Yes, No, Maybe

It’s Monday morning, you just logged on to your PC, and after checking your inbox, you jump over to your web browser to review the responses that trickled in over the weekend to the ad you posted on one of the major job boards. Your excitement fades into disappointment as you discover that more than 90% of the applicants are unqualified.

No doubt, if you have ever used one of the major or minor job boards to post an ad, you have experienced what I just described above. Some of the resumes submitted to my postings have been so far off-target that I contemplated asking the candidate whether they’d even read the ad. Oftentimes, it seems as if the candidate didn’t even read the advertisement. Rather, they simply sent their resume out as far and wide as possible, hoping the numbers game would eventually yield them a job.

For about three years, I worked in sales for one of the major job boards ? arguably, the largest job board – in direct sales. I sold the company’s products to small- and medium-sized businesses on the west coast.

To put it simply, I was in inside sales, selling job posting packages and resume access to the Bay Area customer base. From the time the dot-com bubble burst in 2001 to some time in 2003, I called company after company trying to get recruiters and HR managers to buy our products. Their single biggest complaint in using our product? Too many unqualified responses.

During those dark times, the Bay Area was rumored to have people with MBAs and computer science degrees from Stanford working at Starbucks, Subway, and Home Depot, just to pay the outrageous rent on their chic Russian Hill apartments. With the job market as dismal as it was back then, it’s no wonder recruiters universally had this problem. People just wanted jobs.

It’s now 2006, and times have changed. And yet companies still have the same complaint. So I decided to conduct a study. I posted a few fictitious resumes in different locations, across several disciplines, on all of the major job boards, to see what would happen. I’m sorry if you’re one of the recruiters I inadvertently tricked. I wanted to see if the job seeker would have a similar experience as the hiring authority. Well, guess what? That’s exactly what happened. For my software engineer resume in Indianapolis, I was solicited for a variety of jobs, from insurance sales to custodian. My sales resumes received solicitations for multi-level marketing and financial sales jobs. And my registered nurse resumes got flooded with responses for contract positions.

None of these positions are bad, per se. But they’re not consistent with the areas of interest I clearly stated in my resumes. I noticed a few trends. The solicitations that were most off-target were similar: They all told a nice story that was vague and then tried to get me to do something, like call someone, fill out an on-line application, or show up at a job fair. They made no appeal that was in any way targeted at me. They used template e-mails and simply inserted the names I used on my resumes, to make their solicitations appear customized.

The recruiters were using the shotgun method on my resumes, not unlike the job candidates who send their resumes everywhere. It’s a quantitative approach, rather than a qualitative one, and it leaves both parties with a whole lot of quantity and not a lot of quality.

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So, how do you get around that? I do an exercise that I call, ”Yes, No, Maybe.? Basically, I short-list the candidates. For instance, I’m currently filling a software developer position in the Midwest. I have access to three boards’ resume databases. Ideally, I want to get passive candidates, but that’s not always possible. So, I am going to search all three databases for one hour a day, for three days. That’s a total of three hours of searching, or roughly 15 minutes per board, each day.

My goal will be to pull three ”Yes’s,? six ”Maybe’s,? and of course zero ”No’s,? from each board. You can do the math. I’m also going to write up a template, but it’s going to be short. And, in my template, I’m going to tell the candidate something that I am going to do: I’m going to call them. I’m also going to pick out something from the resume that is unique to each candidate, and I’m going to comment on it.

For example, I may write:

”Tom, I’m e-mailing you because according to your resume, in your current position, you’re working on a project that?. And your interests appear to be?. This seems to fit with my client’s needs, which are?. I’m going to call you this afternoon at 5:30 p.m. on your cell phone. If you can’t speak then, please let me know if there is a more appropriate time.?

I did not pioneer this approach. I adapted it from a book I once read called, Selling to VITO. This approach basically adds quality to a method known mostly for quantity. Aristotle once said that the highest virtue was achieving balance. It’s my position that our industry has gotten out of sync when it comes to the initial approach to a candidate. We’ve gotten too focused on playing high numbers, given the ease of correspondence via the Internet. How do you expect to get referrals if you don’t establish any credibility with the candidate?

Let’s face it. Some people simply won’t be available or become candidates, regardless of the approach you take. But then the search for qualified candidates is not about achieving perfection. It’s about striving for excellence. This technique will increase your odds. In my opinion, it will yield higher results than, say, the shotgun approach. Let’s carry the analogy further. When hunting, a shotgun is good to have. But so is a rifle. Proficiency with both will help you maximize your chance of landing the big game.

Todd Rogers is the sole partner with The Alva Bradley Company, LLC, a professional services firm in Fishers, Indiana. Prior to founding ABC, LLC, Todd worked in sales for He has a total of eight years experience in the recruiting industry, which by his own account feels more like 80 years. He also served five years in the U.S. Marines, and has a B.A. in philosophy from Kent State University in Ohio.


1 Comment on “Yes, No, Maybe

  1. Todd,
    A good tool for sifting resumes is they have a linguistic took that matches job orders from your web site and matches them against all received resumes on the site or desktop or whatever collection place (zip file etc.)
    giving you a top ten list of candidates ranked by best functional fit, not just by keywords or titles.

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