THE DUMPING GROUND
The first place the computer is used for staffing, generally with mid-sized to smaller companies that don’t use online apps, is with a catchall email address for job inquiries. While in a thinner job market, this might have been an efficient way of receiving resumes (and even then it’s a maybe), in this job market, the HR catchall has essentially become a dumping-ground, a vast landscape of undifferentiated and ultimately unexamined resumes. Who has time to read all those things? And even if you are reading them, are you really thinking about what’s best for the job or just trying to find the most dead-center-of-the-box fit so you can be done with the process already?
Really, though, the computer is at its worst in the second and most common way companies use it: the online app.
ROBOT SAYS NO
Here’s a simplistic example of how computers kill staffing:
Imagine a marketing job. The requirements are that a candidate must have 5 years experience and must currently be a VP or higher; the work environment is high-volume with a lot of working on one’s own and is described as “fast-paced” with “independent work” in the job description. Two candidates apply. Because the computer can’t screen based on the work environment, that – incredibly important! – component is ignored in the online application, leaving only the candidates’ computer-friendly qualifications to filter on. Candidate A has 7 years experience and is a VP; Candidate B has 3 years and is a Director. The computer automatically eliminates Candidate B and sends Candidate A onto the recruiter.
Now imagine the same candidates for the same job only it’s the 1970s and there’s no computer involved, just an interview, likely with feathered hair. Candidate A is a shoo-in. Candidate B writes a compelling letter to the HR department (which the recruiter actually reads because there’s no computer to filter on keywords), and, figuring at worst Candidate B would be good to have on file, gives both candidates an initial interview.
During Candidate A’s interview, Candidate A reveals that, at Candidate A’s current company, “fast-paced” translates to a high volume of projects but with very long timeframes and, the recruiter discovers and that “independent” to Candidate A actually means people in Candidate A’s current work do things themselves but report everything into the team twice a week. Candidate B, the recruiter finds, began as the jack-of-all-trades at a very tiny startup that exploded a few years prior, going from 5 employees to 10 to 250. Candidate B did all the marketing, and the CEO had promised Candidate B the SVP of marketing position only, a year ago, the CEO’s sister got laid off from her job, and the CEO gave her the position and title despite her total lack of experience. Even though Candidate B is literally running the marketing department, the CEO refuses to give Candidate B the promised title. Because of the nature of Candidate B’s company, Candidate B has actually done twice the number of campaigns as Candidate A.
Granted, the example’s kind of dumb, but every CEO I’ve worked with would want Candidate B… and which candidate do you think modern-day HR brings to the table? Here’s the deal: the inability of a computer to understand the complexity and nuances of human interactions results in companies losing potentially great candidates in favor of people who fit a narrow computer-friendly description – or, even worse, getting a candidate who is absolutely ill-suited to a particular department no matter how qualified in the application. In the example above, a computer can understand “5 years”; what it can’t understand is “a few high-level years regardless of title is better than 7 high-title years with repetitive experience” or “a self-starter means figuring things out on one’s own and not relying on a team” or more complex personality-oriented issues such as “Mary who runs the department is a total cow so thick-skinned candidates fare better there.” And it’s understanding those nuances, those grey areas, that make for the most effective staffing.
So what to do?