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A man is frustrated by job searching technology

Does job searching technology needlessly torment job seekers?

March 2, 2017

By Lisa Dare

Let’s start with a universal truth: Searching for a job stinks. It always has. From the pavement pounding of the 1970s to today’s resume black holes known as “applicant tracking systems,” the job search experience has always been wildly inefficient at best.

But in researching the evolution of job hunting and interviewing from the 1970s until now, it’s clear many things have changed. For instance:

  • In the 1970s, you could expect to type—on a typewriter—then professionally print about 500 identical resumes for a job search
  • In the 1980s, consumer computers and printers made formatting and printing a resume easier,  but you still had to go to the post office
  • In the 1990s, most people combed the classifieds to find an opening, but at least ad size limits meant no 1,500-word job descriptions seeking squirrels with green spots and 12 years of experience coding in Python
  • By the early 2000s, email was the standard approach for sending a resume, but the corresponding increase in competition for openings changed how employers viewed resumes

Each decade inflicted new indignities upon job seekers. Whether it was hand-addressing 500 resumes or painstakingly customizing your resume for each opening, job hunting is its own (unpaid) job.

Worse, while job search technology promised to usher in a more efficient experience, it actually created as many problems as it solved. Sure, you can email your resume or apply online from home, but so can everyone else—meaning employers get flooded with resumes, which they often poorly manage. And while you no longer have to lay out your whole life on your resume, your employer can now discover the same information—and a lot more—on social media.

So job hunting still stinks.

But as people who care a lot about the job seeker experience, we have concrete suggestions for employers to make it better.  

Job Search Technology: 1970 to now

Picture this: It’s 1975. Like many people on the heels of a major recession, you’ve been laid off and it’s time to find a new job.

Your first step? Probably whipping out your trusty typewriter. You may have that cool new Commodore PET computer but it’s pretty unlikely you own a printer that costs as much as that Pinto in your driveway.

After fussing with your typewriter—and starting from scratch every time you make a typo—you take your final resume to the printer for 500 identical copies. Pick up a newspaper on the way home so you can start combing the classifieds. Hit the Post Office for your stamps, too. Maybe buy an extra pen for hand-addressing all those envelopes.

By the 1980s, computers and dot matrix printers spared job seekers many hassles, although word processing programs weren’t the user-friendly wonders we have now (anyone remember Bank Street Writer?). Faxing a resume became a new option, but it was generally seen as a pushy move.

The growing use of the World Wide Web created the first major job search disruption, bringing about job boards. Monster went online in 1994, mostly with job ads from newspapers, and in 1996 became the world’s first public job search database on the internet. NetStart, now CareerBuilder, quickly followed.

Notably for IT pros, Dice launched as a bulletin board system—basically a server that allowed users to connect to a terminal program with job postings—in 1990. Six years later it became Dice.com. Six major newspapers joined forces in 1995 to post their help wanted ads online.

While the job boards were not totally dissimilar to the ones we have today, they shared as many features with printed classified ads. In the early stages, job seekers were generally given a mailing address to send a resume to. There were no aggregators like Indeed.com, so job seekers had to visit each one—via painfully slow dial-up modems. However, a trip in the Wayback Machine shows early job boards offered job alerts and sophisticated search functionality.

The 2000s completed the move to online systems, as job seekers could now email resumes or submit via online portals. This digital ease led to a deluge of resumes, presenting a new set of challenges for job seekers and businesses alike.

How technology turned job hunting upside down

Employers turned to applicant tracking systems and resume screening software to manage the flood of resumes—or just the infamous six-second scan. Either method leads to endless frustration for job seekers—who are more complicated than a list of skills—and employers, who haven’t figured out how find intangible qualities they desire via an algorithm.

While job classified ads in the 1970s generally listed a name and phone number, today’s postings all but hide that information, placing layers of barriers between applicants and hiring managers. Typically, the onus is on the job seeker to apply through a portal that demands the candidate fill in many, many fields of data already included in their resume. Then the resume must be cut, pasted and reformatted or digitally loaded, with formatting that often goes haywire.

The onus of job matching is placed on the candidate in other ways. Today’s job seeker is expected to understand the concepts of keyword matching for applicant systems. Worse, they’re told to craft a customized resume for every single opening that will make perfect sense to a machine or an HR rep who doesn’t understand the nuances of the position or job seekers’ potential.

False economies

Putting the bulk of the work for screening onto the job seeker cuts down on the time spent screening resumes. But it leads to an array of new problems that affect employers:

  • Many of the best candidates simply won’t apply—they’d rather stay in their current position than jump through multiple hoops
  • Employers have a harder time finding people who will thrive in their environment
  • Robot screeners miss many highly qualified candidates whose credentials don’t exactly match the job posting terminology, or who bring a well-rounded set of skills the hiring manager hadn’t considered

Candidates have more power, too

The rise of employer review sites like Glassdoor has shined a spotlight into how companies treat employees. Employees have access to salary data and come into bargaining negotiations much better armed. They also expect existing employers to adjust pay to keep up with the market. They can sometimes find out what kind of questions to expect in an interview.

Putting the human element back into job hunting

Over-automating recruiting has undoubtedly harmed job seekers and companies. While databases have their place, the best recruiting requires a human touch.

At TEKsystems, we understand that seriousness of the problem. We’ve worked hard on creating a more pleasant experience for job seekers, to remove the needless obstacles that frustrate them. A few steps we recommend:

  • Streamline the online application process. If you’re looking to attract in-demand IT pros, you certainly shouldn’t make them spend hours putting their information into your box—basically shifting the onus from you to them. At TEKsystems, we’ve made the online application process very simple—just fill in a couple of fields and load your resume as-is
  • Don’t just throw up an HR-written job description and expect that to pass for an ad. Your job posting needs to transcend corporate speak. Hiring managers must focus on the most needed (not desired) skills and, critically, describe the opportunity, not just the tasks.
  • Have knowledgeable, real people review resumes.

More importantly, while we use tech when it helps us (we’re a long ways off from storing info in file folders) we place a human between the candidate and hiring manager. The experienced account managers speak in person, except where procurement policies forbid interaction. They find out what’s really important in a candidate, from the most important skills to personality traits. And we also find out what a job is really like beyond the corporate-speak of job descriptions.

The critical part for job seekers is that you treat them as humans, not a list of skills. 

Related: Why IT workers deserve better from recruiters

 

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