No doubt about it, with the state of the current global economy – unless you’re looking for highly specialized skills there is no shortage of applicants applying for any positions you might be looking to fill.
This means lots of resumes. So you, or your recruiter have to spend a large amount of time “reading between the lines” to determine whether they would make a good hire or not. Unfortunately most people just don’t have the time to do this process justice.
Enter the “key word” search. That’s where resumes get loaded into a recruitment system or even something as simple as Google Apps – and just the resumes with words matching your job description or key skills are returned with all others discarded. The few remaining are typically screened further via a scheduled telephone interview, with quantity being proportional to interviewer’s available time.
So what’s so bad about that? It saves time and you get a short list of candidates with the skills you’re looking for right? Well, yes – but chances are it won’t get you the best person for the job. There are a number of key reasons for this.
Firstly, key word search is only really useful for determining if a resume includes a reference to a particular skill or qualification. For this to work you need key words that are precise and not subjective. Examples might be “Microsoft Word”, “SAP”, or “Deep Sea Drilling”.
Unfortunately this means candidate attributes you’d like to look for such as “innovative”, “works well with others”, “good attitude”, “learns quickly” can’t easily be searched for. Another problem is that a candidate who has 15 years of one highly desired skill, but misses out in other key words might not make the short-list at all.
This process can be further complicated if the person doing the short listing is from the HR department, or a 3rd party recruiter and doing it without the assistance of the hiring manager or subject matter expert. Although more experienced HR professionals have processes to address some of these issues – the upshot is that you’re probably not going to end up with the best possible hire.
When I was running a fairly sizable ICT services company in Asia this was a problem we faced every day. With the company loosing money, staff morale at an all time low, a freshly minted management team and a brief to “fix it or close it” – we had to make changes fast. Just hiring staff who had all the matching technical skills or keywords wasn’t going to do it.
So instead of just following the usual practice, we changed things around. Resumes went directly to hiring managers who looked at each one, “reading between the lines” to try and find the outliers who “can do” – not just those who have done a similar job before. We then had our Human Resources people follow up with telephone screening interviews to determine organizational fit, work ethic and attitude.
We then closed the process with HR and the hiring manager (and sometimes department head for key hires) conducting at least one in person interview. Within 12 months we halved staff turn-over rate, won a ‘best company to work for’ award and returned the organization to profitabilily – mostly as a result of having a better group of people on board.
A lot of these hires would never have been made if we followed a conventional keyword or candidate database search process, with HR or recruiters doing the first round of screening. For example our best performing sales person had never held a sales position prior to joining. Our CFO had never worked with an MNC or foreign company outside of China previously – yet a few years later now has a similar position for one of the worlds largest logistics companies.
So in my experience so called database or keyword search alone can’t radically improve an organizations performance. In our case we invested a lot of time to hire people based on their capacity to do the job (not just having done it before) and with the right attitude. Our recruiters and human resources staff lead the charge around finding people with good cultural fit and high potential, with hiring managers doing initial short-listing.
All sounds logical in retrospect, but for the most part this isn’t what happens. Most organizations end up with “cookie cutter” short lists of people doing the same job for a different organization. Not exactly something that will shake things up or bring about change when you need to make it. The biggest issue with the approach outlined above is the time and effort it takes, although new technology and the prevalence of web cameras built into most PC’s is changing this.
When we went through the business turn-around experience above we had to do it the hard way. Its not only the time it takes (you can’t leave an interview early or share with a colleague at another location easily) but the scheduling issues interviewing generates. Fortunately there are a number of tools out there like HireVue, TakeTheInterview, ActiveInterview and even our own Avancert.com (albeit video interview is only a subset of what we do) that streamline this process.
These tools along with more traditional competency based frameworks and psychometric tools can give you a much better picture of candidate potential than a typical resume database or keyword search will, without the time penalty that a traditional screening telephone call or interview has.
My experience in the software industry has always been that given any two candidates with almost identical resumes, years of experience and skills – there can still be up to a huge difference in actual performance. MBA’s often represent this in chart format with various combinations of performance, capability and potential on different axes. Terms such as “stars”, “rising stars”, “work horses” and “deadwood” are used to describe the different extremes.
Personally I’ve always tried to hire “Rising Stars” who have capacity and are eager to learn, but whose resume may not have the desirable skill key words on them just yet. This is something that these new bread of video interview and screening tools allow you to do more easily. In fact they free up so much time you can even interview marginal candidates that you might not normally have time to talk to – allowing you to uncover some real diamonds in the rough.
Not only that, but if you give someone a chance where others might not due to those missing keywords – I find they are generally appreciative of the very opportunities given. Often these individuals like those examples above make the best hires. Something you loose if you or your recruiter/hr staff are too focused on key word search alone.