Ships That Pass In The Night: The Gap Between Recruiter And Applicant

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A misunderstanding often occurring between recruiter and applicant is that each doesn’t recognize the conditions the other is labouring under. Recruiters face a number of cold, necessary decisions applicants do not have the luxury to consider, while applicants face often inhospitable terrains. One key is more concise communication at the initial stages.

A Tale That Wasn’t Right (Again)

It’s the well-known lament of the job-seeker: the overwhelming competition of hundreds of applicants per position, job ads uncannily reminiscent of one another (“Searching for young and dynamic team worker willing to work for pittance with remote possibility of progressive responsibilities!”), and simultaneously, requests for fully formed skill-sets and years of experience (“sorry – wrong sector”), added to a dash of often vague descriptions as to what job positions entail, rendering it harder to pitch applications – to top it all off.

But why can things appear as such to the applicant? Part of the reason flows from dilemmas and issues on the other side of the hiring desk.

One explanation for the standardization of job ads is the volume of sometimes conflicting requirements an employer or recruitment officer is expected to manage. Foremost among these are overhead costs and the volume of applicants: a company – and particularly a startup – will usually be beset with immediate decisions pertaining to budgets, optimizing production and output, and hiring decisions simultaneously expected to cut overhead costs while seeking the best possible returns on employees.

Internal Needs, External Challenges

This can mean an immediate contradiction, therefore, for the recruitment officer: how to find the right applicant among hundreds, many of whom have the right skills but who may also often appear indistinguishable (consider the surplus of MBA’s), at first glance? And hence, also the often stated appeal to applicants to be “different, unique.. yourself(!).” Except, of course, this can also be misleading, especially for younger job seekers, as being too “unique” might suggest a whole host of reasons why someone might not fit the company culture, and unwittingly enumerating these leads to automatic disqualification.

But back to the recruiter: in contrast to the more dynamic US economy (at least when it comes to creating part time jobs), the broader European economy remains sluggish at creating jobs at most levels, also due in part to the bigger bureaucratic constraints on starting one’s own business. This means, simultaneously, that there are far more applicants per job position than just a decade ago, also straining recruiters. And therefore, that said recruiters instantaneously dispense with applications that may not hit the mark at the immediate level of perception, as opposed to combing through them for an applicant’s deeper experience, worth, and complementary abilities.

The recruiter, therefore, emphasizes seeing who the applicant is, what they are, and what they potentially bring to the position, all within, so it is said, the first 30 seconds. While this is undoubtedly cruel in a world where hours go into perfecting an application only to see it vanish in the online ether, a business by nature is compelled to think of its own investments first, including the investment of time. In other words, rather than considering how an applicant’s skills may fit more broadly, they have to prioritize checking off a number of predetermined criteria, such as: does the applicant fit with a) the existing team b) the product c) the company’s customers and d) the company image?

Bridging The Gap

To this may be added a number of other criteria tailored to the company’s own culture. Henry Ward, CEO of @eshares, for example, identifies a number of hiring principles and heuristics based on the developing experiences of the company or startup, including “power laws” and assessments of the candidate’s ego. Tellingly, though, he also suggests that “hiring means we failed to execute, and need help” – in other words, admitting that the company itself is also existentially dependent on increasing its overhead – and therefore on its pool of applicants – because without so doing, the company will fail.

And so there are also still always, realistically, a number of criteria within the candidate’s grasp to bridge with their experience, with the adequate research into the position and company needs, with particular emphasis on understanding its strategies for growth and its culture, and realistically assessing how to catch the recruiter’s eye by communicating directly how experience will complement this understanding.

Equally realistically, this can seem like forbidden fruit for the job searcher who rarely hears back on applications at all (a disease in lumbering international organizations, who thereby vastly undermine their potential talent pool), or if so with automated responses that fail to indicate what the shortcomings of the application were or whether they were even considered. This is an increasingly serious failure at the normative level in social terms, again due either to failing human resource departments or to the lack of social overhead to assess candidacies in depth, but which can permanently discourage people from entering the workforce and can irreparably damage an individual’s self-esteem.

One of the recurring problems in matching applicants to jobs, therefore, is a chasm in understanding between the recruiter’s lack of effective communication with potential applicants, (both before and after), and the applicant’s consequent comprehension of the recruiter’s needs. Recruiters need to do a better job of communicating and processing applications, and applicants need to stop sending off bulk applications just because they think volume is substance in the internet age. But one way to start overcoming the problem is when a company or recruiter agree on more openness, communication – and social overhead capital – in considering applications, and perhaps hiring more people able to do perhaps a certain aspect of the job instead of just hiring one tasked with doing everything – and then broaden and incorporate responsibilities for co-workers whose contributions prove valuable. But something needs to be done.

Then again, you can always just try this.



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