Every CEO worth her salt gushes over how her employees are the company’s biggest assets. Every HR department swears by how talent makes all the difference to a company’s fortunes. Yet the most enduring mystery in Recruitment has been how indifferent almost all large companies are to Candidate Experience at the ‘top of the funnel’.

I was in the job market recently.There was much joy in talking to some new companies, young entrepreneurs and exploring new ideas. But part of it was painful as well. A large part of that pain was because many companies – mostly the large ones – just don’t seem to care about applicants. Companies seem to want visibility on the big job portals, have many job openings posted on their LinkedIn company page (Amazon India has at least 15 openings on LinkedIn that was some variant of Product Manager), have a spiffy career portal of their own complete with opt-in email notification systems “so we can tell you about similar jobs”. But they don’t seem to have anyone on rolls to take a look at the resumes pouring in from all these sources.

My experience is not unique; comparing notes with some friends who were in a similar situation showed that this is the norm. For all practical purposes career sites are black holes that eat CVs for breakfast.

It sucks for the candidates. It hurts companies.

So why is this still the norm?

While there are any number of tips and hacks for candidates to deal with this sorry situation, it begs the question as to why companies are doing nothing to fix it? Here are my best guesses:

  1. Short Term Branding trumps Candidate Experience: Companies want to be seen as constantly hiring, whether or not they have openings at any given time. Candidates, after all, will find jobs and disappear for 3+ years. But if a company falls off the hiring sites, it can send wrong signals and cause much damage to their brand as someone who is constantly investing in their human capital.
  2. Uncertainty in actual number of positions for a Req: When I asked a friend at one company I had applied to, he said: “This is usually a bad time for lateral hires, because Jun-Aug is when we get new MBAs from BSchools joining.” It did not strike him as odd that we were well past “Jun – Aug” timeframe and the career portal was still accepting applications. In another case a friend told me “Looks like there is an internal candidate already identified for that req.” What I took away from these experiences is that no one owns a generic opening like “Product Manager”, or no one cares to open / close it at the right interval based on actual requirements across teams.
  3. Someone takes comfort in having a pool of CVs to dig into ‘when the time comes’: A HR at one my past companies actually told me in as many words, and that it is fairly standard industry practice. Logic seems to dictate that having 10 CVs of candidates looking for a job when you have an opening is better than 1,000 CVs of candidates who applied to a req some time in the past 12 months! But apparently not.
  4. Recruiters are not measured on candidate experience at this stage of the process: Rare is the company that uses rigorous pipeline data for optimising candidate experience, like time between stages, or cycle time from first interview to offer. Non-existent is the company that worries about the number of resumes rotting in their ATSes. As the old Navajo saying goes, “What is not measured is not optimised.”
  5. Messed up incentives for agencies: One leading Seattle based product company is infamous for having an army of agents source for the same openings. Firstly this leads to a lot of spam calls for cold candidates who are perfectly happy with their jobs. Second, for warm candidates it is worse because the contractors only seem to be incentivised on getting leads, and not helping the candidates through the rest of the process. This results in situations where agents are only interested in ‘new candidates’ who have not applied to said company before, and once the CV is obtained the agent disappears, leaving the candidate high and dry, and the company’s brand as employer in the recycle bin.
  6. Interviewing process itself takes so long that Recruiters keep the reqs open to give themselves some cover: This is a classic example of mess in one area requiring a mess in another area. 2-6 month interview cycles are fairly common in the industry and things happen. And a Recruiter be damned if they don’t have the comfort of a 100 worthless resumes in the pipeline when a hot candidate disappears with a competing offer midway in the process.
  7. Companies get way too many resumes: Based on my own experience and industry chatter, I understand top companies have a conversion ratio of 0.5%-3% (num_of_offers_made / num_of_applicants) for most technical and product roles. This means it can be tiring to trawl through all the inbound resumes – even if that is an integral part of one’s Job Description. People who have to do this have my sympathies. But only a little, because most of the pain is self-inflicted: see points 1 through 6 above.

Where is the disruption? Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

The candidate is totally at the mercy of the process. But is anyone else trying to help this situation?

I know of at least one attempt that is in early stages of market validation and that is HackerRank Jobs (disclaimer: I worked at HackerRank as an early employee and lead product manager on another of their products for 3 years). HackerRank Jobs turns the candidate vetting problem on its head, by first getting candidates to clear a company-defined assessment before sending the candidate resume to the Recruiter. Plus HackerRank gets a  commitment from companies for a quick turn around once the candidate is qualified. This is rewarding for recruiters because it cuts the noise, and they no longer drown in a sea of crappy CVs.And best of all candidates do get a prompt response based on their skill. But this is only for programming roles, and HackerRank is yet to get into other disciplines.

Most disappointingly, the ATSes have not stepped up their game here. They are the ones with the data to make a case for better management here. But so far there’s nothing I have seen from anyone, and that’s a pity. Here are some ideas for some progressive ATS vendor to consider:

  1. More powerful weekly summary emails: every week an email should be sent to the hiring managers (and a meta summary to the executive champion / VP HR) that shows an ageing report of CVs.
  2. Have default workflow rules with a backbone: Use your position to enforce taste and make it hard to change them. For e.g. if more than 50% resumes untouched for over 2 weeks, that req should get shut down and only executive champion can unlock it with a reason that will be documented for posterity.
  3. Bubble up resumes with positive traits: Use some intelligence to highlight resumes with traits like lot of experience, good schools, worked at great companies or competition, etc and bubble up these CVs so they don’t remain undiscovered. Yes, these are not the best or only indicators of on-the-job performance and your company values a lot of other factors. But this workaround will be handy for companies that do not have the discipline to process their ATS queues – which is, pretty much, every large company out there.

In summary: living in the 21st century was supposed to be more exciting. At least for job seekers, it still feels like the dark ages. Who is going to disrupt this market?