Acknowledging the Elephant in the Room

Over the past few months there have been numerous articles, blogs and commentaries related to handling the increased volume of candidates applying for positions; the continued lack of response from companies once someone applies for a position and what if anything candidates can do; and suggested new “tools” for addressing these issues. Companies complain, candidates complain and vendors develop and market services and technology to address the complaints.

Meanwhile, the big elephant is still in the room and no one seems willing to acknowledge it. So what is the big elephant? It is the hiring process and more specifically, the piece that usually starts the process, the job posting.

HR Leaders, Talent Acquisition Managers and corporate recruiters should understand that you control the process, and thus the flow of candidates responding to open positions. Write and post a poorly written job description that has little or nothing to do with what the job actually is; write and post qualifications for the job that are often more wish-list than actual must haves to be successful in the job; require the candidate do nothing more than attach a cover letter and resume if interested and you have created a situation that is doomed to failure and will always produce a flood of candidates that you can continue to complain about. You have created busy work, not work that leads to a successful outcome, finding the best talent for your positions.

Too harsh? Not by a long shot. The truth is that candidates have no skin in the game. Candidates with a click or two of their mouse (and remember, elephants are deathly afraid of mice) can send their resume and cover letter, doing exactly what you asked them to do, and because so many of them do so, you are inundated with a flood of candidates that you can’t easily manage. You complain and because of the volume of applications, the candidates get very little or no attention and they complain.

And because both sides have issue with the process, the companies that provide technology or services come to market with solutions for the problem that should never have been a problem in the first place.

Here are some suggested steps to remove the elephant from the room.

  • Job postings should have more to do with the actual work the candidate will be expected to do, short term (first 90 days) and long term (see Lou Adler’s Performance Profiles). Candidates could read the posting and decide that they could or could not do that job.  
  • Job qualifications should be listed as must haves and nice to haves and the must haves should require the candidate to do something to demonstrate that he/she has it. If the job requires “good written communication skills” because the candidate will be writing and sending out proposals then have the candidate write a proposal. Some will decide not to apply at this point. If the job requires the ability to develop and deliver PowerPoint presentations to groups, have the candidate prepare a PowerPoint presentation around a topic related to what the company does.
  • Once the candidate has applied, have a system that allows the candidate to check the status of application, identifies where the application is in your pipeline and provides information on next steps, requirements and timeframes. (see Gerry Crispin’s April Fools Letter)

I am convinced that taking these steps will eliminate the volume of candidates applying (only those willing to put in the effort to apply will do so), will eliminate the complaints from neglected candidates and provide your company with a pool of qualified, interested candidates from which to interview and hire.

And, as for those service providers who have been developing products that address all the complaints some will go on to other problem areas, others, like our company will be there with you to help you manage a true well functioning talent acquisition and retention process.

Any one see an elephant in the room now?

Views: 1219

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 9, 2011 at 9:39pm

Yeppers Nick that big blue elephant of instant gratification is still in the room  That is a great idea you have, unfortunately even if the MUST HAVES are posted in caps.  Candidates will ignore them.  I never met any candidate who didn't think they could do that job...if they just had a little training.  Ask them to do a power point or a presentation they will simply email or call you telling you that they will need to know all about the company and the job before they could possibly do something like that.  if we had a way for candidates to check on the status of their application they would check it find out that they were not being considered due to not fitting the qualifications, then they will call you or email you to find out why they don't fit or argue that they do.  If they are notified that they are under consideration they will call you or email you to find out when they will be able to move on to the next step.  Or they just pick up the phone and call the hiring manager to find out when they will be interviewed since they checked and found out they were under consideration.  Only a slight electric shock will discourage the unqualified candidate from applying for every position that has four words that appear on their resume that also appear on the job posting.  Post a salary range of 180K top and you get 40 resumes of people making 275 to 300K who just know that the money is there for someone with their experience if they could just waste somebody's time to get in front of them.


That big blue elephant of instant gratification has always been in the room and i think it probably always will be.  The only thing that will ever keep unqualified candidates from applying for jobs they don't fit, can't do and have never had the industry experience that is a firm requirement is if when they pushed that button the resume was scanned and they got an error message that caused their program to shut down every time they applied for something they didn't fit.  Or the resume was scanned and a buzzer went off with a flashing sign in red  that came on the screen.  NOT QUALIFIED.  Then you would just get a call to say there must be a mistake.


It's a lovely idea right up there with world peace and enough food for everybody.  Honestly, most candidates who fit the must haves of a posted job do not get neglected.  If there are four clear must haves and they have one.  They will apply then tell you that they didn't have all the requirements listed for their last job but they are a quick learner.



Elephant Trainer who spends hours each day telling the elephant who managed a fast food  joint in the 80's that he does not fit an SVP of marketing position requiring Ag. industry food production experience.  Then have to explain that yes, pizza is food and yes there is marketing involved in promoting the 5.99 two for one special but, aw crap.  let's put it this way, they want 10 to 15 years CURRENT Food production and it's been 20 years since you were in the industry.

Comment by Rayanne on April 10, 2011 at 6:55am

Bottom line?  If the absolutely right and perfect candidate applied to the absolutely right and perfect job every time, we'd all be out of a job.  It is the job of the recruiter, hiring manager and/or HR professional to do the weeding out, the filtering.  A job posting is only one of many first steps - I know plenty of recruiters that never post jobs - they direct recruit. 


Removing the unqualifieds proves the need for our existence.  Does a dentist complain about cavities?  A grocer about hunger?  A doctor about germs?  Of course.  


Sandra is one of the best elephant trainers out there and I have yet to hear her complain about having to crack that whip.  It's a not so dirty job that most of us love.  And/or love to hate.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 10, 2011 at 2:16pm
I sometimes wonder if technology is not the real elephant in the room. The ease of hitting the button or setting up an automatic apply based on only title or keyword has in a lot of cases taken any personal interaction out of the process. That followed by an automatic response further depersonalizes the interaction.

Do I want to go back to the stone age absolutely not. But I am not sure that more technology can fix the problem that technology has created in the first place.

I am however getting a bit bored with all the screaming about "the candidate" experience" when I get 100 resumes with no cover letter, no indication of salary requirements, no dates on jobs prior to 1998, no indication of why that candidate wants to make a change or why they left their last job. Yes, it is my job to get that information but it seems to me that if candidates were a bit more personally involved with applying for a position they might receive a bit more of a personal response from recruiters and HR within the company.

How did it come to be that candidates see a posting, push a button with no other personal information then spend hours posting and bitching about their "candidate experience". I postulate that the ones who make some small effort are not the ones who are making all the noise about their experience. Elephant trainers are always interested in working with elephants who show some interest rather than walking through the room leaving a deposit then demanding attention for the deposit.

Perhaps it all boils down to the old saying. "I shot an arrow into the air.". "it came to earth I know not where."
"screw it, got lots of arrows"
Comment by Gavin Redelman on April 10, 2011 at 7:37pm

Excellent article Nick!

You mention in that Job qualifications should be listed as must haves and nice to haves - this is similar to selection criteria and I agree with you that by listing these criteria will weed many candidates out. The more precise a job advert can be the more will always have an effect of reducing the amount of candidates that apply. The problem I see is that too many job postings are too generic. 

Comment by Sandra McCartt on April 10, 2011 at 9:06pm

I would suggest that all of the technology vendors, resume writers and job coaches try posting just one job in management, marketing or sales with very specific requirements for industry background, years of experience and as many other specifics as you can think of including salary range posted, with salary range over 125K.  After you do that come back and tell us how well it worked and how many of those candidates you get paid any attention to the selection criteria and how well received you were when you declined them.


Warning, be sure you don't have anything else to do for two weeks, your ego is in order and make a hash mark on the wall everytime you wanted to say, "what the hell are you thinking?".  Be sure you include on the post, "we will respond to all applications" and be sure you do it.  You may understand why recruiters and the guy who cleans up after the elephants in the circus many times consider leaving show business.

Comment by Rayanne on April 10, 2011 at 10:13pm
Comment by Paul S. Gumbinner on April 11, 2011 at 10:42am

The real problem is that most hiring managers and, sad to say, most HR people don't know how to write a proper job spec.  I always say that if a candidate is rejected for a reason not in the job spec, then the spec has to be reworked.  This, of course, has nothing to do with responding to a job posting.  As someone pointed out, job boards are no different than the old fashioned classified ads.  The only difference being that we get more responses.  (At least when posting in the NY Times years ago, we could be reasonably sure that most responses would be from the New York City area.  Today they come from everywhere, even when our postings clearly state that there is no relocation.)


There is no substitute for a quick screening call once the resumes have been culled down to a workable few. 

Comment by Beth on April 11, 2011 at 11:27am

Love it, Sandra.  :) 

Gotta keep our senses of humor, right!?  I never grow tired of those over confident folks who just KNOW they are qualified, regardless of what the silly posting says!  LOL

Comment by Robin Stanton on April 11, 2011 at 12:38pm
Nick, I hear what you are saying and I too feel your pain.  I believe @Sandra has hit the nail on the head with the candidates who feel they "can do anything".  I believe they think they could do brain surgery with 6 weeks of training and some of them would even try, but I don't think anyone would want to be their patient.  As @Rayanne has said our job is to sift through those overconfident folks to find the hidden gem.  A sense of humor is essential in this business.
Comment by Doug Boswell on April 11, 2011 at 2:38pm

Try this and see if it's a money maker for you.

Post a job listing the must haves, the should haves, the nice to haves and maybe even the please don't haves.

Email a reply back to the resulting huge supply of job seekers and tell them to meet you at the downtown park for an interview. As they arrive, you of course, are already there selling hot dogs. You'll make much more money, much faster selling hot dogs to the crowd, then trying to place unqualified candidates at companies with useless, broken hiring processes.


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