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The campaign to kill HR

In the August 21, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we take a hard look at the death of HR at the hands of database firms that make money when you don’t find a job — and when employers don’t fill jobs. Can HR be saved?

hr

La mort de HR

A company’s best hope for finding and hiring great workers is its own managers, because they know the work best

HR (Human Resources) may be a close second — when HR actually goes out to look for and recruit workers.

But ZipRecruiter, Indeed, LinkedIn and a league of database companies have succeeded in killing HR’s recruiting role — and the initiative of hiring managers.

Stripped of the function that once gave HR bragging rights for a company’s most competitive advantage — hiring great workers — HR now serves as little more than the fire hose that overwhelms companies with millions of inappropriate incoming job applications, and as the spigot that pours billions of corporate dollars into the pockets of database jockeys who know nothing about matching real people to real jobs.

Killing HR in 30 seconds

This is what the wildly successful marketing campaign to kill HR looks like:

This commercial — and others like it — have literally killed recruiting because they have replaced it in employers’ minds with a substitute that has no nutritional value.

Here’s how an HR vice president with a Fortune 50 company put it to me when the online “recruiting” industry first launched its brainwashing campaign:

“Executives from the online job boards wine and dine our top executives so relentlessly that virtually every dime of our recruiting budget now goes directly to them. I can’t get a few bucks any more to take a candidate to dinner to actually recruit them!”

A massive marketing campaign driven by database jockeys has replaced people — workers, job seekers, the actual talent — with automated streams of keywords and database records. Employers have de-funded real recruiting to the point where the task no longer has anything to do with actively pursuing, seducing, cajoling, convincing the best people to join your company.

A powerful, long-running marketing campaign has successfully sold the idea that “recruiting” no longer requires talent to do it, like other jobs require talent. “Recruiting” is now the automated churning and turning of databases. (See Job boards say they fill most jobs. Employer says “LMAO!”)

How can a 30-second commercial kill an entire profession?

The insecurity of HR

The success of this campaign to automate recruiting and bury HR is due not only to its persistence, but to the acquiescence of the HR profession itself.

With few notable exceptions, HR executives and professional associations across the board have slit HR’s throat and outsourced HR’s key job to database jockeys who have wowed them with “high tech solutions.” The HR profession as a whole was never very secure in the C-suite, and never very bright, so it folded quickly when fast-talking salespeople embarrassed its leaders with big terms like “algorithm” and “database” and “intelligent agents” and “semantic processing” — terms so misapplied and misconstrued in the HR context that they are laughable.

Loathe to admit their ignorance, HR leaders feigned excitement while their “HR consultant” brethren fed them white papers about the newest “best practices” that should be “implemented in software” immediately. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)

So, HR arrived fully brainwashed into a new era and promptly ran the talent ship aground in the shoals of the job boards, taking big parts of the economy down with it.

The brainwashing of HR

TV commercials like the one above from ZipRecruiter pound four dangerous ideas into the heads of corporate leaders, HR executives and hiring managers.

  • Recruiting and hiring are nasty work nobody wants to do.
  • Recruiting and hiring are very difficult tasks.
  • Nobody is good at recruiting and hiring.
  • ZipRecruiter (and Indeed and LinkedIn and other database companies) will do it for you if you pay them.

The trouble is, none of that is true. Those are some of the most dangerous lies ever created by marketing copy writers.

Count the lies

Recruiting and hiring are mission-critical tasks best done by you and your company — face-to-face, not by diddling a keyboard to pay a middle man who pretends to do it for you. Recruiting and hiring are so critical to your company’s mission that leaving them to firms that have no skin in the game is not only irresponsible — it’s an insane fool’s errand.

So, is it insanity or foolishness that leads employers and their HR departments to buy what the database jockeys sell under the guise of “recruiting?”

Please watch the commercial above. It’s short — 30 seconds. Here’s what the guy says:

“Hiring was always always a huge challenge. Endless hours on job sites with not a lot to show for it. Then, I found ZipRecruiter. They figured out hiring. I post my job. They put it all over the web. And they send me the right people. Because their technology is smart. ZipRecruiter often sends me the right person in 24 hours.”

Count the lies.

1. “Hiring was always always a huge challenge.”

The truth: Hiring is your job; your number-one job. When ZipRecruiter characterizes hiring as something “huge” — something beyond you and your company — Zip disparages you and insults you. It also convinces you that the most important part of your job is a problem you should unload.

2. “Endless hours on job sites with not a lot to show for it.”

The truth: If you’re spending endless hours on job sites, diddling databases, and sorting keywords, then I guarantee you have nothing to show for it — because that’s not where hires come from.

But that’s what ZipRecruiter sells — databases and keywords!

Zip, Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn and countless others of their ilk sell an excuse for not recruiting and hiring.

If you want something to show for your recruiting efforts, invest your time participating actively in your professional community, cultivating and meeting the movers and shakers and opinion makers who know all the best workers. Share valuable experiences with your peers and they will lead you to great people you can hire. No one ever wasted their time talking with peers.

3. “Then, I found ZipRecruiter. They figured out hiring.”

The truth: This is the biggest lie. ZipRecruiter and its ilk have not figured out hiring. They figured out their own business plan: how to make money.

The marketing trick is to convince you they are on your side, helping you do your job. But spend 10 seconds thinking about the business model behind these operations and you will see the blinding flash of the obvious:

  • These companies make money when you do not fill jobs.
  • They make money when you keep searching their databases looking for hires.

If ZipRecruiter had figured out hiring, its home page and its marketing would blare out audited metrics about employers’ success rates when they pay Zip for lists of job seekers. But that’s not what Zip has figured out, and it’s not what Zip is selling you or what you’re paying for.

Here’s what ZipRecruiter blares out on its website — this is what your company is paying for:

ZipRecruiter makes money when you keep paying for job applications — not when you fill jobs. I can find no metrics on Zip’s website and no evidence that ZipRecruiter has “figured out hiring.”

If you work in HR and this strikes you as an unreasonable criticism, call me when ZipRecruiter starts charging you only for the applicants you actually hire.

4. “I post my job. They put it all over the web.”

The truth: If you work in HR, or if you’re a hiring manager — you know, one of those people who pays ZipRecruiter to deliver millions of candidate applications — you can put your job posting all over the web yourself. While it’s true Zip does that, too, you don’t need it. The secret sauce of the web is that it’s designed so anyone can find anyone else easily.

Why would any HR manager with a brain want their job opening posted “all over the web?” What you get for that is 49,106,149 candidate applications. Is that what you really want? Because more is not better. Perhaps the single biggest talent problem HR faces today is overload. Having access to every resume on the planet — but no way to find actual people — has resulted in a kind of catatonia that HR executives disingenuously refer to as “the talent shortage.”

5. “And they send me the right people.”

The truth: ZipRecruiter makes no claims about how often it sends employers “the right people.” That’s left to the actor playing the restaurant owner in the commercial.

Let’s do a reality check. Not to pick on ZipRecruiter alone, let’s check another major “online recruiting service,” Jobvite.

In an April 4, 2018 press release Jobvite “announced that it has surpassed one million jobs filled, with 270,000 hires in 2017 alone.” Then it claims, “Nearly 54 million jobseekers [sic] visited a Jobvite-powered hiring website in the past year.”

We’re looking for success metrics. Do the math. 270,000/54 million is 0.5% — a one-half of one percent success rate for job seekers. While one might argue that there cannot possibly be a job for every job seeker, the more evident problem is that a robustly designed system should not indiscriminately snort 53,730,000 job seekers just so it can spit out a fraction of 1% into jobs.

Finding the best people to recruit is not a database problem.

Hiring is not a database problem.

Let’s do another reality check. ZipRecruiter claims it has “over 8 million jobs.” The U.S. Department of Labor reported on June 5, 2018 that there were only 6.7 million jobs available during the month of April. Ask any job seeker — they already know something is very wrong with all those job postings.

Let’s ask the restaurateur, just who are the “right people” for 1.3 million non-existent jobs?

6. “Because their technology is smart.”

The truth: The manager in the commercial closes his laptop after apparently posting a job.

How has ZipRecruiter solved his “huge challenge” of hiring so quickly? How has Zip made it so easy for him to find talent?

It’s frighteningly stupid. Zip has eliminated the very best filters in the hiring process. Zip has cut out all the humans with specialized training in Human Resources, Engineering, Finance, the restaurant business, and a multitude of other professional disciplines — all the humans who are qualified to judge the myriad qualities that make the best candidate special. None of them are needed in this business model. Zip has made it all easier by replacing expert judgment with recruiting technology so trivial it has generated a false talent shortage.

Yep, the truth is, all you folks in HR are superfluous. All your company needs is someone in Accounting to make an automatic payment to ZipRecruiter, Jobvite, and any of the other databases loaded with millions of job seekers. (See HR’s submission to ZipRecruiter.)

Ask any job seeker. They’ll tell you they feel like a drop of water in a fire hose turned on employers — one of the 49,106,149 applicants delivered in the sales pitch Zip makes to employers.

Except when Zip promises just the one right person, delivered the same day.

7. “ZipRecruiter often sends me the right person in 24 hours.”

The truth: ZipRecruiter doesn’t dare tell you just how often the woman in the video — who just waltzed into the restaurant — gets hired. (The marketing magic implies she gets hired instantly, the first time.)

Zip offers no success-rate metrics (audited or otherwise) about hiring or getting hired. The guy in the commercial does that.

ZipRecruiter CEO Ian Siegel has raised tens of millions of dollars in venture funding for his company (see recode), valuing it at close to $1 billion. While he offers no explanation on his website about how he finds jobs for people — or how he fills jobs for employers that pay him to deliver tens of millions of job applications — he says he wakes up every day thinking about it.

I think he wakes up each day counting the HR departments he has laid to rest while their recruiting budgets have been redirected to his coffers. I’d like to introduce him to the former HR executive who told me, “I can’t get a few bucks any more to take a candidate to dinner to actually recruit them!”

If Siegel and his ilk are to be recognized for anything, it’s for a business model that produces profits without results. They have designed marketing campaigns that have killed off HR and what was once known as recruiting.

They don’t make money when jobs are filled. They make money when you don’t fill jobs and don’t get hired. Their business model requires that you keep paying to search their databases.

If HR is going to be brought back to life, it has to remove its recruiting prosthetics, shake off the ZipRecruiters and Indeeds that are sucking its blood, and flex its hiring muscles again. A company’s best hope for finding and hiring great workers is its own managers and a healthy, robust HR department.

Your turn

I just showed you a TV commercial that I think undermines and insults HR professionals, hiring managers and business owners by trivializing one of the most critical tasks in any business — hiring. But ZipRecruiter is not alone. We’ve discussed the stunning failures of Glassdoor, Indeed, LinkedIn, Monster, CareerBuilder and TheLadders, among others.

Here’s another example of a commercial that kills HR — from Indeed. Can you find the holes in this “#1 job site” and explain to us how the commercial corrupts HR and undermines effective recruiting, hiring and job hunting? Or am I unreasonable and nuts?

Is HR really dead? Is real recruiting a dead art? Are these commercials a marketing plot to undermine the hiring process so database jockeys can profit from the resulting mess? Maybe you think our modern hiring systems are just fine. If you think some other bugaboo makes it unreasonably hard to hire and get hired, please tell us what it is.

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70 Comments
  1. “ZipRecruiter makes money when you keep paying for job applications — not when you fill jobs.” –

    Exactly!

    In answer to your closing question, the answers are emphatically “No”, and “No”.

    In effect and reality, “The inmates,” (or, should one say “the algorithms”?) “have taken over the asylum.” Perhaps by now they are synonymous…

    Thanks so much for another penetrating and enlightening post, Nick. There is wisdom to be found here.

  2. If I was a restaurant owner, I would not need applications from the whole world wide web. I would need from people in the area of the restaurant. Why not simply put up some notes on the message boards in the corridors of the local community college?

    I have been on the receiving side of too many applications as well. I am a petroleum geologist, working for a small Norwegian oil company. We needed another geologist. Being a small company without resources to do much training, we requested that applicants had at least ten years of industry experience, mostly from the Norwegian sector, so that they knew the overall geology and the regulatory framework up front.

    We put out ads on the largest Norwegian classified site (Finn.no), on a couple of geology websites and in a Facebook group for Norwegian geologists. We skipped paying StinkedIn for an ad, but I put the ad on my open profile.

    Result: 170 applications for one position (and many LinkedIn “friend” requests from people I had never heard about). Nearly two-thirds were from people from far, far away and/or very little experience, who only gave our secretary more paperwork.

    Lesson learned: Next time, we will skip LinkedIn altogether, and probably also Finn.no. And instead use our network.

    But, at least, I am grateful that we did not use one-click-applications on LinkedIn or other boards.

    • “Why not simply put up some notes on the message boards in the corridors of the local community college?”

      I recently transitioned into higher ed (at a community college nonetheless). I’ve thought about my transition and many of the folk I met along the way. One of the things that came to mind is why would anyone pay a 3rd party recruiter especially with all these online databases, especially when that’s where they got most of the candidates they are presenting to you anyways?

      Taking things a bit further, why would my department need to hire a 3rd party agency to just sort through resumes? I mean, I would walk a couple of buildings over and hire some CS/IT student on a temporary basis at a fraction of the cost and get something almost as good.

      • @David: It’s worse than that. Consider how this works.

        Your HR pays ZipRecruiter to post a job.

        ZipRecruiter posts it on CareerBuilder and “hundreds” of other boards.

        Indeed scrapes it from CB.

        A recruiter finds it on Indeed.

        He sends a resume hoping to earn a fee by placing someone he doesn’t know, has never talked with or interviewed.

        The same candidate finds the job on another board which scraped the sloppy seconds from Indeed. (or sloppy thirds)

        The candidate submits his resume directly to the employer.

        The employer’s HR discovers that resume has already been “submitted” by the recruiter first mentioned. HR’s algorithm already rejected the applicant, so the resume has a big fat NO on it.
        Not wanting to get involved in a fee fight anyway (whoever triggers the interview gets the fee in most cases), the employer passes.

        The candidate loses, having no idea that his resume just went around the world 4 times.

        The job is still not filled.

        Zip got paid anyway.

        HR submits another job and payment to Zip.

        Ian Siegel takes this to the bank to get another round of funding.

        Ain’t the database solution grand?

  3. The good news, if there is any, is that companies and professionals who still take the time to recruit the ideal hire for each position have a huge competitive advantage. So while my competitors are valuing HR by the volume of “relevant” resumes delivered to them, I am valuing recruiting—done by me, a non-HR professional—by knowing the one right person to hire for a given role and what it will take to get them on board when the time comes.

    • @Will: BINGO! The online jobs services effectively corral what might otherwise be your competition, wasting their time, giving you free rein over the recruiting landscape.

      • @Nick, forgive the OT intrusion – I could not get the submit topics option to work.
        That said…

        What to do?? when the hiring manager says following a second phone interview you communicate so well, you’re articulate yada yada. AND since we otherwise received only “lousy” resumes, we are going to repost this job for two more weeks with a different title so we can be sure…. but we should have you come down and meet with us, myself and the GM in about two weeks….

        What!? another purple squirrel hunt? Honestly I thought I was that squirrel.
        I imagine I should face palm over some gaffe on my part but so far I don’t see one.
        Family-run manufacturing company, founder (her dad) died in February, no HR department, I initiated contact with the owners myself.

        Your thoughts?

        • @Sandra G:

          Not sure what you mean about “I could not get the submit topics option to work.” Pls explain — something to do with this website??

          Regarding the employer, I have one suggestion.

          Run. These are idiots. Imagine working there and getting this kind of “action” while trying to do your job.

          • Nick, the area I tried on the old site, Have Questions for Nick, isn’t functional, or it’s possible I may have gone derp. =)
            Thanks for your reply – interesting I have searched the web and there’s no new job posting a full week later. My sister suggested they could be making me sweat in order to low-ball an offer at the end of the month. If they call I might just accept the meeting to see what happens and to practice my negotiation skills. If they offer (ahem, lol) I would bump the base salary to a moderate pain point, say another 5-8k just to see what happens. But this is all fantasy and I’m pursuing other positions regardless. It is certainly possible that their message for me is, we’re not interested. But either way, I don’t understand why employers feel the need to play with people, people’s lives in such a fashion.

            Thanks again.

            • @Sandra: Hmmm. I found that link on the old site and it redirects to an old page about the Q&A column. The link doesn’t seem to be dead and I don’t think either of us has gone derp…

              I don’t think employers intentionally play with people. I just think most of the time the hiring managers and HR are inept, or they really believe it doesn’t matter that they make you wait. Keep in mind, these are people that complain there’s a talent shortage and they can’t find good help! Sheesh! “No rush!”

  4. My experience there is no longer an HR department in most firms. The new business model is called “Human Resources Business Partner” sort of like a hybridized outsourced cross between a temp agency and a job board in one. They are acting in their own interest not the employers’.

  5. Hiring new talent has always been problematic and I have to say I had high hopes for IT to fix this issue. From my days in database management/IT/finance – it is pretty clear what computers are really good at, sifting through an inordinate amount of data and providing some insight into the vast sums of data. More specifically I was hoping that these programs would be able to identify the groups of good job candidates that are typically overlooked, introverts, LGBTQ+ individuals, minorities, and those without a good networking circle for various reasons.

    These programs should narrow down the field to a few key “must haves” for the job and then experienced individuals can sift through the remaining individuals to identify people they may want to interview. From what I have seen this has not been the case, these Recruiting IT companies cast a wide net and then disqualify just about everyone. Not sure what the value is in that.

    To fix the issue, I think companies need to increase their use of human recruiters, realize not everyone interviews well, and spend some of the money they are throwing away on recruiting-bots into training. According to the Aug 11th-17th 2018 The Economist article (Time to get in Training), “In broad terms, provision of on-the-job training has been shrinking-in both America and Britain it has fallen by roughly half in the past two decades.”

    Clearly, what companies are doing right now is not working. For fun you can do an internet search for “frustrated job search” or something similar and you can easily find many people who are beyond frustrated with both looking for a job and finding job candidates.

    • @Anna: I, too, had hopes that IT might improve recruiting and hiring. However, rather than think more deeply about the problem, the database jockeys found it easier and more profitable to skim the surface, then hire marketers to promote and sell the crap they have designed.

      As you note, the technology is good at sifting through mountains of data. But to justify their technological “solutions,” they have created mountains of data to sift through — the petabytes of “candidates” they pile up to impress employers. “LOOK at all the people we FOUND for you!” All they’ve done is create a problem their systems can “solve,” without addressing recruiting itself.

      Recruiting is NOT about amassing mountains of candidates. It’s about carefully identifying 3 or 4 per job. Starting with millions is just stupid and unproductive.

      Unless, like Ian Siegel, you need to show your technology is “doing something” when it’s doing the wrong thing. Sorting millions of applicants is not the job. Going out to meet the few movers and shakers is.

      • @Anna @ Nick – Totally agree with a lot of what y’all have said here. I was initially intrigued by tools like Textio, that can help you reconfigure job descriptions that (statistically) aren’t attracting a diverse group of applicants, and that’s great. But it’s downright alarming how much venture capital is convincing people that the only way to run an inclusive hiring process and recruit a diverse pool of candidates is by removing humans entirely from the process. Tech can *help* but the idea that a computer could ever answer a question so complicated as “who is the right person for this job” is absurd and dangerous.

        Computers at this point are good at quantitative evaluation, and not good at qualitative, and it’s our unwillingness to evaluate candidates on *both* grounds that leads us to reject people who would be great at the job. Years of experience, education level, and hard skills are useful sometimes, but none of them are particularly predictive of actual success on the job, and those are the things that most algorithms are studying first and foremost.

        I love that HR is getting really deep into caring about the systemic, institutional biases and oppressions that keep a lot of people out of a lot of good jobs that they’d knock out of the park. I’m extremely alarmed at how many HR people think that the solution is to remove humans from the hiring process entirely.

        Plus, like, it almost always leads to a worse candidate experience! Why is HR convinced that people *like* to talk to chatbots? Because HR software companies are selling chatbots, and thousands of HR folks attend a professional development webinar (that’s really just a captive audience sales commercial for the chatbot) and went to the annual conference (sponsored by ZipRecruiter).

        AI is sexy and that’s going to destroy recruiting.

        • @Kim: The job boards love the sales pitch that technology by definition levels the playing field, eliminates bias, ends discrimination.

          They’ve never shown anything to back that up.

          It’s their way of getting the pesky humans out of the picture so they can keep raking in the dough. And it’s the best thing for society!

          (Gimme a break.)

      • Completely agree. What worries me is that no one seems to care about the inordinate amount of “junk” data in the hiring systems. Their latest trick seems to be offering to harass candidates who have NOT applied to the job and in many cases are not available. Case in point I was helping a friend hiring an accounting manager and he received a canned message with the candidates and there was literally one person on the list. Upon further inspection this person had not even applied for the job and the company offered to contact him. It wasn’t a surprise that he was a perfect match as he used to work in that exact position before he was terminated for cause a couple of years ago. In another message a recruiter told me about a wonderful candidate she had and would happily contact. I had worked with this individual before and I would work with her again. When I went to the potential job candidate’s LinkedIn account, she had written in bold letters at the top of her profile that she was not looking for any job offers currently.
        I could go on and on but I did find one email particularly amusing as they offered to contact a wonderful co-worker I worked with several years ago. Apparently, I have a dark sense of humor but not enough to let them try and contact an individual who’s funeral I attended a little over a year ago.

    • It has always come down to NEED, which is not the same as WANT. Over the past decade it has become obvious that the job descriptions have become more and more bloated. With “WANTS / MUST HAVES” becoming ridiculous with 60+ MUST HAVES. Seriously? 60 separate requirements for a management position. Maybe for a research / theoretical scientist. Those excessive requirements just add more reasons to eliminate someone, not find someone to fit the needs of the company.

      I want a Ferrari, I want a home on the Malibu beach, I want a private jet. But I NEED a position that pays fairly and one where I can be recognized for my accomplishments building a better company. Yet as in this discussion string, companies are just throwing out every requirement they can find on-line for someone. I have also seen similarities in the descriptions (down to the same sentence) for similar job titles in different companies that are obviously used in their slightly modified cut and paste job description.

      Put that into the algorithm mix and you will be able to “deliver hundreds of resumes” to the party who pays them.

      By the way, I have also seen many positions not filled for months and months still listed on company websites, that ended up as a sloppy second on job boards.

      I was hired 2 times in my career because of several accomplishments that did not fill any check box on their original job description. But I did fill their fundamental needs for the position which they apparently never got from that hiring manager. But that was then, not now.

      Yes it is frustrating.

  6. I’m curious. If Ziprecruiter is a $1 billion company, they must need a lot of employees to support that.

    I wonder how they hire. Do they use their own tools? Or do they do something different?

    • @Jason, Good question, googling “careers at ziprecruiter” does comes up with the top non-advertised site of “https://www.ziprecruiter.com/careers” which lists 63 open positions mostly in sales, business, and account management. Plus a few technical jobs. I wonder what the success rate for those listings is, and whether people who post their jobs on ziprecruiter are ever funneled to its own openings.

      • “….sales, business, and account management…”

        All high turnover jobs.

        Companies like this will always have “63 open positions”.

    • Here’s an example of how ZipRecruiter “recruits.” They sent me this “personalized e-mail” a while ago. It’s a solicitation.

      *
      Good afternoon, Nick.

      I came across Ask The Headhunter (and consequently, your blog) the other day and I was intrigued by the kind of intense job-topic conversations you had going on in your corner of the web.

      That said—with as much skepticism that exists around the job board industry and its polluted reputation today—I believe that ZipRecruiter is a trustworthy platform for both job seekers and employers. If there’s any way we can partner up to help your job-seeking audience find our completely free job search tool, let’s make it happen!

      No payments, just simple and clean job search results & optional job alerts sent directly to their email inboxes.

      I look forward to chatting with you; keep up the great work at ATH!

      *

      Need I say more about how Zip “identifies” people/businesses it wants to partner with?

  7. This article underscores the importance of person to person relationships in the employment process. Properly applied, the computer can be a great tool. Don’t forget your local library where they have other materials as well, and can help you on a more effective digital search. (My librarian wife can out google me any day.)

    Use the computer and other sources to help you find people to meet. In my current company, I already knew a couple people. I applied through their applicant tracking system. Then when I interviewed, one guy grew up in a church where I had once been a member. The one who became my boss grew up in the church where I was their permanent organist at the time.

    What you see here is a database with key words matching me up to a job, but my community ties did the rest. My boss likes me, and it is a good working relationship all around.

    Being a dual career person (engineering and music) does help greatly in meeting people. As I have said on this forum before, get involved in your community – service club, fraternal organization, political party, religious organization (if you don’t have religious beliefs, the Unitarian Universalist Association or a local humanist or ethical society are great choices), or charity.

  8. A sad outcome of all of this automated “recruiting” is that job seekers are spending inordinate amounts of time adjusting the keywords in their resumes (hoping for a better match), applying to countless jobs online, and then getting frustrated when they get no response. They’re extremely busy but incredibly unproductive. I’ve been a professional resume writer for 25+ years and I’ve seen the steady creep of automation into the hiring process—to the detriment of those hiring and those trying to get hired.

    Yet the “conventional wisdom” is that you need to do exactly those unproductive things—constant resume tweaking, keyword matching, and uploading—to “pass” a resume scan and be in that top 3% that gets an interview!

    The alternative of a targeted, networking-based search seems much more difficult but in fact it’s much more productive, effective, and even satisfying—because you’re talking to real people about subjects of common interest, exploring your fit with a job/company/culture, thinking about how you can add value. It’s something you can get excited about.

    • The best “advice” I’ve seen job boards give job seekers goes something like this:

      “After you post your resume, remember to come back frequently to refresh it! Change a few words to make our system tag it as having new information so it will rise higher in the search results when employers seek candidates!”

      Translation: Game our system! Anything to get you to keep coming back so we can show employers who pay to find the same old resumes again and again that there are fake new resumes for them!

  9. The only reason I ever utilize Glassdoor or LinkedIn is to get company background information or to see if anyone I know works there. If I discover a job online I check out the company’s website directly. I agree with @Anna in that initially I had hopes that technology would be a useful tool; I am the introvert without a good networking circle. Most of my contacts have either been forced into retirement, gave up looking for work, moved out of the country, or have died. Also, ageism is a huge problem.

    As for training, I can say unequivocally the last training I ever received by a company was over 20 years ago. Last year I had a consulting job whereby the director knew I was a greenhorn. It was great that she took me on but I received zero and I mean zero training. I managed to pull it off but after working 31 years in the workforce, I have concluded that employers view staff with a level of contempt. They like to whine that they cannot find talent but it is like the old adage ‘you reap what you sow.’ American employers have sowed very little for years.

  10. The psyche of people is devolving, as evident by accepting ludicrous notions like a LinkedIn type of company will replace hiring managers talking to real people about actual work, getting to know them.

    We’re seeing this “un-sanity” across the board. We have “managers” who know zero about actually doing the work (or are so far outdated they may as well know nothing) telling the people that do the actual work (electricians, IT people, nurses)–to “get it done”. This level of red tape is being paid 80% of the money yet they’re really not doing any work. This level gets on conference calls with other managers pretty much discussing how the don’t know why something isn’t working but somebody else better figure it out. Eventually an engineer or technician figures it out for them. Soul crushing and a complete waste of a position. The alternative is to have the technical people work in teams with having “paper pushing” positions manage the work flow.

    We don’t need managers of people, we need managers of workflow and that means spreadsheets and databases, with a familiarity of the work itself. Otherwise nothing will change.

    • @Jack: Then we have companies that pay an outsourcing firm to hire an independent recruiter to find workers on LinkedIn. If the worker is “hired,” the first company rents her out to work at another company which pays the first company an extra 40% above what she’s going to see in her paycheck.

      Can you find the holes where the value gets sucked out of the economy?

      • I think I may have mentioned this in an old discussion, but I once worked at a place where numerous people were temp/contract workers.

        HQ would not let the operations manager hire people permanently….and then would complain about his high labor costs….which could have been cut 25% instantly if he could have hired those people.

        Lather, rinse, repeat.

        • @Chris: No matter how much they complain about costs, many employers will never stop paying a “consulting firm” (translation: body shop) an overage for the benefit of not having to pay benefits and so they can let workers go (cancel the hire) without having to deal with legal constraints and employment regulations.

  11. I remember reading a comment from someone awhile ago….

    The job boards will wine and dine the execs at the company, who then agree to pay them a large sum of money.

    But, then when it comes time to actually interview/recruit candidates, there’s no money left in the budgets for simple things like taking candidates out for lunch or training people on better interviewing techniques.

    • You probably read that here because I’ve told that story quite a few times. It’s absolutely true. If I told you the name of the company, you would jump.

  12. “With few notable exceptions, HR executives and professional associations across the board have slit HR’s throat and outsourced HR’s key job to database jockeys who have wowed them with “high tech solutions.” “

    Nick, I’ve been reading your columns for years and have to say that this is the first time that you’ve expressed some sympathy for the much-derided personnel jockeys who got in the way of recruiting/hiring more than they’ve helped.

    Is this a change of heart toward HR or a shaking of the head at execs who let these “web 2.0 disruptors” sweet talk them into outsourcing HR’s lame attempts at recruiting to some tech vendor’s black box algorithm?

    • @Cochrane: There really are (and always have been) some very good HR folks out there. They’re the ones that make a real difference because they actually do their jobs and advocate for smart practices. Trouble is, they’re few and far between. Some of them are good friends of mine. Many of them read this website and are long-time subscribers to the newsletter.

      Sometimes they send me notes that say, “Thank you for saying that! I just want you to know I’m not one of THOSE people in HR!”

      As I said in the column, for the most part HR is a willing if ignorant participant in the feeding and care of stupid venture investor’s latest database-company mistake. HR is responsible. No change of heart on my part, but it’s important to note that there ARE some babies in the bathwater!

      E.g., https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/11563/hr-people-we-love

  13. The word contempt was used here, and I think it important that the word be examined carefully and used more often.

    When the Borg assimilated my company circa 2010, besides the enormous professional disrespect they showed me only minutes after the deal was closed, I had trouble on another level.

    Silly me, but I thought that any business that relied on customers (and I’m pretty sure most businesses today do) should treat their customers with respect. And generally, if they have contracted service providers to aid them in “delighting” their customers, they should treat their service providers as allies in the battle to create true business excellence.

    But once the Borg took over, I couldn’t discern whether they held their customers in contempt and their service providers in disdain, or vice versa.

    I think they just hated everybody, including their employees, who they had to at least pretend to like.

    Again, silly me, but I thought employees were people that you were supposed to lead to excellence, not lead to the slaughter.

    Of course, the Borg tossed me out because of all my silly ideas. If I were to sneak back and put a sign above the company entrance, it would read, Welcome to Hell.

    And just so you don’t think that I’m hallucinating, the guy who tossed me got tossed out two years later for sexual harassment.

    I guess it’s somewhat comforting to know that even Satan has limits in workplace hell.

    The companies that seem to be thriving are the ones with the silly ideas of treating everyone right: customers, employees, shareholders, service providers, and even their competitors.

    I know that they’re out there, but they hide in plain sight really, really well.

    +

  14. @Citizen X: Whether you run a business or work for one, consider three important elements: customers, employees, vendors.

    You provide goods, services, and customer experience that will guarantee repeat business, and acquire new business. Employees make it happen, so get employees who are passionate about what your company does. Vendors provide the things you need for your business from raw material providers to the electric company. Treat your vendors nicely, and they might give you a deal!

    In other words, treat customers, employees, and vendors well. I work for a large European company that seems to put this idea into practice.

  15. What seems to me to be the 800 lb. gorilla in the room is that the “best candidates”:
    1) Are not putting their resumes out on “all job the top job boards”.
    2) Are being personally recruited by hiring managers who will bother to put on a suit and tie to do so.
    3) Are being taken out to dinner by someone who really understands how to recruit people (rather than click thumbs up or thumbs down and hope for the best).

    Any company ho has burned up the entire recruiting budget with ZipRecruiter has really just signed their own death certificate. It just hasn’t filled in the date yet.

    • @L.T., I don’t think that’s quite accurate. There are tons of good candidates out there, applying to jobs via job postings and putting their resume on boards (I like to think I’m one of them), it’s just that most companies have an absurdly narrow definition of what “good” means, and are teaching AI systems to be even more ruthless. Part of why in-person and relationship-based recruiting works is by allowing people to see the potential in whole people, with lives and personalities and nuances. It’s easier to look past a dumb typo, or lack of college degree, or bad GPA when you know the person behind it is smart and skilled. I don’t think it’s necessarily that the best candidates are where those recruiters are looking for them (though, certainly, some are), it’s that conferences and the like create a certain space that can be really good for getting to know people in a particular industry better.

      That’s it. If we could create that kind of space with the random firehose candidates we’re getting from job boards, if we had the time and the ingenuity and the resources, I think we’d find tons of great candidates that we’d have overlooked for any number of reasons. Conferences create a big, obvious, purpose-made space for that, and that’s awesome. But that space also has barriers (price; current employment; tons of others) that the regular application process doesn’t have. I’m really interested in what other ways we could be building those relationships to find those (perhaps rarer perhaps not) great candidates in the firehose, in organized, sustainable, equitable and impactful ways.

      (I know you weren’t talking narrowly about conferences; I’m just trying to use them as an example of a common way that recruiters build relationships, which I know we talk about a lot here on the blog.)

      • I don’t think it’s possible to make really good hires when the recruiting system you use forces you to process staggering numbers of incoming applicants who apply because the same system requires them to apply for any and all available jobs.

        In social science research, there’s something called the “forced choice.” It’s not the best choice.

  16. HR departments have participated in their own demise.
    I’ve had many experiencs of a preliminary screening for a position with an HR associate. It is clear to me that many of these people have no idea what skill set they are looking for and in many instances no idea what the job actually requires. They focus on what applications you have used, completely ignoring the more important skills of how you manage your work, what your experience is, and how well you understand the industry.

    I am amused when companies claim they cannot find qualified candidates. The real problem is not that there are no qualified candidates, the problem is that job seekers have to run a gauntlet of getting past the latest fad in recruiting used by the HR department.

    • This is very true. I’ve noticed that the vast majority of job postings are merely cookie cutter descriptions that give no hint of what skills/experience are actually needed.

      As an example, here’s an actual job posting I just searched for fun for an engineering position:

      *****************

      · Repairs, including locating replacement parts and technical supervision. Major projects and related repair recommendations are reviewed and approved by the Director of Operations.
      · Trouble-shooting existing manufacturing processes and procedures; investigating and implementing cost reduction opportunities; developing new product process procedures; and assisting manufacturing with design changes and improvements.
      · Work both independently and in conjunction with the maintenance personnel, manufacturing supervisors, machine operators, technical director, and development chemists in order to obtain information necessary to implement changes; upgrade equipment and process controls; reduce material waste; and modify equipment to ensure that quality products can be manufactured at optimum productivity levels.
      · Contribute to profitability with cost reductions through the impact on material waste and manufacturing efficiencies.
      · Responsible for the cleanliness and maintenance of the plant building and grounds
      · Interface with regulatory agencies as needed

      *****************

      Reading this, I see basic stuff that any engineer can/should be able to do. But I have no idea who this company is, what they make, how they work, what technology they use, etc., etc. Now imagine an algorithm trying to match a candidate to this bland, generic job description.

      • Yep. In addition to that, many actual requirements are not even stated in the job listing! For example, a while back I had an external recruiter put me forward for a technical business analyst job. I tailored my resume and cover letter to suit the listing. He came back and said that they’re looking for experience with Cobol and Java, and I didn’t mention any of those details in my resume (because I’m no longer a software developer). So I added them back in the appropriate places and he re-submitted. A few days later he came back to say they disqualified me because I didn’t have experience in the health care field. Which also was not mentioned anywhere in the listing.

        You can’t give the employer what they’re looking for if they don’t tell you what they’re looking for!

      • Ha, don’t even get me started on the insane job descriptions! I read those things, then my eyes start to glaze over and I’m left wondering if I should use Google Translate to get something that at least approximates English.

        These JDs are great at verbosity but do a piss-poor job of telling you what exactly the job entails.

        To tell the truth, if I run across a JD that is full of gobbledygook, I pass. I know it’s not for me, even if the actual job is something that I might be interested in.

  17. Ho Ho Ho Nick!

    Today’s Post was brilliant! Christmas is only 126 days away!

    Did you know there are similar programs that are beginning to do the same thing to jobs for
    people who portray Santa Claus and other Christmas characters?

    But your well-founded, excellent networking techniques are what keeps Santa getting hired!

    North Texas Santa® Loves Ya!

    • @Santa: I saved Santa??? YES!!!!!!

      Santa FOREVER!

  18. I’m having a hard time feeling sorry for HR. I know that not all HR employees and HR departments behave badly, but far too many of them do, giving a bad rep to everyone. I’ve seen that ZipRecruiter ad numerous times, and always wonder why a restaurant manager in Boston (or Chicago or pick your city) would even want to post a job vacancy online and get applications from people in Seattle or Atlanta or India. He’d be better off to recruit locally and to ask his staff for recommendations. God forbid managers talk to anyone without a computer doing the screening or without hiring a third party to do the screening and hiring. If I were the manager, I’d want to meet with and talk to candidates. A computer can’t judge whether they’ll be able to contribute to the business, fit in with the other employees, etc. I think people have been brainwashed into believing that technology is the be-all, end-all, and answer to everything. I’m not anti-technology–it has made things easier and more convenient, but it is no substitute for human interaction or human judgment.

    When I finished college in the 1980’s, jobs were still advertised in newspapers. I got one of my first post-college jobs by answering an ad in the local newspaper. The office manager called me in for an interview within a week of my reply to the ad, and I was offered the job. They were willing to train me. Today, that kind of ad would never appear in the local paper, and I’d be “required” to apply online, submit to personality, background, and more tests before some third party would bother with a phone screen. Then they’d complain about the “skills gap” and the “talent shortage” and how they can’t find any good people.

    The other problem with the current state of affairs is the long laundry list of skills required. A college degree is required to answer phones. Too many employers think more is better and keep adding requirements, which only serves to weed out people who could do the job with some training and ramp up time. Even worse is if you talk to HR, no one there can tell you about the job, what your day would be like, what they expect of you, etc. Yet HR is the first ones candidates talk to, and they decide who moves on. This, too, makes no sense. I wish more employers were willing to talk to people who are job hunting and knocking on doors. I remember how it was in the 1980’s, and remember having those conversations with managers. It didn’t always result in a formal interview, which was fine, because I sometimes learned that the job was not what I thought it would be, or that I got a weird vibe from the manager.

  19. you forgot to mention that when a company advertises for an open position and lists all of the required attributes and the ‘nice to have’ attributes of the perfect candidate, people like me know exactly the type of talent you have internally (or lack internally) and that information is priceless for someone who hunts heads for a living…so back off Nick! lol

    • Heh-heh, Bob. No worries. Not many people in your biz know that. So why are you telling them? ;-)

      • It’s a big market. If Bob in IT recruiting just made a few newbie recruiters more competent, it’s probably just as well.

  20. Most of the attributes, skills laundry list, nice to haves etc. are just so much filler. And if you at all want to give someone a second chance, you are considered a moron.

    (Probably an altogether different topic. I digress.)

    I would be happy to sit down with someone with a 6-month trade school certificate, a 10-year stint in Leavenworth, and currently a prospect for a 1%-er motorcycle club if he or she could show me that they could pet a kitty at an acceptable level that demonstrated 5 years or so experience.

    If that is what you are looking for, the rest is just foam in the mug at beer-thirty.

  21. This conversation reminds me of that Twilight Zone episode where the aliens tweaked a few street lights, a few car horns and before you know it, the cities’ inhabitants are running around in circles, bashing each other over the head, blaming each other for the craziness.

    HR has been functionally inept since Day 2 when Old Man Withers was no longer around to look over a walk-in and give the Office Manager a shake or a nod.

    Cherry new grads (at Fortune Companies [!]) who are given the key job of screening incoming resumes/applications from people whose backgrounds that grad cannot understand, an over-reliance on computer systems that cannot do the job of a Human and gutless HR ‘professionals’ who dare not voice an opinion until they have had applicants/candidates fill out enough psychometric questionnaires to fill a Freudian library but not because it gives them a ‘better picture’ of a candidate’s capacity to produce but so that if the hire goes wrong, there is something to blame other than themselves.

    And so on…..

    • @Paul: Consider the engineering manager who’s told by HR to carefully craft an accurate job description. HR posts it. Thousands of applicants are delivered by ZipRecruiter. A mathematical equation flags the best ones. A greenhorn HR rep reviews that subset and chooses the candidates best suited to designing complex systems using tools the HR rep knows nothing about.

      Consider the engineering manager who never sees any of the other applicants.

      Now tell the board of directors that the best engineering candidates are being interviewed and hired.

      And so on…

      • Reminds of the time I did a screening interview with an HR person who’d been at the company six months. I had to explain that some of the abbreviations/lingo I was using were, in fact, the same things as the required skills in the job description.

      • Well, with exception, it could be said that if all of HR was as competent as we believe they ought to be -not counting confidential searches and other key considerations- I’d be out of business.

        We are in this business [of Executive Search] largely because HR can’t do what they are paid to do.

        Let the circus continue for all I care. Their broken systems are my opportunity.

        (And because their incompetence is transparent, I am able to explain to job seekers how to anticipate HR and employer cuckoo, convoluted, backwards and on occasion, professional thinking in order to be seen as a most qualified candidate.)

        We work with what we got.

        Ironically, I often believe those of us in the Search/Recruitment business can do more to educate job seekers than those HR professionals who are stuck in dumb mode.

  22. Maybe, not dead but on life support gasping for air. I sent a link to this article to 10 of my SPHR -SHRM HR Professionals / friends on LinkedIn”. It has only been a few hours, but the first response was “Not Sure” from a VP of HR. I will ask them why not sure. It makes no sense. I am more confused.

    • Probably counting the toes s/he would be stepping on before saying something definitive.

      • Paul, you’re assuming too much. “Not sure” just means “not sure.” This is a VP of HR who is paid to be on top of these issues.

        “Not sure.”

        What you see is what you get. If I were Joseph, I’d send that particular e-mail exchange to each member of the Board of Directors with a note attached. “This is who you pay to manage HR?”

        • You are as well, Nick.

          “Not sure” can easily be a delay between having to say something and not having thought out a conversation enough to make an informed response.

          “Not sure” can be a million things; I was offering what I believe was the more obvious reason this VP did not immediately reply with a tangible thought.

          You know well our language contains a million possibilities, Nick.

          Do you even know that VP? How can you accurately assess what s/he said without knowing more? Mine was what I consider to be a reasonable guess and although I can be mistaken, I hardly think you or anyone who does not personally know this VP can accurately state what was on that person’s mind at the time.

          As far as ‘being on top of issues’ I spoke a while back with a Fortune HR Manager who did not know what ascension [career advancement] was all about.

          Guessing is guessing but we should never assume.

        • “This is a VP of HR who is paid to be on top of these issues.”

          Oh, yes, the VP of HR. The title of all those VP’s who rule over broken/inept Human Resources departments.

          O-Kaaaaaay.

  23. I went to the Jobvite site and found the newest con, “Texting” Seriously? Texting with a candidate to get their job history, their accomplishments, education. I am sure that all the companies using this service will be thrilled to find a qualified candidate from a text (yeah right).

    The whole thing in a way is like the old newspaper ads. But those ads were placed by HR departments and were typically regional. Those were the days when HR departments actually tried to find qualified employees to talk to first and then bring them in for a face to face.

    Nick is correct. Sadly even mid size companies have come to believe that HR departments are a waste of time when in reality, it is just the opposite.

    There will come a time after numerous disappointments and lost business because of a wrong hire, where companies will wake up. But it would take multiple failures for companies to come to their senses, if ever.

  24. This is an interesting concept: https://www.fastcompany.com/90219582/this-company-hired-anyone-who-applied-now-its-starting-a-movement

    “Greyston Bakery uses a practice of open hiring: filling positions on a first-come, first-served basis, no questions asked. Now it wants to teach other companies how to do the same.”

    • @Borne @Nick neat! It’s sort of like the random hiring idea from that thread a couple weeks ago! So happy to see it working.

  25. @Sharon: I never tailor my resume – it has all my experience and skills listed, and it gets results. I wrote it an maintain it myself – I looked for a prototype resume online in a format that caught my eye.

    All that said, it is solely a marketing document. I did try only putting the last 10 years on my resume once and it confused some potential employers. The feedback? They said they valued the length of experience I had.

    It’s not worth sweating over. If you are not getting results, I say get out from behind that computer and meet people.

  26. While it may be in the interests of Zip Recruiter to milk the companies for the most money, I can’t see why companies would continue to use them if they aren’t getting jobs, unless they are too cowardly to admit that they were wrong and that human interaction, vs using computers for everything, is actually the best policy, and that there is indeed no talent shortage.

    However, why pay such a huge price to continue this deception? The only way that Ziprecruiter could pull this off and stay in businesses is to convince them that the failure to match them with good candidates is really a fault with the candidates themselves, i.e. a ‘skill shortage” rather than a deficiency in ZR’s methods, but as ZR advertises that they are there for the purpose of finding qualified candidates, often as fast as 24 hours, or so their ad claims, that this strategy would actually backfire on Ziprecruiter.

    Unless HR were to convince the execs that Ziprecruiter that it was indeed the fault of the candidates, rather than the fault with Ziprecuiter, in an attempt to save face with the execs, and the execs were either too foolish or too lazy to check into the matter more and took them at their word.

    But after all of the money lost with all of these unfilled jobs, why aren’t companies seeing the writing on the wall yet and telling Ziprecruiter and Indeed to take a hike and demanding a vast change of policy in the way HR operates?

    There is something else at play in all of this. But what?

  27. @Mongoose: You’re highlighting the issues nicely. Let’s consider it all:

    The only way that Ziprecruiter could pull this off and stay in businesses is to convince them that the failure to match them with good candidates is really a fault with the candidates themselves, i.e. a ‘skill shortage”

    We need only look at the news coverage. It seems Zip et al. + HR have succeeded in convincing not only the public but the government that there’s a terrible skills shortage. But we also know that leading labor researchers at places like Wharton have debunked that claim with hard data. It seems Zip et al. have pulled it off.

    ZR advertises that they are there for the purpose of finding qualified candidates, often as fast as 24 hours

    All we need to see is the data. Zip et al. do not publish auditable data about how many jobs they actually fill. Odd since such data would be a phenomenal marketing tool. Except there’s no reason to believe it exists. Just the marketing. A Zip representative called me recently to “see we can do to change your mind about the job board industry.” I called her, left a msg asking for data that shows Zip really works as claimed. No call back yet.

    Unless HR were to convince the execs that Ziprecruiter that it was indeed the fault of the candidates

    See comment above about skills/talent shortage. There isn’t one. So why does HR cry there is? The simple answer is that HR uses automated recruiting that doesn’t work but has no interest in doing the hard work of real recruiting itself. It’s become a corporate scam.

    why aren’t companies seeing the writing on the wall yet and telling Ziprecruiter and Indeed to take a hike and demanding a vast change of policy in the way HR operates?

    Good question. Until boards of directors take an active role in reviewing how HR operates, nothing will change. I think boards view HR’s work as icky — boards don’t want to get their hands dirty with that.

  28. I think I already know this answer. But if a candidate (X) submits a resume, and the algorithm “selects it” and sends it to company A first. But company B, a fierce competitor of company A, needs the same type of talent a day later. Assume the algorithm selects X again and also sends it to company B.

    Unlike an honest recruiter (I assume they exist, I believe I have dealt with several national firms in the past) So ZR is hedging their bets so to speak, but the payout is to get any of the companies to hire, therefore they believe ZR is great! But what companies A & B don’t know, is that they are dealing with a card shark who stacks the deck in the card sharks favor.
    They are not dealing with a reputable recruiter whose income is derived from a positive relationship with a company, not just for today, but tomorrow as well.

    So ZR doesn’t provide exclusive candidates through their database of resumes, and doesn’t ensure that these same candidates will be submitted to a competitor.

    If I was company A, I damn well don’t want company B to get a better candidate I already paid for.

  29. The campaign to ‘kill HR’ came from HR itself as a form of suicide through laziness. Effectively Nick has alluded to this in prior blogs.

    And the problem is self-sustaining: the term HR ‘professional’ is a risible contradiction because HR now lack any basic skills and have a poor to non-existant communications ethic. Hence someone who is talented will not be attracted to HR. If you are good at mediation or customer relations you will go into public affairs; if you are skilled at compliance and law you might become a legal professional or lawyer. HR as it currently stands has so real core skills; once you go ito HR you have no transferable abilities because HR has turned its back on engagement and analysis. So HR does not attract the brightest and best.

    Yes – good HR is clearly better than reliance on Indeed and other bogus recruiter software. But we don’t have ‘good’ HR – but rather a zombie ‘profession’ that retains a role for itself whilst wasting financial resources on buying software to do its core job. Like a twisted version of career Darwinianism HR has self-selected itself for extinction.

    So these crass software ads insult companies and candidates; they don’t insult HR ‘professionals’ because there are none to begin with.

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