Debate: Mobile Recruiting 2

On January 9, 2014, in HRExaminer, by John Sumser

Question: Is mobile recruiting a passing fad or is it a transformational shift?

Ed Newman on

Ed Newman debates Mobile Recruiting on

Newman: When a new trend like mobile recruiting reaches the pinnacle of the hype cycle, it is only natural to question whether it will be short lived or have a lasting impact?

The answer to this question depends on how you define mobile recruiting. A great deal of attention is being paid to the simple fact that more and more job seekers are using mobile devices to search and apply for jobs. Today mobile recruiting is all about making our existing career site render correctly on a smaller screen.  Some even refer to the category as Mobile Apply and view it as a gap in functionality in their Applicant Tracking Systems. This line of thinking is focused only on the symptom and it is being treated like a problem that needs solving.  However, from my perspective mobile recruiting is a transformational opportunity of which we have barely scratched the surface.

Mobile is part of a much larger technology shift that is impacting everything we do and recruiting will be no exception. In 2011 Gartner defined the Nexus of Forces as the convergence of four interdependent trends; mobile, social, cloud computing and big data.  In a recent white paper, IBM says the Nexus “represents as fundamental a shift in the economy as the shift that occurred when the Internet first made its mark in the late 1990s.”  Essentially the disruptive nature of the Nexus has created both an imperative and an opportunity for businesses to reinvent their operations to capitalize on the new medium.

When the Internet started to take hold the early career sites were not much more than web pages bolted onto client/server technology. We did not see real gains until the new technology was tied to operational changes such as workflow automation and pre-screening. We are seeing a similar knee jerk reaction as organizations scramble to fit existing job search and apply processes on mobile screens. But the opportunity to rethink how we attract and engage talent is huge in a post nexus world. While it is impossible to predict exactly how this will manifest, here are a few possible directions:

  • Making all of your career site content viewable on mobile devices through responsive web design seems like a great idea. However, this approach does not account for new behavior patterns where people are accessing content in smaller chucks of time and looking for very specific information. As we look to implement more precise content delivery strategies, big data and analytics will be used to create personalized experiences that will improve the way we attract talent. Rather than treating all job seekers exactly the same we will be able to give passive job seekers for hard to fill positions a very different experience than the active candidate applying for the 100th time.
  • As companies seek to create a mobile friendly apply process, they will recognize the need for a better apply process across the board. Compliance challenges will need to be addressed as well as balance between an easy submission process and the ability to filter the most qualified applicants. Much like the accessibility regulations that forced land lords to widen doors and put in ramps for wheel chairs benefited everyone else (people with roller boards, strollers, etc.) the focus on creating a mobile friendly apply will make it better for all job seekers.
  • Recent conventional wisdom has been to abandon native mobile apps for mobile web solutions because candidates don’t download apps to search and apply to jobs at just one company. But this really only applies to the top of the funnel and there are a plethora of opportunities to leverage native apps throughout the recruiting process. Expect to see a resurgence of native apps for a variety of purposes ranging from interactive talent communities, sourcing and screening, interview management, and much more.

There is no question that mobile recruiting will be in the limelight for the near future. Ultimately the longevity of the trend is entirely in the hands of the practitioners who will decide how they apply new technology to solve old challenges and create better results.  Or maybe just until we give it a new name, perhaps “post nexus recruiting?”

John Sumser Responds:

Mobile technology is a transitional phase in the evolution of computing. What used to occupy city blocks now lives in our

John Sumser debates mobile recruiting on  HRExaminer

John Sumser debates mobile recruiting on HRExaminer

pockets. What lives in our pockets today is moving around our bodies, into our glasses and onto the face of everything. Computing is moving from enterprise style desktop to gesture based, always-on, anywhere computing.

The devices we used to think of as phones are packing more power into ever smaller spaces. The idea that computing is somehow separate from living already seems archaic. The notion that we actually carried the things around will look very silly very soon.

The desktop, stand-alone personal computer made its debut in 1977. It took nearly 15 years for the technology to become commonplace in the office. It took the World Wide Web to make it common in the home.

That same pattern, having the technology before we know what to do with it, is the story of mobile tech and mobile recruiting. The good news is that the cycles of technology are getting closer together. What took 15 for the PC took 10 for the phone.

Mobile technology is transformative even though it is transitional. The biggest problem is that the succeeding generations of technology are beginning to emerge even while mobile is still finding its way. We are reaching the point at  which it makes sense to walk away from the current technology to focus on the next generation.

(As technology development continues to accelerate, we’ll see more of this. To date, the human race has always had the time to adjust to new tech before the emergence of the next generation. Things have sped up to the point that we will begin to pick and choose our way through technologies.)

That said, Ed Newman is exactly right when he says that things are really going to change. The “Nexus” means that work can be organized contextually, freed from the capital intensity of location. The “Nexus” has the potential to fuel a golden age of productivity that is independent of investment.

Mobile leads the way as we figure out how to use always-on, everywhere computing. Some work is fast and can be done from wherever. Some work is slow and requires a relatively fixed location. Mobile is our practice ground for the new architecture of work.

Film of early airplanes and automobiles are used as gag-reels today. That’s how we’ll look back on the early experimentation with mobile tech, in and out of recruiting. As Ed says, we’re in the early days.

Obviously, I’m much less clear that mobile recruiting is a thing. What I do know is that the administrative straightjackets we’ve built pretending that recruiting is a single workflow are crumbling. One size fits all computing simply isn’t going to fit into a world of deeply individual computing

It turns out that you ought to use different processes to recruit active and passive candidates. Giving a passive candidate the same experience as an active candidate is to slap the passive candidate in the face. Giving an active candidate white glove treatment is a waste of resources.

That’s just the beginning.

I like what Ed’s saying. This isn’t really a question of mobile recruiting. It’s a question of who has the vision to facilitate a deeply individualized form of recruiting?

Other posts in this series:

Ed Newman Bio: Ed is an entrepreneur with a deep background in Human Resources and Talent Management. He currently serves as the Vice President of Strategy for iMomentous, a recruiting technology company. Prior to joining iMomentous he was the founder of, a community web site designed for people with interests in Talent Management Technology. Ed was also the founder of The Newman Group and served as its President from 1999 through 2007 when it was acquired by Korn/Ferry International.


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  • I would have been the first one to agree with John that mobile is a passing fad and that it will never be user friendly enough to work for jobseekers outside of retail, hospitality. However, the lines between mobile and desktop are simply blurring far too fast for that to be the case. In order for it to be individualized, as John aptly points out, is not so far a leap as I know I originally thought it would be. The experience must be seamless and fluid (two things the desktop process most certainly isn’t; with minor exceptions) and the data we can gather from social and mobile (marketing is a great place to look into the future) allows us to 1) create that experience and 2) build that individualized atmosphere.

    The shift in how we work and who is doing the working will also contribute to the rise of mobile recruiting (which we probably won’t call it) as much as, if not more than, the technology. I recall a conversation at LinkedIn Talent Connect where someone asked if hiring managers were more likely to dismiss an application known to come from a mobile device (it was intimated it would be rushed, possibly messy and a lower quality of applicant) and the LI PR rep (okay not the MOST biased source but there were practitioners on the panel from very large global companies) actually said that his clients were seeing a better quality of candidate come through the mobile channels.

    My 2 cents.

  • martinsnyder

    I’m engaged with this discussion now 😉

    Sometimes technology alone merely amplifies, other times it transforms. Amplification changes the magnitude of something already formed. Transformation creates something never before in the world.

    An automobile amplifies a horse and carriage, going farther and faster, but still rolling across the ground. An MRI imager transforms medical treatment, providing a power not previously available to see what could not be seen.

    The real interest is that technology does not work alone; it works in a radically complex, emergent sphere of human affairs. An amped horse and carriage transforms the landscape to accommodate that amplification, which changes relationships and creates opportunities for transformation. People living longer and stronger directly transforms social and economic arrangements.

    Technology can never be thought of as standing alone if it’s important.

    It’s the unknown transformations around those technologies that will shape the future. John is right that early stuff just amplified printed job applications and hiring brochures, but does social amplify or transform? I think amplify. Social? I think amplify. Cloud? Amplify. Big Data? Amplify. None of the nexus, that I can see, by itself, is transformative. The changes will all be in systems and habits beyond the technologies themselves.

    Big data may never be able to predict earthquakes, or predict anything emergent reliably. Social may never overcome in- group amity and out-group enmity. Cloud may be just another word for large server, and Mobile may not even last the decade.

    And in that regard, recruiting is a very, very old human process that might itself only be amplified; e.g. more and faster.

    So the question really may become, what does more and faster recruiting mean? What technical, economic, physical, and social transformations will we see as a result?

    When Big Computing extends beyond the full power of individual human minds, something new will be in the world. We are getting closer, but we are not there yet…..

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