The recruiting system needs a redesign
After reading this post on core77 this morning I felt it was time for me to weigh in with my thoughts on job hunting in today’s market. I have been a professional designer and design manager for the past 16 years. I hired my first designer in 1994. Since then I have hired over three dozen people, most of them designers. For the last 18 months the shoe as been on the other foot as I have found myself looking for a new job. The main thing that I have learned during this time is that the modern day recruiting system is in need of a serious overhaul.
I think the writer of the forum post above makes some good points. I too have seen more than my share of poorly executed job applications. However, the tone of the article points to what I believe is the fundamental disconnect in the recruiting process today. Reading the article above I get the sense that the author feels that they are doing job seekers a favor by offering a position and therefore the job seekers should be more considerate and thoughtful in replying. The truth is that it is the other way around. The job seekers are doing the company a favor by responding to their need and it is the system that is creating the problem.
What am I talking about? Ask any manager and they will tell you that their most valuable assets are their people. When a business has an opening it is an opportunity to add value to the organization by recruiting the best individual to fill the position. The candidate of choice must represent a good fit for the company both culturally and functionally. Hiring a new employee represents a significant financial investment by the company well beyond the salary paid to the candidate (recruiting costs, training, benefits, taxes, equipment, overhead, etc.) The company does this because they expect the employee to provide a considerable return on investment in the form of increased revenue and profits many times more than the cost of employing them. Therefore, any way you look at it the greatest opportunity (and responsibility) lies with the hiring company, not the job seeker. But, companies seem to have somehow gotten this twisted around backwards and act as if they are doing job seekers a favor by posting a job opening.
How did this come to be? I believe it is because of technology. Or, more appropriately, the misuse of technology. Technology is a wonderful thing in so many ways but, when it comes to getting to know someone, technology is not usually the best tool. Finding the right candidate for a job opening is mostly about getting to know people and the current technology-based recruiting system has made it extremely efficient for HR managers to sift through thousands of applicants without getting to know any of them. By way of example, let’s take a look at the way I have hired designers over the years.
Back in the day (15 years ago), if I wanted to hire an entry-level designer I would start off by calling around to people I knew locally to see if they were interested or knew of anyone who was. I’d call the regional design schools and see if they knew of any recent grads that fit my needs that either lived in my area or were willing to relocate. If I ran up dry I would then run an ad in my local newspaper, usually requesting candidates apply in person with their portfolios. While this process typically only generated a few leads, I was always able to find good people with little wasted effort.
Let’s say I was looking to hire a more senior person and my local search had not turned up any good prospects. I would run an ad in a widely distributed design magazine like ID and/or place ads in local newspapers in areas where I knew there was a probability of a high concentration of qualified candidates. (Yes, even designers used to read the “want ads” in newspapers.) In those cases I would ask the candidates to send in their resume and a portfolio sample via mail. I would review each submission and conduct a telephone interview. Candidates that made the first cut would get a follow up telephone interview before scheduling a trip in to the office for a face-to-face interview. Again, I never had more than a half dozen or so submissions so following up personally with each candidate was pretty straight forward.
Fast-forward to 2007. Historically, most of my hires have been through networking. However, a couple of years ago I decided to run a local ad for a graphic design position I was trying to fill because I was in a hurry and didn’t think I had time for networking. I knew that placing an ad over the telephone with the local newspaper would result in my ad being visible on the newspaper’s local internet job board, what I didn’t know was that it would also get picked up by CareerBuilder.com, a world wide searchable internet job board. I was to be traveling at the time so I requested that candidates submit their resume and portfolio samples via e-mail. My e-mail locked up while I was in China after having received over 300 responses from all over the world, some with portfolio attachments as large as 50MB! All for an entry-level position targeted at local candidates.
After that epic failure I vowed to never run another ad again for a designer. Instead, I went back to using my most tried and true methods: networking and searching Coroflot’s portfolios. My success rate at hiring people through these two methods has been split about evenly between the two. Networking works well because most of the people I am talking to already know me and what kind of people I am looking for so they make good recommendations and/or candidates. Coroflot works equally as well because I can search geographically using specific search terms and then review work samples and professional profiles before contacting the candidates that make the first cut; all on my own schedule.
The problem with running internet ads, just like the original core77 post suggests, is that you get every Tom, Dick and Harriet out there hitting “Send” or “Submit” without having to even fully read anything past the job title, let alone putting in a quality effort. This places the burden on the hiring managers to sift through all of the detritus that floods their in-boxes just to find that preverbal needle in a haystack. No wonder they are so angry! It is this frustration that feeds the process and makes it even harder for businesses to connect with the right candidates. Technology has made the world flat and information access ubiquitous but we still haven’t figured out how to deal with it all.
Fast forward to today. Like I said, I have been job searching off and on for the last 18 months. My search started off last April focussed almost completely on working my network. I reached out to everyone I knew and let them know I was looking. The economy was faltering and, while most people were kind and wanted to help, they just did not have anything to offer. So, I decided to take a year off and return to school to finish my ID degree in hopes that the economy would get better. While I was in school I kept in touch with my network and kept an eye on job postings on Coroflot. I even applied to a few openings that seemed particularly interesting with no results.
In May of this year I decided it was time to turn the search back on again. I updated my network and started following the job postings on Coroflot daily. I also augmented Coroflot with specific job searches on indeed.com. Indeed.com is a great on-line job board because it aggregates all the internet job postings from various on-line job sites (like Monster, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, HotJobs, etc.) and corporate sites into one free searchable database. Along the way it does a decent job of filtering out the more spammy job postings and gives you some pretty decent control over filtering and sorting of the listings.
Since May I have applied to probably over 100 job postings through Coroflot and indeed. The vast majority of these submissions required registering with a contract on-line “talent management” service like Taleo. Most of these talent management systems are not set up for design recruiting as they typically have a 100-200K file size maximum for attachments (no portfolios, thank you!) and many do not even list my job function in any of their myriad of pull-down menus. This isn’t just with companies not known for their design. HP, Dell, Apple, Frog, IDEO, and Rubbermaid all have horrible talent management gateways.
Another problem that I have had that is specific to my situation is that I didn’t complete my degree until after 15 years’ worth of professional practice. When I fill in the “Year Completed” box saying I graduated in August 2009, most automated systems kick me right out of consideration for the senior positions I am applying for since the system doesn’t think I have the requisite number of years of experience! While most of these submissions result in some kind of automated acknowledgement of receipt of my application, I rarely ever hear anything back from them. If I do it’s just another automated reply saying that I have not been selected for the position. I actually got one of those automated rejections less than 30 seconds after hitting the “Submit” button for one job. In fact, out of all of my applications only 4 have so far resulted in any follow-up contact with an actual person. (All of my “success” thus far in my job search has been through using my network.)
It is no surprise to me that hiring managers are pissed at the lack of attention that job seekers give to their applications. Job seekers spend all day searching through thousands of poorly written on-line job postings that tell us absolutely nothing about the culture of the hiring companies or even really what the job is and then they have to format their diverse and creative backgrounds and personalities into some structured pull-down menu/check box based on-line form that strips away all traces of character and personality from the application in the interest of EEOC compliance. When the odd opportunity to send a well formated cover letter comes along my guess is that most job seekers panic when they can’t find a pull-down menu or check box.
What about recruiters, you say? Recruiters work for the hiring managers, not the job seekers. Make sure you are in their databases but otherwise they aren’t going to be much help to a job seeker. In fact, many recruiters just end up advertising their openings on-line and use their resources to sift through the applicants instead of the hiring company’s. The better recruiters do not advertise their searches and use their networks to fill positions. So, if you are a hiring manager recruiters can save you a lot of time and hassle by bringing you a short list of pre-qualified candidates. If you are a job seeker most recruiters aren’t going to do any more for you than hitting “Submit” on that on-line application does. I think the term “recruiter” is being misused by most so-called recruiters. I think a better term would be “Contract Talent Search.” Call it what it is.
I have ranted on for quite a while here. Since I do not like to present problems without solutions, I will make a few suggestions in closing. First, hiring companies need to remember that it is the candidates that are doing them the favor of trying to help fill their needs and not the other way around. Second, if you post an ad on-line be sure that you give enough information about who you are and what you are looking for (beyond simple technical skills). I read way too many ads that I have no idea what the job is and/or what it would be like to work there. Make me want to work for you, not just apply because I fit the qualifications. Better yet, make me not want to work for you so I won’t bother applying. Also, if you are going to put it out there and make me spend 30 minutes filling out your on-line application, respect my time investment in the process and at least send me a personalized rejection letter if you decide I’m not what you are looking for. A little feedback goes a long way, too.
My final suggestion is to completely re-vamp the recruiting process. Instead of job seekers spending countless hours pouring over cryptic on-line job postings, why not invert the process? A company like Taleo could provide a free service for job seekers that collects personal and professional information from candidates and places it into a secure database that is searchable by hiring managers. If the hiring manager sees an interesting anonymous candidate based on their structured search criteria (location, industry, experience, salary range, relocation interests, etc., etc.) then they could pay for full access to that candidate’s profile and be able to contact them through the system. The system would monitor the first round of communication to help deter spamming and protect job seekers’ interests. So, in a sense, the job seekers would advertise their “wares” and the hiring managers would search for what they wanted to “buy.”
For the most part this is what is already happening on sites like Coroflot and LinkedIn. Other sites like Monster.com, CareerBuilder and The Ladders have tried similar approaches but they have gotten it mixed up. They often require the candidates to pay (OK, guess) but then use their contacts’ information to spam them with all kinds of other offers (NOT OK). There’s nothing worse than being unemployed, paying to post your resume in hopes of landing a few job offers so you can hopefully feed your family, and getting spammed to death. There is a fundamental amount of respect and trust that is required when you are dealing with peoples’ lives that seems to be missing in the impersonality of today’s hi-tech recruiting system. The saddest part is that all of the “efficiencies” the internet has created in recruiting seem to only create more work and result in less long-term hiring success.