March 17, 2011   view past issues

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Candidate Asphyxiation

Recently, more and more attention has focused on the phenomenon of “data asphyxiation.” It is the widespread and growing problem of information overload. We in the recruiting field, however, are getting hit with a double whammy. Not only are we swamped with too much data, but we are also drowning in candidates. We are suffering from “candidate asphyxiation.”

According to one source, there is now 1.2 zettabytes of data floating around the Web. That’s the equivalent of everyone in the world posting tweets on Twitter nonstop for a decade. And, of course, it doesn’t stop there. Every new day adds millions of new bits of information – some potentially useful and others nothing more than a sheen on the day. Figuring out which is which has become the Arthurian quest of our day.

The task is no less important for recruiters. Candidate asphyxiation chokes our own performance and depletes the experience we provide to candidates. The never-ending flood of applications into our emailboxes and applicant tracking systems all but overwhelms our ability to:

  • review and assess each person’s record appropriately
  • and

  • treat each individual with the courtesy and respect they deserve.
  • The first can cause us to overlook the best prospect for an opening, while the second may cause that prospect to take his or her talent elsewhere.

    Can Anything Be Done?

    Clearly, the flow of information will not stop, so technologists are exploring the use of artificial intelligence and other developments to find a way to make sense of it all. While real progress in that more general effort is likely to be several years away, there are some steps we recruiters can take that will minimize “candidate asphyxiation” right now. Ironically, if we want to be able to breathe well enough to do our job effectively, we’re going to have to narrow the opening for candidate applications.

    The first touch point in that process is our recruitment ads. Today, these ads are often unconsciously (or even consciously) targeted at active job seekers. However, at any given point in time, only 16 percent of the American workforce is actively in transition. In other words, four-fifths of the workforce is employed which means that, in order to recruit them, we have to convince them to do the one thing we humans most hate to do: change. We have to goad them into switching from the devil they know to the devil they don’t know.

    How will such a change-the-devils ad narrow the candidate flow?

    First, these ads are very specific about the skills, knowledge, experience and personal attributes that will define a qualified candidate. Now, it’s true that we already provide such a list of qualifications and all too frequently, they are ignored. What’s missing is context. We must make two additional statements: “First, no person will be interviewed for this position if they fail to meet any one of the stated requirements and second, those who fail to meet even one of the requirements will not be referred to or considered for another position with the company based on this application.” In short, we have to tell applicants that they are wasting their time unless they perfectly match what we want.

    Second, these ads announce a pre-application qualifying test. As we all know, some people just never learned to pay attention in Mrs. Murphy’s kindergarten class, so even very specific warnings will not eliminate all unqualified applicants. Therefore, all applicants should be told that there will be a test to confirm their credentials and that the test will be administered before their application is even reviewed. How? We should require our ATS vendors to reconfigure their auto-responders so that they can both acknowledge the receipt of a person’s resume and present them with three-to-five questions that would confirm their qualifications for an opening. This approach will weed out the unqualified among prospective applicants and, because top talent likes to be tested, will also upgrade the caliber of candidates who do apply.

    Finally, there are those who will say that this strategy won’t work because recruitment ads have been replaced by networking on social media sites and thus don’t have much of an impact on candidate flow. According to a recent survey of major corporations, however, just 33 percent of recruiters are actually networking on such sites, while 23 percent are using them for recruitment advertising and another 19 percent for brand advertising. So, if you want to stop being gagged by “candidate asphyxiation,” tighten the airways you use in advertising.

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