Your recruiting process alienates the best people

Recruiting Process

A few months back, I wrote an article about how broken the hiring process is. This article will be a bit similar, but it’s about the recruiting process. Namely, I’m discussing how companies design their recruiting process. What steps must a candidate go through? What’s the overall arc of the process like? And is your recruiting process set up in a way that gets you the people you want (or need) to be successful in your endeavors?

At most places, the answer to that final question is “Absolutely not,” and oftentimes the answer is “Exactly the opposite, sir.”

The first thing to understand about a recruiting process

Before we get too deep into this, let’s address two quick things.

(1) is that many a recruiting process isn’t about getting the best people. It’s about covering the ass of HR and the organization. That’s why we steep everything in process and automation. We all secretly know that won’t get us the best people, but we do it because HR is much more about compliance than value-add — and always has been, sadly.

(2) is that every article about recruiting process is complete pie-in-the-sky, utopian bullshit. “10 Ways To Maximize Your Recruiting Process” by some thought leader? You might as well print that out and save yourself some money on toilet paper this month. If people had any clue about how to manage a recruiting process, we wouldn’t have arrived at 2016 with a broken job market, disenfranchised people, and HR still chasing “a seat at the table.”

Step 1 of the recruiting process: The job description

Step 1 is actually “getting the headcount,” and even that step is fraught as hell. For new positions, it’s usually which manager barks the loudest. It has almost nothing to do with “what the company really needs at the time.” It’s cooler to hire a “financial analyst” than “an admin,” even if you really need the admin more. Same deal with any job title that has the word “strategist.” Oftentimes there’s no strategy involved at all, but it makes a higher-up feel good that he just hired one.

Once headcount is granted, we move over to job descriptions and posting the job online. Here’s what most companies do: someone just held a job for six years, but instead of updating the description with what that person did well/not well, they edit two sentences (which somehow takes them six weeks to do) and re-post it. All about chasing those A-Players, baby!

The worst aspect of this stage, besides everything, is the “essential requirements” list. You’ve all seen these. 12-15 bullet points of skills/degrees you need. If you have 11, you’re kaput. If you have 9? Don’t bring that weak sauce over here, candidate! You’re dead in the water! Most companies use applicant tracking systems in their recruiting process — technology killed recruiting — and ATS usually screens out people who don’t hit all the targets immediately.

Right here, in Step 1, you’ve lost a bunch of great people because of completely bullshit, not-priority-aligned guesses (yes, guesses — that’s what they are) about what this position needs. And we’re only at Step 1 of the recruiting process!

Step 2 of the recruiting process: Sourcing and active vs. passive candidates

Now you start sourcing. At my last gig, my boss (who basically inspired this) got in this huge fight with HR once about how candidates were being sourced and who was getting through. Of course, it was for a job that barely needed to be hired. Influence matters more than logic in headcount, as noted above.


There’s a prevailing methodology in HR and recruiting now that “passive” candidates are better than “active” candidates. Active candidates are people who apply to your posting. Passive are those you hunt/stalk/”source” on LinkedIn and through referral. Liz Ryan addressed the whole “active vs. passive” debate on Forbes recently.

People seem to think “passive” candidates are diamonds in the rough. You found them! You stole them! Maybe from a competitor! (Giggles with glee!) In reality, passive candidates can have the same flaws as active candidates. We’re all human beings, you know? And if some middle manager is barking about headcount, a passive candidate is likely (logically) to be a longer time to hire. “I got seats to fill, Tim! I need an A-Player now!”

The recruiting process funnel is essentially a bigger punchline than childhood celebrity. If you start with 100 people, your outdated garbage of a recruiting process will probably eliminate 70 good people, alienate another 10 people with some modicum of self-esteem or professional belief in their abilities, and now you’re down to 20 also-ran posers. This is how we build innovative cultures? Wow.

Step 3 of the recruiting process: Interviews and screenings

I covered off on this once: the 10 most common interview questions do absolutely nothing to advance a hiring process. It’s also generic bullshit stacked on top of each other. “Tell me your biggest weaknesses, Gordon.” (pause) “Well, ma’am, I am just such a perfectionist.” We all know how to game these questions. We’ve all sat through them. They mean nothing. It’s all designed to see if HR — and then the hiring manager — likes the person or feels there’s a “fit.” Essentially, it’s a giant exercise in subjectivity — with all the while everyone claiming that subjectivity is being reduced. It’s a giant lie. I love it.

I once had a hiring process with a company in Tampa and had six interviews with them, OK? Six different people and all that. Different roles and responsibilities and everything. This recruiting process stretched out for two months as a result. All six people? They all asked me the exact same questions. Even though they had different levels of power and would have connected to my hiring differently, it was all small talk BS and “walk me through your resume.”

After all that — two months, six interviews, and the same five questions six times over — I got passed over. And of course, I had no reason, context, background, or anything else given. Let’s say each of those interviews was 30 minutes. That’s three hours of my life I will never, ever get back. That leads to the next point.

The recruiting process: Why are candidates treated like a nuisance?

Stop me if you’ve ever gotten this email before:

“We’re aiming to move quickly on this, Tommy, but the hiring manager is out for the next 12 days at trade shows and on vacation.”

OK, you think. So you follow up in 14 days.

“As I explained earlier, Tommy, it’s a very busy time for us here at Widgets Inc.”

Whoa. Did Tommy just become a bad guy? No crap: Tommy did indeed become a bad guy.

The entire recruiting process is built around this idea that candidates are a nuisance, even as executives inside the company are bellowing about “needing the best talent possible.” Well, if you’re courting the best talent possible — and people who will soon contribute to your bottom line — maybe show them some respect? Like, a little bit of respect? It’s an absolutely incredible disconnect between how we deal with candidates and how we deal with customers. It literally boggles the mind.

Now, yes — your customers buy things and make you money. But you don’t think one of those candidates might someday make you money too? He/she will. Treat them with respect, not as a nuisance.

Step 4 of the recruiting process: Final stages, offers, onboarding

I understand the whole deal legally, but getting screened off for a job with no feedback is flummoxing. Of course you always get the “happy to talk!” email from the hiring manager, but that’s complete bullshit. Because I’m a jerk, I’ve followed up on about 20-25 of those in my life. How many times have I actually ended up talking to the hiring manager who decided to go another direction? Approximately once. If you’re scoring at home, I think 1/25 is 4 percent. Hardly a high level, yea?

Recruiting Process Why Weren't You Hired

“Feedback as to why you weren’t hired? Sorry, rushing to my 12:15!”

Offers are usually a joke too. Most people, because of notions about professionalism and respect, haven’t talked about money until this stage. It’s a dirty little secret that no one really understands their salary anyway, but whatever. Let’s gloss that over for the time being. So now you’ve got this offer coming, and you want to know about the cheddar. Usually someone will low-ball the hell out of you (unless you’re an exec, in which case they’ll throw buckets of cash at you with no context).

This comes about from some other annoying parts of the recruiting process, namely:

  • “How much were you making at your last job?”
  • “We don’t have a defined salary for this position yet”

Bullet 1 = you have no necessity to answer that question.

Bullet 2 = absolutely garbage. No financial team would ever let headcount be approved without a specific salary band attached to it.

Again, all lies, garbage, and disrespectful nonsense. We slap a bow on this and call it our talent-centric recruiting process. In reality, it’s hogwash.

Don’t even get me started on onboarding — I’ve written about that enough to choke a horse. See here, here, and here.

Can we improve the recruiting process?

At this point, I don’t know. The core problem is that it runs through HR, and executives don’t care at all about HR. As a result, no one will ever prioritize improving their recruiting process.

The second issue, adjacent to that one, is that HR barely has the right to be called “human” anymore. As you can see above, and you may have lived through, many a recruiting process is based almost entirely on (1) automation and (2) treating you like you’re annoying them because you want to someday have a salary and a life. How is either of those things human? I fail to see it if it is.

The fastest path to improving the recruiting process would be better research and metrics on how hiring ties back to the bottom line. Then executives would care more, and there’d be more incentive to better a company’s recruiting process. As of now, most discussions about “talent strategy” are lip-serviced manure.

You could also move recruiting out of HR, but that idea might terrify many people.

Here’s the bottom line, though: your recruiting process / hiring process is designed, ideally, to get you the right and best people to move your company forward. But, uh, is your recruiting process doing that? Or is it just alienating the exact type of people you really do need?

Thoughts on recruiting process?

Ted Bauer


  1. I just had an interesting experience for a job interview. I met with three senior people and was then moved on to the next phase, which was a third party assessment. I went to a company called MDA and had five hours of tests and interviews. Some of the online tests didn’t really seem relevant, as they involved calculating profit margins and other math. Then there was a whole section of logic problems, I.e. “Six employees work for a company. Mary starts her job no later than 8 AM, Bert starts after Mary but before Sue…” That kind of thing. And then Imspent two hours running through a real time inbox scenario as a newly hired leader communicating about various things. The whole thing was brutal, but I will say that that inbox scenario at least seemed like a legitimate test of judgement, communications skills and leadership style.

    • That’s interesting — although a lot of it does seem like overkill, admittedly.

  2. My favorite has to be the requirements stage. An arbitrary list of every skill, ability and function that can be imagined, whether useful or not. Helps to filter out fantastic candidates who don’t have one of the skills that’s not needed at all, and help compulsive liars through the process. I’ve seen requirements lists scare away some brilliant, dream candidates. If you never ever use a skill in your department, or maybe once every 5 years, don’t put it on the requirements list! Don’t worry if your job description is brief. It probably could be.

    • Just miserable. “Hey, once every half-decade, do we serve with integrity?” “We sure do.” “Toss it on there!”

  3. Thanks for sharing that Liz Ryan article, Ted.

    The trend of recruiting passive candidates is indeed troubling. Is there a body of credible academic research that demonstrates passive candidate recruitment is an effective method, or is it simply business’s bastardization of the flawed but pervasive notion in dating that when you’re single, no one is interested in you, but when you’re in a relationship, you’re more attractive?

    I strongly suspect it’s the latter, as people seem to not really care about academic research. However, a further issue is a lack of interest in investigating the credibility of academic research: findings are accepted as dogma.

    I have a few questions for those who seek passive candidates:

    – What exactly is it about those who are unemployed that makes them less desirable?

    – Are you of the belief that “job-hopping” is an issue?

    – Would you look down on someone who has “job-hopped”?

    – If you’ve answered “yes” to any of the two previous questions, how do you reconcile your belief in passive candidate recruitment with the reality that you’re encouraging people to job hop?

    • It’s largely because I think recruiting has tried to mirror overall business — NOW NOW NOW — as opposed to putting any thought or context behind it. That’s why so many new hires ultimately tank.

  4. Ted-
    Your article really hit home with me. I have “helped” companies with their hiring process in the past, and it’s always a mess. Companies look for “A” players, especially in sales, but then don’t have a culture in which an “A” player can thrive. Or the definition of A player is not universal. (HR people hate salespeople anyway- and its usually mutual) Resumes are generally terrible ways to judge sales candidates and assessments are often mis-used. Interviewers are often untrained and end up hiring the candidate that they felt most comfortable with, or the one “with experience who can bring us a bunch of business” in order to justify a high base salary(almost never works out). When the hire doesn’t work out, very little introspection into “where did we fail” will occur. I ask company leaders to try and match their hiring process with their sales process. Always be recruiting; build a bench; describe attributes of the person you are looking for in an ad, not the requirements of the role; work on your culture; screen candidates for a cultural fit; be respectful of their time; be honest and open about what is not perfect about the job you are trying to fill and the company; don’t offer a job to someone unless you know they will accept it. Hiring better people is the fastest way to improve a culture. Each company leader must define what “better” means to them.

    • Yea, but the problem is that execs claim they care about this stuff. They talk about “a war for talent.” But 10 mins later, what do they do? Get their lieutenants together and go discuss financial metrics breathlessly for three hours. It’s like that everywhere I’ve ever worked. You can’t build a bench if you don’t give a shit, you know?

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