Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How The Internet Has Changed Recruiting

Back in the 1980’s when I first started recruiting, the was no internet.  There wasn’t even fax.
We actually spoke to our clients, took job specs verbally and then, when we had lined up candidates, sent a messenger or mailed the résumés.  In the meanwhile, we called our clients and told them about our candidates.  We told them who they were; we explained why we were submitting them and we talked about why we thought they were good for the job.  The personal contact allowed us to establish great client relationships.

Then in the late 1980s, we got a fax machine.  I was one of the first advertising recruiters to have one.

 There was no such thing as a plain paper fax.  Faxes were received on this expensive, shiny paper.  Funny thing was, on our fax cover sheets, we had to put “location” (the recipient’s floor or some descriptor like “Human Resources”) because most companies initially only had one fax, sometime one per floor.  HR, as I recall, had to beg management to get their own faxes, which started happening in the beginning of the 1990s.  Faxing lasted well into the late 1990’s.

But faxing changed everything.  Suddenly, many HR people and hiring managers no longer wanted to discuss candidates (there were a lot of agencies where HR was not involved in screening or interviewing).  “Just fax the résumé and then we will discuss”. We would then get calls telling us who they wanted to see; We no longer had discussions about why..

Our receptionist used to be responsible for faxing résumés to clients.  She also received them from candidates. Our receptionist was busy.  But then, along came emailing.

It started happening gradually in the mid to late 1990’s.  Since everyone had an email address, recruiters did their own résumé submissions and reception.  One day in about 2000, I realized that my receptionist was merely answering calls, but most of the day, she was just sitting there with nothing to do.  That was, sadly, the end of reception for us.

One day in the early 2000 or 2001, I became very depressed because our phone wasn’t ringing.  And then I realized that what used to be a phone call was now an email.  A lot of personal contact was lost.  Today, the emails simply arrive, either through our website or directly.  Almost all our clients now want us to simply send the résumés via email.  Most will review them, then tell us who they want to see, generally by email.  There is little or no discussion – it has become very impersonal.  I still have one or two clients who call me and ask me to describe candidates.  I much prefer that because it allows me to become enthusiastic, to answer tough questions and to be able to tell my candidates what issues, if any, came up during the introduction. The nuances of that conversation are often very revealing.  I often find out things which were not part of the initial job specs, for instance when a client asks me to describe the candidate’s personality and they give me feedback on that.  These small comments and questions greatly helps us to understand the job.

I once ran a post called “Emails are Hurting Us”.  It is true.  Emails have depersonalized much of our communication.  I cannot begin to count the number of candidates I have placed whose résumés did not necessarily match the job spec.  But in a simple call, I could persuade my client to see the candidate.  Not so much anymore.

In the early part of the last decade, the job boards appeared.  For a while they were really important and many ad agencies used them exclusively, especially for junior positions.  Ironically, my clients have had the same experience I have had with them – candidates may list their résumés, but more often than not, do not respond to calls or emails (weird, right?).  The job boards have somewhat fallen out of favor now although they are still sometimes a thorn in my side (a candidate whose resume was downloaded months ago,but never contacted, may be precluded from interviewing because, "We already have their resume."

Then there is LinkedIn, which is easy to mine, good for me, good for companies doing their own recruiting, but I am not sure yet of its long term impact. The problem with LinkedIn is that most of the people on it still don't know how to use it effectively so it provides little relevant information other than name, title, company and tenure.

Just a quick word about Skype.  In the past couple of years I have been using it extensively for out of town interviews.  It is almost as good as an in person interview and is far more personal than a phone interview.  Ironically, there are many companies and recruiters who won’t use Skype.  There are even some candidates  who resist it. 

Not just because I am a recruiter, but because I believe in person-to-person contact, nothing takes the place of a real, person-to-person conversation.


  1. Paul, interesting long-view perspective from one of the still-standing greats. Thanks.

    I had a conversation the other week with a good friend who is a very senior-level exec recruiter at a global firm. He told me that LinkedIn is their primary (maybe sole?) recruiting pool from which they find their best prospects. And of course, they pay LinkedIn ungodly sums for the Pro version for recruiters platform.

    Plus, they're disinterested in any personal contact with candidates unless, and only when, they have a specific search in the hopper for which the candidate may be qualified.

    Meanwhile, it still amuses me that the guy that destroyed the Yahoo! Search platform and business, is now the CEO of LinkedIn, and guess what, the Search platform for LinkedIn is still pathetic.

    Oh well...that's what they call progress...

  2. I think the problem stems from companies that think of its people as 'job specs.' Two years ago I was looking for a Planner to be my alter ego, and perhaps my replacement. I had a conversation with Paul who convinced me to see someone with virtually no qualifications for the job. But she was absolutely the right person for it. I would never have seen her - what a missed opportunity. Teaching her the 'job specs' was hard work for a while, and this was for a very senior position. But the person within was the rare jewel we were looking for, who surpassed every expectation and hope, within a reasonable amount of time. And her loyalty and devotion? Priceless.

  3. Yes. And, what Rachel said. If it all feels like an over-arching trend (de-humanization), it is, one that demands to be examined and fought against. Because it's limiting. The over-reliance on Technology limits what people can do and are inclined to do, and think about.

    The tendency in American culture is to turn over to Technology our sovereignty, command, and control -- over our social institutions, reasoning and business operations. Over the last 25 years we've operatively diminished personal relationships and relational skills in favor of computer technology and software. We've developed a new religion, and that religion puts its faith in the mistaken illusion that human progress and technological innovation are the same thing -- and, that "paradise" can be achieved through greater and greater commitment to Technology. It's a lie. One that, with everyone else, agencies have fully accepted.

    Things like statistics and polling and bureaucratic forms -- any systematic and repeatable technique that tends to cause people to constrain their thinking about the world and other human beings -- have also taken over many a human existence.

    Anyone who looks at Technology as an either-or development -- either all good or all bad -- is making a mistake. All technological change is like a Faustian bargain. It gives you something, but it also taketh away something. We've mistakenly placed it in the All Good category.

    Regarding Skype -- anyone using it for being interviewed needs to grant it the same level of care and training one would give to being on TV. Similar or the same rules apply.





  4. Thanks, Paul, for the perspective. Call me old-fashioned, but I am always happy to pick up the phone and call you!

  5. The thing that is shocking to me is the number of recruiters who live and work in NYC and don't bother to meet their candidates. In many cases, when they get a resume that seems appropriate to something they are working on, they simply forward the resume to the client. Worse still, is the number of companies who accept that behavior from recruiters.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

Creative Commons License