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Recruiting’s Dirty Little Secrets — What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Posted By Dr. John Sullivan On December 26, 2011 @ 3:16 am In Opinion | 31 Comments

[1]Two of the hottest topics in corporate recruiting today are the candidate experience [2] and need for transparency. And although many corporations are making a sincere effort to improve that candidate experience, they often pay only lip service to becoming more open, honest, and transparent. No corporate leader that I know directly lies to applicants.

However, if you consider omitting information that could directly help the applicant successfully understand the process or land a job to be a lie, then there are quite a few areas where corporations are omitting the complete truth.

I call them “dirty little secrets” because insiders are well aware of them, while most applicants and business reporters are not. If you are a recruiter, you may find that this list includes over-generalizations, but in my experience, the problems in this list are certainly not unusual. My recommendation is that corporate leaders need to identify the areas where there is a distinct lack of openness, candor, and authenticity in the recruiting process and instead to proactively provide that information to applicants.

Recruiting Dirty Little Secrets

Here are a dozen areas where corporate recruiting could improve.

  • The corporate black hole — because of recruiter overload, the volume of applicants, and technology problems, a resume submitted to a corporate career site may actually have a zero probability of being reviewed. In the industry, it can be referred to as “the black hole.”
  • Looking for an excuse to drop you — there are books written about the need to focus on the positive aspects of individuals, but the entire screening process is often focused on finding a single error or lack of “fit” to quickly eliminate any applicant. If you are categorized as a job-jumper, you are unemployed, you have bad credit or Klout scores, you live in a distant zip code, or they find weird things on Facebook about you, you will be immediately rejected without knowing why. As a result, those who fail to make a single mistake during the process, rather than those who are the best, are the ones that are most likely to get hired.
  • The rejection letter is designed to avoid complaints, not accuracy – if you actually get a rejection letter or e-mail, you should be aware that canned phrases like “we decided to move in another direction” or “there were other more qualified candidates” are pretested or lawyer-approved phrases that are designed to quiet you and keep you from making a follow-up inquiry. In many cases, the person sending the letter won’t even know the actual reason for your rejection.
  • The interview process will likely be disjointed – applicants invited in for interviews routinely complain about disorganized interviewing, death by interview (having to go through 10 or more interviews), continually getting the same repeat questions from different interviewers, and having to return multiple times on different days. If the process seems poorly managed and disjointed, it is probably because it usually is. The overall corporate interview process is more often more whimsical than scientific and integrated.
  • Some jobs are not really available to outsiders — although legal requirements may require an organization to post all open jobs, in some cases, the hiring manager has already predetermined that they will hire internally. There is no way for an external applicant to know when a job is “wired,” so applying can only lead to frustration and you will never know that you did nothing wrong.
  • Some companies are blocked — if you work at a company covered by an informal “non-poaching” arrangement where two firms agree not to hire from each other, your chances of getting hired are near zero. Even though these agreements are illegal, they are secret, so your application will never be considered and you will never know why.
  • Recruiters won’t know if you are a customer – you might think that being a loyal customer might help your application, but most corporations have no formal way of identifying an applicant as a customer.
  • We will keep your resume on file (but we will never look at it again) – is certainly true that when they tell you that your rejected application will be “kept on file” it will be. However, it will be kept almost exclusively for legal reasons. The odds of a recruiter scanning through a corporate database of thousands of names in order to revisit a resume that has previously been rejected are miniscule. Unless a recruiter remembers you by name, assume that your resume has been dropped into the “black hole.”
  • You will never know the real odds – although corporations regularly calculate the percentage of all applicants that are hired, you will never find that number on the corporate website. Although the lotto is required to publish your odds of winning, corporations keep it a secret. For some jobs, the odds are well over 1,000 to 1.
  • Technology may eliminate you — and most large organizations, resumes are initially screened electronically. Unfortunately, if the software is not fine-tuned, the recruiter is not well-trained, or if you fail to use the appropriate keywords and phrases, no human will ever see your resume. In one test, only 12% of specially written “perfect resumes” made it through this initial step, although in theory, 100% should have made it.
  • Busy people are forced to take shortcuts — during a down economy, the volume of qualified applicants can force recruiters and hiring managers to take shortcuts. For example, recently a coordinator asked the recruiter which one of a handful of resumes should be invited in for an interview. The response was “I don’t have time to look at them; just flip a coin and pick them.” Hiring managers are also known to make choices based on snap judgments or stereotypes that add a degree of randomness to getting a job.
  • Don’t call us, we’ll call you — if an applicant is rejected at any stage, there is no formal process to help you understand where you need to improve in order to be successful when applying for a job in the future. Unlike in customer service, there is no 1 -800 number to call, and because of weak corporate documentation, recruiting might not actually know (beyond a broad reason) why you are rejected and how you could improve your chances.

Final Thoughts

Almost without exception, corporate recruiters are hard-working and ethical people. But most are too overworked to be able to take a step back and to formally assess where the recruiting process could be more open, honest, and transparent. Unfortunately, most of the current “candidate experience” efforts that I have seen are focused more on increasing courtesy and politeness rather than being significantly more open, honest, and transparent. If you would like to add to this list of “secrets,” add them to the comments section immediately following this article on www.ere.net.


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[1] Image: http://www.ere.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Screen-shot-2011-12-25-at-7.47.09-PM.png

[2] candidate experience: http://www.ere.net/2011/12/22/evaluate-your-candidate-experience/

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