Is It Time to Re-Invent The Entire Job Recruitment Process?

August 7, 2023 thehrobserver-hrobserver-jobrecruitment

A fundamental question for sure. However, in the post pandemic period with the velocity of job turnover increasing, the advent of ever-more sophisticated AI technology and ever-more demanding and prepared job seekers there is increasing evidence that the current way of doing things is inefficient, overly expensive and becoming less and less candidate centric.

And I make no apology for looking at this predominantly from the perspective of individual job seekers. Over the last few years in my role coaching individuals around the world (including widely in the UAE) to help them seek out and secure new job roles, I regularly and consistently hear job seekers expressing concerns and frustrations about the lack of quality and efficiency of their experiences when seeking to find a new role. Sentiments that, whilst not new, have increased in both frequency and degree since the end of the world-wide pandemic. Amongst the most oft-stated of concerns that I regularly hear from job seekers are:

  • A strong overriding sense that the recruitment marketplace has become more impenetrable, unresponsive, faceless and less candidate-centric for individuals embarking upon the search for a new role.
  • Poorly expressed job and person specifications often with “cut and paste” competencies making it hard for job seekers to discern fully if they are truly suitable/qualified or experienced enough for the advertised/posted role. The result – many avoidable wasted hours by job seekers in preparing and submitting applications and an unnecessary burden on employers and/or their recruitment agents in processing applications that are unlikely to ever be successful.
  • Recruitment agencies taking low-level care over assembling short lists for job vacancies often appearing to add little value and acting as mere body shops in dealing with candidates and therefore too often resulting in a mismatch between the candidates capabilities and the job requirements.
  • For more senior candidates, poor experiences with ostensibly reputable search firms and their specialist consultants who can often appear distant and unresponsive to direct approaches from even the most senior, experienced and highly capable job seekers. A definite “don’t ring us, we’ll ring you” attitude.
  • Unthinking employers who deal with job applicants in an increasingly commoditised way with depersonalised communications, little feedback on unsuccessful applications and a tendency to hide behind third party recruitment agents.
  • A lack of expressed confidence in on-line job postings and in particular surety that posted jobs are still genuinely open, not already filled by an internal candidate or postings that fail to provide enough credible information on the scope and requirements of the role.
  • An increasingly slavish use of front-end AI systems to sift-out initial job applicants based upon simple CV word matching and the consequent risk of missing out on more nuanced candidate qualities of deep experiences and exhibited emotional intelligence.
  • Over-elaborate and overly-lengthy interview and assessment processes quite often seeking to compensate for a lack of adequate competency-based training and confident, objective judgement from internal interviewers.
  • A paucity of useful feedback from unsuccessful job applications leaving job seekers often guessing about the areas where they made a positive impact and areas where they did not meet the recruitment specification. Unfortunately, the typical general hand-off in the rejection email that says “there were better qualified more experienced candidates” is too unspecific  – and makes the whole business an inefficient learning process for individuals – it gives them no useful information about how they might re-present themselves when they next apply for a similar role.

Now let me say at this point, to avoid the potential risk of alienating everyone involved in the recruitment marketplace, not all candidates’ experiences are as dysfunctional as described above. There are undoubtedly some excellent search firms, recruitment agencies and employers out there who do take great care over their recruitment processes, who value their reputation and who are capable of seeing things from a candidate’s perspective.  Sadly however these exemplars are still relatively few in number and appear to be outweighed by the contrary experience of too many job seekers.

And yes, of course, there are significant off-cited mitigations heard from key players who don’t quite hit the expectation of being more candidate centric i.e. 

  • Administratively and logistically dealing with large numbers of applicants and job applications is a big challenge and can place large administrative demands and costs on employing organisations and their agents.
  • Of course, search firms and recruitment agents, you are paid by the recruiting employer not the candidate so that’s where most of your time and attention will inevitably go.
  • Giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates can be a massive administrative and time consuming burden.
  • And of course it is very important to ensure that recruitment processes are rigorous, reliable and objective to minimise the risk of unconscious bias and expensive recruitment mistakes

However my strong impression and increasing insight is that too many recruitment market players simply shrug their shoulders and accept these issues and limitations without either seeking new and innovative solutions and/or appreciating the often negative reactions and poor experiences of the job candidates. 

And why does this matter – after all doesn’t the current way of doing things just about hang together and work for most?  

Well in my (humble) opinion, this is why it matters.

  • Every job candidate (successful or not) is a current or potential future customer of the employer for whom they are applying for a role. Bad experiences of the process either direct or through an employer’s recruitment or search agent will impact on the reputation of that business not just with the frustrated candidate but with all the people they talk to about their bad experience.
  • Employers pay a large amount of money to search firms and recruitment agencies to help them with the hiring process and uncover high quality candidates. If these contracted agents are operating too mechanically or transactionally and not engaging fully with individual candidates, how can the employer be sure that the shortlist they are presented with is not missing some really different and high calibre people
  • All recruitment businesses should consider each potential job applicant as a possible customer of theirs in the future i.e. if you are fortunate enough to have been on the receiving end of a really good experience with a search firm (and even though you may not have ultimately succeeded in securing a specific role), you are likely to positively remember that particular search firm and search consultant and when in the future you have an important vacancy to fill you are more likely to place your business with that agency (and also more likely to recommend others to do so).
  • The collective inefficiency of recruitment processes comes at a heavy cost in both time and money for individuals, organisations and overall economies particularly in these challenging economic times across the globe.   

So in answering my own upfront question, my simple observations are that the recruitment market as it currently plays out is in many ways very inefficient, often ineffective in matching individuals to roles, invariably frustrating for individual candidates and lacks reliable feedback mechanisms to allow individuals to confidently self-improve. In any other business context these issues would be strong grounds for transformation and re-inventing the process. 

And let me say at this point that I do not presume to have all the answers. But here are some critical areas that I do believe are very worthy of serious dialogue and exploration:

Cross Industry Collaboration? – I suggest that any lasting solutions will require much closer cross-industry collaboration to set new standards of operation and practice, particularly as the use of AI becomes ever-more prevalent as part of the recruitment process (see below).  It may well be necessary for the big recruitment firms and big employers to take the lead in this process for others to follow, challenging current assumptions and re-imagining new more efficient and applicant centric ways of doing things. Maybe, as in so many other commercial endeavours, now is the time to create a more formalised standard process for employers and recruiters alike where they can obtain independent accreditation that they apply these high standards in how they deal with the whole recruitment process and particularly their dealings with individual candidates and their data. Rather like in many other fields of business that have formalised “consumer protection”, should the recruitment industry not now be willing to sign up to its own code of “candidate assurance and protection”. 

More Nuanced Application of Technologies? – in its simple early forms AI and Machine Learning technologies have already been deployed quite widely to speed up the process and efficiency of initial application transactions including screening and first level virtual interviewing. But already it is apparent that with the advent of new generative AI tools (e.g. Chat GPT, BARD, etc), there is a strong case for both recruiters and employers to look at more fundamental and sophisticated ways they can utilise these technologies to capture and assess candidate’s suitability for vacant roles that allows a much more nuanced assessment of a candidate’s success stories, applied competencies and exhibited behaviours and emotional intelligence. Such more sophisticated technologies could also be harnessed to provide much more precise automated feedback to candidates on why they have been unsuccessful in their applications. Right now, somewhat worryingly, there is a risk that technology advances, rather than being used to improve efficiency are simply being used to “game” the recruitment process i.e. AI generates the job specification and personal specification for the employer or recruiter, the applying candidates amend their CV’s using AI to adjust their CV and application to better match the specifications and then the AI screening system reads the adjusted CV to accept or reject the application. Paradoxically this might lead to many more applicants looking suitable for an advertised role at the initial recruitment stage potentially leading to even more challenge and risk of mistakes in verifying a candidate’s actual suitability for a role at later interview stages. If all players who are part of the initial recruitment equation are using AI to define and measure success, then at best they may dumb down the whole process and at worst it could become very counter-productive in ensuring accurate matching of people to jobs.    

More positively however, those employers and recruitment firms that are willing to invest in developing new more subtle and bespoke designed AI systems that are capable of inducting better quality information about candidates’ actual applied successes, demonstrated competencies, positive behaviours and emotional intelligence could seize the opportunity to revolutionise the accurate automation  of the initial stages of the recruitment process, reducing the burden of handling volumes of applicants, increasing the likelihood of matching candidates’ personal capabilities to required job competencies and allowing (again automated) a much more detailed and specific feedback to candidates on where they have met the job criteria and where not. Yes this is a big ask, however the technologies now available with careful design and pre-testing do potentially for the first time allow a big step change in these areas.

A Different Kind of CV? – For years the CV or Career Resume has been the standard form of candidate self-promotion in seeking out new jobs and careers with endless updating, tinkering and reformatting to match the trends and expectations of the day. But in this age of much less-paper documentation and more machine-read documentation, isn’t it time to completely re-imagine or even abandon the whole concept of a conventional CV by turning it into a more robust on-line, software driven, living story-board where candidates can present themselves increasingly less in terms of just the jobs they may have done but more in terms of the things achieved, impact made and the full range of skills, thought leadership, emotional intelligence together with influence and relationship behaviours used and applied. And yes at any point in time, if the need requires, a summary extract could be produced and/or printed for quick reference. Such an active Career Journal might also act as a self-managed guide for individuals to review and assess their future career options as their experience and skills grow over time and perhaps then become more of the reference point for promoting and representing individuals’ distinctive experiences and capabilities. 

More Face Time? – paradoxically the improved use of more nuanced technology at the early stages of the recruitment process should then allow more time and resources to be reinvested in the really critical face to face engagements with potential job candidates. Technology in all its forms should be better harnessed as described above to massively improve the early stages of accurately identifying a short-list range of individuals who are strong prospects for the advertised role. Time and money saved can then be reinvested in improving the quality and thoroughness of the critical face to face elements of the recruitment processes. This would then allow more attention to be paid to broadening the candidate assessment process for short-list candidates including not only interviews with key stakeholders and hiring managers but also more time-efficient case-study, problem solving and presentational elements i.e. more opportunities for candidates to actively demonstrate their capabilities in action rather than just responding to interview questioning. This will then of course require.

Better Training & Accreditation of Recruiters? – there is a distinctive skill in both questioning, understanding, assessing and interpreting the competencies, behaviours and outlook of candidates at the short-list stages of any recruitment processes. Reputable firms do take time to ensure that their HR specialists and hiring line managers are trained and coached to objectively assess the relative capabilities of short-list candidates. However, candidates’ feedback and stories often indicate that key individuals involved in the more face to face elements of the recruitment process are less well-prepared and more random in their approach than might be expected. There remains a strong case therefore for better, more targeted training and coaching for all those actively involved in face to face recruiting activities to ensure that the information gathered about the candidate is specific, criteria based, objective and free from the risk of conscious and unconscious bias. Again, perhaps the time is ripe for a more industry-wide accredited approach to those involved in candidate assessments i.e. a recognition that selecting people for key jobs is a commercially critical decision and should only be placed in the hands of those who are specifically trained and qualified to undertake this critical task. And to improve the process further, such accreditation might also include better training in how to prepare better job and person specifications for vacant roles so that the candidate has better quality information to decide whether or not to apply for a vacant job in the first place. Better recruitment specifications, better trained recruiters and a more varied diet of candidate assessment activities should ensure a more objective, efficient recruitment process, more confident and reliable recruitment decisions obviating the need for over-lengthy rounds of interviews and ultimately fewer expensive recruitment mistakes. 

The above are just a few potential ideas for significantly improving the current job recruitment process. They are not intended to be exhaustive nor definitive, but rather to spark thinking and discussion to find new, more effective and efficient ways of improving current recruitment processes particularly with regards to a candidate’s perspective. Your feedback on these issues would be very valuable, specifically ….

Do you share the overall analysis that from a number of perspectives the recruitment process requires transformation and innovation to address some of the issues raised?

How best should emerging technologies be used to make the recruitment process more accurate, more efficient, less costly (time and money) but at the same time improving the opportunity for better quality candidate engagement and experiences? 

What other improvements can you suggest or perhaps are already implementing to improve existing recruitment processes?

Tim Chapman

Managing Director, Brosna Career Consulting Ltd

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