The Illusion That Is a Transparent Labor Market

Jun 21, 2012
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

As long as I can remember, there has been an ongoing discussion about the lack of transparency in the labor market. An improved transparency should lead to suppliers (job seekers) and buyers (employers) of labor being able to find each other easily. However, improved transparency will remain an illusion until we realize that the dominant recruiting model is precisely what makes for a non-transparent labor market. For the record, this is the passive model of recruiting where we publish a job opening and then wait for applications (post and pray).

Why Put the Burden on an Amateur?

Passive recruitment has the implicit expectation that job seekers are able to find the right job opening(s). But job seekers are certified amateurs when searching for and finding the right opening(s). Why? Because they only once look for a new challenge every two to five years. At this rate, they act like explorers that without any preparation go looking for the source of the Nile. Indeed, life-threatening.

Meanwhile, on the other side we (should) have a professional, the recruiter — who regularly has job openings and whose mission is to find the right people to fill those vacancies. But instead of going out and looking for people themselves they place vacancies on their own career site, on commercial job sites, with staffing agencies, on social media, and even in newspapers. To add to the complexity from the perspective of job seekers, job aggregators collect online job openings and starts front-running all previously mentioned sources … in other words, the jungle where the unprepared explorer must try and find his or her own way.

As a result, passive recruitment has a built-in guarantee for a very inefficient process with an unpredictable outcome. After filling the vacancy the gnawing question remains: Have we found the “ideal” person? And that while the same question doesn’t need to be asked if the recruiter would engage in active recruitment — going out to find the “right” person themselves.

A Road to a Better Place?

Thanks to the insane growth of the volume of user-generated content through every kind of social media, there is now an inconceivable wealth of information available about individuals. This information helps to create a pretty accurate picture of the qualities, interests, and preferences of a substantial part of the working population. A veritable pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for every recruiter with vacancies to fill. The “ideal” candidate is a golden coin just waiting to be found.

But is that golden pot at the end of the rainbow also an illusion? After all, the information is scattered all around the Internet. While that’s still the case, the arrival of people aggregators is a first and big step toward consolidating that information within a page, offering the recruiter an easy way to get a much deeper understanding of a candidate. People aggregators send spiders out into the Internet to find people and aggregate locations where they have found a certain person. Forget LinkedIn, forget the laughable LinkedIn clones on Facebook, forget all the bizarre personal branding sites — walled gardens that in most cases offer barely any relevant information. The crumb trail we leave behind on the Internet is many times more valuable, provided it can be correctly brought together, made searchable, and presented in an actionable way. And that is the promise of people aggregators. Enabling recruiting professionals with vacancies to find the “right” person.

Identifying the “right” person presupposes that the recruiting professional actually puts in some work to browse the information of a potentially interesting person. How else can you otherwise determine that it’s really the “right” person? And that once the “right” person is identified, he/she is approached with a personal and appropriate invitation to initiate a conversation? With this, the illusion that is the passive candidate can definitively be relegated to the book of fairy tales. Practically noone is passive if he or she is approached in an appropriate and really personal way with an invitation to talk.

By moving from passive to active recruitment, the recruiter can, with a “surgical precision” approach, find potentially relevant candidates for a given vacancy. The amateur doesn’t have to launch himself completely unprepared into an exploration that will prove his undoing. And as a consequence find him/herself in a job that actually is not a match.

An additional advantage: Getting rid of those completely disastrous job sites, staffing sites, and career sites where the candidate’s experience is so bad that only the most desperate of job seekers manage to find the Apply button. OK, OK, somewhat exaggerated; in the final analysis, there will always be job seekers who are able to view available openings. But hopefully the extent of the pain will be significantly reduced by more and more people being approached by the company before he or she undergoes the horrible experience of finding a job on an online recruitment site.

It’s Not all Gold

Of course active recruitment has its own limitations. At the very least there are certain segments that cannot (yet) be accessed very well. And that primarily relates to workers with a low(er) level of education and/or limited work experience. These persons rarely or never left information behind that can be used to find them for job-related reasons with a high level of precision.

As always, the shift from passive to active recruitment will take much longer than logic dictates. Logic is even hardly an issue. Because while news travels around the world in seconds, changing behavior, processes, and procedures is always the most molasses-slow process that I know of. So probably the illusion of a transparent labor market will remain with us for a while. But I also hope that employers looking for experienced professionals with a high(er) education will start using active recruitment tools instead of exclusively relying on passive recruitment, or engaging staffing agencies. Only time will tell….

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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