword, rather than capability driven. Right now, I get lots of phone calls from recruiters about potential jobs where they tell me that I have an impressive background in analog electronics. Such recruiters from iconic brands have even contacted me – all due to a keyword search.

        The eagerness soon wears off when it turns out that I am not a purple squirrel. What they are looking for is someone who is very eager to change jobs, thus will be open to a smaller salary in the process. When I say that I really like my job that is with an international company that has great benefits (salary could be better, but it’s decent), the recruiters start cooling off as they realize I may not be as cheap as they were hoping.

        I have a boss that appreciates me as well. I like my job. The view just outside my office is beautiful (we are on a hill in a town that has a lot of tourism). Finally, we have a sick leave system that does not have an official limit – at 30 days out, short term disability kicks in. One of the new companies does not have sick leave – you get 15 days per year of “paid time off” – you can be sick, or you can go on vacation, but not both. Right now, I get 15 days of vacation (5 floating holiday and 10 vacation leave – it will increase to 20 total in a year). Why would I want to change?

        Also, I have the best retirement savings plan of any company outside of having a pension.

      • @Dave: I can count on one hand the recruiters I’ve known that are “capability” driven as opposed to “shopping list” driven. The current database-driven recruiting methodology is also heavily dependent on recruiters rather than hiring managers, thus making the “shopping list” problem much bigger than it should be. Managers don’t want to drive ATSes. So recruiters do it. Managers don’t see anything of the applicants until the recruiters have made all the mistakes sorting them.

        Your point (and Marybeth’s) about training is really the crux of the problem. Wharton’s Peter Cappelli has pointed out two very troubling trends that intersect to create the phantom talent shortage. (1) Employers invest virtually nothing any more to train workers, especially new hires, and (2) modern accounting methods do not account for the cost of leaving a job vacant.

        Add up those two problems and you come up with that talent shortage. Unaware that vacant jobs cost money, employers continue to save money by avoiding doing training, and thus they demand only job applicants who have already done the job they’re trying to fill. So they’re costing themselves twice and for a longer time. Jobs stay vacant and the workforce continues to be wanting for new skills that in the past people learned on the job.

        Employers lose big because they want only perfect hires, which don’t exist. “Woe is us! Where are the qualified workers??”

        • @Nick:

          “I can count on one hand the recruiters I’ve known that are “capability” driven as opposed to “shopping list” driven.”

          You know, if I really was an ass to some of these people, I’d point out that they are not as good as they think they are.

          Almost all of the pitches I’ve heard from both sides of the table is that most recruitment professionals are good at talent evaluation/job spec analysis/negotiations/persuasion.

          Yet, how come I have had better luck selling myself to companies than they have, who are supposed full time, trained professionals? What does that say about them if a random dope like me can do it?

          • @Dave: “Follow the money” is always the rule. And HR pays recruiters to do what they do. It’s worth noting that the more rote the recruiter’s behavior is, the more responsible HR is for the behavior. Recruiters do exactly what they are paid to do.

            It’s mostly on HR’s head. And when HR cries, “The C-suite doesn’t let us do it right!” my response is, “Buck up, folks – you’re admitting your profession lacks the integrity to call the C-suite out on it publicly.”

            Follow the money.

  6. I know quite a bit about algorithms. I don’t know anything about job boards because I’ve never used them, either for getting a job or for hiring. So I have a question. When you as a hiring manager or HR person defines a position on a job board, what information do you enter to let these “algorithms” operate? Key words, education I’m sure. But you need only the most trivial of algorithm to deal with these.
    Someone who gets 2,000 resumes as a result of a search has either not been specific enough or is hiring for a job which could be filled by going to the nearest street corner.
    So walk me through the process here. I have this sneaking suspicion that these sites use searches like the pre-Google search engine searches, which returned 10 useless sites for each good one.

    • @Scott: The news is full of “AI”-driven algorithms and sophisticated “language processing” algorithms used by the ATSes and job boards.

      According to some folks I know in the research world, it’s all bunk. It’s all the same-old character-string matching they were doing years ago.

      What’s most astonishing is the venture firms that fall for these “advances in search technology” that amount to little more than another few million bucks down the drain.

  7. In addition to my engineering degree, I have a master’s degree in organ performance and church music from one of the world’s great music schools. I did that work full time for a few years but now do it on the side.

    A church where I was once a member encouraged me to apply to the open position of the organist who died. These same people, however, turned me down after one interview – while they said I am very good, they wanted a truly exceptional candidate. So they imported someone from another town (who I like, by the way) – he has a doctorate in organ performance.

    While they chose well, it was access to the internet that made the selection committee want to search outside of our town. That’s fine. It is a part time position that would have mixed well with my engineering position at the time. Not only that, I was highly dedicated to that organization. The person who is there does an extremely good job. Even so, he may see it as just a job.

    I am here to say that you may have talent right under your nose that you are tempted to overlook. That talent may also be highly dedicated to your organization even if they are not the very best.

    As for my music career? I have since put that on hold – I no longer perform professionally, and not to offend anyone, religious organizations are often very toxic environments. In this particular case, it’s just as well that I did not get this position.

    I am not mad at this organization, although they lost me as a member – it would have helped if they would have just told me, “Here is what you have, but this is the real reason we could not hire you.” They may know that, like musicians and other creative people, I can tend to be highly sensitive. Was that a concern?

    The clergyperson in charge at the time (the Rector) said there were things that came up but that he could not discuss with me. It would have been helpful to hear it even if it hurt. That said, I do run into this gentleman from time to time, but we don’t shake hands. We give each other a hug.

    So while this whole episode was painful, I do have a good relationship with the people involved. Why did I leave? To make room for the new person. Former organists have stayed at churches where I was the new organist in the past, and the people just could not get used to me – so I swore I would never do that to someone else. It was as if I lost the election, so I stepped aside.

    I know this is long but I just wanted to explain that sometimes the human element takes a back seat to technology when the personal touch is necessary.

    PS: I know of an organization who gives internal applicants an up or down vote, then only searches externally if they do not hire that person into the new position. I think this is a nice way to do it.

    • Kevin, I would love to be able to play a church organ, especially a pipe organ. However, I would need to first learn to play the piano. :)

  8. Usually when applying for a job via a LinkedIn alert I didn’t pay much attention to all the info metrics spam that accompanies the postings. One time I did and was surprised to learn that I didn’t have programming aa a skill .

    It was hilarious : I have over 30 years experience managing and slinging code and programming is a skill that could easily be discovered reading my resume and/or profile, but I was disqualified because the word “programming’ was not in my skill set.

  9. @Pat:

    I think the idea of looking for conformists is an over-generalization. I find that as I have matured (gotten older), I have greater self confidence and can speak up. It is this speaking up that my employer appreciates. Also, being a team player is important.

    For me it’s all about the product and making the customer happy. Years ago I had a manager who liked the fact that I would admit my mistakes and clean it up. OK, it’s better to not make mistakes in the first place, but if you aren’t making mistakes, then how can you be on the cutting edge? I write this from an engineering perspective of product development.

    Also, you need to let your manager know what you are working on. Do a lot of listening. Ask, listen, speak up, listen, act, listen, repeat.

    • @Kevin Nice bit of advice for people who are working. But maybe your words do nto speak to issues of people who are fending off ATS obsessed hiring managers and HR execs looking for a “perfect fit” that guarantees the mythical “best people”.

  10. The automated recruiting misses diamonds in the rough and some truly talented people. I have worked with several people who are kind of difficult to work with but they consistently produced good work. By expecting everyone to fit some fictional model of the perfect employee, HR is missing many talented people.

    I would also like to add that HR really needs to carefully consider the actual skills needed for the position they are trying to fill. They apparently, haven’t a clue what the day to day work skills will make a good employee for a particular position.

    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw

  11. What’s funny is that many of the companies with ATS systems and other smart technology that put online applicants through hiring gymnastics actually end up hiring an employee referral or someone who networked into the organization another way, not someone from the pool of 100s of “unknown” candidates.

  12. I got my job through an ATS and it was a good fit. Even so, I already knew some people at my company – others knew people I know. In a way, it as ATS plus.

  13. I know that there are probably 15 different things that we could call this, but would non-linear recruiting work for now? More than once, I hired people because of their interesting comments as they toured my little 50,000 square foot distribution universe.

    I had to hold my breath more than once as they found their way into the corporate environment, but once they figured out where the boundaries were, they would hang around for ten or twenty years, creating value and providing crucial insights at critical junctures.

    They were part of what I call a company’s “psychic infrastructure”.

    I used parameters and protocols more than algorithms, and now that I think of it 40 years later, the only real way to recruit talent is to let them in the door and do some stuff.

    I don’t have the numbers, but it seems that the riskier I got in pulling people in, the higher the rate of success. The “sure bets” that looked good on paper or interviewed well either wandered off in the blink of and eye or were fired, either by me, the company, or themselves.

    Just sayin’. . .

  14. @Patricia Sachs:

    Whenever I have lost a job, at that point I do open all channels and hope to get employed as quickly as possible. Not a fun situation to be in! I think that with automation, we hope to do the same job with fewer people and what we end up with instead is low quality work.

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