Drowning under a flood of resumés

Mar 24 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

With at least 10 people now scrabbling for every vacancy, you'd think it'd be easier for managers to find and hire the right person for the job. But, if anything, they're finding that too much choice is even harder than too little.

British unemployment is now above the two million mark and the U.S jobless rate at a 26-year high, suggesting the war for talent is well and truly a thing of the past.

But, according to a new study, rather than this making life easier for managers, many are still struggling to find the right people, not because of a lack of suitable talent but because they are constantly being bombarded by desperate applicants.

The research by consultancy Development Dimensions International (DDI) surveyed 1,910 hiring managers and interviewers and more than 3,500 candidates from the U.S, Australia, Canada, France, Germany and the UK.

This found that nearly two thirds of hiring managers fear they miss out on key information about a candidate, potentially leading to them making decisions that could come back to haunt them at a later date.

Nearly half – 44 per cent – admitted that they still rely on their gut instinct to make a decision, while even more, 47 per cent, said they took fewer than 30 minutes to make a hiring decision.

Worryingly, between 30 and 40 per cent of hiring managers polled failed to recognise illegal interview questions.

"The recession has dropped a deluge of candidates on companies' doors – but that doesn't translate into foolproof hiring," stressed Scott Erker, senior vice-president of DDI's Selection Solutions Group.

"The fact is that companies still have to find the same needle but in a much larger haystack – the overabundance of available candidates isn't an insurance policy for better hires," he added.

A key failing among manager interviewers was a sense of infallibility leading to the risk of them asking inappropriate or illegal questions.

When asked to list their top concerns in the hiring process, asking illegal questions was ranked at the bottom of the list, with just five per cent ranking it among their top three worries.

Yet, when asked to identify illegal questions, between 30 and 40 per cent did not know that asking about marital status, religious affiliation, age or family could result in a lawsuit.

In addition, a staggering 80 per cent did not recognise that it is illegal to ask health-related questions such as "how did you hurt your leg?", said the consultancy.

This lack of awareness was clearly illustrated when the researchers turned to question candidates.

One in three, for example, said they had been asked, "are you married?" by an interviewer and a fifth had been asked if they planned to have children.

Employers could not assume workers would simply be more willing to accept this line of questioning in a recession, either.

In fact, discrimination lawsuits tend to increase during recessions because desperate candidates are more likely to cry "foul", argued DDI.

It cited U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission figures that have reported a decline in the number of discrimination charges for the past five years but, in 2008, suddenly saw a 15 per cent surge from 82,792 to 95,402 charges.

"This isn't just a matter of courteous behaviour – companies are more vulnerable now to legal backlash," Erker emphasised.

"Interviewers are under a microscope when they're exposed to so many candidates who are desperate for a pay cheque," he added.

Another failing of overloaded interviewers was the propensity to make snap decisions.

In a climate where every open position was in the spotlight and companies were receiving thousands of resumes in hours, employers had a responsibility to both candidate and employer to be even more diligent in finding the candidate with the motivation for their job, not just any job, DDI advised.

Hiring decisions could be worth millions to an organisation, it reminded managers, yet nearly half of interviewers spent just 30 minutes or less making a decision about a candidate after the interview is completed.

And more than four out of 10 were concerned that they could get enough information to make an informed decision.

Nearly three quarters rated their interviewing skills as an A or B, with many citing impeccable instinct as a major factor.

In fact, 44 per cent of hiring managers admitted to relying on instinct rather than training methods for conducting interviews.

"Interviewers need to keep themselves from making knee-jerk hiring decisions, especially now that they are looking at more candidates and it's easier to miss key information," said Erker.

More widely, the survey picked up mixed emotions from managers in regard to social media, considered by many to be the next "Holy Grail" of recruitment.

Just one in four of those polled said they checked social networking sites for information on candidates with, as expected, the practice more common among younger interviewers.

Almost half of interviewers under 25 looked at Facebook and similar sites for information about candidates.

Even though few interviewers reported using these sites, 60 per cent of those who did also used the information they found online to inform their hiring decisions.

What, then, did candidates think about all this? What was clear was that the danger of your online dirty laundry coming back to haunt was still not very well recognised.

Fewer than a third believed that what they put online could have an effect on their job search.

"Job seekers need to be aware that their social media presence can truly have a negative effect on their job search," argued Erker.

"And, employers should be even more cautious because they can stumble over information that shouldn't be a part of their hiring decisions, like ethnicity or religious affiliation," he added.