Written by Technically Media CEO Chris Wink, Technical.ly’s Culture Builder newsletter features tips on growing powerful teams and dynamic workplaces. Below is the latest edition we published. Sign up here to get the next one this Friday.
In a perfect world, there would be only one applicant for each job opening. That would be the person best suited for the role. Economists would call it a maximally efficient market.
That remains an elusive dream. Instead, we may be going in the opposite direction.
Executives boast of the number of applicants they receive — 50! 100! 500! 1,000! Eager-to-please hiring managers report to their supervisors that the hiring process is going well because the “applicants are rolling in.” The average corporate job listing gets 250 applications and rising. In a survey of HR pros this year, 1 in 5 were worried about “too many candidates,” a five-fold increase since 2017, according to Jobvite.
This fuels the dominant job advertising platforms, like Indeed and ZipRecruiter, which both market so-called “one-click apply” features. Monster pioneered the online jobs board in 1994 and later became the first publicly searchable resume database. It was a revelatory advance in a double-sided marketplace, and today LinkedIn and others reach true global scale. One-click apply, in particular, sounds like a classic advance in frictionless software.
Instead of a triumph, though, one-click apply is a source of inefficiency, inequality and misery.
For one, this has created an arms-race in the $20 billion HR tech industry. Early applicant tracking software (ATS) got its start in the late 90s to track and sort job candidates. Today there’s a dizzying array of options. A few years back when I first told an HR-pro friend of mine that Technical.ly launched an employer brand marketing service to help companies hire, she said to me with fatigue in her eyes: “You’re not going to launch another ATS are you?”
Rennie Haylock, a software engineer living in Seattle, says HR tech incentives are misaligned. All the revenue is on the employer side, so companies build only for the enterprise — not the people. Haylock founded Huntr to be a kind of reverse ATS, where jobseekers track and sort their job applications. He has no love for “one-click apply” either.
A frictionless application process creates a nasty cycle: Ever more candidates apply for ever more roles, so hiring managers feel forced to buy an ever more complicated web of HR tech tools, from algorithmic parsing and automated scoring — which introduce bias. Even still hiring managers struggle to respond to each candidate, so in turn, candidates feel compelled to apply for even more roles, speeding the cycle. No surprise job ghosting is on the rise.
“It’s ruining the party for everybody,” Haylock told me.
Jobseekers were once told to apply to five to 10 relevant jobs. Now Indeed recommends 10 to 15 applications a week. Huntr job seekers actively track an average of 15 job applications, but Haylock worries about the outliers. “On the high end, we’re seeing 500 to 1,000 applications,” Haylock said. That’s only possible with automatic applications.
It’s difficult to imagine being really drawn to 15 roles, let alone 500 or 1,000. Candidate fatigue is filter failure.
Savvy team builders know something is broken. The enduring advantage of external recruiters is to outsource the headache: Don’t give me 50 or 100 or 500 or 1,000 applicants. Executive-search requests for proposals (RFPs) frequently ask for five highly-qualified candidates, rather than larger numbers.
Less scrupulous third-party recruiters use this to their advantage. A recruiter once enrolled me in their mass spam effort by telling me they had “the perfect candidate for my data scientist role” even though I’ve never hired a data scientist. It’s a tactic to prey on bleary-eyed hiring managers. This mindset is far from ubiquitous for middle-management or more junior roles.
A few recommendations to respond: Have dual strategies; reach wide and go deep.
- Reach wide: Use some assortment of the big three (Indeed, LinkedIn and Glassdoor) and strive to continue to improve your filtering process.
- Go deep: Explore and invest in niche communities where you can build quality relationships. This might be a local or topical online community.
How will Haylock approach hiring differently? Build relationships; be specific on what he needs. He said: “Having fewer better candidates is almost always better than more.”
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