Are These The Winds of Change, Or…

Apr 7, 2011

…is this just another big dust devil that will make a mess, disrupt things, then blow on down the road?  Every time one of those big ole dust devils shows up on the horizon, people get all twisted up and excited, thinking this is the big one! The tornado of technology that is going to blow us all away, change the whole landscape, or maybe even wipe out a whole industry. The sky gets dark, everybody is sure recruiting as a life form is about to go the way of the dinosaur, but sure enough when it gets up close and personal it’s not as big a wind of change as they feared. It’s just a change that we can talk about when it blows on by.

I’ve seen several big changes in the recruiting industry during my career. 

Along came the fax machine

The first really big one was the fax machine. Every recruiter on the planet ran out and bought one the minute they could get their hands on one. We were all ready to fax everything to any and everybody and revolutionize the industry overnight. The only problem was that it took a while before all those “any and everybody” types had one.

Companies were not so sure that it was really safe to poke something in that machine and make it appear someplace else where it might be seen by the prying eyes of people who were not on the need-to-know list. I still remember a mindless conversation I had with a young lady from American Express at that juncture in the universe. I had sent a check for $500 to pay my American Express bill. Due to a posting error they had credited $50. When I received my next statement I picked up the phone , called them and told them what had happened. The conversation went something like this:

Me: I just received my statement there is an error on it. I have my canceled check for the correct amount to Amex. May I fax you a copy of the front and back so we can get this corrected?

Customer Service: I’m sorry, you will have to mail a copy of it to us front and back we cannot accept a faxed copy.

Me: Do you understand that I am going to walk over to my fax machine, put the check on it make a copy front and back and put that same thing in an envelope and send it to you? What is the difference?

Customer Service: We do not accept faxed copies – they can be altered it has to be mailed.

Me: Wait, think about what you just said. If I put that check on the fax machine and make a copy it is the same thing that will be sent to you if I dial your number and push fax instead of copy.

Customer Service: We do not accept faxed copies – it has to be mailed.

Me: OK, why do you have a fax number?

Customer Service: Only for correspondence.

Me: What if it’s altered?

Customer Service: It can’t be; it’s an exact copy of what is placed on the machine.

Me: I know. Progress is tough isn’t it. I am going to go put this check on the fax machine, make a copy, and mail it to you so we know it’s not altered.

Candidates had a hard time finding a fax machine to fax a resume for several years, so they continued to mail them. Companies finally got to the point that they invested in more than one fax machine and to this day some have a “fax room” with a “limited access” locked door. Believe it or not, many still do not use e-fax or scan and fax programs. It was not an overnight revolution and about the time it became the way to communicate, all the kinks sort of shook out as folks accepted it as something here to stay.

Then…along came the PC. Oh, dear God!

Half the recruiters in the world ran out and bought one the minute they could afford or find one. But half of them balked. The fax machine was plenty ‘high-tech’ and who wanted to deal with all that expense and then have to learn all that ‘stuffola?’ They were recruiters, not computer operators. Most finally came to the party. Adoption was much faster for companies. The populace in general and a lot of recruiters, not so much. They declared it the instrument of the devil: everything could be altered, there were serious privacy concerns, and some actually worried about the cost of electricity to operate the damn things.

There was also a major concern about the amount of time wasted by employees on the Internet emailing their friends and checking in on MSN chat rooms and chat programs, so companies had to develop policies to control the time waste they experienced. The worst thing was that Internet providers sometimes went down for weeks at a time and the fax programs didn’t work too well. Trust me, I sent two complete systems back to the computer store because the geeks thought it was me who didn’t know what I was doing until they tried to get the fax programs to work. And, believe it or not, there are still folks even today who have a problem attaching a resume to an email. Some of my peers at that time would not accept attachments because they were convinced that every attachment had a virus that was powerful enough to make their refrigerator stop running and render them sterile for the rest of their lives. The only nice thing was that if you called Dell, the tech was in San Antonio or St. Louis. Of course, one could write the Great American Novel or be seriously considering retirement before somebody in tech support finally took your call and asked you to be sure that the cables were all securely connected (half the time that was the problem). There were no traveling techies. None of them were old enough to drive.

Everybody decided that the computer was here to stay, although canceled checks still had to be faxed because a lot of folks would not accept scanned and emailed copies…they could be altered. We kept the fax, attached it to the computer and life was good. But – the computer was going to put recruiters out of business because everybody could just go pick candidates off the job boards like peaches in the spring. Suffice it to say that there are still folks who can’t tell a peach from a kumquat so it didn’t kill recruiters or third party recruiting.

Then…along came Social Media. Oh, dear God!

Every recruiter who wanted to be somebody ran out and joined forty different sites because it was the wave of the future. No more cold calls, no more job boards, those were dead or dying. All anybody had to do was “connect,” “engage,” “promote,” “blog,” connect all of them to a website and they would come. Like a dust devil on a hot Texas day they did. Followers from all over the world, there were massive connections made, thousands of followers , tweets, peeps, twitchats, and kitty kats. The noise became deafening – not only were there screams for privacy by those who wanted a social media presence but didn’t want anybody to know anything about them, but those same folks were also screaming for transparency and authenticity…from everybody else. Recruiters figured out pretty quickly that it was going to take a lot of time to gather up much in the way of placeable candidates from most of the social media sites, so they regrouped on the job boards and went back to the phone. There were so many recruiters bird-dogging people on some of the social sites that people quit responding and started slamming down the phone and making their profiles private. Companies had to develop social media policies that made the kids mad because they have spent so much of their adolescent and college years texting and Facebooking and tweeting in half words and acronyms that they shake when the iPhone is off or they are blocked from social media during the workday. I can’t wait until they have kids. Ha!

It will all shake out…it always has when the winds of change blow the dirt devils across plains. There is always a lot of dirt and noise when it first blows through. Then when the dust settles some of the old stuff has been blown out of the way and something new springs up. Believe it or not, there are millions of people who still look for a job in the classified ads. Some things still have to be faxed. Email was not even accepted by the courts until a few years ago (they could be altered). Now companies have to retain copies of all emails or face serious charges of destroying evidence. Recruiters were not eliminated by computers or job boards or talent acquisition peeps and tweets. If history is any indicator, social media is not going to eliminate most recruiters, just the few who probably wanted to give it up anyway or don’t dig new stuff.  Social media seems to have more dirt and noise in it than the previous winds of change, but maybe that’s because…it can be altered, you know. It takes up a lot of time, but the same was also said about the TV set.

Probably best not to twist in the wind – maybe better to watch it, smell it, taste it, and see which pieces and parts make sense after the dirt and noise blow through. Believe it or not, there are a lot of people who have tried social media, didn’t like it, and have lived to talk about it. They don’t care where you are, what you had for breakfast, hate cats, and are fine with the idea that their life is not plastered all over the Internet.

They probably are not recruiters.

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