Is Your Recruitment Process Sabotaging Your Results?

By Eric Allgood

It has long been known that hiring right sets the foundations for great results. Whilst this isn’t to take away from excellent internal training and induction processes, starting with a higher calibre candidate increases the effectiveness of all your post-hire strategies (you do have them, right? …Right?).

First, as it does become relevant, as the author, full disclosure I am in the older category being in my Forty-Thirteenth year. Whilst many say this shouldn’t matter in a recruitment process, an experiment we undertook recently indicated otherwise.

Our experiment was to send through some resumes to professional resume companies for feedback, and to also send them to professional recruitment companies for feedback. The feedback we received from the experiment is the basis of this article and confirmed why we still use ‘ancient’ (quoting here) methodology in our recruitment process.

Please note: We did not assist or change any of the resumes, some were written by the candidate, some professionally produced (the results of which are another story).

Number 1: Age Bias

Told you it would be relevant. Almost every single organisation gave the same feedback when a resume illustrated experience prior to 2010. You are leaving yourself open to age bias, companies want the same experience in younger candidates. Whilst laughable, I think one of our subject candidates summed it up best when she said “f* off, it took over 30 years to get that experience, can we microwave experience now?” or when another stated “that’s bull… I have made and learned from mistakes a younger candidate hasn’t even thought of yet, great risk strategy!”.

You may not believe you’re doing it, but it is quite real, and you need to be conscious of the experience and potential leadership qualities (at any level within the organisation) an older candidate brings. Elite sporting organisations already know how effective this is, which is why they specifically bring in more mature, experienced players to help settle the younger crop and lead them. Older candidates offer both hard and soft skills that can be leveraged to improve the overall performance of your company.

Age bias also works the other way, some of our younger (under 21) candidates were given feedback to remove dates that might indicate their age, as this may affect their chances of getting an interview (unless the position specifically states junior role).

To this we say, look at the type of person they may be, who they might become, and how you can help shape that. (story time) … I was once advertising for a PA, had heaps of choices, plenty of experienced people, few in the middle and some young (future) guns. I chose one of the young-guns because they were inquisitive, showed great attention to detail, were willing to ask questions, and turned up to the interview strong enough in their own skin to be themselves. I put some effort and time into mentoring, and we became an awesome team!

It is interesting that there has been so much noise over the past two years about innovation and pivoting, yet the way we recruit stifles our ability to have the right people to enable this. Younger, inquisitive people asking the naïve questions, those in the middle to challenge and offer alternative, and those with experience, who have the ability to discuss potential outcomes or consequences from their years of experience. If you are only recruiting some of the ingredients, you are missing the target.

The point we’re trying to make is consider the following:

  • What skill sets are not negotiable?
  • What skill sets can we train?
  • What sort of human do we want in this team to fit properly?
  • How can this be displayed within a resume?

This last point is the perfect segway into our second.

Number 2: The flaws of automation in recruitment

Ever wondered why all resumes are starting to look identical, even sound identical? The answer is simple, many recruitment processes now use technology to shortlist for them. This saves plenty of time and culls the herd into a much smaller group. The culling includes those who have a resume that would stand out, but the computer cannot pick up their details as the resume isn’t formatted appropriately for the system. This was also commonly reflected in the feedback we received, statements such as ‘your resume was very well presented and looked great, however, when we ran it through a popular ‘applicant tracking system’ (ATS) it scheduled an unsuccessful message.

I was curious about this, so we used some of these resumes to apply for positions each person was suited for, across various levels, industries, and role types. The record for the unsuccessful message was 13 minutes. Yep 13 minutes from receiving the ‘we received your application’ to ‘we reject your application message’.

Now, especially for senior roles, this is ridiculous. The way these tracking systems work, as with anything computerised, they are programmed to see things a certain way and anything outside those parameters are discarded.

  • Choice of words, you now appear to require a resume specific to each advertisement, ensuring you are using the same phrasing within the ad itself. Not the computer’s fault, it doesn’t know any better.
  • Formatting, if the ATS companies could openly share their formatting this would actually save some poor choices!

It is important to note that the person who receive the record for quickest rejection, also had the record for quickest phone call! An employment agency who actually reads their resumes for senior roles took one look and from the ‘opened by employer’ to phone call was 30 minutes, an appropriate amount of time to absorb their wealth of experience. At the time of publication, I am unsure as to the result of this call. Remember this was an experiment, some of my volunteers were in it solely for the outcomes as they are already in positions where making these sorts of choices is important (using the technology or not).

To be clear, we believe there is a place for this technology, but selectively used based on the requirement of a role, with checks in place to see who ‘fell out’ during the process as a quality assurance measure.

Number 3: Affinity Bias

What is affinity bias? Affinity bias is where we are drawn to those who look, think and act like ourselves. It is the death of diversity within your organisation.

Let’s assume, you now have a shortlist. When you are interviewing them, are you aware of your unconscious bias? Are you thinking how they align so well with everything, we like the same footy team, I have also travelled Asia, I went to that school, or anything similar?

You should be thinking, what do they bring that is different to what we already have, how is their thinking going to assist in improving our current systems and processes? Sure, make certain they have the right personality type and communication style, so they fit in with the rest of the team, but remember (geek alert!) the clones lost the clone wars! Which makes sense, because if everyone is the same, then competing with them becomes easy.

Affinity bias normally starts with the job ad itself, when advertising you need to ensure you are not using any racial or cultural bias in your language. If a candidate sees language that is racially or culturally insensitive, they just won’t apply, regardless how many times you use the word diversity in your ad, or on your website!

Language is important. I myself, was beautifully picked up on when I was discussing the importance of understanding the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mourning process and how these employees require more time off. I used the language along the lines of ‘more time off than normal’. I was beautifully picked up on by an Indigenous colleague who asked me, ‘what is the opposite of normal’, when I responded ‘abnormal, I guess’, they asked if I thought that Indigenous culture was ‘abnormal’.

I was shocked by the implication my words were making, I said sorry before I responded of course not. The lesson was exceptional, painful, but exceptional. Our language needs to be considered for the ears, not the mouth. This is what I now mentor my clients and mantra to myself. Inclusiveness can feel like hard work, but it isn’t. It is one word – empathy.

Empathy within a work culture creates high performing teams, longevity (reduced turnover) and stronger bonds. Be aware that your unconscious bias does exist. We all like people who like what we like and have shared experiences. However, we all NEED people who broaden our horizons, challenge our beliefs, and treat us with respect and empathy.

Recommendations

It all starts with the design of the position and the requirements of the role:

  • What are the non-negotiables compared to the nice to haves? (For example):
    • Qualifications – do they really need them and what do they bring without relevant experience?
    • Industry knowledge – vital or is there something to be gained from understanding how other industries approach this sort of work?
    • Years of experience – does this matter? I have met people that speak of 15 years’ experience, but all I see is 1 years’ experience 15 times in their actions and thinking.
  • What sort of human are you after? (For example):
    • Analytical
    • Innovative
    • Social (remember, introverts are quite awesome too! We are also less work)
    • Structured

Now you need to look at how you are managing the recruitment process, how senior is the role, would an ATS pick up on the requirements we listed above, if so, how do we program it to do so?

Next the ad, probably the most important aspect of your process. Is it written to be inclusive, does it illustrate the benefits of working with you (we haven’t even touched on making the most of the ‘great resignation’), does it give real expectations of the role? Have you indicated the recruitment process and what it might involve?

Shortlisting and interviewing. How are you shortlisting and who is involved in the interview process, and at what stages are they involved? Have you looked for any affinity (or other) bias amongst the team? What is each specific person looking for in the process?

Finally, we get to everything that isn’t covered here:

  • How are you approaching the offer process?
  • What induction processes do you have?
  • How often will you (or someone) be catching up with them to see how everything is going?
  • Do you have or have you discussed a career plan (if applicable) with them?

With respect to induction, regardless of the role, you need to have a solid process that covers the entirety of your probation period that introduces the new employee into your organisation with specific KPI’s so you both can measure how they are going and have the expectations clear and known. The reasons for this are plentiful and for numerous other articles, so for now we will leave it there. With that said and with plenty for you to think about, I ask again. Is your recruitment process sabotaging your results?