Getting Back to the Human Side of Human Resources: How to Make Online Recruiting More Effective

By Anthony Vengrove

Recently, the Wall Street Journal featured a piece that caught my attention, Software Raises Bar for Hiring.  For the past several months I have been privately fuming over how silly the job application process has become.  Evidently, Peter Cappelli (Wharton School of Business) seems to agree with my feelings on this subject.

 Via The Wall Street Journal:

In an essay in this newspaper last fall, Peter Cappelli … challenged the oft-heard complaint from employers that they can’t find good workers with the right skills.  “The real culprits are the employers themselves,” he asserted.

“For every story about an employer who can’t find qualified applicants, there’s a counterbalancing tale about an employer with ridiculous hiring requirements,” [Cappelli] says.  In many companies, software has replaced recruiters, he writes, so “applicants rarely talk to anyone, even by email, during the hiring process.”

For anyone who has applied for a job recently, you know how different and stale the process has become.  As noted above, you rarely have a conversation with anyone.  You must submit your resume online and hope you’ve included the right keywords in order for the hiring company’s computer to select your resume for review.

I think it’s time for companies to take a breath and reflect on what they’re doing. Sure, high unemployment coupled with all the available online job search tools has resulted in companies being swamped with resumes.  I also understand the desire to automate the application process as it allows the ability to capture and manage data.

However, the problem here is not to figure out how to weed through hundreds of resumes.  If you think that’s the problem, then using computers to scan resumes is a perfect solution.

I argue the problem is:  how do we reduce applications and attract only the candidates we wish to attract?  The solution to this problem will be significantly different.

According to the IBM 2010 Global CEO Study, “creativity is the most important leadership quality” that CEOs want in their workforce.  It’s hard to conceive that the current scanning practices will help CEOs get what they want.  A creative person’s resume might look different: its writing and appearance might be unique or the career path might be atypical.  If such a resume doesn’t have the “right” words, or it includes the “wrong” words, it’s certain to be overlooked.

Computer software will only get you so far.  Based on what’s currently being input into most systems, it doesn’t seem likely that a computer can reliably recognize or predict someone’s creative potential.  The implication, therefore, is that you’re certain to miss out on some great talent.  Need more evidence?  Read this excerpt from the same WSJ article.

A Philadelphia-area human-resources executive told Mr. Cappelli that he applied anonymously for a job in his own company as an experiment.  He didn’t make it through the screening process.

Six opportunities for improving online recruiting and applications:

  1. Make the application process more challenging so as to only attract candidates who are willing to put in the time and effort.  Filling out online applications is relatively easy and mundane.  Instead, challenge yourself to create an experience that requires your applicants to think.
  2. Why ask your candidates to submit repetitive information that is already on their resume?  Would it not be better to ask them to answer thought-provoking questions that will shed insight on their thinking and creative abilities?
  3. Allow applicants to include links to their blog, Twitter account, Instagram feed and other ‘portfolio’ sites that can provide insight into how they think, create and view the world.
  4. HR should work with hiring managers to create laser-focus job search criteria.  When job qualifications read like the kitchen sink, you’re likely to get increased applications because people assume that no one can possibly have all the qualifications.  If you limit yourself to the absolute required qualifications, you’ll likely weed out many resumes you don’t want.
  5. Do not simply utilize “default” criteria such as “MBA preferred” or “current industry experience required.”  Think about what it is you really need.  Sometimes it’s the MBA candidate.  Sometimes, it’s not.  Diversity is the friend of creativity, so don’t be afraid to speak to candidates with diverse and unique career backgrounds.
  6. Most firms use online tools provided by third-party service providers.  As a result, there is a sameness that exists in the online job application process.   While there may be some benefits to familiarity, it seems unthinkable that companies are satisfied asking the same questions of candidates as their competitors.  Instead, customize questions and data requests so that you are differentiating your company and receiving information that helps your organization make better hiring decisions.

I recognize there is no simple “one size fits all” solution.  Most of these suggestions will only increase time and effort – something today’s leaner HR department lacks.  While I empathize, I cannot accept the current state of affairs.  I’m surprised any CEO who declares a desire for creativity isn’t frustrated by now.  It seems pretty intuitive that the investment of time and effort in finding top-notch talent will pay off exponentially.  So, let’s get back to basics and employ more of the “human” side of human resources.