Shut Up, Startups: Why Recruiting Technology Can’t Fix What’s Really Broken

What follows is an account of a successful early careerist having a career discussion with an influential mentor:

After I graduated from Harvard and took my first job as an investment banker earning $150K, upon returning home for Thanksgiving my Mom cornered me in the kitchen and in an exasperating tone asked (or rather, demanded):


[In a calm soothing voice] “But Mom…”


Oh, if it only were this easy.

And yes, it is the reason why “new” recruiting technology is exploding globally – because entrepreneurs truly believe that technology, any technology, will cure the ills of recruiting.

recruiting_technology_brokenRecruiting Technology: Entrepreneurs vs. End Users

In The Future of Recruiting and Hiring Technology, Sharlyn Lauby of HR Bartender fame says, “When you automate the right tasks, then it frees up time to do the in-person ones better.”


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The problem here is in how the entrepreneur (a) comes to their conclusion that recruiting is broken; and, (b) comes up and develops a solution that will undoubtedly make them an angel investor or venture capitalist’s pet. In other words, Sharlyn would be spot-on if the underlying recruiting processes were optimal and the recruiters tasked with implementing the processes were optimal as well. Neither is.

Automating the “right” tasks is what stumps most recruiting technology entrepreneurs; are they automating the right task or a part of a process that is broken, aging, or downright useless?

Here’s a typical comment about a better way to recruit (this one is pasted from the above article – all I’ve done is turn on italics):

The fundamental assumption that recruiters need to do more outreach, be it automated is wrong.

Recruiting should and will become more inbound. Should companies always reach out to potential talent (be it on the form of automatic mails)? Shouldn’t technology actually make engagement and data driven hiring more efficient. The problem with many technologies being developed today is that recruiting is still seen upon as a filling up a job and not in terms of making a career. Take the very successful companies like Google, Netflix. Apart from posting jobs (if they post i.e.), do they do direct selling of their position.

The future of recruiting is in inbound marketing. If one tries to understand the relationship between marketing, sales and recruiting you would see a pattern. Marketers are early adoptors, Sales adopt technologies and practices if they seem to be successful in marketing. Recruiters are generally late adopters.

The likes of Amazon, Apple etc (I consider them as Sales and Marketing Companies, these companies buy and sell stuff and keep a margin) etc are focussing on more inbound tactics. They do marketing and not sales. These companies don’t buy email databases and send mass mails. They put the right ad in front of the right customer and gets their sales done.

I see recruiting too moving in that direction. If a company is able to post the right job in front of the right candidate, the sale is going to happen. How can this happen?

1. Replace job description with tasks : Job Description are dead, no candidate has the time to read them. Just like a recruiter looks at keywords in resumes, the talent looks for keywords. Product companies are already doing task based sourcing and hiring
2. Focus on inbound : The really successful companies focus on inbound recruiting. This is about a.identifying those right nodes and playing them in front of the candidate b.keeping your employees happy who in turn will lead you to more talent.
3. Push careers : Imagine you are a highly talented candidate. One company offers you a job and a really good package. There is another company which is offering you a job, a well defined career progression cycle (Things like google’s OKR based promotion cycles) and a decent salary. Which one would you chose?

The future of recruitment technology is not about outbound tools, it is about creating tools that would lead to inbound recruiting.

PS : This is a sales pitch. if you believe in what we do, check out HuntShire.

A sales pitch. Ah, I hadn’t noticed. Anyone want to guess how many years of recruiting experience the team of three co-founders has between them?

Is there anything in this fellow’s sales pitch that makes you confident that he understands the ins and outs of recruiting – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly? What I do see is a rehashing of the same phrases we’ve been hearing for decades – like “Job descriptions are dead, no candidate has the time to read them” – and a pitch for a “better way.” Ho-hum, wake me up before you go-go…

If it’s not replacement for job descriptions, it’s gamification; if it’s not gamification, it’s mobile; if it’s not mobile, it’s how to recruit software developers. It’s a new ATS, a new assessment tool based upon the teachings of Carl Jung (yes, I’m being sarcastic), a new social job board that no one has thought of before.

What Recruiting Technology Is Missing

My point here is not to denigrate entrepreneurism or recruiting technology but do you see what’s missing from all this new recruiting technology?

  • Recruiters
  • Company leaders and how they view the importance of recruiting…
  • Hiring managers (notice how much recruiting technology takes recruiting away from recruiters and places it back into the hands of the hiring managers)…
  • Jobseekers

How often do recruiting technology entrepreneurs with a better way conduct focus meetings with not just someone from each category but with someone from each category who is good, bad and even ugly? How often do these focus meetings result in a re-engineering of a “flawed” process? Or is this new recruiting technology designed to make easier a flawed process?

I’m asked to review more recruiting technology than I’d like, but as part of my personal belief in stewarding the recruiting profession, I rarely decline the chance to see if the reality meets the hype. I listen to the person’s background, where they went to school. I breathe in all the words of the pitch, the reason why recruiting is broken.

Finally, I’m given a business card with a phone number and email to call later to discuss.

And the title reads, “CEO”…

steve levyAbout the Author: Steve Levy is well respected as one of the best sourcers in the business, combining old school and new cool technologies to identify and engage exceptional talent – and actually knows those mythical “purple squirrels.”

Levy, a member of the RecruitingBlogs Editorial Advisory Committee who has been referred to as “the recruiting industry’s answer to Tom Peters” has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Most Social Human Resources Experts on Twitter;

The 10 to Follow in Social Media RecruitingTop 25 Twitter Accounts for Job Seekers to FollowTop 100 Twitter Accounts Job Seekers MUST Follow: 2012Top 50 Twitter Accounts Job Seekers MUST Follow: 2011101 Career Experts all Job Hunters Should Follow on Twitter; and Top 100 HR & Recruiting Pros to Follow on Twitter.

Follow Steve On Twitter @LevyRecruits or Connect With Him on LinkedIn.

  • Steve, as we both know, nobody "really* wants to do the in-person tasks now, do they?

    Um, that would mean (fill in the blank) ______ to someone!

  • recruitmw

    Great post, I love the part about whose missing from the conversation. The lack of thought and dialogue within the organization that most companies use to write those horrible job descriptions can't be saved with new toys.

  • Lol. Nice touch. It will get worse before it gets better

  • Steve

    @Maureen, somewhere in my memory banks I remember us talking about that 10 or so years ago. There were can't miss recruiting technologies back then that were going to fix recruiting. Deja vu all over again.

    @Michael 😉 In far too many cases, the job descriptions are simply recycled while the immediate problems are left out of the process. Well THAT makes sense.

    @SeerOfStaffing Always like making you laugh. But how long oh wise one, how long?

  • Eveline Brownstein

    Hey Steve, agree with you. In fact, I recently wrote a research paper for a Masters class on the idea that what's missing is what we want technology to solve and then figuring out if technology can actually solve it. It's the disconnect. Happy to share the paper with you via email.

  • gutmach

    Amen, brother – but what's interesting about the HuntShire sales pitch you included is that seems to jive with Zappos' recent decision to eliminate job postings altogether. However, I agree that only an employer with a brand as strong as theirs, as well as the internal confidence that their inbound marketing is fabulous and that they can get the rest of their required applicant pipeline via other methods, is going to do this. Therefore, it makes your point that only a company whose process is not broken can take that kind of step (or as you conversely stated it, re-engineering a broken process with superior technology would not yield better results).

    • Steve

      Thanks Glenn – yet the HuntShire pitch is nothing more than a fresh coat of paint on a house infiltrated with termites. Tasks ARE NOT performances; how often do we read JDs were the first "task" of a software developer will be "to code"?

      Getting recruiters and hiring managers to understand the difference between the two requires a substantive change in understanding WHY we hire people – it is to solve problems. Consider an Agile board with post-it notes – and the SW Dev Leader who has a tough time sleeping because the notes are being retired from the board: She needs to hire better people who can do the work – solve the problem – defined by the post it notes. If I'm the recruiter, I take these notes and when I speak with Devs ask, "These are our problem [waving the notes] – have you solved these kinds of problems? Do you like solving these kinds of problems? Would you like solving these kinds of problems for us?" Etc.

      In a performance culture, perhaps traditional task-based JDs will go away but eliminating performance-focused ones is folly…

  • Steve,

    First off, great article.

    I agree that automating a broken process will not help. I've seen this too many times in other areas – ERP, SCM, etc. And yet, just as in other areas of business, in recruiting too most people start by seeking systems or platforms that "have the functionality we need" and can "handle how we do things". Instead, they should start by analyzing their current processes, identifying areas where they are inefficient, outdated or otherwise sub-optimal, and re-designing them to an ideal state, under consideration of current needs and technologies.

    The same is true with recruiting, where most start off with the description that mirrors the last incumbent and then seeks to replicate him or her. Bob had 5 years of experience doing XYZ, so his successor should have that too, right? Well, maybe. If it's still central to Bob's role. But, are we even planning on doing XYZ anymore next year? And the same way? Maybe we should outsource that altogether? Or it may become obsolete. Regardless, we lost Bob, so now we have to replace him with someone who looks like Bob, since re-thinking Bob's role altogether would be too hard and we sure wouldn't want to lose the headcount…

    Even more vexing is how invested business is in a recruiting process that has seen no real innovation in decades, exhibits horrible performance as evident in huge turnover rates and seems to completely disregard the single biggest causes for failure: the lack of "soft" skills, cultural mis-match, and behavioral competencies. And yet, none of these aspects are reflected on a resume and we know that interviews are notoriously bad predictors of… just about anything. But, hey, if we just automate the process, increase our reach and throughput, we'll be able to churn through even more candidates and, while we burn huge amounts of money (not to mention goodwill) with every one of them, in the end we'll make up for it in volume.

    This month's HBR has a great cover story that I think you will enjoy by the way.

    PS: I would love to connect on LinkedIn btw, but don't have your e-mail. Who knows, I just might have another recruiting tech pitch for you to look at….

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