Four Ways to Improve Recruiting

Here are few comments I have recently received from recruiters about what they are experiencing. It seems that some things never change.

“I have received almost 500 resumes for a single position. Over 90% of these people are not qualified or not what my company is looking for.” Another wrote, “I have been overwhelmed with candidates; some fit our needs but most don’t even take the time to read the job description. I wish I could reply to every candidate, but if I did I would not be doing my job!”

The volume of unqualified candidates has been an issue for years now. The Internet opened a door that made it easy for candidates to apply, whether they were remotely qualified or not. This volume has forced us to ignore candidates and has created the frustration these recruiters express. We all want to provide candidates with great service and we all know that those who have been ignored, dismissed as not qualified, and otherwise treated with discourtesy will not forget and may never recommend our firm to friends or apply again ? even when they may be an excellent choice.

Every act of discourtesy will eventually be incorporated into our recruiting brand and affect the overall reputation of our firms. As they say in the customer-satisfaction business, for every customer that tells you they are satisfied, there are at least three dissatisfied customers who have said nothing to you but will spread their dissatisfaction. The same applies for candidates.

Can this volume of unqualified resumes be reduced? What does the overworked, overwhelmed recruiter do? How do you work more effectively and not anger or ignore good candidates? Here are my thoughts.

#1: Use your marketing and branding to appeal to the types of candidates you want

Don’t try to appeal to everyone. The best marketing is always targeted to a specific audience, and discourages ? although subtly ? those who don’t fit the target. This is done partly through words and pictures and partly by placing the information where targeted people are most likely to see it.

Mercedes, for example, advertises on television at the times and on programs where their research shows that highly successful and well-off people watch. It places print advertisements in magazines that these types of people read. It does not advertise on the Super Bowl nor does it advertise in Reader’s Digest.

Wording is also key; what you say makes all the difference. If you say and imply that you are seeking only those with very specific backgrounds and qualifications, you’ll reduce the numbers who apply, and improve quality. Even your recruiting website needs to be worded in a way that is attractive to those you are most anxious to have apply. Cisco Systems has a web site that is appealing to technical professionals but less so to others. Enterprise Rent-a-Car’s site is a prime example of one designed for a particular type of candidate and appealing primarily to them.

Targeted marketing requires research, focus, carefully thought-out graphics, and tested writing.

#2: Don’t post job descriptions, but if you do, make them precise and specific

I have taken an excerpt from a job description I found on a website that is representative of many I see every day. The question I ask is who, with even a modicum of technical ability and a dash of experience, will not feel qualified for this job? There are no specifics, no details, and no firm requirements. I almost feel that I could apply for this job, and that I could justify why I’m qualified, if asked.

“You’re looking for more than just a job in Information Technology. You want a career that challenges your IT experience while giving you the freedom and support to succeed. Look no further than Xxxx. Our Professional Services offerings span the entire application life cycle, giving our customers a complete solution and our employees the opportunity to excel on all platforms.

With our technical focus and emphasis on delivery, we strive to hire experienced information technology professionals with broad skill sets and the desire and versatility to learn new businesses and skills. We are selective in hiring and serious about retaining those we do hire. We are looking for candidates with the following attributes:

Oracle Financials experience

Oracle 11i application development experience

Strong PL/SQL”

I am sure that this has generated many hundreds of unqualified resumes. Unfortunately, most job descriptions are written this way deliberately so that they will generate a large number of responses. When we lacked technology and reach, this was a marginally acceptable approach, but today it creates big problems. Most candidates are very concerned with applying for an appropriate job, but how can they really tell from the way descriptions are written? Are the specific requirements spelled out? Are you using technology to screen for these?

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We need to focus on a building a new mindset. We do not need mass marketing for most positions. We do not need to generate hundreds of responses to make sure we’ve “covered the field,” and we can’t ignore hundreds of applicants because of our own inadequacies. Many of us have attitudes that would be similar to those of a store clerk who, when overwhelmed with customers, simply walks off and leaves them.

#3: We need to use technology ? and use it better

As always, I harp on using technology whenever you can. Talent management tools now offer tools for improving how you screen and communicate with candidates. However, the sad fact is that after these systems are purchased, only a fraction of recruiters actually use these communication and screening features.

Just asking candidates to provide some basic information about their interests and general background, rather than a resume, serves as a simple screen and can eliminate a large number of unqualified candidates. By asking for a resume you encourage the unqualified to apply because it is very easy to cut and paste a resume into a form without spending any time learning about the organization or the position.

There are countless email programs, newsletter distribution programs, and other free or inexpensive communications aids that recruiters can use to do a better job letting candidates know where they stand. Even automatic bounce-back responses can be more intelligently written and distributed. A follow-up email could follow the bounce-back and automatically provide the candidate with another touch point.

#4: Relationships and referrals are keys to your success

I am more and more convinced that posting job descriptions is an archaic process. While I have no doubt that the practice will live on for along time, it is not the best, cheapest, or faster way to find good people.

Using technology to develop relationships and to communicate regularly with a selected and screened pool of candidates is the key to your real success.

In general, you are not going to find the people you need by posting on Monster or any other job board. The most successful recruiters use their network, ask employees (and others) for referrals, and focus on building communities of potential candidates. This is what agencies and headhunters have been doing for decades and it’s why they have been successful.

Learn from product and service marketing how to do a better job. Watch how IBM or Deloitte advertise and market their professional services. Notice which products are advertised on which programs and at what time of day. Go for targeted messaging and quality, not volume. Begin to generate candidates from relationships your formed and by asking for referrals. Make it a rule of thumb that if you are generating hundreds of responses to a job posting, you are doing something terribly wrong.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at