I think most of us have been through it – if you haven’t my bet is that you’ve at least heard about this awesome experience: sending  your resume into a black hole.  Well, it’s almost always more than just your resume. It’s a “profile”.  One you have to create a log-on and password for.  It usually has a a 6 + page application, where they ask you to fill out your career history in box after box, then ask a series of (sometimes absolutely irrelevant) questions about you, and ask you to attach your resume.

Some of them try and parse some info from that resume – and, generally, they get it wrong. Which actually makes it worse: now you have to go through, line by line, and look for errors. Because if there’s a typo in one of those boxes, you get ruled out. Fun, right?

Sometimes, the whole thing crashes, forcing you to start all over again. Then, they ask if you want to “check out”.

Really? Let’s take that apart:

  • They have your resume. Heck, if you have a LinkedIn profile, they could use that instead. Either one is easily parsable. There’s no reason to ask you to fill it all in again, and no excuse to get the information wrong if they try and do it for you.
  • Filling out the same information, over and over again, for different jobs, is mind-numbing.
  • This isn’t eCommerce. People are not “shopping” for jobs: they need to get rid of the check out cart. It’s ridiculous. How many candidates – if they’re at all aware of their skills – apply for more than one job?
  • A career site isn’t a social network. Stop making people create log-ons. At best, offer it as an option, for the (like, 1%) who actually plan on “tracking their progress”.
    • Maybe they think a job applicant is like a package… wait, there they go again, treating people like commodities…

Here’s the thing: ATS (applicant tracking system) companies have over the years added increasing levels of bells and whistles to justify their existence, out-bling their competition, and generally convince corporate HR departments that they’re worth the money. The reality is that most of them aren’t.

They’re also hurting your chances of getting a job. Recruiters will tell you that they get buried in applications for their open jobs, and that they need some sort of filter so that they only see the “best matches.” The problem is, the recruiters set the filters in the first place – if they aren’t incredibly well thought out, and fairly broad, you have to answer each filtering question exactly or you get ruled out. Remember those bizarre questions you were answering? Someone with no expertise in your type of role, potentially a fresh grad with no work experience, came up with those in about 10 minutes after sitting down with a manager who had little respect for them and gave them some off the cuff answers to get them out of their office. Those questions decide your fate. Ultimately, they decide the fate of the entire company, because baby: recruiting is the most important thing a company can do. And most of them are lousy at it (that’s a whooooole other blog post – heck, that’s an whole new blog).

Remember the question “desired salary”? You’ve answered it – every one of those ATS questionnaires asks for it.

And: it’s one of the worst things a recruiter can ask a candidate early on. Why?

Simple: that number is not absolute. We all know this. Compensation is more than just salary – it’s cost of benefits, flex time, If you go through an interview process, and discover that they have 100% benefit coverage, flex time, profit sharing, and bonuses? I’m betting you’d be flexible on the salary piece of that equation. You may also fall in love with the role, potential, etc, and flex for that. On the employer’s side, they may fall so in love with you that they flex on their end.

The point is: it shouldn’t be an up front knockout punch. With that one question, HR departments can “filter” you out before they even see your resume. The sad thing is, Recruiting 101 advice (to both candidates and hiring authorities) is to never ask what a candidate is looking for until you know a bit more about each other. It’s good to ask what they’ve made – if it’s way out of line from what you can offer, bring it up gently or make a mental note to loop back to it sooner than later. That’s usually the exception. If they’ve performed a role that’s similar to the one you’re recruiting for, then their salary expectations are probably close enough to your range.

So, HR departments are missing out on great candidates, without even being aware of it. They’re spending lots and lots of time generating reports from their ATS’s, that they can use to justify their existence to their CFO, but they’re missing the main point of their job: getting butts in seats.

Don’t believe me on that? Here’s a live example. Every once in awhile, I see a role that I think looks really, really interesting – and I apply. I’m interested in working on something really juicy. I applied for a role a few weeks ago, after hours. Long, painful ATS process. Lots of questions. Bad parsing. Etc.  The minute I hit submit, an e-mail response arrived in my inbox saying they had “received my resume, and someone would look at it carefully.” Fourteen minutes (literally) later, I received an e-mail saying “we have looked carefully at your resume, and will not be pursuing you at this time”.  Huh. Wow. Why don’t I believe you looked at my resume?

It’s ridiculous. Don’t get me started on the overall UI of these things, by the way.

I’ll probably get some angry responses about this – and that’s good. I’d like to hear both sides.

Short term, I’d recommend turning off your filters to my peers in corporate HR & recruiting. There’s gold you’re missing – getting people back to work, and your company producing, is critical to economic recovery. If needed, hire an assistant to cover for you while you spend time going through resume after resume – it’s painful, but important work. Look beyond keywords. Knock-out punches might include types, job hopping, obvious falsehoods, commute, etc. But those should be about it – try and widen your filters.

Job seekers? Find ways to go around the career site. Use social media – especially LinkedIn – to find people in your network who are connected to the company, and ask them to get you in. If you can’t find connectors, try and get the name of the person doing the hiring (ie, your future boss), and send them a direct e-mail with your information. Alternately, find them on LinkedIn and send them a message there (avoid sending them a message on Facebook, some people prefer to keep that separate from work-related). If that fails, you can usually find the name and contact information of a company recruiter that you can approach.

Just…. avoid the career site. It’s a black hole.

I’m actually in the midst of a data-collection exercise on this – I’d like to know if the problem is as wide spread as I think. Feel free to chime in with your stories, positive as well as negative, and let me know if you’d be open to a (very painless) survey I’m going to whip up.

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