A Candidate’s Perspective

The “resume crush” of the last two years has sent many of you scurrying to find new applicant tracking systems that pre-screen and rank candidates on job-specific qualifications as they apply. This has probably done wonders for your overworked and shrinking recruiting staff, who now only have to look at the top 25% of candidates coming in versus reading each and every resume. But how has the shift in our priorities affected the candidate experience today? By solving one set of problems, are we creating another? Recently, I presented to a group of job seekers on the topic of online job search techniques. An interesting thing happened during the presentation: it turned into a revealing discussion on what it’s like to be a candidate. In a follow-up conversation, one job seeker in particular told a compelling story that I think is worth sharing. Mary Ann was working for a well-established online media company, and was steadily promoted until she became a director of international operations three years ago. She was laid off a few months ago, when the company decided to focus solely on its domestic operations. There was no longer a role for someone with her background in the new, more streamlined operation, and so she has been actively looking for work for a month and a half. As she’s been in the process of searching for a job for the first time in many years, I thought it was particularly fascinating to hear an expert in operations analyze how recruiting departments operate. Not all of her feedback is related to technology, but her insights give us a great outsider’s perspective of the effects that current processes and technologies are having on many job seekers.

  • “Searches seem too narrow. If you don’t have a certain job title on your resume, or an exact number of years experience, you won’t be considered for a position despite a clear match between the requirements and your qualifications,” she said. Another candidate I spoke with called it “buzzword bingo.”
  • Applications that seem long and tedious do not seem reflective of a company that values the time of prospective employees, making Mary Ann less likely to apply to these companies. “Some applications I see are ten pages long! That’s outrageous,” she said.
  • Jobs are at times not well described or explained. One project management job in particular caught Mary Ann’s attention. It read in full: “Under minimal direction, this position is responsible for leading large, complex corporate level projects and/or provides expertise on same.” A pre-screening function on the online application is a great tool to have. But the process of screening the right candidates in and the wrong candidates out really begins with a well-written, thorough job description.
  • “Online applications often ask for incredibly private information that I don’t feel comfortable sharing,” she remarked. “For instance, more than one company has asked me for my social security number on the online application. Why do they need this information? There’s no way I’m applying to those companies unless there’s a clear explanation of why they need it and what they will do with it.” Or even better, how about a privacy policy?
  • Employers are being very careful, thorough, and selective in their hiring processes, something Mary Ann truly appreciates. But through her network of contacts, she hears that multiple interview phases with many people involved in each interview is a process that extends even to lower-level positions. “Is it really efficient to have so many people interviewing you so many times?” she asked. “Time is money, and if I see a company acting inefficiently in their recruiting process, I have to wonder how they are run.”
  • “When I look at a business plan, one of the main things I look at is how it is presented. Doesn’t the way you format your resume and how you say things tell a lot about who you are?” she asked. Mary Ann feels that the text formatting of resumes within most systems may be preventing a vital exchange of information. Is this a problem we can easily fix? Or do the benefits of text formatting, easy searching, and “scoring” a candidate automatically take more of a priority?

During our interview, I spent some time explaining all of the forces at play that have left recruiting departments understaffed and often overwhelmed, and why companies have implemented technologies with the primary goals of screening out the large volumes of unqualified responses. We live in a world where gardeners apply for CFO openings and massage therapists apply for directors of engineering, and there are fewer and fewer recruiters to manage this volume. Mary Ann’s training and work experiences have focused on looking for areas of improvement, and she describes her standards as “exceptionally high.” She explains that most recruiting departments she’s interviewed with have been highly professional and informative. It is understandable to her that there has been a shift in priorities in terms of what types of technologies and processes are implemented. But a positive candidate experience must be a big focus regardless of economic conditions. After all, the candidates of today are often the customers of tomorrow. A parting quote from Mary Ann sums this up:

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“It’s an employer’s market now, but professional, qualified candidates are paying attention to what employers are doing today. In my experience, this job market is very unique, and it will change. The people who have bad experiences with employers now will remember them in the future.”

I encourage you to consider this in all of your technology and recruiting process decisions.

Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (www.talentsparkconsulting.com), a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.


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