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Recruitment – why sifting CVs is a waste of time and rarely finds the best candidates

Author: Nik Plevan | Founder and CEO of eTalent |IPTER Scotland

In a sales meeting recently, I met a very capable and professional HR manager of a local further education college, let’s call him Mr Smith. My intention was to promote our eTalent recruitment screening system which helps companies select the most suitable people for interview by automatically generating a ranked candidate short-list using a psychometric assessment.

Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that I was unlikely to make a sale that day. Mr Smith explained that he was in the process of introducing what sounded like an “all singing and dancing” recruitment system with all sorts of sexy features, some of which I could only dream about!  Apparently, applicants’ details and CVs are stored centrally by this system, not just for this college, but for several others in the local area.  Then, when a vacancy presents itself, the HR manager selects relevant “keywords” that he wants to see in the CV and – hey presto! – the system automatically produces a shortlist of candidates who meet the criteria, ranked in order of best fit.

Doesn’t that sound great?

Well, yes it does, apart from one problem: it doesn’t work very well. Let me explain.

Mr Smith gave me an example of how well the system worked. Apparently he had recently filled a vacancy for an admin post using this very system. He identified the skills and experience he needed from the perfect applicant, produced his “keywords” and the system duly produced a ranked short-list. He then invited the top five short-listed candidates for interview and spent a minimum of one hour with each of them.

At the end of the process, he had made his decision, but that person was the least suitable according to his system. It seems that the others were either not very personable, or their skills had been over-stated in their CVs, or they had turned out to be unsuitable in some other way. Frustratingly, one of the other candidates, also unsuitable for other reasons, actually turned out to live too far away and would not have taken the job had it been offered to her.

So I asked him whether he was happy with the way the system had performed.

“Oh, yes,” he said, “the way the system was able to search through thousands of CVs and identify those with the skills I needed was just fantastic. And I can even compare two candidates by simply dragging and dropping their records on the screen. It’s just brilliant! And…”

“Yes, I can see how clever it is, and some of those features are just mind-blowing, aren’t they” I replied. “But, tell me, what was it that made you choose the particular candidate that actually got the job?”

“Ah, she was very good. She has most of the skills we are looking for. A good knowledge of Microsoft Office is a must for us, and we also use Microsoft Project quite frequently, so that’s essential too, but it was the way she behaved during the interview that clinched it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we really need people who don’t get flustered and can cope with juggling several balls in the air at the same time – she’ll have to work for a team of people and cope with the conflicting demands of several members of staff will be tricky. But she’ll also have to deal with the public so she has to be friendly and approachable too. And then there’s the preparation of the monthly reports – lots of figures, tables, graphs – we can’t afford to get those wrong when we present them to the management committee!”

“Yes, yes, I can see that. Does your system have any way of identifying the soft skills of applicants? I mean, from what you say, the right set of soft skills seems to be an absolute must in this job.”

“Ehrr, no, it doesn’t.”

“But, in any case, she has all the hard skills you needed, so at least you can be safe knowing that she’ll be able to handle all the IT stuff without getting into difficulties.”

Mr Smith was beginning to look less pleased with his system.

“Well, actually, no. She’s the perfect candidate for the job alright, but her knowledge of Microsoft Project isn’t very good, so we’re sending her on a course next week.”

“I see” I said. Not seeing at all to be honest, and neither did he.

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