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Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Posted By Dr. Wendell Williams On November 4, 2004 @ 12:00 am In Advice and How-Tos | 4 Comments

At one time there was a popular folk song called “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” You might remember it (it’s okay to hum along if you do):

Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing…

Where have all the flowers gone? Long time ago…

Where have all the flowers gone? (Stop humming! You got the idea.)

The song lamented the loss of the way things were: the loss of promise, the loss of hope, the loss of a safe environment (at that time there was a real potential for global “warming” of the nuclear type). Today, the same song is being sung by those of us watching the recruiting marketplace. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s go back a few years first, to the time when a very big stone dropped into the business pond. Taking our cue from the “Fifth Wave,” we’ll call our story the “Seventh Ripple”:

  • Splash! The World Wide Web becomes user friendly and easily accessible.
  • First ripple: Computer proliferation + Consumers + User-friendly graphic interfaces = Strong demand for web-based goods and services
  • Second ripple: Entrepreneurs respond by founding new organizations.
  • Third ripple: Demand for qualified employees skyrockets, creating a need for applicant tracking systems and job boards.
  • Fourth ripple: Unprofitable web-based organizations disappear faster than boiled shrimp at a senior citizens’ party.
  • Fifth ripple: Newly vaporized organizations dump employees back into the labor market.
  • Sixth ripple: ATS and job board revenue is no longer driven by market demand, and sales fall as a result.
  • Seventh ripple: It all depends…

Will the Seventh Ripple Be Marked by Cluelessness? Clueless vendors in the hiring industry are organizations where executives once sat around drinking Starbucks and watching sales multiply like dust bunnies. They thought their rapid growth was caused by brilliant marketing. Imagine their surprise, and then disbelief, when sales started slipping, slipping, and slipping. Despite their best efforts at cold calling and servicing accounts, Starbucks had to be replaced with a water fountain; the pool tables and pinball machines gathered dust; and staff was decimated again, again, and again. What happened? Who changed the rules? These brilliant folks missed the point. As luck would have it, they were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. As long as demand exceeded supply, they were able to ride the updraft of market demand. But when the product rapidly matured and the product had to stand on its own merits, their high-flying balloons started losing altitude. An experienced balloonist knows when his balloon can no longer ride the updrafts. At that point, there are only a few ways to avoid crashing: throw excess weight overboard, repair leaks, pump in more gas, or find other updrafts. Clueless balloonists do nothing. They sleep “remembering the Starbucks of the good old days.” Web-based services were then, are now, and will always be, just another delivery method, not a panacea for all hiring problems. The “updrafts” of excess market demand are gone and will probably never return. Vendors that remain clueless will continue to crash and disappear. Will the Seventh Ripple Be “Eat or Be Eaten”? Vendors who still have a few bucks in the bank from the boom time might believe that survival depends on finding other balloonists in the same condition and tying their aircraft together. This might seem like a good short-term solution, but getting bigger won’t solve the problem of decreased market demand. But market forces are no longer a primary business driver. Merely managing huge numbers of applicants is not the problem. Better, and legal, hiring and screening practices remain the undiscovered country. Will the Seventh Ripple Be “Tree Huggers”? Tree huggers are “fractured” vendors who think recruiting is a collection of trees (as opposed to a forest). They embrace their interview tree, their job description tree, their database tree, their background-checking tree, their applicant tracking tree, their testing tree, their EEOC tree, their competency identification tree, and so forth. Tree huggers have no idea they live in a forest and that an individual tree is just part of the organic whole. Woe to them! Remember Lotus 1-2-3? WordPerfect? Dbase IV? Harvard Graphics? That’s what happens to tree huggers. Almost everyone buys a Microsoft suite these days. There is a lesson here. Who has the foresight to become the next ASP/recruiting suite? Will the Seventh Ripple Be “Snafu”? SNAFU is a venerable military term. It refers to a state of affairs where everything goes wrong. It also refers to the normal state of recruiting. For example, let’s presume the real purpose of recruiting, pre-hire screening, and HR is to find, screen, and manage fully qualified people (yeah, I know that’s a stretch). What do we need to accomplish this goal?

  • A documented list of measurable competencies for each job family in the organization
  • Some trustworthy and reliable tools to measure each candidate’s qualifications
  • A source of potential applicants
  • A way to manage, track and record applicant flow for EEOC purposes
  • A way to manage and benchmark employee skills for succession planning and restructuring

Okay, good list. Makes sense. Now, what really happens?

  1. Everyone invents his or her own definition of “competency,” while HR writes job descriptions that describe what the person does, not how to do it.
  2. Error-filled resumes are screened in detail for keywords (as if smart applicants didn’t know how to get around the system).
  3. Companies screen based on interviewing skills but leave out competencies and evaluations.
  4. People buy tests on blind faith from vendors who never did a validation study in their lives (validation = proof the test predicts performance).
  5. Viable applicants are hard to find.
  6. Few people seldom, if ever, manage and track applicant flow as defined by the EEOC (the 80% rule).
  7. Once an employee is hired, they disappear into the employee pool void, with no way to manage, maintain or benchmark their skills.

Conclusion What now? Which “ripple” represents the future? Which vendor has the inspiration and motivation to become the next supplier of integrated recruiting tools? No matter what kind of technical rap Microsoft gets, you have to admit they did not grow from a DOS vendor to one of the largest corporations in the world by being a tree-hugger or clueless. They were savvy enough to buy the whole forest (take that, Harvard Graphics!) What happens in our neck of the woods, for now at least, remains to be seen.


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