Technology job boards have failed recruiters and job seekers

The volume of available information technology talent has made it a near Sisyphean task for recruiters to separate the qualified from the unqualified.
Written by John Hazard, Contributor

Recruiters are having trouble finding the qualified candidates to fill open tech positions.

This scenario seems to counter the situation visible on the street where qualified employees seem to roam the streets in search of an open position willing to accept them. But the volume of available talent has made it a near Sisyphean task for recruiters to separate the qualified from the unqualified. Recruiters and human resources departments are drowning in resumes, writes recruiter Trevor Smith on Recruiting Blogs.

Who among us hasn't posted a new opening on a job board or other vehicle only to get to work the next morning with an inbox full of hundreds (literally) of resumes?

In response to the "Labor Market Barometer Report," released last month by TalentDriveIn, 45 percent of recruiters at Fortune-1,000 companies said "efficiently filtering through resumes" is the biggest challenge facing their profession. Finding qualified candidates is now like finding a specific needle in a stack of slightly different needles.

This situation arrives as surveyed companies said they are preparing to hire again and fill open positions en mass for the first time in two years:

  • 76 percent of companies reported talent-acquisition budgets would increase in the first three months of the year, up from just 44 percent during the same period last year;
  • 42 percent of companies are worried about combating turnover, which would further increase pressures to fill job openings.

How did we arrive at a place where qualified talent is available in abundance but hard to find? Recruiters are being pinched between two technology trends that have let them down:

1. Job boards, many no more than aggregators of each other, have made it easy for candidates (qualified and unqualified alike) to find open positions and auto-submit buttons have made it easy for them to send their resume. Far greater numbers of job seekers are finding open positions and far too many unqualified resumes are making it through the door.

Add to the mix, the tremendous volume of job seekers sent looking for work during the recession and then made desperate but unprecedented lengths of unemployment and you have too many resumes flooding recruiters desks.

Some recruiters disdain job boards and auto-submit features so much that they strive to keep their searches under wraps while they use old-fashioned methods to source candidates. Ron Holifield, CEO of Strategic Government Resources, in Keller, Texas, is one such recruiter, he told TheLadders.

Viewing these automated applications as a silver bullet to short-circuit the hard work of building relationships based on trust falls short, because there are no silver bullets that do that. The organizations that require candidates to use the form will attract lower-level employees, but many senior candidates are just going to skip the opportunity...

2. The technology to filter candidates hasn't kept pace with the demands being placed on recruiters.

Most employers and agency recruiters (62 percent, according to the TalentDriveIn report) rely on a standalone resume search engine or resume search application built into an applicant tracking system (ATS) to collect, categorize and filter incoming resumes. The ATS is supposed to be the first phase of resume review, using keywords and contextual search to omit unqualified candidates and produce only qualified candidates who can be vetted for qualities like pedigree and experience.

In theory, the ATS should protect the recruiter from the pain of a tidal wave of unqualified candidates. But ATSes do a poor job, say most recruiters, including Glen Cathey, a recruiter and author of the blog Boolean Blackbelt.

I'm well aware that ATS's serve many critical functions beyond searching for the candidates contained within them, but let's pull no punches here - you can't hire someone, or begin to automate candidate relationship management with someone you haven't FOUND in the first place. And just because a candidate is buried somewhere in your database, it doesn't mean you've actually found them (or can find them when you want or need to).

And in a cruel twist, the recession has made hiring managers significantly more selective. Recruiters call it the purple squirrel syndrome. In the past it was enough to find a purple squirrel to fill an opening for a purple squirrel, but, because the recession made so many purple squirrels available, hiring managers now ask for a purple squirrel... with size-9 shoes... w/ white shoelaces... and seven years experience with size-9 shoes... and 4 years experience using white shoelaces... in emerging markets.

The modern ATS is intuitive enough to select the candidates with experience who are purple squirrels and wear size-9 shoes and white shoelaces and have a connection to emerging markets, but the specific nuances of the experience aren't usually apparent without a manual review  by the recruiter of dozens, even hundreds of resumes. Sometimes it requires a phone call. Back to square one.

All of this means recruiters are drowning in resumes as they prepare to ramp to meet the growing demand to fill open positions. For job seekers, it means there will likely be more open opportunity to find a job or switch jobs in 2011, but their shiny needle must stick out in a stack of needles. Related coverage:

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