Recruiting From The Panic Room

Recruiting has changed. In the September 27, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job applicant responds to a posting and gets a call from the cops.

Is this recruiting?

recruiting-welcomeEmployers are so out of it that they’re not only putting up digital roadblocks against people they’re trying to attract — such as online application forms and video interviews — now they’re hiding in bunkers, barring the doors, and calling the cops on earnest job applicants.

A reader found this stunning episode on an Indeed discussion forum:

I recently applied to a job on Indeed and sent a follow up e-mail a few days later. About a week passed with no response, and I sent another e-mail, saying I would come by their office. They quickly sent a response saying they no longer had a position available. Twenty minutes later I got a phone call from the police. They complained that I threatened and harassed them. I denied it, and the cop said to not contact them again. The whole thing is almost unbelievable. I hate applying for jobs.

WTF?

Why doesn’t this employer just keep an armed guard posted at the door?

When you find a job posting online, can you get arrested for showing up in person at a company to apply? I’m not a lawyer, and I won’t touch that question, but such conflicted behavior and mixed signals sent by employers reveal just how dysfunctional recruiting has become.

Applying through the front door

More than once, I walked into companies I wanted to work for and gave my resume to a receptionist. Sometimes a manager would come out to talk to me. Or a personnel clerk would appear briefly. When no one appeared, I’d chat up the receptionist, collect some company literature to educate myself, and go home. Worst case, I’d write the employer off. On to the next.

If employers are afraid of who comes in the front door, why are they recruiting? Why are they in business? What if a customer shows up unannounced? Does the sales department send in its dogs?

WTF, indeed. I know many people who have taken the time and trouble to go to an employer’s office to demonstrate how serious they are about getting a job. But recruiters have so dehumanized job applicants they’re trying to attract that they no longer know how to welcome them.

Hiding from the applicants

Employers solicit such staggering numbers of people that they’re are afraid of who appears. The only way to process the incoming rush is to dehumanize and render people into database morsels. (See “How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.”) And to hide.

recruiting-barricadeThis cannot be reconciled with the idea that an employer is trying to attract you. When you’re an abstraction in a database — a mess of keywords — the assumption is that you’re to be avoided and feared, either as a waste of time or, in this case, as a physical threat.

Lest someone suggest it’s inappropriate to show up at a company after submitting a resume, keep in mind that at some point you’ll be invited for an interview at a bricks-and-mortar office that has a front door. If the front door is a locked bunker, then the job applicant who posted that story would likely just walk away — probably disgruntled. But if the front door is open for business, then it’s no more inappropriate for a job applicant to show up than it is for a customer to show up to buy something.

Recruiting from the panic room

So what does this incident mean? We must assume the job applicant did nothing wrong or threatening. After all, this person was applying for a job. They want to impress the employer — not hurt anyone — hence the visit to the office. (On the flip side, does a job applicant assume a murderous psychopath has lured them to an interview?)

When an employer worries for its safety or fears who’s going to show up, that tells us there’s something fundamentally wrong with popular methods of recruiting. It’s pretty clear that the fear and worry stem from soliciting teeming hordes of applicants that employers don’t really want. Depersonalizing and demonizing them only adds to the distrust — we naturally fear the unknown.

This incident is perhaps the most stunning evidence that the online employment system companies rely on is inherently twisted and warped. (See “Employment In America: WTF is going on?”) This job seeker’s experience reveals a panic-room mentality, where employers huddle and hide behind locked doors and impenetrable applicant tracking systems. It highlights one recruiting perversion after another:

  • Advertise a healthy work environment — but reveal your company’s paranoid culture.
  • Proclaim a desire to find great people — but treat applicants like they’re psychopathic marauders.
  • Solicit job applicants — then tell them there’s no job.
  • Open your company to the talent — then call the cops when the talent arrives.
  • Talk about how people are your most important asset — but only let digital profiles and applications in the door.

The problem is not that a company called the cops on a job applicant it attracted. That’s merely a symptom. The problem is that the highly automated recruiting system our economy depends on can’t deal with people.

What kinds of contradictory messages have you gotten from employers? What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had when applying for an advertised job?

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What does HireVue tell us about employers?

Sighmaster — an Ask The Headhunter regular — tells this story about an encounter with an employer that tried to schedule a HireVue video interview prior to any other discussions with the job applicant. (From the comments section of HireVue Video Interviews: HR insults talent in a talent shortage.)

Sighmaster’s Story

hirevueBack in July I applied for a design job with Connections Education. I got an email from their HR rep:

“Thank you so much for applying with Connections Education!  I am sending you a first round, preliminary digital interview request in a separate email through our vendor, HireVue, for the position with Connections Education. [Note the redundancy in mentioning the company name twice, was this email sent by an algorithm?] This process allows you to record yourself answering questions that will be watched by the hiring team, who will then set up second round, in-person interviews.”

I replied as follows:

“To quote the letter writer in this ATH article (HR Pornography: Interview videos), I find this request creepy, impersonal, presumptuous, Orwellian, exploitative, voyeuristic, unprofessional, and perhaps even unethical. It is also insulting. A hiring manager that won’t ‘waste’ their time interviewing candidates is certainly not worthy of my time. I am withdrawing my application.”

Her response:

“I am sorry that you feel that way and it is certainly not meant to be any of those items listed. If you would prefer to do a phone interview instead, we can arrange that. The reason we use HireVue as the first step in our process is because of the high volume of positions we have open, it would be impossible to screen the amount of applicants we are able to using a tool like HireVue. You can also opt to turn the video part off and just do audio id desired. I hope you’ll reconsider this position and agree to a phone interview.” [sic]

So, there ya go, I refused the HireVue and got a phone interview with the hiring mgrs.

The call consisted of a man who was the creative mgr and a woman who was director of marketing. The woman seemed nice, but the man had the personality of an uncooked potato. How’s that for ironic? I certainly would like to have seen this guy perform on a video camera to see if it would have been worth my time to talk to him (it wasn’t!).

Needless to say, the “interview” went nowhere — when you talk and talk and talk but the hiring mgr has nothing much to say other than “do you prefer mac or pc” (and you get sentenced to hell if you answer pc!) the outcome is inevitable.

I got their rejection email a few days later, to my relief. Of course, I’m still unemployed, but hey at least I stood my ground…*sigh*

Nick’s Reply

What does their use of HireVue video interviews tell us about employers?

This is just one data point, but it’s worth noting two outcomes of Sighmaster’s response — bold as it was. First, even though Sighmaster withdrew from the process, the employer still pursued this applicant. Saying no emphatically doesn’t necessarily kill the employer’s interest in a good candidate.

Second — perhaps more telling –, it seems the company’s choice to use video interviews to begin with may have signaled what kinds of managers Sighmaster would meet during a phone call, and what the experience would be like.

If you’ve been subjected to video interviews, did you find any correlation between that practice and the rest of your experience with the employer?

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Kelly Webcast Q&A

KellyOCG-lg-140x60I just delivered a webcast for Kelly OCG, produced by HCI.org, to hundreds of HR folks from around the world — about how to add value to the recruiting and hiring process at their companies.

How to:

  1. Create a competitive advantage for their companies when hiring in a challenging job market
  2. Attract and engage the best talent
  3. Avoid letting HR become a roadblock between managers and the best job candidates

We did some Q&A, but we ran out of time, so I offered to take more questions here. If you didn’t get a chance to bring up an issue you’d like to discuss, please ask away and I’ll do my best to respond here! Thanks for joining me on the webcast!

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Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired

In the May 12, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, I launch a rant about runaway technology in the world of employment. I mean, it’s way past stupid and counter-productive. It’s dangerous!

Or, Why LinkedIn gets paid even when jobs don’t get filled

If you’re going to recruit and hire people for your business, or if you’re going to look for a job, you need to understand why America’s institutionalized employment system doesn’t work. It’s important to know the short history of reductionist recruiting — layers of matchmaking technology designed for speed, distribution, and for handling loads of applicants.

It has nothing to do with enabling employers to meet and hire the most suitable workers.

reductionistWant Ads

When somebody invented the newspaper want ad, it was an innocent enough way to find people to do jobs. An employer said what it was looking for, people wrote a letter explaining why they were interested, threw in their resume, and mailed it in.

Because a want ad cost quite a bit of money (thousands of dollars in The New York Times), ads were almost always legit. Applicants had to pay for a stamp, and motivation was high to apply only to the most relevant. What’s not to like? Even when professional resume writers stepped in, and started touting salmon-colored paper to make their clients’ submissions literally stand out, it was still manageable; employers knew immediately which applications to throw out! Meanwhile, the newspapers made out like bandits advertising jobs.

Internet Job Boards

When the Internet came along, somebody thought to put all the ads online — to get better distribution, and more responses from more applicants. The jobs sites quickly realized this made wants ads cheaper, and to make money, they had to sell more ads.

Wink, wink — questionable ads, like multi-level-marketing schemes, were welcome! So were ads for expired jobs, kept there by employers who liked a steady stream of resumes even when they didn’t need them.

This never worked very well at all — and it became a disaster of such epic proportions that somebody named it “The Great Talent Shortage.” (See Systemic Recruitment Fraud: How employers fund America’s jobs crisis.) HR departments got flooded with applications they couldn’t process — so somebody invented keywords.

The Keyword Age

Employers no longer needed to read resumes or applications. Software compared words in job descriptions to words in resumes, and HR could accept or reject applicants without even knowing who they were!

Clever applicants started larding their resumes with keywords — making HR’s job all the harder, and job interviews a waste of time. It was so easy for people to fake their way past the system that HR panicked and drew the blinds. Everyone was rejected.

This experience led employers to agree that, yes, America is in a terrible talent shortage — during the biggest talent gluts in history. Even the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, banged the gong:

“I speak to a lot of business leaders who are trying to hire. They want to hire and the most frequent thing I hear from them is all too many people coming through the door don’t have the skills necessary to do the job I need to do.”

“Too many people”?? Say what?

Reductionist Recruiting: Get paid for $@*#&!

Perez isn’t holding those employers accountable. They use applicant tracking systems (ATSes) to solicit thousands of job applicants to fill just one job — then they complain they’ve got too many of the wrong applicants. The employers themselves are responsible for the problem. (News Flash: HR causes talent shortage!)

meatgrinder

Welcome to reductionist recruiting: Jobs don’t matter. People and skills don’t matter. The coin of the realm is what computer scientists call character strings: strings of characters, or letters and numbers, standing in for jobs and people. That’s what’s sold by job boards and bought by employers.

Think that’s far-fetched? Then why don’t employers pay when they actually hire someone from a job board or applicant tracking system?

The product is keywords. The system has nothing to do with filling jobs, or that’s how LinkedIn, Monster.com, Taleo and JobScan would get paid.

They get paid to keep the pipeline full of character strings. Employers and job seekers get scammed every day they play the game. And HR is the culprit, because that’s who signs the purchase orders and the checks to use these systems.

The New Age Of More Reductionist Recruiting

The high-tech-ness of all this (Algorithms! Artificial Intelligence! Intelligent Job Agents!) sent venture investors scurrying to put their money into reductionist recruiting, because HR departments didn’t care whether they hired anyone. Their primary business became the “pipeline” of job postings and processing incoming keywords.

That’s why Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner are getting rich while you can’t get a job.

It’s all stupid now. The head of Monster.com promotes “semantic processing” algorithms that match keywords better than any other job board. LinkedIn (LinkedIn: Just another job board) claims that special keywords — called “endorsements” — add powerful credibility to all the other keywords on people’s online profiles. And “job board aggregators” like Indeed.com collect all the keywords from every job board, grind them up and sort them, and deliver more and better keywords than any other technology.

We know this is all a big load of crap when the next iteration of recruitment start-ups are designed to further distance employers and job seekers from one another.

Reductionist Recruiting 3.0

That’s the point behind a new start-up called JobScan. This new service gives job seekers the same power employers have. For a fee, JobScan “helps you write better resumes.” Cool — we need better ways to help employers make the right hires!

reductionismBut it turns out JobScan doesn’t do that. It doesn’t help match workers to jobs any more than ATSes do. All it does is help job applicants scam ATSes by using more words that will match the words in employers’ job descriptions. More reductionist recruiting.

James Hu, co-founder and CEO of JobScan, told TechCrunch that, in the past, a real person would review your resume to judge whether you were worth interviewing. “But now you are just a record in the system.”

Duh? And Hu’s service treats you as nothing more. JobScan’s home page shows two text boxes. In one, you post your resume. In the other, you paste the description of the job you want to apply for. You click a button, and it tells you “how well your resume matches the job description.” Now you can add more of the correct keywords to your resume.

In just a couple of entrepreneurial generations, we’ve gone from stupid ATSes that rely on word matches to deliver “too many people…[that] don’t have the skills necessary to do the job,” to a whole new business that enables job seekers to manage the words they dump into those useless ATSes.

(Note to venture investors who missed out on the first rounds of Monster.com, Indeed.com and LinkedIn: This is a new opportunity!)

JobScan’s algorithms tell you which additional keywords you need to add to your application to outsmart the employer’s keyword algorithm.

It’s like your people talking to my people, so you and I don’t have to talk to one another. We can sit by a pool sipping Caipirinhas (my new favorite drink from Brazil), and wait for our respective people to do a deal that will make us all money.

Except there aren’t any people involved. Reductionist recruiting, meet reductionist job hunting: DUMMIES WANTED!

A Short History of Failure: More venture funding wanted!

Entrepreneurial ATS makers game the employment system to make loads of money while employers reject more and more job applicants. Now there’s another layer on this scam — and it was inevitable. Entrepreneurs are getting funded to create ways to help you beat the databases to fool employers into interviewing you, whether you can do the job or not. (I wish thoughtful entrepreneurs like Hu would put their talents to work creating value, not outwitting admittedly silly job application systems.)

Job seekers are taught every day that it doesn’t really matter whether you can do a job profitably. What matters is whether you can game the system to get an interview, just so you can get rejected because, in the end, employers don’t hire words that match jobs. They want people who can do jobs. They just don’t know how to find them. (See Getting in the door for alternative paths to the job you want.)

Of course, any dope can see the real problem: HR isn’t willing to hire key words, even though it pays an awful lot of money for them. And it certainly has no idea where the talent is.

I can’t wait for employers to wake up and smell the coffee: Start paying LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed only when those suckers actually fill a job.

Am I nuts, or has America’s employment system gone completely to hell with plenty of venture funding behind it?

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Big Data, Big Problems for Job Seekers?

In the January 21, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, Nick asks readers for help with an upcoming TV news interview:

There’s no question from a reader this week. Instead, I’m asking all of you readers a question. May I have your help?

I’ve been asked to appear on a TV news show to discuss how HR is using Big Data to watch you at work — and to process your job application without interviewing you. I’d like your input on the topic so I can frame my comments with your interests in mind. I’ll share a link to the program after it airs, and we can discuss it further then.

[UPDATE: Here’s the link that includes video from the TV program: Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring]

Nick’s Question for You

Big-Data-KittyAre you frustrated because employers reject your job application out of hand without even talking to you? Tired of online application forms kicking you out of consideration because you took too long to answer questions, or because you failed to disclose your salary history?

Wait — America’s employment system is getting even more automated and algorithm-ized. According to a new report in The Atlantic, the vice president of recruiting at Xerox Services warns that:

“We’re getting to the point where some of our hiring managers don’t even want to interview anymore.” According to the article, “they just want to hire the people with the highest scores.”

The subtitle of that Atlantic column (They’re Watching You At Work by Don Peck) reads: “The emerging practice of ‘people analytics’ is already transforming how employers hire, fire, and promote.”

Does that worry you?

If all goes according to plan (hey, this is TV — all schedules are subject to change), Atlantic columnist Don Peck and I will talk about the rise of Big Data in the service of HR — and I want your input in advance, because I’m worried about the conclusions Peck draws in his article. It’s a very long one (8,600+ words), but it illuminates some of the technology that’s frustrating your job search. Please have a look at it, and post your suggestions to help me frame my comments for this TV program.

Here are the Big Problems I see with this Big Data approach to assessing people for jobs and on the job:

The metrics are indirect.

The vendors behind these “tools” don’t directly assess whether a person can do a job. Instead, they look at other things — indirect assessments of a person’s fit to a job. For example, they have you play a game and they measure your response times. From this, they try to predict success on the job. That determines whether you get interviewed.

The problem is that we’ve known for decades that this approach doesn’t work. Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli throws cold water on indirect assessments:

“Nothing in the science of prediction and selection beats observing actual performance in an equivalent role.”

All that’s being thrown into the mix by these “assessment” vendors is Big Data. But more data doesn’t change anything. In fact, it makes things worse if the data are not valid predictors of success. It’s worse because indirect assessment leads to false negatives (employers reject potentially good candidates) and to false positives (they hire the wrong people for the wrong reasons).

The conclusions are based on correlations.

These tools predict success based on whether certain characteristics of a person are similar to characteristics of a target sample of people. For example, Peck’s article says that “one solid predictor of strong coding [programming] is an affinity for a particular Japanese manga site.” (Manga are Japanese comics.)

Gild, the company behind this claim, says it’s just one correlation of many. But Gild admits there’s “no causal relationship” between all the Big Data it gathers about you and how you perform on the job.

In what can only be called a scientific non sequitur, Gild’s “chief scientist” says “the correlation, even if inexplicable, is quite clear.”

The problem: A basic tenet of empirical research is that a correlation does not imply causality, or even an explanation of anything. Data tell us that people die in hospitals, and that correlates highly with the presence of doctors in hospitals. All jokes aside, that correlation doesn’t mean doctors kill people. Except, perhaps, in the world of Big HR Data: If you’re selling “people analytics,” then playing a game a certain way means you’ll work a certain way.

When we pile specious correlations on top of indirect assessments (What animal would you be if you could be any animal?), we wind up with no good reasons to make hiring decisions, and with no basis for judgments of employees.


INTERMISSION: There’s a hidden lesson for recruiters in Big Data.

Hanging out at a manga site doesn’t improve anyone’s ability to write good code — nor does it predict their success at work. But, it might mean that a recruiter can find some good coders on that manga site — the one reasonable conclusion and recruiting tactic that none of the people Peck interviewed seem to have thought of!


I don’t think Peck wrote this article to promote “people analytics” as the solution to the challenges that American companies face when hiring, but he does seem to think the Kool-Aid tastes pretty good. I think Peck over-reaches when he confuses useful data that employers collect about employee behavior to improve that behavior, with predictions based on silly Big Data assumptions.

To entice you to read the article and post your comments, I’ll share a couple of highlights in the article that kinda blinded me. Well, the assumptions behind them were blinding, anyway:

Spying tells us a lot.

In further support of indirect assessments of employees and job applicants, Peck cites the work of MIT researcher Sandy Pentland, who’s been putting electronic badges on employees to gather data about their daily interactions. In other words, Pentland follows them around electronically to see what they do.

“The badges capture all sorts of information about formal and informal conversations: their length; the tone of voice and gestures of the people involved; how much those people talk, listen, and interrupt; the degree to which they demonstrate empathy and extroversion; and more. Each badge generates about 100 data points a minute.”

Peck notes that these badges are not in routine use at any company.

It’s just a game.

A lot of the “breakthroughs” Peck writes about come from start-up test vendors like an outfit called Knack, which creates games “to suss out human potential.” Knack continues to seek venture funding, and the only Knack client mentioned in the article is Palo Alto High School, which is using Knack games to help students think about careers.

“Play one of [Knack’s games] for just 20 minutes, says Guy Halfteck, Knack’s founder, and you’ll generate several megabytes of data, exponentially more than what’s collected by the SAT or a personality test.”

The big dbig-dataata gathered, writes Peck,

“are used to analyze your creativity, your persistence, your capacity to learn quickly from mistakes, your ability to prioritize, and even your social intelligence and personality. The end result, Halfteck says, is a high-resolution portrait of your psyche and intellect, and an assessment of your potential as a leader or an innovator.”

Let’s draw a comparison in the world of medicine; it’s an easy and apt one: If more megabytes of game data can be used to generate more correlations, could doctors diagnose patients more effectively by collecting bigger urine samples? Because that’s the logic.

No sale.

I don’t buy it. I want to know, can you do the job?

Some Big Data about employee behavior can be analyzed to good effect. For example, Peck reports that Microsoft employees with mentors are less likely to leave their jobs, so Microsoft gets mentors for them. But he seems to easily confuse legitimate metrics with goofy games of correlation. And the start-up companies he profiles don’t seem to be on any leading edge — they’re mostly trying to sell the idea that Big Data in the service of questionable correlations makes those correlations worth money.

(To learn the ins and outs of legitimate employment testing, see Erica Klein’s excellent book, Employment Tests: Get The Edge.)

Big Deal.

We know that what Peter Cappelli says about the science of prediction is correct. But I think Arnold Glass, a leading researcher in cognitive psychology at Rutgers University, says it best:

“It has been known since Alfred Binet and Victor Henri constructed the original IQ test in 1905 that the best predictor of job (or academic) performance is a test composed of the tasks that will be performed on the job. Therefore, the idea that collecting tons of extraneous facts about a person (Big Data!) and including them in some monster regression equation will improve its predictive value is laughable.”

It seems to me that HR should be putting its money into teaching HR workers and hiring managers to hang out where the people they want to hire hang out, and into teaching them how to get to know these people — and how good they are at their work.

In the meantime, is it any surprise to any job seeker today that employers mostly suck at recruiting the right people and at conducting effective interviews?

If you have questions or thoughts you’d like me to raise in this forthcoming TV program, please post them. I’ll try to use the best of the bunch. I wish I could tell you that hanging out on my blog causes employers to hire you. Thanks!

[UPDATE: Here’s the link that includes video from the TV program: Big HR Data: Why Internet Explorer users aren’t worth hiring]

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Why HR should get out of the hiring business

In the April 2, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter complains about HR:

Throughout my career I have gotten new jobs by meeting and talking to managers who would be my bosses. Now I keep running into the Human Resources roadblock in companies where I’d like to talk to a manager about a job. Honestly, I just don’t see the reason for silly online application forms or for “screeners” who don’t understand the work I do, when companies complain they cannot find the right talent. I really don’t get it. Why do companies even have HR departments involved in hiring?

Nick’s Reply

Good question. Better question: Should Human Resources (HR) be in the recruiting and hiring business? My answer is an emphatic NO for three main reasons, though there are many others.

this_way_outFirst, HR is qualified to recruit and hire only other HR workers. HR is not expert in marketing, engineering, manufacturing, accounting, or any other function. HR is thus not the best manager of recruiting, candidate selection, interviewing, or hiring for any of those corporate departments.

Second, HR takes recruiting and hiring out of the hands of managers who should be handling these critical tasks. Finding and hiring good people are two of the most crucial jobs managers have. I offer employers three simple suggestions for improving recruiting:

  • Don’t send a Human Resources clerk to do a manager’s job,
  • Put your managers in the game from the start, and
  • Deliver value to the candidate throughout the job application process.

I think companies suffer when they subject applicants to the impersonal and bureaucratic experience of dealing with HR.

Which brings me to the third reason HR should be taken out of the recruiting and hiring business: HR has no skin in the game. It virtually doesn’t matter who is recruited, processed, or hired because HR isn’t held accountable. It’s hardly HR’s fault, but it’s a rare company that rewards or blames HR for the quality of hiring. HR is typically insulated as a “necessary overhead function.”

Don’t get me wrong: There are some very good people working in HR, and there may be a legitimate role for HR in many companies. But HR’s domination of recruiting and hiring has led to a disaster of staggering magnitude in our economy. In the middle of one of the biggest talent gluts in American history, employers complain they can’t fill jobs.


Don’t miss Harvard Webinar Audio: Can I stand out in the talent glut?


 

talent_shortageAccording to PBS NewsHour estimates, there are over 27 million Americans looking for work, either because they are unemployed or under-employed. (The U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there are 12 million unemployed.) I prefer the NewsHour figure because it tells us just how big the pool of available talent is. Concurrently, BLS also reports there are 3.7 million jobs vacant.

HR has a special term for this 7:1 ratio of available talent to vacant jobs. HR departments and employers call this 7:1 job-market advantage “The Great Talent Shortage!”

While the economy has put massive numbers of talented workers on the street, HR nonetheless complains it can’t find the workers it needs. That’s no surprise when HR’s idea of finding talent is to resort to database searches and keyword filtering, which are disastrously inadequate methods for finding and attracting the best hires.

The typical HR process of recruiting and hiring is most generously described as hiring who comes along via job boards and advertisements. It’s a rare (and precious) HR worker who gets up from behind the computer display to actually go find, meet, and bring home good candidates.

“The typical explanation for why HR recruiters have no time to recruit actively is that they have too many resumes to sort. This very real problem is solved easily: Stop soliciting and accepting resumes.”

Go recruit!

I could write pages about corporate maladies that arise from employers’ over-reliance on HR to recruit and hire. Instead, I’m just going to list some of the ways HR can kill any company’s competitive edge by interfering with these management functions:

Wasting money
Last year, almost a billion dollars was sucked up by just one online “job board,” Monster.com, which was reported as the “source of hires” only 1.3% of the time by employers surveyed. HR could be advocating for the personal touch in recruiting, but blows massive recruiting budgets on job boards with little to show in return.

Hiring who comes along
Job boards and similar advertisements — the high-volume, passive recruiting tools HR relies on — yield only applicants who come along, not those a company should be pursuing.

Wasting good hires
Good candidates are lost because database algorithms and keyword filters miss indicators of quality that are not captured by software. And highly qualified technical applicants are rejected because they are screened not by other technical experts, but by HR, which is too far removed from business units that need to select the best candidates.

Mistaking quantity for quality
HR has turned recruiting into a volume operation — the more applicants, the better. This results in impersonal, superficial reviews of candidates and quick, high-volume yes/no decisions that are prone to error.

Excusing unprofessional behavior
Soliciting far more applicants than HR can process properly results in unprofessional HR behavior, angry applicants and damage to corporate reputations. HR routinely suggests that the high volume of applicants it must process explains its rude no-time-for-thank-yous-or-follow-ups behavior — while it expects job applicants to adhere to strict rules of professional conduct.

Failing to be accountable
Because HR does not report to the departments it recruits for, it tends to behave inefficiently and unaccountably with impunity. The bureaucracy grows without checks and balances, and the hiring process becomes dull, rather than honed to a true competitive edge.

Marginalizing professional networks
HR tends to isolate managers from the initial recruiting and screening process, further deteriorating the already weak links between managers and the professional communities they need to recruit from.

Bureaucratizing a strategic function
The complexity of corporate HR infrastructure encourages isolation and siloing. Evidence of this is HR’s over-emphasis of legal risks in recruiting and its administrative domination of this top-level business function.

Wasting time
With recruiting and hiring relegated to an often cumbersome HR process, managers cannot hire in a timely way. Good candidates are frequently lost to the competition. (HR doesn’t have to deal with the consequences, but when a good sales candidate is lost to a competitor, the sales department loses twice.)

Killing a company’s competitive edge
HR owns two competing interests, further dulling a company’s competitive edge: the hiring process and legal/compliance functions. Because hiring is a strategic, competitive function, it deserves its own advocate. If business units and managers took full responsibility for recruiting and hiring (while HR handled compliance) the daily abrasion of these competing interests would strengthen a company’s edge.

take_a_hikeThis catastrophe didn’t occur overnight. It crept up on business in the form of a smothering shroud of red tape. Today this HR bureaucracy is propped up by an industry of “consultants,” “professionals,” and “experts” who advise corporate HR departments about how to maintain their administrative stranglehold over the key differentiator that defines any company — its people. And in turn, HR funds the database-induced job-board stupor and online-application-form addiction that’s killing employers and job hunters alike.

It’s time for HR to get out of the recruiting and hiring business, and to give this strategic function back to business units and managers who design, build, manufacture, market and sell a company’s products. Who better to decide who’s worth hiring? Who better to aggressively go find the people who will give the company an edge?

In the meantime, job hunters have no choice but to outsmart the employment system.

Should HR relinquish its recruiting and hiring functions? Have you experienced related problems with HR, either as a hiring manager or as a job applicant? What do you think should be done about it? (And if you think I’m wrong, please tell me why.)

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Systemic Recruitment Fraud: How employers fund America’s jobs crisis

In the January 22, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, reader John Franklin (who appeared with me on a PBS NewsHour segment last September) says recruitment advertising is often deceptive and asks how widespread I think the problem is:

Hi, Nick — Happy New Year. I was one of the other folks featured in the PBS story Is Applying for Jobs Online Not an Effective Way to Find Work? I’m writing to follow up on one point that I made but which didn’t get addressed due to the time constraint: companies running advertisements to update their talent pools and databases vs. actually doing any recruitment.

From my experience, this is an extremely common and rather deceptive practice that contributes to a great deal of the frustration experienced by so many job seekers. They see an ad that fits them perfectly, but it turns out to be nothing more than an invitation to submit so you can become a file listing as opposed to a candidate. In your opinion, how widespread is this practice?

(Thanks in advance for your input — great job on the piece!)

Nick’s Reply

Happy New Year to you, too! Thanks for writing to follow up on an important point you made to PBS NewsHour that didn’t make it into the program.

The practice you describe is as old as job ads. It probably seems innocuous to most people, but it’s an insidious practice that I believe contributes heavily to America’s jobs crisis.

When employers published jobs primarily in newspapers, they’d create what we used to call “composite ads.” To save money, they’d run one ad rather than five, and that one ad would include requirements for perhaps five different positions. It was the proverbial kitchen sink of recruitment advertising. The hope was that they’d get enough resumes with enough of a mix of skill sets that they’d fill at least one job, hopefully more.

recruiting-whopperFraudulent job ads

At the same time, employers were doing exactly what you’ve noticed: filling their filing cabinets with resumes. I’m sure employers bristle at the suggestion that this is deceptive. “We’re soliciting resumes for jobs! So what if that includes jobs that are not open yet?”

It’s worse than deceptive. I think it’s fraud. A job ad is a solicitation that implies there is a current, specific, open job to be filled. This creates anticipation in the job hunter, and the reasonable expectation that the job will be filled in short order — not that the resume will be filed, to be used later and who knows when. Job hunters reasonably expect a timely answer when they submit their resumes. But we all know what really happens: usually, nothing at all.

If employers want to gather resumes to stock their databases, that’s fine, but they should disclose what they’re doing. I’m sure they’d nonetheless rake in lots of resumes, but at least people would know the difference between applying for a job and applying to have their resume stored for later use.

Fresher stale jobs and resumes

How “fresh” can stale jobs be? The games employers and job boards play with resumes don’t end there. You’ll find that employers “update” their job postings with a few minor changes to keep them high in the “search results” — even though there’s no material stale-breadchange in the position. And the job boards encourage this practice. They remind employers to “refresh” their postings as a way to make the jobs databases appear “up to date” with “fresh jobs daily.” It’s a racket and a conspiracy. It allows a job board to claim it’s got X millions of “fresh, up-to-date job listings!” when all it’s got is stale bread with a new expiration date stamped on it.

The job boards tell job hunters to do the same thing with their resumes. “Keep your resume high in the results! Update it regularly!” Translation: Keep visiting our site so we can report high traffic to employers, who are so stupid that they not only “refresh” their own old listings, they pay us even more money for “refreshed” stale resumes!

HR funds the jobs crisis

Corporate HR departments are funding and propping up the job boards in an epic scam that has turned real recruiting into a bullshit enterprise that has nothing to do with filling jobs. The con is enormous. I believe it’s the source of “the talent shortage.”

After creating this fat pipe of resume sewage, employers complain they can’t possibly handle all the crud it delivers to them every day. “We received a million resumes yesterday! We can’t find good hires! And there’s no time to respond personally to everyone who applied!” Of course not. If you had to dive into a dumpster of garbage to find a fresh carton of milk, you’d complain, too. The trouble is, it’s HR departments themselves that are paying job boards to gather, store, and sell that drek back to HR. It’s incredibly stupid, but when’s the last time you saw the HR profession do anything smart in recruiting?

A billion dollars worth of nothing

Where does the jobs crisis come from? Why can’t good people get jobs? Consider Monster.com, the world’s biggest job board. In the last four quarters, the world spent dumpster-empty$1.05 billion to fill and then dive for resumes and jobs in this dumpster. Yet year after year since 2002 employers have reported that Monster was their “source of hires” no more than about 4% of the time. Is there anything to call this but a conspiracy between HR departments and the job boards? Is it anything but a racket? Is it fraud?

When a company publishes a job solicitation that’s intended only to stock a database, that’s deceptive. When employers publish jobs on a website that they know doesn’t fill many jobs, I call that systemic recruitment fraud.

The most stunning outcome is that recruitment advertising is choking the very employers that pay to prop it up. You’ve nailed the problem: Job ads — no matter what their form — are often deceptive. They’re not used to fill jobs. They’re used to build deep databases of old resumes. That’s what the jobs crisis floats on.

Billion of dollars spent on databases to find and fill jobs — while employers cry “talent shortage” and record numbers of talented people can’t get hired.

Yet another rant about job boards and HR practices? Yep. Is there a board of directors out there that realizes it’s funding the jobs crisis with its investors’ money? Contribute your stories and comments below. Nothing will change until the purveyors of this sludge get their noses rubbed in it.

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Yada, Yada, Yada: Desperate hiring

In the November 13, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a hiring manager asks how to distinguish acting from honest interviewing:

Hiring great people is a noble goal but it raises two challenges: how to attract candidates with those rare, valuable qualities into your pipeline, and how to identify them in the interviewing process when everyone is telling you how talented, motivated, curious, and ethical they are (yada, yada, yada). How do we get past all that so we really know who we’re hiring? How do we avoid hiring in desperation?

Nick’s Reply

Let’s talk about two fatal flaws in the entire recruiting/hiring process. First, we try to attract people when we need them. That limits us to cold, calculated, rushed recruiting methods that don’t work well.

Worse, these methods stimulate rote responses from candidates to trigger our interest in them. We’ve all seen it — candidates with the “I’m your (wo)man” smile on their faces. As you note, that’s the “Yada, yada, yada” interview. You can spend the entire time trying to figure out what’s real and what’s an act. Here’s the problem:

You can’t assess someone in a job interview.

You need to see them in action. That takes time, which employers don’t have in a job interview.

To recruit effectively, we need to attract good people long before we need them, so our relationships will be based on common interests, not common desperation.

Second, we can try to “attract people into our pipeline” all day long. But the ones we want aren’t out looking for pipelines.

We must find and enter their pipelines.

We must meet them on their career tracks, and be present at the critical points in their work lives. People make career changes only at certain points. We can be there waiting for the best when they are ready, or we can be out chasing people who are chasing jobs.

My suggestion: The people we want are all around us on discussion threads on work-related forums all over the Internet, talking shop. Talk shop with them, get to know them, establish your own cred and you’ll always have someone to turn to when you need help.

The Zen of it is this: You can’t really identify the people you want in the interview process. At that point, it’s too late, and it’s all too scripted.

You identify the people you want to hire on the street, on the job, and in the throes of dialogue with their peers. Then you follow them and get to know them. You enter their circle of friends. You should talk to them about a job only when you know them well enough. Not when the pipeline needs to be filled. That’s how you avoid mistakes. But show me one human resources department that recruits that way — they don’t. Last year, the world spent $1.3 billion for “just in time hiring” through one job board alone: Monster.com. How stupid.

Yada, yada, yada, the pipeline needs to be filled. Indeed, but you need to fill the pipeline long before you need to hire anyone, with relationships. If your pipeline is full of just applicants and resumes, you’re hiring in deperation.

Desperation hiring: That’s when you need to fill a job right now and you flap your lips Yada, yada, yada through 20 interviews pretending you’re getting to know someone. You can’t assess someone in a job interview. It can’t be done. If you want to hire the right way, you start last year.

How does your company hire? Do you “Yada, yada, yada” through your interviews? Or do you cultivate relationships? Tell me why it takes too long to do it my way…

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Pssst! Here’s where you should be recruiting top talent!

Here’s an excerpt from a comment posted by Mason on another column, Get Hired: No resume, no interview, no joke:

The problem is this. Employers actually LOVE this current job market. They can control costs by paying exactly what they want for a given job/position…and they have an ENORMOUS pool of willing applicants from which to choose. Some of them, I would say most of the Fortune 1000, are doing well and extremely profitable. There is little reason or incentive for them to hire more people.

I just got rejected after 9 AM in the morning after I applied for a job at midnight. Something tells me a human didn’t actually read my application.

Companies who treat the employees like crap will be emptied out of their good employees once the economy gets better. Of this I am convinced. If a company craps on people in the bad times, they certainly cannot be trusted in the good times….

I think Mason is right. I saw his prediction come true in Silicon Valley more than once, after a bust cycle turned into a boom. Here’s how it works — and you tell me if you agree.

During a bust, revenues and profits crash. Business tanks, and companies lay off workers because they can’t afford them. As the cycle turns and we start toward a boom (or think we are, anyway), sales take off, revenues spike, and profits surge.

Junk profitability

The dirty little secret, though, is that a big part of the soaring profits stem from higher productivity that results from lower staffing levels. Fewer workers are doing more work, which yields higher profits for employers. This is nice. But it’s unsustainable. It’s junk profitability.

While some of the higher productivity can be attributed to increased efficiencies created by technology, much of it is still due to artificially low staffing levels. Companies today are teetering on the bleeding edge of high profits, and they really don’t want to start hiring again if they can avoid it.

Where the talent is ripe for the picking

The question is, how long can they sustain these levels of productivity and profits? Over-worked employees will leave the minute someone makes them a better offer.

And that’s an enormous opportunity for companies that get it. Riding the wave requires deft skills, and greed just causes more crashes. Some top-notch workers are already looking for better deals — because the economy is at a tipping point.

If you want to recruit top talent — dedicated workers who are ready to move — you need look no farther than the most profitable companies that haven’t been hiring. They may be advertising jobs, but as Mason suggests, they’re just pretending. They’re not hiring at levels significant enough to sacrifice their artificial profits. Their best employees are ripe for the picking.

Note to those employees whose eyes are wandering — these signals point to renewed freedom to negotiate really good compensation and benefits deals. I believe it’s always good to leave a few bucks on the table when negotiating, as a sign of good faith, but don’t leave too much. As Mason suggests, you still can’t really trust them, so take some profit of your own on the front end.

What’s your take?

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PoachBase: Another stupid recruiting start-up

You can’t make this stuff up. Now your company can recruit losers, and hire recruiters who can do it more easily.

Featured at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference: A pitch by a start-up calling itself PoachBase. The “company’s” tag-line: Poach talent from dying companies. The idea is to monitor other start-ups for death rattles and then go steal their employees.

Here’s the pitch:

Now here’s the question: Why would anyone want to recruit employees that are still hanging around a loser company?

My advice (free, no software required): It’s more fun to recruit people from good companies while they’re hanging around the local watering hole after work. (Well, beer might be software.)

Recruiting-industry watcher Joel Cheesman’s explains the problem clearly:

“The playbook for start-ups in the recruiting space usually goes something like this: Group of young, educated people — usually coming of [sic] their own job search, which apparently qualifies as experience in the employment space — come up with an idea to ‘make things better.'”

This is kind of reminiscent of the job applicant whose resume emphasizes, “I want to work with people in a good company.” Maybe they’re all the same bunch.

(If you want to watch the recruiting industry, sign up for Joel Cheesman’s free newsletter. I love it.)

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