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Problematic hiring software could be mistakenly weeding out millions of qualified job candidates, report cautions

Posted by Tasnim Ahmed

September 14, 2021    |     3-minute read (729 words)

Finding the right person for the job is an age-old dilemma, but it has been further compounded by the pandemic and lockdowns. Companies lament a lack of skilled candidates and a labor shortage, while employees cite being qualified but overlooked. 

Indeed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in July 2021, over 10 million Americans were either long-term unemployed or interested in work but not actively job hunting. So why is there such a gap between employers in need of staff and people searching for work?

Recent studies show one culprit is the use of automated staffing software, coupled with poor job descriptions, that eliminate some aspirants from consideration just because they might not be a 100% match. Yet most of these candidates seemingly would have fit the bill to a T. Why would hiring software block good candidates and make life tough for people on both sides of the fence? 

To answer, we go back a few decades to the late ‘90s when Automated Recruiting Software was espoused as the next big thing to hit the internet. Its purpose was to help companies sort through the thousands of applications that came via the democratization of the internet. 

Automated recruiting software forms the backbone of recruiting for many firms today, where it may be involved with sourcing, managing applications, interviews and background checks. Prospects’ resumes may get tripped by the software for any number of reasons, such as using too few keywords, synonyms that don’t match the exact job description and resume gaps. 

A Harvard Business School study found that more than 90% of surveyed employers use a Recruiting Management or Marketing System to filter or rank potential middle-skills (94%) and high-skills (92%) candidates in the initial hiring stage. System parameters rule out viable candidates whose resumes did not meet the criteria but who, with training, could perform at a high level. 

Some 88% of employers agreed with this, stating that qualified and high-skilled individuals are screened out of the process because they do not meet the job description's exact criteria. For middle-skilled individuals, the number increased to 94% of employers.

The software categorizes job candidates under broad tabs and then weeds people out based on whether certain criteria are met, such as if the prospect has a college degree or has ever faced incarceration. These tabs alone sieve out a large number of candidates who might otherwise be a good addition or seek a chance to turn a new leaf. The more detailed the job description, the more people’s resumes get eliminated from consideration by the automated searches. 

A resume’s skills description may be similar to what is sought but get eliminated for not precisely meeting the set criteria. Such circumstances make it difficult for employers and employees alike. 

Another hurdle that hiring managers face with automated software is how they process gaps in a person’s resume. The gap could have been attributed to any number of reasons, such as illness, transfers and layoffs, but automation might bundle them together and not return any as a positive result. This makes huge swathes of the job-seeking populace unemployable. 

Changes to the recruiting process

This trend is changing, slowly but surely. Many big-ticket companies nowadays are reforming their approach to talent acquisition by emphasizing human intervention and revisiting prospects that might have been left behind by an automated system. 

Chief among these firms is IBM, which received 3 million job applications in 2020. The change was precipitated by the company’s struggle to fill positions related to cybersecurity and software development a few years ago. Today, college degrees are not a prerequisite, nor is a checked box for which an applicant must fulfill all criteria. IBM’s position is that if a person has the skills, then it does not matter where they acquired them. 

Meanwhile, other companies are also broadening their recruiting search space. Some are replacing negative filters with positive ones. Previous incarceration, which earlier was a strict no-no among most businesses, is not universally taboo anymore. People with disabilities or resume gaps, or without a formal college degree, are being given another chance.

Candidates too can take a cue from the limitations of relying on online job searches and add the old school route of networking through friends and family. This enables job seekers to showcase their abilities to a person.

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