Death Watch: A Eulogy for Top Recruiting Technology “Trends”

dead_techRecruiting and HR pundits sure seem to like writing obituaries.  Hell, there’s an entire cannon of posts, white papers and corporate copy on the death of any number of human capital-related themes.  Reading through this generic genre, everything from job boards to resumes (false) to LinkedIn (true) are either dead or on life support. Most of these are premature in their declarations of imminent mortality, and written to sell consulting services or align with whatever keyword happens to be trending or whatever buzzword is performing well on Google.

The funny thing is, some of the hottest topics and trends in recruiting are, in fact, alive only by virtue of these same influencers, product and content marketers and “influencers” whose chief industry influence comes from successfully gaming Klout.  Good news: some of their most omnipresent “trends” are about to become obsolete.

Three Recruiting Trends That Actually Are Dying

1. Big Data: Thankfully, the death of big data seems imminent. After all, it’s one of those issues that was created and commoditized more as a product feature set than actual pervasive challenge, and as vendor campaigns change, this “trend” appears to already be going missing from marketing and messaging.  It’s about time.

This isn’t to say that there’s no actual application for data in recruiting, the thing is, that talent acquisition, as a rule, can’t even get baseline benchmarks and mundane metrics down.  Almost no enterprise recruitment organization I’ve spoken with has an accurate handle on analytics like cost-per-hire or source-of-hire (they have a ballpark figure, but disparate systems and self-reporting skew this data outside of statistical relevance).

The amount an individual project – in this case, a requisition – costs to execute and the aggregate ROI of spend against project are basic business requirements of any other function.  Yet in recruiting, even these most simple of metrics remain elusive – and this is the easy stuff.  We can’t accurately track historical activities, we largely can’t forecast future ones or even improve or optimize existing processes, much less use these numbers for any sort of meaningful statistical storytelling that seems the hallmark of “big data” in business.

A fundamental problem is that recruiters are overly reliant on vendors to collate and package their proprietary data in a way that inevitably supports increased spend or renewals – job boards, for instance, are the best at proving their efficacy through statistics that ignore the rest of the talent ecosystem or any kind of actual correlation or causation.  The problem isn’t that vendors control data, particularly the kind of reporting that leads to purchasing.  The problem is that most leaders trust this because they have no other choice or way to compare these results to what’s actually going on.

As long as we’re screwing up the small stuff, then big data isn’t a big problem.  It would be great if we could get our heads around quantifying recruiting to the point where we could actually make these metrics meaningful, but for now, this is a concept best ignored.

2. Proactive Sourcing: In his Talent42 keynote, Glen Cathey, the Boolean Black Belt himself, declared (and rightfully so) that building passive pipelines proactively is a waste of time and effort, considering the fact that these sourcing “best practices” don’t align with proven Lean/Kaizen methodologies (see embed below for more context):

So I know what you’re thinking: big deal, but this is recruiting, not manufacturing.  But the more I think of Cathey’s central thesis that human capital management is a supply chain function.  Consider that the act of filling a requisition and creating strategies to get the right inventory to the right customer as effectively and efficiently as possible while minimizing waste and maximizing margins is the fundamental goal of both procurement as well as talent acquisition.  It’s not the ends of these functions that are at odds, just the means – and supply chain management has far outpaced recruiting on process best practices.

Many vendors I’ve spoken with suggest that, particularly for enterprise clients, procurement is getting increasingly involved in the buying process for HR technology as well as one of the chief arbiters in MSP/BPO/RPO selection, a critical and growing segment of the overall staffing market.  That’s because the standardization and science behind an RFP eliminates the legacy ‘relationship’ sales cycle of on-premise systems and vendor chicanery (see: big data) in favor of analytics and objective information.

The increasing elimination of subjective spend, coupled with the growing increase in workforce planning and strategy suggest that we’re already seeing the shift of human capital from being perceived as “our people” to what they really are: a variable inventory that should be approached with the same discipline as any other widget.  Sure, this is unpopular with many of the “thought leaders” championing stuff like talent communities or ‘emotional intelligence,’ but the truth is, recruiting is just-in-time procurement with variable pricing based on variables of supply, demand and urgency.

The fact that both procurement and recruiting processes start with sourcing (the accepted term in both disciplines) underscores this overlap – and one that, should functions better able to handle and interpret big data actually look at the numbers – should only increase in the years to come.  Recruiting is an operation, and it makes perfect sense to house it under the purview of operations in general, procurement in particular.

3. Automated Engagement 

Although, for somewhat mysterious reasons, we still haven’t figured out how to notify applicants that they weren’t selected for a job, recruiting technology has otherwise done a fairly good job of closing the automation gap with other functions’ ERP and enterprise SaaS solutions.

With point solutions like Avature or Smashfly as well as proprietary modules from most major ATS vendors designed to turn a system of record (HCM) into a system of engagement (CRM), most vendors are offering some form of automated messaging based on database segmentation, inbound marketing and targeted campaigns.

These are often referred to as “talent communities,” which is basically where applicants self-select to receive alerts for jobs they don’t want from companies they’ve applied for other jobs they didn’t get – or, rarely, to just get the latest open positions at a company delivered to their inbox.

Add the ubiquity of RSS on social recruiting accounts, company career sites and job-related alerts, along with the heavy use of direct mail blasts with no more personalization than the use of a basic macro (A/B testing, be damned), and you’ve got an industry that’s done a fairly good job removing the human from human resources, in pursuit of the nebulous and amorphous concept of engagement and the belief of brands that all engagement is good engagement – so long as brand awareness and sentiment remain positive in the mindset of consumers (or candidates).

They’re wrong, and the fallacy of adding so much automation to the recruiting process should soon become readily apparent when the returns on such investments as dedicated CRM systems and canned e-mails with job related calls to action diminish more and more rapidly.  The average job alert already has a worse response rate than a blind e-mail (and these are warm leads, theoretically) – the average open rate for an InMail or click through for a social-media based automated job posting are worse than, say, if you were to advertise cheap foreign pharmaceuticals in Cyrillic.  They’re abysmal.

The reason many of these automated systems and processes don’t work is due to a concept most recruiters are already too familiar with: the easier you make something, the more unqualified responses you’ll receive, at the expense of actually viable leads.

That’s why a one-click apply process might be great for a candidate, but not for the recruiter who receives 200 unqualified resumes for a posting, or for the overall candidate experience in dealing with those 200 candidates who have now expressed interest (real or imagined) in working for your employer.

Similarly, the ease by which point and proprietary solutions make blasting a database with generic alerts and template messaging have actually somewhat commoditized engagement, and the easier these solutions become on the back end, the less effective they are at tapping into the fixed inventory of qualified candidates they’re looking for, whether or not they’re a “warm lead” who happens to be sitting in an employer or agency’s ATS.

That’s why the biggest trend of all actually has nothing to do with technology – it has to do with the rejection of technology, the abandonment in favor of personalization instead of automation.  The reason why referrals and internal mobility continue to dominate source of hire is the fact that they necessitate a personalized approach and outreach – similarly, many paid resume or profile databases are touting social profile aggregation (Dice Open Web, TalentBin from Monster) or employer branding in tacit acknowledgement of the fact that personalizing your approach and message is the key fundamental for meaningful engagement.

These same vendors still sell off the “post and pray” mentality of volume and generalized distribution of job ads and campaigns, but their messaging suggests that they already know that automation has hit an apex, and that the best recruiters will know not only how to generate passive talent, but also create meaningful, direct engagement.  Because the biggest disruptor in HR Technology today might just be the rejection of the proliferation of automation and the tools and technologies enabling it in favor of an approach that stresses the individual interaction and culture-based communication over generic job descriptions and interpersonal chemistry over stack ranked search results and RSS feeds that leave both candidates and recruiters hungry for better solutions.

HR Technology might be one of the hottest markets in the world, but once it disappears in favor of more robust Tier-One ERPs, pay-for-performance pricing and low risk, monthly subscriptions for SaaS, the market for process based products will be entirely outpaced in efficacy and enablement by the most precious commodity of all: meaningful interaction and personal communication between recruiter and employer.




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