10 Ways to Fix Broken Corporate Recruiting Systems

That corporate recruiting machine, she's broken. Job-seekers and hiring managers alike complain that the current system, studded with Black Hole career portals, insulting online honesty tests, and officious, unresponsive staffers, needs an overhaul. The typical recruiting machine is ineffective at keeping talented candidates in the pipeline and screening out less-capable ones. On top of that, it's slow, bureaucratic, and prone to breakdowns. What's a talent-conscious employer to do? Here are vital 10 steps to fix misbegotten recruiting practices and philosophies.

1. Nuke Unrealistic Job Specs

When a purchasing agent specs a part for manufacturing, he or she isn't free to require that the raw material have sparkles or the capacity to transform into a robot, just because those attributes might be cool. Every requirement needs a solid business rationale behind it. Would that it were so in the recruiting paradigm, where hiring managers get to load their job specs up with certifications and years of experience that push able candidates out of the pipeline. One recruiter friend told me, "I've got clients who include certifications on their hiring specs that neither the hiring manager nor the HR person even understand. They figure, it's free to throw another requirement onto the spec, so why not?" That's bad business. Smart people can learn new tools easily. Not-so-smart people can have all the certifications known to man and won't be more qualified to help companies thrive. Adding extra "must haves" to a job spec to save a manager a few weeks of employee training is wasteful and counterproductive. So make sure that every bullet in a job ad has an essential business justification.

2. Lose the Side-of-a-Barn Marketing

Rather than blasting job ads so far and wide that hundreds of applicants apply for every job, employers would be wise to learn from marketers. Ever wonder why Time (TWX) magazine looks so thin these days? It's because advertisers are turning to targeted marketing, in print, online, and other venues. Smart employers are doing the same thing. Rather than posting their jobs everywhere and spending weeks sifting through responses, they're seeking populations where their best prospective value creators are likely to reside. That means reaching out to candidates on LinkedIn and creating talent pool communities to fill open jobs now and in the future. The spray-and-pray approach works no better for employers than it does for job-seekers.

3. Understand What Tickles Target Applicants

Smart job-seekers know that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to branding and materials. That's why they customize résumés and choose communication channels that make their pitches as relevant for hiring managers as possible. Employers can do the same thing. A job ad that says, "We have an immediate need for project managers" is not going to make your target candidate's heart beat faster. So craft messages that will speak to their interests. For example: "Are you the person who makes order out of chaos? If you get excited about keeping a busy office humming and don't mind juggling six projects at once, you might be our next office manager and our CEO's right-hand person. You'll coordinate our board meetings and our budget process, work with marketing on our newsletter, and organize our events. Does that sound appealing?" That way, you're flattering the applicant, who wants recognition for what she has accomplished.

4. Use a Human Voice

Now that the entire business world is choking on corporatespeak garbage, we're risking nothing by putting a human voice into our business communications. Job-ad language such as "The incumbent will be responsible for the cross-functional management of multiple time-sensitive projects" says exactly nothing useful. Instead, give a job-seeker a picture of himself or herself in action in your shop: "In our natural-foods business, getting sales leads from the trade show floor to our inside sales reps is a huge priority for us and requires a mix of intelligent process and great one-on-one communication. If you like building nimble processes as much as you like on-the-phone problem solving, we'd love to talk with you." Lose the governmental death-language and speak to job-seekers the way we speak to our friends. That makes our ads easier to read and brands us as human beings to boot. Eureka.

5. Give Hiring Managers More Autonomy

A hiring manager knows what he or she needs. It makes sense for that person to have principal responsibility for the hiring process. Every manager and every department has its own quirks and culture. Sure, we should use our HR experts to look after the long-term growth of the organization and its people. But hiring managers should own the recruiting process for their groups—after all, who cares about making a great hire more than the person responsible for the team's results? HR people are sick of being the recruiting bad guys. Corporations should empower hiring managers to cultivate talent pools and dip into them as needed. HR experts can help them build their pipelines and promote talent-sharing among groups. At the same time, we need to dismantle the hidebound recruiting processes that puts up unnecessary gates between talent on the hoof and jobs we desperately need filled.

6. Forget the "I Worked at Burger King in 1986" Admission

There is no earthly business reason for every job-seeker to tell us about every job he's ever held, share every supervisor's name from their past, and recount every job task and duty they've held. What we really should ask candidates, we don't: Things like "What did you leave in your wake in that job?" and "What improvements would you make to our website?" We need to lose the 1940s-era mentality that must know where you worked, when, and for whom. That's goofy. If we're targeting our future talent where they already congregate and simultaneously building communities of talent to fill our pipeline, the need for a data-and-soul-sucking corporate career portal goes away. If your customers had to jump through these tedious hoops to do business with your company, would they do it? Not on your life.

7. Rely on Your Tribe

When I ask corporate HR leaders why they don't make more use of their employee referral programs, they usually tell me, "Our employees' friends are slackers" or "Our employees don't bring us their friends—we've tried." Those are incredibly lame excuses. Our employees, vendors, and customers are our best sources of talent, or they would be if we kept them in the loop and made them part of the process. When the friend-of-an-employee intake process amounts to "Leave your friend's résumé in that tray over there" and the referring employee has no more visibility into the selection process than the man in the moon, the system is broken. We can create talent evangelists in our companies. The co-workers who know talented people we don't are as valuable as gold. Are we including them in our recruiting strategy or pushing them to the periphery and telling them to butt out of our recruiting activities?

8. Court, Don't Interrogate

When I teach new-millennium recruiting practices, participants often say, It's tough to weed through candidates to find the qualified ones. I ask them, "In the résumé-screening stage, you mean?" and they say, "No, in the interview." Our organizations will never get the people we need in the pipeline and keep them there until we drop the idea that recruiting is primarily a matter of vetting candidates. The truly talented folks who move their employers' numbers are people who won't sit still to be vetted to death. They'll drop out of the recruiting pipeline to take a better offer with organizations that see them as peers, not supplicants. If our recruiting efforts don't include as much wooing as background-researching, we are toast in the talent-acquisition department. The only people we should be targeting are those who have plenty of willing employers. (Otherwise, we're shooting too low.) People with choices need to be sold. We can get really good at selling candidates on our enterprise, luckily—it just takes a change of perspective.

9. Don't Be a Degree Snob

I spoke with an ace technical product manager the other day. "I interviewed twice for one job, and after the second interview they told me they wouldn't be hiring me because I don't have a degree," she said. "I am short credits, from 20 years ago. Why would they interview me twice after reviewing my résumé if the degree was so important?" I agreed: "Since you've been managing product releases for 20 years, why would the degree you might have earned decades ago make any difference at this point, anyway?" Talent is scarce in certain skill areas already, and it's not going to get better soon, barring another major dip in the economy. Smart employers will get more creative and stop screening smart people out of the mix for less-than-relevant reasons. That includes part-timers, freelancers, people who telecommute, and people coming into a field from other industries and functions. Let's not forget over-50 job-seekers, people with employment gaps, and career-changers. It isn't a cookie-cutter world. Non-cookie-cutter candidates are often more intellectually curious and more significant to an organization than "safe" ones. Does your organization have enough mojo to step outside the velvet ropes?

10. Lose the Hostile Communication

People send me job ads and corporate auto-responders all the time, to get a rise out of me. A recent autoresponse blast in my inbox read, "We have received your materials and will initiate further contact if your credentials comport with our requirements." Gee, thanks for that heart-warming messages, Anonymous Hateful Recruiting Battle Drone. Who the heck talks like that? We will never keep smart people in our corrals that way. We don't have to interact with job-seekers the way homicide detectives question suspects. We can treat them like the smart, funny, complex human beings they are. We can change the tone of our communications from the start of the relationship right through to the end. We can pick up the phone and call people who have interviewed with us, if we decide they aren't getting the job. We can remember that our customers and our job candidates are the same species. Our brand is our brand, whether it's customer-facing or talent-pool-facing. We can rethink our recruiting processes along human lines, and win in the marketplace and the karma zone, both. Wouldn't that be sweet?

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.