Redesigning Recruiting: Here’s the Way Forward

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Feb 25, 2019

Recruiting, like so many other services, is undergoing massive disruption. Everything is changing. The expectations of hiring managers, job seekers, candidates, and employees have shifted from passive to active and from acceptance to demand.

Candidates used to wait to hear from a recruiter. Now they text or email to get frequent updates on their status or expect an app to keep them updated. Candidates and hiring managers want technology to provide in-depth information and quick decisions. Candidates desire direct interaction with hiring managers and want a more do-it-myself experience. Speed, transparency, and independence are more important to both hiring managers and candidates than ever.

Technology has come a long way in the past five years to provide all this. It continues leaping forward. Soon automated recruiting stacks will be available, relieving recruiters from most routine, administrative, and assessment duties and providing candidates with a quick and easy path to a decision on their fit and qualifications.

Recruiters are becoming the designers of the interface between this technology, the hiring managers, and candidates. How well they design that interface will be the measure of their success.

Many recruiters believe they are already doing this by focusing on the candidate experience. Unfortunately, they have only tweaked a broken system and mostly ignored the hiring manager. They have added chatbots, created more interactive career sites, added videos, and provided candidates with more tools that provide information. These seem to be improvements, and in some cases, candidate satisfaction has increased. But we are also confusing candidates and complicating the recruiting process without measurable increases in productivity or effectiveness. We have ignored the hiring manager altogether.

A Lesson From the Auto Industry

The 1960 car was a simple machine. It had only a handful of controls — lights, horn, wipers, and a basic AM/FM radio. Everyone understood those controls and could use them with little to no training. Then we began adding “improvements” from fancy satellite radios to advanced self-driving systems. The number and variety of controls have grown, as has driver frustration. Many of the newly added features and controls are not used or understood by most drivers. For example, rather than figure out the car’s internal navigation system, many people simply use their mobile phone. Adding complexity without designing for human needs and desires leads to confusion and inefficiency.

“Car buyers are confused. Sixty percent of respondents in the latest automotive reliability survey conducted by Consumer Reports say they’ve had trouble using these systems in their first weeks of ownership.” (Source)

Ford recently hired the CEO of the office-furniture manufacturer Steelcase as its CEO. His job is to bring human/machine design to Ford. He’ll rethink/redesign how humans use the new features and find ways to make their use seamless, easy, and intuitive. His teams are rethinking what cars are and how people will use them as technology becomes more sophisticated.

We need to do something similar in recruitment.

The Way Forward

The lesson is clear: Our current model evolved from pencil-and-paper practices and does not work very well. We have used technology to make our work easier, but it has not made work better for candidates or managers. For the most part, our processes have not been deliberately designed — they just evolved with little thought. To create a long-lasting improvement in our recruiting processes means we have to deliberately redesign them from the beginning with both candidates and hiring managers at the center.

When I talk about processes, I mean the various steps in the recruitment cycle, from sourcing to workforce planning. The model I use (see the image) has 10 steps, but other models may have more or fewer steps. What is important is that we identify the key steps and then redesign the process to ensure that each step is effective, easy to use, and relevant.


Five Design Steps

There are at least five steps in the redesign process. Many of these steps take time and involve research, experimentation, and prototyping. But the payoff is much faster and leads to hiring higher-quality candidates with less recruiter involvement. It also means that both candidates and hiring managers are happier and better served.

Step 1: We need to develop an intimate knowledge of how active candidates find and approach the job search, how passive candidates are best reached and engaged, and how candidates react to a phone call or inquiry from a recruiter. We need to know what branding appeals to them and what messages resonate. We need to understand what they think and feel when they get an unsolicited email from a recruiter. What stories do they tell each other about their job search or the recruiter? We need to get inside their heads and learn what they find useful and what confuses or annoys them.

We also need to understand better the hiring managers’ motivations, real needs, and what leads them to make an offer.

Focus groups are one way of doing this. They need to include diverse actual and potential candidates. Personas are essential tools to help understand candidates and hiring managers. We need to develop multiple personas of hiring managers and candidates of different types to find where they are compatible and the best ways to match them.

Step 2: This involves gathering insight from actual data and using the data to learn what data candidates looked for that was critical for them in knowing whether to move on to the next step. Recruiters will need to gather data on career-site searches, where candidates clicked, and where they were frustrated or delighted. Ideally, there would be data-tracking eye patterns on career sites and identifying points where candidates dropped out.

Data can also tell us how many candidates a manager considered, who he made offers to, what characteristics his candidates shared, and how long each hire remained employed in the company.

We know that people often act differently than they say they do. We need to track actual user behavior and use this to improve the hiring-process design. The best way is to collect big data from ATS, HRIS, and career sites. We can also do surveys or questionnaires. The key is to look for can look for patterns and consistent behaviors that indicate interest and engagement.

Step 3: This involves self-reported data on how candidates perceive the ease and speed of locating information about the job. Examples include details about potential salary ranges, benefits, and teammates.

Hiring manager surveys are also needed, as well as interviews to figure out what they would like to have in a system that would involve them more closely in the hiring process.

This is qualitative information, but is no less critical. We need to understand how candidates react emotionally to the process. Do they feel their needs were met? How did they perceive the ease of use, the information they received, and the interface itself? We can do this with interviews and questionnaires and, to some degree, by observing facial and other expressions while they are interacting.

We need to know, regarding hiring managers, what they would like to have control over, and how they react currently to our processes.

Step 4: Make it easy for the right people to apply. This is ultimately the qualitative judgment of both the candidate and the hiring manager, but there is also an objective component based on skills, attitudes, and past hiring patterns. We need to screen and assess candidates on key requirements before they allowed to apply. By using technology to do this, we can ensure that all applicants are qualified and capable of doing the work required. When it comes time to apply, we need a process that does not require filling in large amounts of data or uploading a resume yet is objective and verifiable. LinkedIn profiles don’t achieve this today, nor do resumes, but they are the best that we currently have. There are emerging tools that will help us get verified data via the blockchain and through verified sources such as university and government databases.

Step 5: Quick and meaningful feedback is part of any reasonable process. Assuming a candidate is rejected, we owe it to them to provide feedback on their skills and some explanation of why they were rejected. It has always been easier not to provide feedback for fear of pushback or legal consequences.

AI and other tools may help identify the reasons a person was rejected, but it will still require a human-to-human conversation to explain why. We need to design the conversation, provide guidelines and training on how to give feedback, and how to deal with the inevitable pushbacks. Rather than avoid feedback, we need to learn how to do it well.

These five steps are just the beginning. Design is by definition deliberate and requires experimentation. Recruiting leaders are not used to thinking like designers and lack the skills to lead design teams. This is why partnering with an outside expert or university can be useful.

It is worth setting aside time and budget to redesign a recruitment function worthy of the 21st century.

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