The least-discussed myths in recruiting

Nikos Moraitakis | Workable General |

Six years ago we started Workable, wishing for better tools to find and evaluate people. We’ve served thousands of customers and millions of candidates in 100+ countries. Hundreds of features and integrations made user-friendly, secure and scalable. That was the easy bit.

The hard bit is weaning people out of bad ideas that are all too prevalent in our space. I’m still shocked by some of the false dogma that’s being peddled as wisdom in recruiting. Disdain for job boards takes the prize here.

The soft bigotry for the active candidate

Millions of people in the open marketplace for jobs want to work for your company. Over 50% of jobs get filled this way. It’s cheap, quick and effective. Yet, you’ll never run out of vendors eagerly dismissing this. I call it ‘the soft bigotry for the active candidate’.

Somehow, we are told, good people are not looking for a job, so candidates on job sites are second-rate. This is unbelievable bullshit, easily disproven by hiring statistics, if not just a casual poll of friends and co-workers.

Passive candidates must be part of the mix in recruiting, and they’re harder to get, so I can see how there’s an ‘effort bias’ here. You’ve worked harder to get something—so it must be better. This is the least-discussed bias in recruiting.

Customers systematically self-report that their majority of hires come from passive candidates. Then you take them to their reports and they find out that 70% of their actual hires were actives. Effort bias. What they spend most of their time on, feels like most of the outcome. Ironically, anti-job-site dogma is peddled by the same vendors and recruiters who rage all day about diversity.

Pro tip: if you ignore the most democratic market of applicants and only focus on your network and the same old keyword searches, you’re not promoting diversity!

Casting a wider net, bursting your bubble, is the highest-impact diversity tactic. But it’s hard. Your ATS vendor needs to put in great effort to integrate hundreds of sources. You have to review more applications. It’s easier to skip this altogether and make diversity pie charts.

The candidate nurture paradox

Another favorite: Recruiting is like sales. No it’s not. In sales you’re fishing for any qualified lead, any time, at any volume. In recruiting you want something specific, now, at a quantity specified by a hiring plan. A sales process doesn’t work for recruiting.

Nurturing is the best example of this paradox. Recruiters want to match suitable candidates to actual jobs. Now.

‘Suitable’ includes ‘interested and available’. Yet, spamming lists of vaguely related people has become a thing. You call it ‘CRM’ and it almost sounds like a good idea. The technology to find the right people when you need them is available. But it’s hard. It involves managing simultaneous campaigns to advertise jobs, run referrals, match profiles, passive search, and on and on. Spamming unsuitable people is shirking away from the hard work.

Fixing the wrong part of the funnel

Here’s one that always puzzled me: Companies in ultra-competitive job markets (e.g. looking for front-end developers in NYC) getting obsessed about heavy selection processes (e.g. complex ‘scorecards’). Their problem is at the top of the funnel but they try to fix the bottom. What’s the scorecard for hiring the head of design at Apple? Nobody cares. I’m sure they have to choose among the best, they’ll figure it out. If you’re struggling to find enough high-quality candidates, stop debating the assessment process.

The quality of your hiring comes down to the quality of your options. But most vendors of hiring software stay away from sourcing. Instead of solving the hard problem, (that makes everything else easy) they sell arcane features at the bottom of the funnel. This division between applicant tracking and sourcing is incomprehensible to me. Sure, no software will do everything, but a recruiting platform should put sourcing first and foremost, in all its forms.

As a vendor, I know it’s hard to be honest about those false dogmas. Recruiting is complex – there is no single trick to solve it. But vendors can’t do everything, so it’s easier to pretend that the thing you do is the trick that does it. The reality is that you need to do a lot of things to be successful in recruiting. Some of it looks like marketing, some of it looks like sales, much of it is human judgement, and most of it you don’t get to control. The most impactful bit (top of the funnel) is the hardest.

Why we focus on the hardest part of recruiting

We chose to focus on the hardest part, because we see it delivering results for our customers. 25 million candidates later, I know this was the right choice. And that’s why, six years into the journey, there’s still a lot to do, and minds to change.

It’s easier to make features that give you more things to do, more process to follow. Aggressive marketing can make busywork features feel like you’re getting organized, prudent, methodical. Facile comparisons like ‘recruiting is sales’ have the allure of intellectual junk-food.

But often the solution to complex problems is less operational complexity, understanding that it’s not ‘just like X but for Y’ and embracing the un-sexy idea that you won’t solve the hardest problem in business with a piece of software because it has so-and-so feature. There’s a place for that piece of software. To make it easy so you can focus on the actual work. To do some footwork for you on the highest-impact bits. To be flexible, and to stay out of your way when it should. Believe me, this apparent simplicity is terribly hard to design.

If you disagree with me, I want to hear from you. If you help me understand this problem better, I’ll probably want to hire you 🙂 If some of the ideas above sound right to you, we have a product that embodies them: Workable and it’s always work in progress.

This post originated as a series of tweets. Hear more from Nikos on Twitter.

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Nikos Moraitakis

Nikos is our CEO and batman on rainy nights.

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