Recruiting Is Like Finding a Needle in a Haystack — and Now the Haystack Keeps Growing

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As a recruiter, you know someone out there is the ideal person for the position you’re trying to fill. The hard part is finding them in a pool of candidates that grows larger by the day.

Millions of people have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw US unemployment peak  at 14.7 percent in April. That’s to say nothing of the many currently employed people — as much as 58 percent  by some estimates — who look for new job opportunities at least monthly.

By October 2020, unemployment decreased to 6.9 percent. Approximately 900,000 private sector jobs were gained that month alone, and we’ll likely see retail and hospitality jobs continue to grow as we head into a busy holiday season.

What does all of this mean for recruiters? More jobs to fill — and more candidates to consider for those jobs. And the talent pool isn’t just bigger because of higher unemployment: The shift to remote work means many recruiters are now considering candidates from across the country or around the world.

The biggest challenge is that supply continues to outweigh demand. With an ever-growing labor pool, it’s safe to say that most of today’s hiring managers are inundated with resumes. I recently spoke with a CEO who, pre-COVID, had posted a job for a sales position. He received two applications and didn’t hire either individual. Immediately after the pandemic struck, he posted an ad for the same position and received 500 applications. Likewise, I spoke with a talent acquisition leader who received 700 applications for a recruiter position within 36 hours of posting the job.

If there’s one thing COVID-19 has taught recruiters, it’s that the old strategy of manually sorting and reviewing resumes doesn’t work anymore. There are simply too many candidates and not enough hours in the day.

To help the highest-quality talent rise to the top of this ever-growing candidate pool as companies begin to rebuild and rehire, recruiters should consider these four tips:

1. Make Time to Meet With Hiring Managers

This may seem obvious, but many recruiters simply skip this step to save time. What ends up happening, though, is they spend more time searching for the right candidate because they don’t fully understand what the hiring manager wants.

Instead of flying blind, sit down with the hiring manager. Start by asking whether the job description has been updated recently. Many jobs have changed a lot in the wake of COVID-19. Has the hiring manager taken into account the new work environment and perhaps additional responsibilities? Have they realigned the job description with those changes?

Next, it’s time to perform a preliminary search. Present the hiring manager with a few possible candidates, and ask them whether you’re on the right track or need to tweak the search.

Finally, be sure to set realistic expectations. Does the ideal candidate with this exact skill set actually exist, or might the hiring manager need to create two or more separate positions? Another option would be to hire someone with potential and train them to meet the specific requirements of the role.

2. Acknowledge and Address Recruiter Burnout

It takes approximately 30 seconds to scan a resume to glean previous experience and skills, but that’s hardly enough time to thoroughly evaluate a candidate. When you multiple that 30 seconds by 700 resumes, that’s roughly six hours of a recruiter’s time that would be better spent talking with candidates to get a comprehensive understanding of what they really bring to the table.

Ditch your old methods. Reviewing one out of every 10 resumes may reduce burnout, but it doesn’t ensure you’ll find the right person for the job.

Next, evaluate your applicant tracking system (ATS). Companies often fall into the trap of using one platform that does everything, even when it’s ineffective at managing certain aspects of the recruitment life cycle. For example, an ATS may not automate candidate scheduling, or it may not have a way to filter resumes.

Ultimately, it’s worth adopting different platforms to address new and emerging challenges, so explore more sophisticated searching algorithms. Most basic ATSs rank candidates based on the appearance of certain search terms in the candidate’s application. With more sophisticated technology, you can expand your set of search terms, and it can be easier to refine searches without having to manually re-review resumes. For example, if Java experience is a general requirement, and nearly every candidate has it, a subsequent evaluation of candidates could pinpoint those with at least three years of experience. Not every ATS has such capabilities.

3. Use Assessments Wisely

Many companies use some combination of behavioral, skilled-based, and experiential assessments to disqualify applicants. There are two challenges with this approach.

First, assessments may create a negative candidate experience. People have become accustomed to a one-click application process and may not be open to completing lengthy assessments. Recruiters may miss out on an ideal candidate because of this.

Second, assessments aren’t suitable for every industry or position. To decide whether an assessment is right for your hiring process, ask the following questions:

  1. Will the assessment actually add value, or would a face-to-face interview suffice?
  2. What costs will the company incur? Will it pay per assessment, a monthly fee, etc.?
  3. Is there data, either internal or from the industry, about the benefits of assessment-assisted selection? Do these benefits outweigh the cost?
  4. Where in the hiring process should the company insert assessments?

4. Place Job Postings Strategically

Before COVID-19, many recruiters posted their job ads — especially for hourly positions — basically everywhere. After all, candidates were scarce. Today, that same practice can be detrimental because recruiters end up overwhelmed by the number of responses.

Be selective about where you publicize your jobs right now. Are there job boards that target a demographic that would be most suitable for your position? Pay attention to a job board’s reach, too. If a certain board has a broader reach, would that benefit or complicate your recruitment process?

COVID-19 has forced recruiters and hiring managers to rethink their strategies. Now is the time to assess whether our existing technologies and processes meet our needs. Working smarter — not harder — will ensure short- and long-term hiring success.

Michael Yinger is CEO and cofounder of The Sieve.

By Michael Yinger