How Much You Know About Who: Tips on Digging Deeper

It’s not who you know or what you know that makes you an effective recruiter. Though those things are pluses and will increase the odds that you’ll succeed, what really counts is what you know about who. The more information you have about a candidate, the better you will be able to judge how well they will fit your culture, how reliable and honest they are, or if the skills they claim they have are really there. The problem we have is getting all that information. Resumes are almost useless. They are advertisements for the candidate and are designed to let a candidate present his strengths and experiences in a positive light. Most recruiters believe that this is what they want, but I think they would rather have other information. For example, wouldn’t it be nice to know how deep a candidate’s skills really are? Wouldn’t it be useful to know if they are reliable, hard working, and so forth? Most of us, though, spend too much time (and have little success) trying to figure these things out with little success. After all, think of the tools we have to work with. Most of us have boring and ineffective websites that let anyone send in a resume, use generic job descriptions that allow too much latitude for interpretation, employ tools that allow us to gather resumes but not really get at the information we want, and conduct face-to-face interviews that often fail to extract any additional useful information. Employee referral programs are popular because we assume that the fellow employee knows the person well enough to vouch for many of these specific, often intangible, qualities that cannot be found on the resume or in the interview. We assume that the employee has the in-depth knowledge we lack and can’t get. But this may be a bad assumption to make, since turnover rates for referrals are probably the same as for those employees you found using other methods. The notion that these programs result in better quality employees at lower cost are most likely just myths. We don’t have any well-done studies that would give us empirical data that I know of. But all hope is not lost. Technology can help, as can other simple techniques for digging deeper instead of wider, as we usually do. I am continually amazed at how many organizations continue to post jobs to job boards when they complain about being swamped with resumes. But if they could mine these resumes, they would find great treasure. Here are a few tips to get you started down that path: 1. Make the most of your applicant tracking system. Most large organizations have a resume tracking system or ATS. While these are mostly useless for the kind of data mining I am suggesting, they can be used more effectively than they are now. Spending time to conduct better searches and broaden or narrow search terms can pay off in identifying more candidates than many recruiters do. In fact, many recruiters are still intimidated by Boolean searches and don’t really use their databases well. Get someone to help you if you aren’t comfortable doing these searches and take some time to learn how to do them better. Get your ATS vendor to teach you how to do better searches. Every ATS vendor would be happy to help you in this endeavor ó because it will make you a happier customer. 2. Embrace the power of email. When you have identified a potentially good candidate, start an email dialogue with her. Ask questions. Ask for examples and any other data that will inform you enough to make a better judgments. Personal email to candidates is powerful. It flatters the candidate. It makes her feel good to be acknowledged and asked questions. The candidate’s response can also make you feel better about your decision whether or not to recommend her to a hiring manager. If you develop some standard questions ó even a template ó you can quickly email many candidates with one mouse click. This is far faster and efficient than the traditional phone call, which often catches the candidate off guard and unprepared. 3. Build a better website. Over the past few weeks I have mentioned many websites that are collecting better data from candidates interactively than they do from the static resumes. Take a look at Chili’s interactive interview or at the Boston Consulting Group’s interactive case study. Both of these gather rich information about candidates in a way that saves both the recruiter and the candidate a lot of time. A simple questionnaire can be developed very easily, collect information quickly, and even weight the information according to a weighting scheme you develop, giving you ranked lists of potential candidates. And all of this helps immensely by removing you from the administrative process of screening hundreds of resumes. 4. Gather information from many sources. The final tip is simple. Don’t just rely on the resume and interview for information. Check referrals to the extent that you legally can. Develop a format for doing this that asks for specific information and examples, not just vague feelings. If the candidate is at a high level, comb newspapers and association literature for any scraps of information that could be useful. For example, reports on promotions or job movement are frequently available in local papers. The candidates may have written articles that could give the hiring manager insight into his interests and strengths. And the candidate may have a personal website that offers additional views and can increase your overall knowledge. You can also use your network to ask about the candidates. Has anyone ever heard of him? What have they heard? Moving into depth and away from volume is a learning process, but once you are comfortable doing this and have developed the technology and the tools to help you, you will be a much better recruiter for it.

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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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