Man in a washing machine - recruiting processes are increasingly mechanical

Recruiting: Beyond Dumb Process

Recruiting has been turbo-charged by technology but with no guarantee of better results for either the employer or the individual

Technology has transformed society, changing the way we communicate and do business. Ten years ago, most people didn’t do their weekly shop online or stay in touch with far-flung friends and family through social media. But for all the technical know-how and gadgetry, we seem to have created a lot of dumb ways of doing things along the way.

A prime example is the automation of recruitment. Candidates now submit their CVs to thousands of companies at the click of a button. These CVs are rarely seen by human eyes until towards the end of the recruitment process.

Instead, applicant tracking software plays a kind of ‘buzzword bingo’ selecting those applicants who’ve learned to play the game and filled their CVs with empty jargon and stock phrases such as: ‘ambitious’, ‘highly-motivated’, ‘passionate’, ‘self-starter’, ‘excellent communicator’, etc. that often sound false and that say little about their true character.

Method in the madness?

Recruitment always involves selection – the need to sort the wheat from the chaff. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of automation. And there is method in the madness of these dumb processes.

The sheer number of applications that can be generated has unleashed an arms race with an inherent logic – if machine processes enable applicants to ‘spam’ employers, perhaps only machine processes can cut down the pool of potential candidates to something more manageable.

But we’ve gone too far. The processes often mean that applicants cannot tailor their CVs or show any real initiative by researching before applying. In taking out the personal and relying on machines, human judgment has been relegated to the bottom of the pile.

Companies bemoan the shortage of suitable candidates but they often fall into the trap of looking for the wrong thing. They look to fill standardised slots rather than recruiting promising individuals with skills and talents that can be nurtured and developed.

People not processes

Instead, as Peter Cappelli writes in his book, ‘Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs’, firms often view recruitment rather like replacing a part in a washing machine. They try to find someone they can swap in like the replacement for a broken part, plugging them into the wash cycle and pushing the start button.

If they don’t succeed in finding the exact replacement part, they keep the vacancy open in the belief that the right person will come along that ticks all the relevant boxes they’re looking for. They fail to realise that there are costs associated with keeping positions vacant.

In this impersonal brave new world, many relationships are purely transactional. Viewing candidates and employees as standardised parts may appear to reduce risks but it is ultimately counter-productive. The process is wasteful and opportunities are missed.

Go against the flow

The present system provides a convenient shield for recruiters when the number of applicants exceeds the number of vacancies. In due course, the wheel will turn. As its shortcomings become apparent this way of doing things may fall by the wayside.

Meanwhile, I would encourage both applicants and organisation to go against the trend and avoid relying on dumb systems – seeking intelligent conversations wherever possible. An interview is a discussion with a purpose that works for both parties.

Individuals should take the initiative, making their own approaches, in order to get in front of a real person where they can make the case about their skills and experience in ways that may not be completely obvious from the CV.

For the employer, interacting with a human being rather than an bland data record adds precision. Crucially, it helps establish the motivation, energy and potential that are key to success. More rewarding and satisfying all round.

Jo Ouston