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Human Business

It’s Not a Talent Shortage—It’s a Black Hole

The strong gravity of the black hole, on the left, is pulling in the companion star on the right

Illustration by M. Weiss/CXC/NASA

The strong gravity of the black hole, on the left, is pulling in the companion star on the right

A Google (GOOG) search of the term “talent shortage” turns up 7 million results, yet ask any job-seeker what he’s finding on the job search, and your eardrums will bleed. Employers stewing over talent shortages are likely not aware of how much talent their own broken recruiting processes are driving away.

The typical job-search process goes like this:

• A hiring manager creates a job spec based on every past job spec created in the same company for a similar position (meaning the hiring manager has very little latitude to determine, much less dictate, what sorts of backgrounds might equip a person for the role, or what the job will pay).

• An HR department pulls job-ad boilerplate off someone’s hard drive and creates one more lifeless, inhuman job ad full of bulleted requirements that bear little resemblance to the job, or to the actual qualifications of humans on earth.

• Interested applicants don’t get routed to a person in HR who can answer questions and guide them through the selection process. They get routed to a mechanism—a lumbering piece of software officially called an ATS (applicant tracking system) and popularly known as the Black Hole. Like an actual black hole, corporate Black Holes shred everything that comes into them, including the résumés of sharp, talented people who make the mistake of believing that the Black Hole is worth their time and energy.

• People who dare apply for the job are subjected to endless requests for more information. They’re required to take online honesty tests, writing tests, and math tests, to submit references in writing before there’s been any human contact, and then they are left in limbo for weeks on end.

Who makes it through this process, and ends up getting the job? It’s very often the most docile and compliant job-seeker, not the most talented one. No wonder organizations are whining about talent shortages. They have no insight into the true state of the talent pool. They see only the subset of long-suffering job-seekers who can withstand the bureaucracy and insults the standard job-search paradigm delivers.

Reforming recruiting is a big job, but it’s one employers can’t ignore if they want great people. A good first step is to put some life and spark into help-wanted ads. Here’s a short e-book, Put a Human Voice in that Job Ad! (PDF), that lays out how to write job ads that sound like they were written by a human being—job ads that might attract a sparky, brilliant human into your organization.

If you take the suggestions in our e-book, great people will likely apply for your open positions. You’ve still got to work on the usability of your process—that is, taming the Black Hole monster—and we’ll address the ATS problem in a future column. But putting a human voice in your job ads will give you a big boost in what corporate types call the talent acquisition department.

Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace and a former Fortune 500 HR executive.

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