Ed Newman HR Examiner

Having been in the workforce since the late 1980’s I think it is safe to claim I was around at the beginning of the technology revolution. Before personal computers. Before e-mail. Before the Internet was a household appliance. I even remember when the fax machine changed my life. Never again would I have to pay a courier to deliver resumes to a hiring manager!

It has been an incredible journey to participate in the evolution of the HR Technology market, witnessing the early pioneers like PeopleSoft blazing trails, the successes and failures of point solutions, and the expansion and consolidation of the talent management segment.  Along the way a lot has changed. But for the better part of my 25 years, one thing has remained the same: HR Technology innovation has focused on helping employers.. HR technology implementations have been about reducing costs, becoming more efficient and increasing productivity, often at the expense of the candidate experience.  In fact, no matter how much technology we throw at it, HR always has an excuse “we just don’t have the resources to keep up with the volume. “

Here is a quick history:

Applicant Tracking: As we entered the Age of Talent in the early 90’s, the early applicant tracking systems (ATS) were designed to scan and process resumes into a searchable database.  This represented a huge productivity gain because we no longer had to manually sort, code and file.  You would think it would free up some time to better respond to applicants. Instead, we used the systems to generate mailing labels to send acknowledgement post cards that explained we were overwhelmed with applicants. We apologized for the impersonal response, saying we would only call them if we found a match.

Email: When email systems opened up to the Internet, the ATS functionality expanded to allow automatic messages to be sent to candidates once a requisition was filled.  You could even have the message vary based on what step the applicant had been tracked to. But when requisitions stay open for months and months on end, the job seeker is left in the dark.  This is probably the biggest contributor to the proverbial “resume black hole.” The mailing label and post card system was better.

Career Portals: When web based career portals emerged, the opportunity for candidates to apply online eliminated the need for scanning resumes. Another huge productivity gain for the employer, but what did it mean for the applicant? It meant filling out long cumbersome online applications with pre-screening questions that are usually not very well written.  Just because you can collect all of that data on the first contact, doesn’t mean you should.

But the times are changing. Over the last few years the plight of the job seeker has been in the spotlight and many companies are starting to make investments to improve the experience a candidate endures when applying for a job.  There are several products and solutions entering the market with a mission to help employers improve the candidate experience.

Why the shift?

I think there are several factors at play here. There is the advent of social media and sites like GlassDoor.com that are creating a level of transparency employers can no longer ignore.  The nature of Web 2.0 technologies is less about productivity and more about improving interactions.  But ultimately it boils down to the fact that companies are starting to realize that the candidate is an important stakeholder and a consumer of the brand, just like any other customer.

Historically the sentiment has been that if a candidate wants a job they will go through whatever it takes to get it.  Now, we are beginning to understand that if we piss them off in the process, there could be down stream ripple effects. Depending on the type of business, the impact can go way beyond your recruiting effectiveness. For many companies, the job seeker is also the consumer of their products and services.

At the HR Technology Conference in Chicago, we announced the results of the 2012 Candidate Experience Awards.  During the awards process, we surveyed over 17,000 job seekers about how they were treated by the companies they applied to.  One of the questions we asked them was how likely they were to share a negative candidate experience?  60% said they were very likely to share a negative experience with their inner circle. 22% said they would shout it to the world on social media.

I have often described the job seeker as the most underserved customer group on the planet and I think it still is. The good news is we are at a turning point.  As my friend Gerry Crispin once said, “Corporations require a business case to invest in anything… even common courtesy.”  But it won’t be long before there is overwhelming evidence that an improved candidate experience can bring a positive impact to the bottom line. And that is when all the excuses will go away and we will see real change.

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