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It is better
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John Sumser

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(March 11, 2004) - For the past four years, without much in the way of industry input, the EEOC, the Department of Labor and the Office of Personnel Management have been developing a definition of a job applicant for the purposes of Electronic Recruiting. Now, we as an industry have 60 days in which to comment on it. Hmmm, four years to prepare, 60 days to digest. Sounds like you'd better get a cup of coffee and sit down for this one.

The "Executive Secretariat" of the EEOC proposes to clarify the definition of a job applicant for record keeping purposes. Here is the definition:

(1) the employer has acted to fill a particular position;
(2) the individual has followed the employer's standard procedures for submitting applications; and
(3) the individual has indicated an interest in the particular position.

If an applicant meets these three criteria, then the record keeping parameters of the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (UGESP) apply. In English, you have to be able to track EEOC data for any candidate who meets these criteria. Perhaps they should have opened the windows in those conference rooms and asked someone for some help.

Let's look at a some scenarios.

Scenario 1: Job Scraping
The Widget Company posts a job on its corporate job board (meeting criteria 1). One of the many job scraping operations copies that job into its database (Flipdog comes to mind quickly but there are maybe hundreds of companies that scrape jobs to grow their databases). A potential employee reads the job ad on the scraper's database and submits a resume. (Meeting Criteria 2 and 3). The company receives a resume without the tracking data or any notion of its source. The Widget Company is now in violation of the new record keeping guidelines.

Scenario 2: Job Boards with Traffic Acquisition Programs
The Widget Company modifies its online advertising procedures so that applications are only accepted through the company website which requires applicants to provide the necessary data. It then purchases advertising on a job board (meeting criteria 1). Applicants read about the job on the job board, go to the company site and apply (meeting criteria 2 and 3). The EEOC is happy but the job board's business model has just been shot to hell. (They depend on job hunters being able to apply to multiple jobs from a single posting.) Two direct consequences of this scenario are rapidly increasing advertising prices and/or lower quality in the applicant pool received by the Widget company.

Scenario 3: Job Boards That Depend on Membership
Many job boards, from the various societies and professional associations to Yahoo!'s Hot Jobs, mine their existing membership databases. The costs associated with advertising are kept low because these firms do not have to acquire traffic. The databases often contain very ancient data that can be useful in the recruiting process. Any candidate whose 'profile' was in the database before these guidelines go into effect will submit an application that pushes the Widget Company into violation status. Again, the net result is an increase in advertising prices coupled with a decrease in candidate quality.

Scenario 4: BigCo's Job Board
Imagine BigCo, a large retailer with a wholly owned job board. (Here, Retailology comes to mind.) The firm has been actively developing a candidate database, with ties to marketing and other enterprise operations. The net result of the new definitions is that any candidate in the database before the new definitions go into effect must be contacted and coaxed into providing additional data. Any reader of this newsletter understands exactly what the response rates would be. The net result: destruction of a powerfully valuable information asset.

We've just scratched the surface.

We are very strong believers in the basic objectives of the laws that guide fair play in hiring practices. We have always been more than slightly bewildered by the EEOC's reputation for erratic enforcement and guidelines that are unusable. From here, it looks like our government lives in a dark little room and makes pronouncements without regard to their impact. It's a shame. The objectives are important, the execution is questionable (to be kind).

Armchair critics are a dime a dozen. This piece would be incomplete without a set of suggestions for improving the policy. Here are ours:

  1. This is not a simple question, it should not have a simple solution.
  2. The first item of business is to establish a transition period that does not cause the businesses in the industry to bear undue costs simply because it took the government a decade to get around to the question. We'd recommend a ten-year phase-in that measured compliance against an upward moving percentage (i.e., 10% in year 1, 50% in year 5, 70% in year 7)
  3. The EEOC should reconsider the point at which someone becomes an applicant. It's far easier to track and conform if the definition is something like "at the point that the company adds the name to the consideration list". Still a hassle, this approach gets EEOC objectives further into the funnel.
  4. The EEOC should be required to prepare a cost impact statement. This sort of regulation can put small operations out of business and create significant costs for vendors and customers alike. Implementation should be guided by reasonableness of the costs to implement.
  5. The internet is massive and not easy to control. The guidelines should make it easy for people to find out about jobs. This approach demands a narrowing of 'sources'. Companies will not be able to account for all of their sources.

Cleverly, there is no way to submit  your comments and questions by electronic means. Comments should be submitted to
Frances M. Hart, Executive Officer,
Executive Secretariat, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,
10th Floor,
1801 L Street, NW,
Washington, DC 20507.  
Written comments must be submitted on or before May 3, 2004.

We've reproduced the press release here.

John Sumser

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