Sunday, January 28, 2007

Quality, Not Quantity

Caught an article in the HR Executive magazine the other day by Tom Starner. It was a piece that took a look at the changes that technology companies in the recruiting space were making in order to try and help employers overcome the nightmare of the tidal wave of resumes that arrive when a job gets posted.

We have all heard about the law of diminishing returns, and for a long time now, the complaint that one hears from all sides, both candidate and client is largely the same. Too much volume to deal with in anything that even approaches an effective and efficient fashion. Time was when an employer put an ad in the Wall Street Journal on a Tuesday and would have to take extra vitamins to get ready to deal the the mail on Thursday. Today, that same job posted on a commercial job board would easily generate several times the number of responses, and that's without counting what would come in from the aggregator sites. Talk about an Excedrin headache.

For a long time I have thought that the strength of the Internet is also is weakness. The strength, of course, is the ease with which is makes communication and the sharing of information, but if you listen to recruiters (or candidates for that matter) to coin a phrase, "speed kills."

Candidates feel that if they don't respond to information within a nano second they don't have a prayer. The recruiter's feel that when one is staring at hundreds and hundreds of responses within a matter of hours if not minutes, it's enough to make your whole body go numb.

Some feel that the advent of "social networks" will fix all that since the "referral networks" logic says, will produce a much higher percentage of "qualified" candidates. I am a long time believer in the quality of employee referrals, so at least on the surface the logic feels okay to me. At the same time, however, I wonder if there isn't a law of diminishing returns that might come into play with this as well. Time will tell.

Over the years, we get asked all the time how we manage the quality vs. quantity issue. Our answer has always been the same irrespective if we are talking to our executive members or our recruiter members - education.

What we mean is that we spend a great deal of time getting both sides to respect each other. We expect recruiters to post "real" jobs, well written so that those seeing the postings can make an intelligent judgment in terms of their suitability for the opening. On the executive side, we spend an equal amount of time if not more so, telling people how important it is to only raise their hands for openings for which they are truly qualified.

When we talk to our members, be they on the executive side or the recruiter side we usually try to boil things down to "so long as you are doing your best to exercise your experienced business judgment, the quality should be there." Seems so ridiculously simple, but most things that drive real quality are.


Anonymous said...


I agree with your insight on this topic with the exception of the Internet. The Internet is not the problem. The Internet is only the vehicle or "tool" used for the task at hand. I would argue that the problem lies with the users. This is true with all technology today. It is the 80/20 rule. 80% of the people only use 20% of the technology. In this case it is probably closer to 90/10. There is a saying in the IT field - GIGO (Garbage in, Garbage out!)

Let’s consider the company side first. Generally, the web programmers set up the company websites based upon the specifications provided by the users – in this case the HR Department. No insult intended here, however as most of the web developers have little, if any business experience, these people are at the direction (or mercy) of the users i.e. the HR people, who are suppose to have business experience. Yea, right!

Perhaps 95%, or higher, of the information requested by employers from job applicants is identical. So why do we have so many different forms and application processes out there? Why do companies advertise position vacancies, requesting resumes, only to follow-up by asking that the applicant fill in a company job application? (Not even an online application.) We are all victims of our ineptness, not the technology. And, yes, there are people in the technology field making big money creating applications that read resumes to glean the important information to be input into company-specific application databases.

So, here we have HR people who have the responsibility of hiring. For the most part, these people have very nominal talents and skills pertaining to technology. They advertise a job position on the Internet and are overwhelmed by the response. Not the fault of the Internet. The HR people were not prepared. They did not understand how to use the tool. At this point in time, there are various options that can be considered. I will offer several. (The first option, of course, is to train the user in how to utilize the tool.)

First: If the company is requesting a resume via email, an automated reply can be set up to indicate that the resume was received and that it will be reviewed. The next step might be to indicate that if the characteristics from the resume look like a match that a HR person will contact the applicant within a specified time period. With this option at least the applicant knows that the resume was received.

Second: Set up an online application process, not just looking to harvest vast quantities of data, however designed to filter applications based upon the specific needs of the job. This requires some thought and insight as to specific talents and skills required for a job position.

Third: (This is a stretch today, however should become an industry standard sometime within the next ten years.) The HR industry comes up with a universal design for job applicants utilizing the 80/20 rule. I.e. 80% of the applicants will have similar talents and skills per the job requirements. The other 20% is dependant upon background experience. (This is similar to the model used by DCI – Drum Corp International for scoring. The first 10 minutes of every performance are scored upon the same criteria. The last 2 minutes are for “show.” Aim at the press box and go for the BIG BLOW!)

Now, for the applicants, there are generally two criteria that are important. First, acknowledgement of receipt of an application. As mentioned above this is a process that can be automated. I appreciate any kind of response as it lets me know that my email correspondence was received. Second, bringing closure to the application process. This process does require the human touch; however technology can assist in the process. Letting a job applicant know that he/she is not being considered for the position, regardless of the reason brings closure to the process. Yes, it may be a form letter, however thousands of email/snail mail form letters can be generated as fast as you can say Red Rubber Baby Bumper Stickers.

The entire hiring process doesn’t have to be a migraine or a sterile process. What is required is vision regarding how to communicate with people and understanding how technology can be used in the communication process. In the end, the Internet is not the problem; it is only a symptom of the problem.

Dave Opton said...

Point well taken. For sure it isn't the tool (which in our infinite wisdom we invented) it is how it is used, and without commenting on the application processes, etc., there is the seduction of taking the path of least resistance, and click and send is a heck of a lot easier than research, self-assessment, and building a network to help me get to where I would like to go.