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Defense vs Offense

(July 27, 2007) In spite of declining enforcement, shrinking talent pools, dramatically increased competition and radically better tools, the corporate recruiting function is obsoleting itself by becoming a defense organ. Rather than tooling up to fight ever more competitive battles (like the recruiting arms of companies in Silicon Valley), most really big companies use their recruiters to defend against potential lawsuits. For all of the talk, talent rarely has the tenacity to navigate the risk averse hurdles that pass for a hiring system.

It happened when no one was looking.

While all the sales propaganda has been about winning the "War For Talent", most companies have been buying Applicant Tracking Systems to prevent litigation. It's the most insane doublespeak ever. While the industry purrs and prattles about harnessing so called "Human Capital", many big company customers pray that no talent emerges from their work.

The problem arises because of the awful bifurcation in HR. The horrendous workload of the administrative team always seems to take precedence over the needs of the tactical squad. Recruiters don't buy ATS, administrators and IT people do. Recruiters rarely reach the tenure required to influence purchasing decisions. Their jobs are too reactive and result in massive burnout. Meanwhile, the administrative folks are highly capable purchasing agents.

Recruiters rarely reach  the levels of authority required to change this mess. (Read Jeff Hunter's Talentism if you want to hear the voice of a player who has risen above the standard equation. He combined administrative and political skill with deep technical intelligence in order to orchestrate a complex set of tools that keep all of the camps satisfied and very proactive.) The attrition rates in most Recruiting departments are so atrocious that you can imagine a conspiracy to prevent the rise of Recruiters into the upper echelons of HR. All of that time spent schmoozing with hiring managers tends to rob them of HR credibility.

The consequence of defensive play is waste. Lots and lots of waste. Hidebound recruiting procedures that generate hundreds of resumes to fill single slots are the consequence of being more concerned about compliance than finding the best person. By running the volume up, statistical trends are easier to fudge in an audit. A truly aggressive recruiting program, which included a very tight job spec and a maximum of four candidates, makes any underlying prejudice or discrimination really obvious really fast.

When you hear people obsessing about compliance, you ought to take away one thing. The people who believe that compliance problems are likely are saying that the hiring process is biased. If they weren't worried about that, they wouldn't be worried about compliance. Rather than taking extreme conservative stances, they ought to just fix the real problem.


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