Recruiting tools have evolved significantly, but a bevy of challenges await solutions.

By Dr. Katherine Jones and Brian Sommer

The view from an employer’s eyes might look the same as it did in the past: from “I need a candidate” to “I hired a new employee.” But evolving technology and business processes have radically altered the process over the last decade or so—changing expectations on the part of recruiters, job seekers, HR departments, and hiring managers.

Look at the past: Print advertising served a major role in the notification of new job openings; a job board was just that, a bulletin board in a company on which open positions within the company were posted. Word-of-mouth and referrals were relied on in the search for new hires.

In the 1990s, employers and employees began to embrace the Internet. When the Internet met recruiting, businesses moved classified advertising to online employment and job boards. These early solutions, naturally, resembled electronic versions of older generation products. An entire new generation of recruiting technologies came to the fore. These applications, called applicant tracking or hiring management systems, almost exclusively automated the pre-existing processes used for hiring in the past: the posting of jobs, resume/response management, managing interviews, ranking candidates, and later, onboarding and synthesizing metrics.

It took many years for different job boards to achieve new capabilities and differentiation. While we are delighted to see job boards evolve to industry-specific sites, sites for high-paying individuals, sites for passive or active job seekers, etc., the overall feel of many of these still reflects the static print media view of the job and recruiting world.
What’s Changed: The Recruiting Present
Today’s recruiting technologies show the effects of additional evolution. Technology supports the tasks the hiring management outsourcer has to perform to locate and place qualified candidates, whether singly or by the hundreds (reminiscent of the use of the RecruitMax, now Taleo, solution to coordinate the hiring of 10,000 personnel for the opening of the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas in a two-week time span). We liked this model, created by Kenexa, to demonstrate this process, altered to add what we think is a required industry expertise.

Both recruiting outsourcers and recruiting technology vendors are struggling with ways to make their technology ever more relevant. In particular, companies have been challenged by the following issues:

  • Volume versus quality of both applicants and candidates;
  • Enhanced use of data within applicant tracking systems;
  • Outfoxing job candidates who excel at gaming the recruiting systems;
  • Creating recruiting solutions that enhance the brand of the employer using them;
  • Developing recruiting solutions for workers who do not have resumes;
  • Reengineering the recruiting process to eliminate needless generation or submission of paperwork for unqualified applicants;
  • Effectively sourcing and managing applicants for contract or short-term positions; and
  • Communicating results back to applicants as to their status for positions.


The volume versus quality question is still tormenting recruiting solution providers today. Despite today’s economic weakness, 58 percent of companies in a recent study report their primary problem as difficulty in recruiting skilled staff. The problem is exacerbated in a down economy, where hundreds or thousands of individuals are applying for positions for which they may be overqualified, truly qualified, or only marginally qualified.
Recruiting professionals in businesses, agencies, and RPO firms are inundated with resumes and applications that are not moving them closer to finding the desired quality applicants.

While some progress has been made by some recruiting solution providers, the vast majority of information flowing into applicant tracking systems is still one of the great waste buckets of the industry. Despite what should be viewed as an asset of an organization, many employers still refuse to use the information collected in their applicant tracking system, if they even possess one. The previously touted idea of a refreshed, viable talent pool has indeed grown stagnant.

Job seekers themselves are all over the map in understanding new recruiting technologies. Some of the very best and brightest workers in the market may have little or no understanding as to how to trigger their resume to float to the top of a recruiting system’s filters. Instead, RPO workers and potential employers may be sifting through thousands of lesser qualified applications while the automated systems may be discarding thousands of better qualified applicants. We see this as a tragic consequence of the wrong people knowing how to game recruiting solutions for their own advantage, but to the detriment of employers and the economy as a whole. In addition, some very qualified applicants walk away from attempts to apply for positions through laborious, cumbersome ATS software that asks for the same information as a resume. Furthermore, frequently the software does not work, locking potential candidates out of the system through which they are attempting to apply for jobs.

Some solution providers have shown a willingness to reengineer the recruiting and sourcing process. HRMC, for example, engages applicants initially with a series of behavioral and other knock-out questions to determine whether the individual should proceed through the recruiting process at all. If warranted, the applicant will then be asked to upload a resume or complete a job application. The beauty of this system is that the applicant’s time is not wasted and his or her time is valued. Moreover, employers need not collect any additional information from unqualified or less qualified applicants.

While these and other issues have challenged and perplexed recruiting solution providers, we have been encouraged by some positive signs in this space. First, recruiting solution providers now acknowledge that it takes a different set of skills and additional processes to source candidates into the recruiting process. Prior to this breakthrough, the recruiting process was perceived as one that started with the posting of an open position, or receipt of a resume or job application. The targeting and sourcing of qualified candidates to populate the recruiting process pipeline has been a major improvement in hiring management.

We have also been encouraged by other developments in recent years. These include the following:

  • Incorporation of social networks into the recruiting process;
  • Use of low-cost offshore researchers and call centers to facilitate recruiting processes;
  • Continued buildout of talent acquisition functionality to include everything from sourcing through the on-boarding of new hires;
  • Evolution of recruiting systems beyond the initial Internet applications to Web 2.0 and cloud-based technologies;
  • Use of sophisticated workflow management and exception handling technologies as part of recruiting solutions; and
  • Use of RPO recruiters intimately familiar with the industries into which they are recruiting candidates.

Looking Forward
Recruiting solutions are far from complete today. We believe that the number of remaining business problems should keep recruiting solution providers busy for years to come. We believe the new challenges include:

 Integration. Recruiting is not the only HR or human capital area to be adding new functionality. The pace of new business analytics and other intelligence that furthers the management of talent has been exploding. The challenge for customers, outsourcers, and technology providers will be to find ways to link all of these new applications and their different delivery methods together seamlessly.

Integration remains an issue in the hand-off between the RPO provider and the client, as the data often must move between one SaaS solution to another, an SaaS solution to an on-premise hiring management solution or ERP, or to another third-party payroll and benefits solution provider.

• Social network risk. Large numbers of recruiting technologies today rely on social networks as both a source of applicants and as the distribution model for pushing out e-vites. While this technology is becoming commonplace, providers of recruiting solutions should remember that they do not own or control the use of third-party networks. Should Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook decide to change the way they let headhunters, recruiters, and others access their networks, it could create crippling limitations to those solution providers.

• Find the best knowledge workers. Peter Drucker coined the phrase “knowledge worker” in the 1950s. Yet, we have not seen a recruiting solution designed specifically to find knowledge workers, let alone the best knowledge workers. Recruiting solutions seem to be focused on moving volumes of applicants and resumes. Their ability to find qualified individuals who can write, speak, act professionally, create patentable ideas, and the like, seems to elude too many recruiting products. If the economy is indeed moving away from hard industries like manufacturing and to more knowledge-based economies, then the recruiting solutions need to make this adjustment as well.

• Non-Competes. We have not seen any recruiting solution that handles non-competes well. In fact, non-competes only come out once resumes or applications have moved almost to the very end of the recruiting process. We believe that information about this should be a key piece of information in any passive applicant recruiting solution—and in even some social network-based solutions.

Alumni. Alumni of employers (and related employers) can be a much more productive source of applicants than is realized today. Unfortunately, the way alumni technologies are often implemented makes these poorly used and low-value systems. We believe a reassessment as to how both business and collegiate alumni are engaged by recruiters is needed and the technology completely refreshed for Version 2 of alumni mining technology.

• Continuous talent upgrading. Recruiting in most practitioners’ mindsets involves the feeding of open positions. We believe that only addresses a very small part of the real need of great recruiting solutions: the continuous upgrading of the talent already in-house within an employer. Helping companies become the best in their industry should be the goal of recruiting solutions, and there’s no reason that solutions should constrain themselves to open positions only. 

• Applicant’s Web history. Today’s job candidates place resumes on Web pages of their own making as well as other job boards. Additionally, applicants build elaborate websites dedicated to themselves and often place self-serving, self-promotional materials on social networks. There are even websites like that can provide a multiyear history of cached Web pages. Even with all of this external data about an applicant, recruiting solutions have not found a way to create a holistic view of an applicant based on his or her historical Web presence. We believe this to be a significant missed opportunity in the market.


• Rethink the networks of employees. Some recruiting technologies rely heavily on the ability of employees to refer like-minded individuals into the applicant pipeline. Social networks are the transport mechanism for these requests. We believe that newer technologies like and others can be used to identify linkages among employees, candidates, and other potential job applicants. These technologies might help better target invitation requests in the future.

• Applicant-focused recruiting solutions. In our review of dozens and dozens of recruiting technologies, few firms appear to have taken the time to understand how their technologies and processes are perceived by job seekers. Many of these systems reflect the information needs of the prospective employer, but care little about how these systems consume large amounts of applicant time and energy. We believe that smart recruiting solution providers will find ways to seek a better balance in this regard as it will save applicants’ time, increase completed online applications, and enhance the brand of the employer.
Getting There
Talent acquisition today is a combination of technology and processes, often varying little from company to company, or industry to industry. The Global RPO Report for 2010 reports that 65 percent of HR organizations have five or fewer staff members, with more than one-third spending less than 10 percent of their work time on recruiting. As the economy and increased hiring revives, these companies have to consider the best way to approach growing their talent numbers. Recruiting, according to the Global RPO Report, is the largest area of outsourcing: Two-thirds of the organizations surveyed reported intent to outsource their recruiting efforts, gleaning more than £5 billion last year. RPO is here to stay—and in the words of the old jingle: It’s come a long way, baby—but from a technology perspective, it’s sure got a long way to go.

Dr. Katherine Jones and Brian Sommer are partners of Vital Analysis. The authors can be reached at and

Tags: Enabling Technology, RPO & Staffing, Talent Acquisition

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