Corporate recruiters should stop spraying & praying

Article Recruitment Illustration IIThe way the market for talent works is frustrating for all parties: both for corporate recruiters as well as for candidates. In order to change this, corporate recruiters should start acting as marketers that know their product and their customers.

The number one problem most corporate recruiters complain about nowadays is application overload. Thanks to LinkedIn and other Internet-based recruiting channels, candidates can ‘shoot at anything that moves’, i.e. submit their CV’s to apply for any opportunity that remotely interests them. As a result, processing applications is experienced as by corporate recruiters as ‘drinking from a fire hose’.

This high number of applications creates three issues:

  • The quality of the selection process suffers
  • The employer brand suffers
  • Corporate recruiters are passed by

The quality of the selection process suffers

First of all, the high number of applications makes it very difficult for corporate recruiters to identify candidates that are the best fit for the roles. Consequently, (large) companies are beginning to rely on outsourcing recruitment processes to (off-shored) ‘cost-effective’ subcontractors or bots to perform the pre-selection for them.

The use of subcontractors has the potential to save costs, but often there is a price to be paid in terms of value. As in all areas of business: you get what you pay for. I vividly remember a recruiter from such an agency sending me a CV of a candidate who completed the ‘University’ of a big fast-food chain, when we were looking for candidates with relevant academic degrees.

The use of bots has led to an Arms Race between bots and candidates. Just like the net is filled with posts how companies can optimize the SEO of their websites, more and more posts are published on how candidates can ‘beat the bots’ (a search on Google with the key words ‘beat recruitment bots’ resulted in 240.000 hits in 0,46 seconds).

Candidates can even obtain the help of on-line tools to combat selection bots. We should therefore not be surprised if, in the near future, recruitment will become an AI-fuelled war between recruiting bots used by corporate recruiters, and application bots used by candidates.

However, apart from the ethical dimension, it is highly questionable whether this type of selection processes indeed leads to selecting the best potential candidates for the interview stage of the recruitment process.

Having said that, corporate Recruiters working without subcontractors or the assistance of bots might have an even more difficult job. As anyone who had to screen a large number of CV’s can testify, after reading 10 CV’s, a certain ‘CV fatigue’ sets in. After having seen 20 CV’s most recruiters find it impossible to maintain an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the different candidates, and after reviewing 50 CV’s picking the right CV’s to go to the interview process almost becomes a lottery.

The employer brand suffers

The second disadvantage of the high volume of applications is that recruiters are not able to provide meaningful feedback to unsuccessful applicants anymore. Therefore, they will resort either to not replying at all or with standard mails whereby applicants are informed that, due to the high number of applications, the company is not in a position to give any specific feedback. It really becomes hilarious when these notes are signed by ‘Unavailable Variable’, a sign that the ATS has not been properly configured…

Such a reaction is extremely frustrating for people who took the effort to create user accounts, enter their personal data in user-unfriendly Application Tracking Systems, spent considerable time drafting thoughtful motivation letters and crafting elaborate CV’s. A standard mass rejection email, or getting no feedback at all, is not a great return on investment (ROI), not a great (potential) employee experience and certainly not good for the employer branding of the company concerned.

Corporate recruiters are passed by

The high number of applications also forces most companies to try to channel all recruitment related communication through websites. More often than not job advertisements do not mention the name of the corporate recruiter, nor his or her contact details. Even if a phone number is listed, this is often just the general extension of the recruitment department and the person picking up the phone will probably not be able to divulge any meaningful information to potential candidates about the role or the recruitment process.

Consequently, candidates will no longer see the added value of involving corporate recruiters; instead, they will only view them as unnecessary hurdles and will start passing them by through contacting hiring managers directly. Thanks to LinkedIn and other information publicly available on the Internet, this often proves to be surprisingly easy. Quite often recruiting departments are informed by hiring managers that they would like to talk to a candidate with whom they have had a contact already.

Spraying and Praying

One of the root causes of this problem is that a number of corporate recruiters simply do not understand the nature, context, and requirements of the role they try to fill. They can be compared with marketers who do not understand the product they are trying to promote or sales representatives that do not understand the product they are trying to sell. This results in job advertisements that are much too general in stating the skills and relevant experience required for the advertised position. For this reason, these job advertisements also miss clear and objective ‘knock-out’ criteria. Criteria that would enable recruiters to go back to their candidates with the clear message that the candidates do not meet certain criteria, rather than with ‘other candidates had even more …’ messages.

In this context, it is tragicomical to see companies spending massive amounts of money to train their marketing and sales force to optimally position their products on the market, whereas positioning themselves as an employer with interesting opportunities, is almost dealt with as an afterthought.

However, even worse are those corporate recruiters that do not want to be specific enough because they are afraid of not receiving enough reactions. They are like marketers who do not believe in the value of their own product and who are therefore afraid no one will buy it.

Whatever their drive is, these recruiters rely on ‘spraying and praying’: working with a minimum set of very general requirements in order to generate a high volume of reactions (‘bachelor’s degree or equivalent, in field X or a similar field of study, five or more years leadership experience, excellent writing, presentation and influencing skills and experience in the X industry or a similar industry’).

This leads to the perfect storm: corporate recruiters relying on spraying and praying, having to deal with candidates shooting at everything that moves…

Understand your product

The first thing corporate recruiters who find themselves in this position need to do is very simple: make sure they understand their product. They can demonstrate this with being as specific as possible in defining the job requirements. When I discussed this topic with a couple of corporate recruiters, I was surprised at the different examples they mentioned:

  • An international French beverage manufacturer placed advertisements for back-office roles outside France – but failed to mention in their job advertisement that mastering the French language was required in order to be able to effective in the role.
  • An English logistics company was looking for candidates with very specific experience in road transport on the European market, however, advertised for ‘supply chain professionals with international experience’.
  • A Dutch chemical company was looking to strengthen its talent pipeline with diversity candidates; however, they decided not to mention this in their advertisement.
  • A Singaporean based recruiter consequently failed to mention that candidates needed to have a work permit enabling them to work in Singapore.
  • A recruiter for a Scandinavian telecom company flew an interested candidate over from South-America, only to find out that they could not afford him salary-wise in the first place.

All these cases led to a massive amount of unnecessary work for the corporate recruiters concerned. It also made it difficult for them to give high-quality feedback to the candidates given the predictable nature of their potential reactions (‘Why did you not include this in the job advertisement in the first place?’).

These examples show how recruiters can become much more efficient once they realize that by creating more specific advertisements they can save themselves and their applicants a massive amount of time, effort, and frustration. Here corporate recruiters can learn a lot from executive search firms that need to be laser-sharp in understanding the profile of the candidates they are searching.

Understand your customer

If knowing your product is 50% of the solution, the other 50% is understanding your customers.

One company I am working with who is taking this approach very seriously, goes to great lengths to ensure the match of potential candidates with their outspoken corporate culture.

In this organization the Recruitment department is working very closely together with the Marketing department. The organization treats recruitment campaigns in the same way as its products and services.

The company has a very strong brand, a consistent message and a very specific corporate culture. It uses all these elements in its targeted recruitment campaigns for new staff. They have a very clear picture of who their potential employees are, which enables them to distribute their job adverts in a very targeted manner through various social channels and specialized websites (they have little use for LinkedIn). These job adverts do not only clearly state the content of the jobs, but also demonstrate the attractiveness of the role and the outspoken corporate culture to their target audience. That way they show this is not a job in an environment that will suit just anyone.

This approach clearly pays off: it is securing a consistent pipeline of strong candidates in a very competitive labour market.

The morale? Mediocre recruitment processes result in mediocre outcomes.

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