The Bidding War for Talent – When Motivation is More Than Money.

The war for talent is a term coined by Steven Hankin of McKinsey & Company in 1997.  It has since become a cliché. It’s used as both a rallying cry and a cause for concern for HR and recruiting professionals everywhere.  Whilst the “war” metaphor is overused and without appreciation of the nuance of hiring it has become popular to look upon hiring people as either winning or losing.

In the current labour market certain skill-sets are at a premium.  The current demand for developers/programmers/software engineers, call them what you will, in both the tech giants and the smallest of startups has led to an increase in the cost and the style of hiring.  Scarcity or the perception of scarcity has meant that salaries have increased.  This is even happening to the point that certain programming languages become annually fashionable, “Ruby was so last year darling! It’s all about Python now!”.

In support of the notion of that scarcity a raft of tools have begun to appear and enabled a new breed of recruiting professionals – the Sourcers.  In the new paradigm more weight is given through the sifting of information and “finding” is the goal, occasionally it seems, at the expense of hiring.  The market seems to support this as more companies are created to solve the “problem” of talent discovery. In turn salaries rise and more tools appear.

I am in favour of developers being paid a fair wage for their work.  I’m even more in favour of the more skilled coders be paid better.  In my time as a recruiter so far I’ve personally hired developers on basic salaries as low as £25,000 to as high as £2,000,000 (really!).   However, there’s a problem in how the industry is accessing this skill set.  Increasingly, recruiting departments facing the need for volume have dehumanised the very people they are seeking to attract to the point of commodification.  This seems to have affected developers even more so as the traditional HR departments demonstrated their lack of understanding of their technical staff.  In the climate of scarcity and increased demand the recruiting industry has responded by shifting the easiest lever to pull, money.

This seems to make sense at the surface level.  Surely people will be more motivated to apply for a new job if the salary is higher than their current remuneration?  The latest aberration of this mindset is the online auction for talent, Hired.com.  Here recruiters effectively bid for the opportunity to interview candidates. There’s even urgency injected in the form of a time limit on the “auction”.  Here’s the real problem for me, any tool that changes the behaviours of an organisation it is being utilised by is also changing or at least reflecting a different culture.  For the candidate who is looking for a role having a rabid pack of companies compete for you may seem flattering but the truth is in this eBay of humans the “product” being sold is the very people Hired has ostensibly been set up to help.

Edward L. Deci is a Professor of Psychology and Gowen Professor in the Social Sciences at the University of Rochester, and director of its human motivation program.  Deci has conducted a multitude of experiments on human motivation and uncovering the “why” of why we do the things we do.  Far from agreeing with the prevailing thought that explicit financial reward was a motivator for increased performance he found the opposite “When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for the activity”.   The basic certainties we hold about labour and “work” haven’t really been updated since the industrial revolution.  The initial boost of productivity offered in response to the external motivation of money soon wears off – to hold interest and that increased productivity there has to be something more.

Employers who base their attraction strategy solely on a financial driver are missing the opportunity to attract potentially better suited candidates to their roles.  Whilst is may be true that working in a larger organisation may offer a higher financial reward this may come at the cost of other areas of reward – the ability to make a personal impact on the product, recognition or even a sense of personal pride.  As an employer who competes only on price you always run the risk of being priced out of the market yourself.  A developer role at a games company may be fulfilling and a passion project for someone, a larger games studio can afford to pay more and cherry pick individuals, however when those skills suddenly become important to an investment bank with even deeper pockets individuals motivated by money can be further tempted away.

Corporate recruiters have blindly accepted that the way to engage the job seeking community is the price tag and minimal description of the role or why it matters to the larger organisation.  As recruiters we are taking away some of the best ammunition we have in this “War for Talent”.  If you can communicate what a candidate will be doing, who they’ll work with, why that’s important and how they’ll go on to contribute to the future of the company you might just see a greater engagement from those that see the ad.

If winning isn’t just ownership of the “resource” but winning the engagement of a person, the “hearts and minds” if you will how can we compete?  The answer is to know your true value proposition.  You might even want to consider talking to your current employees and asking what made them join. Tell your potential hires why they might like to work for you, not just that you have a spare desk and have priced their skills in relation to your competitors.  Venues like auction sites are not the answer for true long term engagement, for that we need to make sure we are creating roles that people would love to do – that they are paid fairly in relation to their peer group and rewarded for the value they add should be a given.

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.” – Maya Angelou

The Mis-Match of Algorithmic Recruitment

It’s the not so distant future.

A mobile app linked to a wrist mounted wearable wakes you, at precisely the right moment.  It monitors your sleep patterns and pulse rate and greets you each morning with a chipper “Go get ’em!”.  You dress and get ready to leave the house, the fridge has emailed to remind you that you’ll need to buy milk on your return.  You lock the door behind you with a swipe of your cell phone, keys are no more.  Outside, you step into a self driving car and take a different route to the usual commute – the car knew about the traffic before you did.  You arrive at work and boxes are moved into the previously vacant office next to yours.  You weren’t aware of a new co-worker. There were no interviews. They were algorithmically selected from the passive talent pool.  Kept warm on a diet of Pinterest photos of the office and Youtube videos of kittens selected to be the most humanising for the Mega Corp you happen to work in…

As far as predictions of the future go the vision I offer above is hardly advanced.  The technology exists for the wearables, the Internet of Things and the self driving cars, it’s just that last part that seems incongruent.

In the growing adoption of technology for HR departments seeking to differentiate their sourcing efforts, the idea of algorithmic matching is seen to be the magic bullet in the “War for Talent”.  Beyond the clichéd war metaphors and gullibility of HR Tech buyers is the future of recruitment to be left to the robots?

Technology has made the discipline of talent acquisition better.  We’ve moved far beyond the data entry and green screen databases of a decade ago.  As a modern workforce migrates to online services so their digital footprint increases making them all the more easy for the new breed of sourcers to find.  Now the future, according to some, looks set to be the automated addition of new workers and a touted increase in the skill of selection.  I’m no Luddite but I can’t help thinking this is a version of a technological utopianism whose primary supporters are those that seek to benefit financially from the adoption of the technology in question.

So many of the products available that claim to have solved matching are the same providers who don’t recognise some of the fatal flaws that their products exacerbate. The primary example of this is the reliance on the quality of data on both sides necessary for a match.  The majority of matching systems are parsing CV’s and then matching against a job description analysed in the same way.  This is exactly the limited key word matching that these systems say is so weak.  Even when other data are relied upon to beef up the input, suggestions of LinkedIn profiles and even LinkedIn endorsements are laughable. Especially in the case of unverifiable LinkedIn endorsements like mine for “Midwifery” and “Cheese Making”.  Of course I’m totally brilliant at both of these things…

Even the more advanced of the matching algorithms that incorporate some elements of semantic search (context of search, location, intent, variation of words, synonyms, generalised and specialised queries, concept matching and natural language processing) are constrained both by the data the candidates provide and the job description or criteria the employer matches against.  Anyone who works in recruiting will be able to quickly see that both of these sources of data are flawed and subject to constant change.  Data in both these areas can be knowingly falsified, incomplete and always out of date.

This data is inherently flawed because people themselves are inherently flawed.  Candidates will always seek to portray themselves in the best light, hiring managers will always add some extra “nice to haves” or even make the work of two people into one mythical job description.  A matching algorithm is forced to make sense of too many moving parts and results will suffer.

In moving towards this style of recommendation the people in the processes are reduced to the status of commodities.  Subtle nuance is lost and the chance for innovation curtailed by inelastic parameters.  People are not a product.  When Amazon presents you with a book based on your buying preferences it has only to reckon with your fickle, transient tastes.  A book doesn’t reject you because it feels it’s too far to get to your house, or because the other books on the shelf don’t feel your reputation is strong enough, a book doesn’t want to work from is own home or have a counter offer from a series of rival readers…people do.

Recruiting is a constant stream of edge cases.  Whilst a matching engine might work for less complex roles at large numbers, it won’t help you compete in winning that all important “War for Talent” you were so desperately spending your way out of.  The current level of technology is no match for the ability of a good recruiter.  This is not an indictment of the technology, it’s an acknowledgement of the greater problem that exists in the institutionally flawed HR departments and Recruiting processes the world over.  Using a tool like this to gain another datapoint to inform decision making is a valid use – it’s the shame of HR Tech that every new tool is paraded as “the answer”.  If the industry could wean itself off it’s obsession with the novel and shiny we might be able to tackle some of these issues at the root cause and realise that the skills we learnt whilst toiling at our green screens might not be entirely redundant.

“They’ll buy anything” – 10 steps to selling terrible software to Human Resources Departments

There’s so much investment in HR and Recruiting tech at the moment there’s never been a better time to monezite your confirmation bias, join the chorus of “Recruitment is broken!” and release a tool that ignores the “human” in Human Resources!
 

Now all that stands in your way are the shadowy, purse-string wrangling HR directors.  How can we get past them?  Here are ten things you can do right now to start up, cash in, sell out and bro down!

STEP ONE – Say “It has an algorithm”.

First of don’t worry if you don’t know what an algorithm is, neither do the majority of buyers of HR software.  What they will know is that the internet services and companies they have heard of all have algorithms.  They all use Google and the more savvy amongst them might use terms like “matching” or “ranking”, in these cases it’s best to just keep saying that your new tool has an algorithm and to look knowingly at them.  Remember it’s always good practice to use the strength of your algorithm to cover up horrific design choices.  If a prospective customer is thinking about buying another tool be sure to belittle it and claim that the ugly, clunky interface you preside over is “hardcore computer science”.

STEP TWOHold them to a lengthy “implementation period”.

Remember the good old days when we all sold databases and they had to buy hardware and software to make it (sort of) work? Sadly the wealth of better software in other areas has made HR buyers expect more before signing those contracts.  Help indemnify your company against any expected or promised service levels by insisting on a lengthy “implementation period”.  In almost every other discipline software is now sold as a service, like a utility with data stored on servers in the cloud.  Tell your buyers this is insecure and “a risk”. The mention of “risk” is the kryptonite of the HR department.


STEP THREEDon’t have a API – Make them pay extra if they want to use their existing data or integrate with another tool!

After you’ve held your buyer to the customary length implementation period it’s time to deliver half of the functionality they originally requested.  Be sure to leave out any particular features that they liked when they saw the software as these can be added later as “modules” and priced accordingly. Similarly if they’d like to import their existing candidate or employee database make sure that you charge for this.  Remember – Compatibility is for wimps! Why would you want to let them use another tool that’s better than yours? Make exporting that data just as difficult as importing it was!


STEP FOURThey’ll want “analytics” – Add a graph!

If you’ve been to any of the conferences you’ll have heard that “Big Data” is the next cool thing to have.  You should start by dropping into conversation that your tool/app/rebranded ATS has a “Big Data approach”.  Don’t worry about getting called out on this, like “algorithm” it’s one of the #HRTech magic words.  You will however have to ensure that you provide some “analytics” to your users.  It’s important to either not measure anything that will encourage the user to ask more questions or to make generating a report on the data so impregnable and counter intuitive that the user will rely on the templates included and not be encouraged to expect anything that is of real use.

STEP FIVE Advertise it as “White-labelled” – Allow them to upload a low resolution jpeg of their logo.

“Culture” is so hot right now. When selling to HR and Recruitment buyers tell them that your software can help them “differentiate” themselves and “level the playing field”.  For most of your buyers “culture” will probably boil down to them uploading a photo of their office and a logo.  Let them do this and maybe even let them link to their Pinterest page.  If your buyer talks a lot about their unique culture remember to always refer to candidates and applicants as a “talent pool” they’ll love it.


STEP SIXCopy a competitor’s tool.

There are so many products available for recruiters and HR professionals out there at the moment that there will undoubtedly be a tool that does the same thing as the software you’re selling, probably better too.  It’s not enough just to rely on buyer ignorance or indifference.  In some cases it will be prudent and ensure the sale, to implement a “sort of” feature that does “almost” the same thing.  Don’t worry that it’s not as good as the original tool you’ve copied you’ll still hit the requirement on the buyer’s checklist and there won’t be any comeback as they are invariably not the ones who’ll have to use it!

The best thing about these MSF’s (minimum saleable features) is that with enough of them you can call the resultant Frankenstein’s monster a “platform” and make even loftier claims.  Whilst the most prudent recruiters will use the right tool for the right job it will pay you to remember that the buyers aren’t the users here and if you can sell them the dream of seamless interaction they’ll be nice and blinkered later on when the reality is a cobbled together hotchpotch of “almost tools”.

STEP SEVENSay it’s “Social”.

The “social” bandwagon is still trundling along nicely and whilst the forerunners have already realised it takes time and a personality to be truly social, there’s still money to be made from those wanting a shortcut.  A link to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn should be enough, remember the best thing is that “social” can’t be owned by a service provider, instead it relies on the user investing time and authenticity – if it fails it’s never the tools fault! Brilliant!

It’s important as a vendor to only talk about “social” in very broad terms, HR departments are a flighty bunch and it was only last week they had all banned the use of any social media at all now the other extreme is true and all their current “social tools” spit out and reiterate their job postings to the few that follow them.

STEP EIGHTReinvent the wheel – take a free tool they are already using and make them pay for it!

When adding features it’s important to monetize tools that HR and Recruitment currently use for free. Skype and Google Hangouts are both free and been in wide usage for years by interviewers all over the world, cost benefits abound and these are saleable.  Of course you’ll have to argue that Skype and Hangouts are of inferior quality or use value to your shiny new tool, you can do this by adding weird functionality like recorded responses. Video interviewing is great because is allows a human connection, let’s get rid of that and have people record their answers to posed questions! Thus robbing the emotional interaction and reducing the tool to some voyeur’s delight and reducing the recruiter to a passive couch potato condemned to watching the worst reality TV show ever imagined…

STEP NINEForce the customer into your workflow.

Despite their protestations that they all want to be unique and different, it’s never stopped a vast number of companies forcing their candidates into redundant form filling and duplication of effort.  As the software provider you should only care about the buyer, candidates should be made to apply in triplicate if it so pleases the bill payer.  Remember you’ll only actually reveal the absurd workflow or user interaction after the buyer has signed, users may end up doing insane things like emailing resumes to themselves but after you’ve got your money that’s their lookout.  Regardless that the client will be wanting to differentiate themselves to prospective employees it’s less time and hassle to make them all leap through the same hoops.  If your tool does include candidate contact feel free to include some email templates – it’s best to make these non-editable and send at random points just for fun…

STEP TEN DO NOT talk to anyone who will actually use the tool during requirements capture.

This is the most important step.  Before you sell anything to anyone, before you even start to build any software, don’t under any circumstances talk to a user from HR or Recruitment.  Most people who will eventually use your tool will actually want to be saved from repetitive tasks or data entry, they’ll want a tool that enhances their abilities, they’ll have a list of workarounds that they currently endure with existing tools and they might even have ideas of their own.

Whilst these would result in a more useable tool they won’t necessarily be attractive to the buyers in HR (who won’t be using the tool you’re building), the potential investors who will want to buy your tool or even confirm your own bias as to why “Recruitment is broken”. It’s best to completely disregard potential users of your software and applicants/those who will be used by the software.

Armed with this sage advice you’ll be well prepared to produce a tool that will garner a lot of attention and sizeable investment whilst adding almost nothing to an organisations ability to hire or retain people.  Remember there’s no individual or human interaction that can’t be successfully repressed or ignored by a well implemented process or tool!

 

Job Titles and Perception – Ninjas, Gurus and Rockstars?

Somewhat unfairly, I tweeted this comparison recently.

The photo compares the titles afforded to two luminaries of the technical world.  One is Sir Tim Berners-Lee, he implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet and is often credited as being the “Inventor of the World Wide Web”.  The other is David Shing, a speaker and futurologist for AOL, the American mass media organisation.  I offered the comparison, as unfair as it is, flippantly and the seeming disparity for Berners-Lee’s humility and Shing’s presumption seemed to hit a nerve with the twitter audience.

As a recruiter it makes me think.  If we can all see a disparity so huge in this example that is becomes absurd why do we still see people using titles that seem at odds with an individual’s function in an organisation?

Your job title communicates a lot more than you might realise.  Regardless of what an employer calls you most are pretty indifferent to you presenting yourself differently online.  The titles people self identify with can have a larger affect on the perception of the individual than you might expect.  Particularly in technical organisations there are a wealth of titles that are used to describe the same role – so how does the onlooker separate the Ninjas, Rockstars and Gurus from the Craftsmen, the Programmers and the plain old (like Sir Tim) Web Developers?  In making a choice and opting for a “wacky” title you make a statement that will shape the perception of others.  In most of these cases, for most of the people I’ve spoken to, they see a correlation with self claimed Ninja, Rockstars and an overestimation of their own skills and abilities.  For most of the people I’ve spoken to there is a connotation to brogrammer culture and the identification as the “Ninja” in question seeking to portray themselves as the hero in their own particular story…

All of this might be fine.  If the employer you want to work for has this culture you’ll fit in well and probably be successful.  I don’t think it’s helpful for potential candidates to seek to be seen in this light.  The best technologists I’ve worked with, “best” here being the feedback from peers and the community, were also the most humble.  These were the people who had created tools and languages the world over, known in their fields as leaders and yet they let their achievements speak for themselves.

What then of a company that advertises to hire a “Rockstar Developer”? If a company advertises for Ninjas, Gurus and Rockstars does the reader infer that they are a fun place to work with little hierarchy or that the environment will be competitive and celebrate the individual over the team as a whole? For me that distinction is too great of a risk, I wouldn’t want the advert to put people off applying for a job they might be otherwise perfect for, at the very least I’d prefer a part of the process to determine their fit rather than their reaction to a joke job title.  Whilst this might be true for me and the companies I recruit for if might not be the same for your organisations.  For example this video, recruiting developers for Kixeye, might illustrate they’d love some Ninjas to apply.  A company advertising might want to take the time to reflect on what their job title means for attraction.  Remember that whilst you might love the fact your business card proudly states you’re a “Ruby Ninja”, a “Marketing Badass” or even the “Chief Instigation Officer” (yes really!) the communication of these ideas is a two way street and your true meaning will always be affected by the listener’s own values, attitudes and beliefs.

Whatever your job title and however you want to portray yourself, awareness is key.  The next time you have to respond to this type of job title this site might help.  For employers who might be using these job titles just for the shock value, I’m afraid that time has already passed, perhaps you could consider becoming a not for “Prophets” organisation?

 

The Abusive Relationship between HR Technology and its Users

A green screen flickers in the corner of the office.  It is “The System”. Management don’t understand “The System”.  It’s a confusing, alien world.  The bright horizons of technological advance leave those that guard the old ways of working squinting in the glow.  As time moves on the piles of paper and files are replaced with computers and newer instances of the same system.  Functionality moves forward, no longer the electronic filing system, now the system has snaked it’s way into all aspects of the HR world.  The system knows when you arrived, you tell it when you’re going on holiday, it knows you got married, it knows about your children, it will will auto-generate your P45 and alert security to escort you our of the door.

Whenever I happen across an organisation that uses one of the “traditional” HR systems it’s never long before the discussion turns a little Orwellian.  I never hear these complaints from the management tier of the organisations – just those that are forced to interact with an outdated system that has been imposed upon them.  As Human Resources became more computerised, efficiencies were created at the expense of those very same resources it wished to aid – the humans.

The biggest offenders of the dehumanisation of HR Tech are those systems that started life in the minds of the suppliers of manufacturing technology.  If an HR system is has at it’s heart the basic stuff of a supply chain management system is it any wonder that your employees will feel used by the system as opposed to valued or better in control of it.  Of course this doesn’t just extend as far as the end user.  Limitations of a poorly implemented HR system can shape or even change HR policies themselves.  You wanted to give that amazing maternity leave deal? Sorry, the system doesn’t support it.  Wanted to award industry beating compensation tracking? Computer says “no”.

Technology in the human resources department became an ivory tower.  The situation worsened as technology advanced in the outside world.  Far from the gaining efficiency technology in human resources forces people to retain knowledge of arcane systems, to manage decaying programming languages and become beholden to dead data structures.  Locked into vendor licensing agreements and having to deal with clunky technology everyday Stockholm Syndrome sets in.  Gradually HR departments began to become more and more like the broken systems they used.  How many HR departments administer to the people they used to represent solely through a system. How many of us have tried to talk directly to someone who works in HR only to be referred to a different part of system.  In building the one-stop shop for everything HR would need, solution providers didn’t stop to consider the the knock-on effects – the people processed by the new breed of catch-all technologies are left feeling empty and embittered.  How many employees have come to resent their colleagues in HR because of the way they are forced to interact by poor software?

The provider of the solutions and those that buy the solutions are in a race to the bottom.  They seem to go to great lengths to alienate both those who try to use the software and those who receive a service via it.  In the ongoing dance between supplier and buyer of HR Technology the dance floor is left all but empty for the minority, whilst the majority stake holders, the users and those that are used, are left un-consulted.  The problem here is a “perfect storm” of wrongheaded software production with a manufacturing bent meeting a buying audience that seem to be wilfully technologically un-savvy.  The buyers of software in human resources are always looking for the new and the shiny, this trend is particularly pronounced in the sphere of recruitment where the improvement is always incremental yet the added value sold to the buyer is always exponential. Is there ever a new recruitment tool that promises an “edge” rather than a magical world changing experience. The naivety of the buying audience allows sub-rate suppliers to peddle hyperbole driven claims like arms dealers of solve-all magic bullets.

How many of the HR buying audience have decided on purchases for less than optimal reasons.  How many of those would candidly admit to having wasted their budgets afterwards?  In my career to date I have used some terrible software that I’ve had to use because of weird purchasing decisions and I’ve heard some terrible reasons for it’s purchase.  “The salesperson used to work here”, “The HR Director knows X from the supplier”, “We held a review and they presented better…” – all lousy reasons, and in all of these cases the person who made the buying decision had very little interaction with the system after the purchase.  The self fulfilling prophecy of imperfect software being purchased for suboptimal reasons continues, locked in, hostages for the term of the next license agreement.

In striving to produce ever more sparkly baubles for HR Directors to purchase in their quest to appear relevant, software producers increasingly look towards other domains and piggyback on their “buzz”.  How many solutions in the HR world are now sporting the reflected glory of “mobile”, “video” or “social” as a reason they will offer increased benefits?  Recently we’ve seen a spate of Tinder clones for recruitment. “Machine learning” solutions who’s matching algorithms seem to be attempting to solve the problem of having hired bad recruiters. Even video interviewing platforms,  because video is the next “big thing”…after all it worked so well for all those cat videos on YouTube.  As Jeff Goldblum’s character said in Jurassic Park “…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should” – we’re at a stage where any technological advance is seen as something for recruiters to exploit.  Want to know if a recruiter understands “social”? If they show you all the wonderful work they’ve done with Pinterest and Instagram, they don’t get it.

There is some light at the end of this dark and scary tunnel.  A handful of suppliers are producing software that is not only good for recruitment and HR but good for the users too.  Software at it’s best in HR is responsible for the removal of a lot of the pain of processes, procedures and regulation that would normally cause friction.  A great software solution removes the burden of repetition, it gives momentum and doesn’t detract from HR doing what they used to best connecting with and advocating for the people they work with.  There are some suppliers that understand that HR Technology doesn’t have to be ugly. Using it doesn’t have to leave you feeling miserable and depressed, there are even some suppliers who are making their users lives easier.  There’s the frictionless importing of candidates into the Workable ATS using a Chrome plugin, there are an increasing number of beautiful calendar apps incorporating to do lists that scale to support entire companies and there’s even the easy way to do expenses using apps like Concur or Expensify. The difference is that there’s a great tool for each stage not a mediocre tool for all stages.
The growing fragmentation in the marketplace has allowed for smaller suppliers to enter and give us some true innovation.  I can only hope this also means that the clunky mega solutions of HR history don’t have to be inflicted on many more employee populaces before buyers see the light.  HR departments should realise that whilst technology is the great enabler, when it’s old and outdated it’s a great alienator.  Employees have access to better hardware and software than their employers in many cases and this isn’t tide going to reverse any time soon.  The technically savvy HR managers will win the respect of their organisations or be doomed to lose employees to those that do.  The days of “hired to retired” cradle to grave style bloated solutions are over.  Using the right tool at the right time and having the courage to change that tool if necessary is becoming more and more important.

In October I’ll be attending the HR Tech Europe 2014 European Conference in Amsterdam and I’m looking forward to hearing about the future of an industry which is at a turning point.  The old vendors will be there no doubt, but I’ll be looking for the innovators and the upstarts.

Why the Recruitment Revolution won’t be sparked with Tinder – Candy Crush for your Career?

The world of HR and recruitment software seems to be going through something of a renaissance as of late.  The world that was dominated by user-unfriendly bloatware is becoming increasingly fragmented.  As more players rose to fill the gaps in usability for a beleaguered audience so smaller competitors rose up too.  For a small provider or startup, HR is a domain ripe for disruption.  It bears all the hallmarks of an industry that at it’s surface looks unchanged.  For the founders of startups who may have been at the unfulfilling receiving end of so many HRBP’s in larger organisations HR is a logical starting point for your new disruptive software solution.

In the mists of history where HR met software has only led to monolithic structures or rebrands of logistics software. The people in these electronic processes treated in the same way as stock to fill shelves or car parts for an insatiable assembly line.  The same clunking UI that held payroll information for accounts and performance data for HR was rolled out and forced on recruiters for managing the applications of new candidates. The biggest competitive advantage was the supposed “ease” of managing a candidate process.  In effect this led to a system in which people applying to large organisations were held at bay with template emails and auto-responses.

There are a great number of new systems for managing recruiting in a way that is more effective.  If you’re still managing the hiring process for your organisation in a “spreadsheet of doom” now is a great time to change to one of the newer systems – Greenhouse, Lever or my ATS of choice Workable are all enabling their users to manage applicants through the process in amore human way. (Provided you use them in a human way – template emails that sound like template emails still suck).

To match the rise of the new round of applicant tracking systems (ATS) we’ve also seen new tools for other areas of hiring.  Recently we’ve seen large rounds of investment for many mobile based “job discovery” tools.  They all have the obligatory cool names like Jobr, Emjoyment and Blonk. The trait these apps all share is their appropriation of the Tinder style user interaction.  Like a job? Simply swipe and you’ve applied, or at least made contact with the posting company. It’s so easy!  And that’s my problem.

“It’s a Match!” …but does either side really care?

There are enough problems with application processes that are too lengthy but to remove or lower the barrier to application to a simple swipe, by extension, must also lower the thought process behind the application.  Does scrolling through job listings on your phone equate to the same thought and consideration on the candidate side as seeing an advert, being taken to the companies website to learn more and then making an application?  There is an innate disposability in the action of a single swipe, there is little effort either physically or mentally in idly swiping through career options.  As a recruiter, I want more than that.  I don’t want the company I work for in a beauty parade held up for the swipes of someone looking for a Candy Crush Career…

Whilst the act of application, that is expressing interest in a job via one of these apps or polishing a LinkedIn in order to apply, fulfils the basic criteria of “job seeking” it does seem to overestimate the impact of technology on human behaviour.  The “ease” of use for the candidate is the equal and opposite reaction from the Recruiter side who is now given over to service of a greater number of applicants that haven’t really gone to the lengths of application they normally would have.

There are a greater number of applicants and it becomes all the more difficult to find the signal in all that noise.  Those who are not at the coal face of recruiting often tout an increased volume of applications as beneficial.  As if throwing more bodies into the top of the funnel will result in the same level of quality and increased output from the same recruitment team.  Whilst this can be true it’s only true if the quality is maintained. Scaling a recruitment effort is much more than opening yourself up to more applications. The best adverts for vacancies should cause potential applicants to opt in or out and gauge their own cultural fit.  The worst metric for the success of any recruitment effort is the raw metric of applications.

Perhaps at the root of all this is the transient psychology of a Tinder swipe. People are time deprived and the application of the swipe to jobs seems like a saving but in effect shifts a burden to a recruitment function that will only truly engage if they too swipe your application.  Monotonous, machine like swiping. Less and less meaningful engagement. Just as Tinder was a nail in the coffin of notions of romantic love perhaps Tinder-clones for recruitment are just at odds with my romantic views of candidate experience?

The Magic of the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator – The Technological Panaceas of Hiring that aren’t.

Hiring is scary.

Hiring is a risky process that we all know can do irreparable damage if we get it wrong.  There are countless studies that all make the case that a false positive is more damaging that a false negative.  It’s hard to “undo” a bad hire.  So how do we mitigate against this?

In the world of hiring there is an anti-pattern that the answer to the question of “how to hire?” is always answered better elsewhere.  We tell ourselves there exists a panacea for hiring.  There is a strategy to beat all others.  A technology so advanced that it alone is enabling a rival to mop up all that talent that’s spilling all over the place.  In effect, in making strategic decisions about technology in hiring we have outsourced our facility for critical thought.

We believe the purveyors of these advances because they come with the trappings of authority. They quote statistics in polished powerpoint presentations, wield certificates with pseudo-scientific credentials or a hat.  So much of the decision making for strategy in recruitment has become about copying our competitors.  We assume that if something is working elsewhere it will work for us. Often this is based on information that is outdated and organisations don’t change their processes to fit in with the new thinking.  Take for example the role of those “impossible to answer questions” pioneered by Microsoft and later Google.  It is now industry wide common knowledge that there is no correlation between the ability to answer these brainteaser questions and the ability to perform well in the role you are interviewing for.  Yet how many organisations are still asking them because they think they should be?  When was the last time you ran an audit of the questions asked at interview in your organisation?

Ever since companies have needed to hire people there have been providers offering them magic-bullet future predicting insights into their candidates.  With just a few answers to a test you can predict the suitability of a candidate for your company.  The granddaddy of these magical tests is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

The test sorts it’s takers into one of 16 different types each with a description that have now been misappropriated by HR departments to make wide ranging judgments about the suitability of prospective employees.  There have been many more erudite take downs of the lack of use of the MBTI this is a great place to start.

Here, as a primer, are a few reasons why the MBTI shouldn’t be used in decision making when hiring –

  • The test is based on the work of Carl Jung and uses his “types” in a way he said they shouldn’t be used “Every individual is an exception to the rule,” Jung wrote.
  • Jung’s principles were later adapted into a test by Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, who had no formal training in psychology.
  • The test uses false, limited binaries that force the taker into a either/or choice often on measurements where a better representation is that we are all somewhere on a spectrum.  Jung himself wrote “there is no such thing as a pure extravert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.”
  • As much as 50 percent of people arrive at a different result the second time they take a test, even if it’s just five weeks later.

Lastly and perhaps the best first step to make when evaluating the claims of any HR holy grail is to look at who stands to benefit from the introduction of any new test, technology or methodology.  More often than not this benefit is either financial or one of prestige.  In the case of the Myers-Briggs there is a self supporting industry of those that pay for the licensing to become testers and then propagate the test’s worth within their organisations thus increasing the need for their own services.  The real winner in the “success” of the MBTI is it’s producer.

This is a truism for any of the latest crazes and bandwagon technologies that present themselves in the hiring space.  If someone stands to benefit then they will tell everyone that it’s the best thing ever and will change the face of recruitment as we know it.  Be wary of that hyperbole for that way lies a trail a misspent dollars.

The hard truth that we all face is of course that there is no one perfect system.  There is no solution that can be purchased that will solve all your hiring ills.  There are organisations that make great strides in their own hiring and those stories have worth.  However, as an industry we shouldn’t seek to become an inferior copy of another’s success.  Instead we should ask ourselves what are those aspects that seem to work for others that we could trial and adopt at our own companies.  Listen to the stories of others but know that the stories themselves are not the path to knowledge. Knowing something requires research.

We should think critically about both the message and the messenger before going ahead with those decisions that will shape our ability to attract and retain talent for years to come (or at least until the next bandwagon we jump on).

So the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator isn’t magic. It’s that magical thinking that is a failure of critical thinking. Not thinking critically about a testing framework that you later use as a reference point to inform your decision making is an act of sabotage against your employer… but then I would say that I’m an ENTJ.

7 Myths About Great Résumés

When friends find out I work in recruitment they often have a lot of questions.  They might ask for funny stories, the strangest applications I’ve seen, but it’s never that long until I’m asked if I’ll look at their own resume.  Sad though it may seem, I don’t mind doing this, actually I quite enjoy it.  Almost every time I’ve done this I hear the same justifications for formatting, length, and content come up again and again.

I’m sure that this advice is always given with the best of intentions to those seeking jobs.  It’s folksy, friendly and given in the same tones as the motherly maxims we were fed as children. However, times have changed.  We know that if we pull “that face” we won’t stay that way, we know that eating those crusts didn’t put hair on our chests, we even know that if you swallow chewing gum it wouldn’t “wrap around your heart and kill you” (my elder sister used to tell me this with absolute conviction).  So much of this weird advice is now dismissed and yet when it come to job seeking we hold certain things to be absolute truths.  Here are seven thing people blindly accept as the “right way” and the reasons I think we can now give up on them.

Myth Number 1 – “Your resume should only be 1 page.”

Truth – This is one of the most pervasive pieces of advice I hear.  Often I find people struggling to fit their experience on a page, resorting to 10pt font size or self-censoring and leaving some great things out, desperately attempting to make everything fit into no more than two sides of A4.  The problem with that?  I will probably never print your resume.  “Sides of paper” is a physical restriction that modern ATS’s (Applicant Tracking Systems) and candidate tracking systems have made redundant.  The truth is that I will scroll through a CV on a screen, normally in a frame within another application, I’ll be reading your resume not counting pages.  Some recruitment software even removes page breaks so the length is purely a measure of holding a recruiter’s interest. Write interesting, relevant content and a recruiter won’t mind if you add a page.

Myth Number 2 – “Avoid all complicated fonts or design elements.”

Truth – This is another of those things that was potentially true in the past.  When looking at a paper resume it may have been the case that in printing a complex design would be corrupted in some way.  Similarly, early ATS’s couldn’t cope with any design elements as they tried to parse documents and strip out information.  Any modern system will now happily display submitted resumes in a variety of formats, even as beautifully crafted .pdfs the better systems are now advanced to the point where they can do this and still strip out information and enable searching.  Never has this advice been so misplaced when I was recently looking for designers.  The number of standard template resumes I received was scary – if you’re a designer show it! If the design you send to a recruiter is overly complex and doesn’t convey information clearly it will tell them a lot more about your abilities than the content.


Myth Number 3 – “Recruiters only spend 5 seconds looking at a resume.”

Truth – Recruiters only spend five seconds looking at a bad resume.  With clarity of format and inclusion of relevant information you encourage a reader to read on.  Irrelevant, clichéd or boring copy means anyone, not just a recruiter won’t linger for long.  You should write in a consistent format that is easy to take in – I have suggested the following format for wring about each job –

Company – Role Title – Dates of Employment
Who the company are, what they do – just a couple of sentences. 
The role you were tasked to perform – the duties you had
Achievements in the role – Call attention to specific things that match the role you’re applying for or experiences you want to call out. 
This makes for easy reading, it tells me what you did, and how you did it. I don’t have to second guess obscure job titles and still offers you the chance to blow your own trumpet a little.
 
Myth Number 4 – “Use Bullet Points.”
 
I like bullet points, when listed the duties you undertook or telling me about specific individual elements of a whole they’re great.  However, not everything should be bulleted.  I’ve seen resumes that are so clipped and hammered into bullet lists that they are no longer comprehensible.  As a rule any stylistic choice should enhance legibility.  If a resume is comprised totally of bullet points, each with their own clipped structure it can be like reading a newspaper using only the headlines.  I’ll thank you for the brevity but I’ll also doubt your ability to write a complete sentence.


Myth Number 5 – “Identify the problems of the employer.”

Truth – Don’t do this. I’ve never seen an example of this that doesn’t sound arrogant.  I can’t imagine a case where it wouldn’t.  Cite relevant experiences, give examples that you think may resonate with the problems that your target employer would also face, but the assumption of a candidate leaping in and saving the company they are applying to work for is a turn off for most recruiters I know.


Myth Number 6 – “Don’t use jargon.”

Truth – Don’t dumb down your resume to the point that it looks as though you don’t know what you’re talking about.  This is particularly true for technical professions.  A candidate is correct to assume some level of knowledge from the recruiter who is reviewing the resumes before they reach a hiring manager.  If a developer or sys admin is giving more details about a project they worked on I want to to know what technologies they used.  There’s another reason to keep in the technical terms too – they are often how resumes are searched and candidates are discovered in the first place. In any database of resumes, LinkedIn included, search is initially about filtering millions of people through key words – they have to be there.
   Technical terms are not meaningless, include them.  Don’t include the truly meaningless, clichéd company specific terms or management speak but if the term is relevant and needed don’t be afraid to use it.  A good recruiter can either be relied upon to google the term or if the rest of the resume is good they’ll ask you.

Myth Number 7 – “Don’t add your hobbies or interests.”

Truth – As a recruiter I tend to see all candidates as meaty flesh bags containing a skill set, their only possible use being to serve the organisation for which I currently ply my trade, said no one ever.  An organisation that would discriminate against you for your hobbies or interests probably isn’t one you would want to work for.  However, there are some people who may have legal yet contentious pastimes.  Things that might not be a good idea to add are religion or political activity or hunting as an example.  It’s important not to give the recruiter a reason to reject your application out of hand but at the same time as a recruiter I’d still like to know you were a well rounded human being.  
In a related area, don’t make up hobbies or interests, recruiters will ask you about them.  There’s nothing more awkward for us both like a sudden improvisation about your made up live action role-playing experiences.

Remember as Mary Schmich said “Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth“. The next time that someone offers you some advice on your resume make sure that it really applies to the application you’re making, but this is just my advice.