Buy For Tomorrow, Not Today: A Brief History of Recruiting Technology

The tools we use for recruiting have a powerful future and will eventually become the cornerstone for a talent relationship strategy. Even though recruiters have a natural reluctance to embrace technology because of a fear that it will get between them and the candidate, many do see its value. Organizations such as Electronic Arts sell to and recruit from the younger generation, and they have already embraced the Internet and other technology-based tools to create, build, and maintain relationships with candidates. Rather than getting in the way, technology can create and nurture the relationship. Total acceptance will require the convergence of two trends: the development of more powerful and useful technologies and the evolution of users who have an appreciation for what the technology can make possible. A loose comparison might be made between horse-drawn wagon and automobile drivers at the turn of the 20th century. The work involved in driving an early car was greater than that of dealing with a horse and buggy. In many cases, you could get where you were going faster with the horse. There was little obvious advantage to the car and many limitations. Yet those who adopted the automobile saw the possibilities and knew that eventually the technology would improve and that it would offer substantial advantage over the horse. They could see that the car represented a new approach to transportation that would eventually make the horse obsolete as a primary way to get around. That was a revolutionary concept in 1902. Similar inadequacies and requirements are true of recruiting technologies. In fact, we don’t even have an agreed upon definition of what the term “recruiting technology” means. I prefer to use the term “talent management” because it encompasses a broader and, I think, more useful scope. The set of technologies that make up a talent management solution include:

  • Applicant tracking systems (ATS)
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  • E-marketing and communication tools
  • Workforce and succession planning tools
  • Competency analysis systems
  • Requisition management systems
  • Resume scanning, parsing, and search tools
  • Screening and skills assessment tools
  • Tools for gathering, analyzing and reporting data
  • The databases and IT infrastructure that make this all of these work.

Recruiting has been characterized for more than 100 years by an abundance of people. There have generally been more people available, and at least partially qualified for existing jobs, than there was a need for. That led to a situation of few positions and many people. Recruiters became eliminators, screening out and reducing the number of people to be considered for a job. To do this efficiently they needed ways to get basic information about a person via a document (the resume) to determine whether or not to move to the interview. Each step was a hurdle for the candidate, and success in this process was rewarded with a job that promised some tenure and perhaps a pension after many years of service. There was no need to advertise positions well, market effectively, or develop more than a cursory relationship with a candidate except for those with rare skills or great experience. Barriers such as degrees and grades were used as further screens, although no strong correlation to actual performance has even been conclusively and consistently established for most traditional selection criteria. As computer technology developed, the tool most commonly associated with recruiting was (and is) the applicant tracking system (ATS), which first appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Applicant tracking systems are actually a bundle of tools packaged together. They generally contain tools that gather resume data (usually by scanning paper documents or asking candidates to enter information about themselves), store that data, and then extract needed information by using searching methodologies such as keyword searches. They also contain reporting capabilities and many offer administrative features to schedule interviews and track candidates as they progress through the recruiting workflow. Applicant tracking systems have ó when properly installed and configured and when used by motivated and trained recruiters ó automated the job of culling through piles of resumes to find a candidate who possesses certain specific skills, education, or experience. However, most organizations that have purchased these systems have failed to gain the advantages they could have from them. In many cases, these tools have actually increased workloads and raised costs because they require additional time and people to use. Nowadays, the abundance of talent with requisite skills that was common in the 20th century has dried up. In many fields there are simply not enough people with the needed skills or they are extremely hard to find. This is a situation that the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other agencies and think tanks tell us will be normal as we move out of the current slow economy. We will be confronted with a growing lack of human resources and a talent shortage that will require new ways of thinking about talent. We will need to find qualified people quickly, more efficiently market and sell to them and be far less concerned with storing resumes. What will become key will be the ability to build and develop relationships with people whom we can later convert into candidates and employees. Candidate Relationship Management New technology to allow us to do this is emerging quickly. New in the past few years is screening software that allows a series of questions to be posed to the candidate so that the recruiter can steer candidates who do not meet certain pre-determined basic criteria such as education, amount of experience, geographical location, or other similar facts to the best possible position for them in the organization or to a talent pool for later consideration. Also new and still just becoming mainstream is assessment software that helps recruiters learn about a candidate’s skills, abilities, competencies, or personality so that the most appropriate position may be offered them. If the relationship between the organization and the candidate is the important thing, then communicating with the candidate, developing a marketing strategy to targeted candidates, and having the ability to screen candidates for skills, cultural fit, and general abilities become the key. Very simply, CRM (the meaning of which I slightly change and call “candidate relationship management” as opposed to the usual customer relationship management) comprises the underlying principles for sales effectiveness, customer service, and marketing. Keeping track of details about your candidates or customers is always important. It is also directly proportional to your success. Referral programs work mainly because of the relationship that exists between a potential hire and a current employee. The more you know about a candidate, the more you can offer them in personalized service, and the more specifically you can market to them ó the more successful you will be. The Future A few years away are tools of a different form. While databases will remain a major centerpiece of emerging technology, many of the features of the older systems will be gone or will have evolved into something very different. The resume will be gone as the organizing center of these tools. It will be replaced by interactive tools that gather small bits of candidate data over time and continuously assess candidates and market to them in real time. These tools will make the entire Internet our “database” and enable us to draw in candidates on a just-in-time basis. The tools will be able to parse a wide variety of documents and attach that information to the authors for follow up. These tools will use wireless technologies and enlarge the circle of communication. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what will be possible, as broadband, streaming video, and voice-over-Internet all become common. So when you are choosing a technology or deciding on an ATS, try to choose for the future and go with the bold: the tools that offer enhancements and possibilities that may seem strange or unnecessary today. And remember that most of these tools will not survive the long term (only a handful of automobile companies are still around). It is not my place to try and pick long-term winners, but to steer you toward choosing those tools and services that will enable you to do things that give you and your firm a competitive edge.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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