The HR Black Hole

I once found myself in a most unique situation. OK, so that happens quite often to me, but we aren’t going to talk about that… So, several years ago I found myself looking to recruit a fellow HR pro, so I decided to pop into a networking event at a local church that was geared for, you guessed it, out of work HR pros. Or at least people who purported to be out of work HR pros. I drifted in, looking sly and not revealing my true motive, with the intent of seeing who was there and what they might have to offer me.

The meeting was essentially a presentation on a particular topic related to the job search, I honestly can’t remember specifically what it was about, but I do remember one well-dressed attendee speak up at the end.

“This is all fine and good, but it is pointless when you can’t get past the HR Black Hole!”

The rest of the room murmured and nodded their agreement with this sentiment, and so she went on: “I mean, you can’t even get a personal response!” More murmuring and nodding of heads.

I can’t remember what the facilitator said, but it was little more than go along with the herd on this. I wanted to speak up, but I didn’t lest I give away my position. So I kept quiet. Until now…

First up, the “HR Black Hole” she was referring to is actually called an Applicant Tracking System. If you are going to badmouth something, at least use the right name. But more on that later.

So, why do we need Applicant Tracking Systems anyway? Why can’t we just send our resumes to recruiters and have them look at our obvious skill set and experience and send us along our rightful way to the hiring authority? To understand this, it is important that you understand a little history around this thing you might have heard of… The internet.

You see, there was a time when if you wanted to apply for a job you had to mail your resume. By mail I mean as in with a stamp. And stamps, while cheap, still cost something. Also, for every resume you sent out, that was a letter you had to fold, and an envelope you had to lick.

Then along came the internet. And Monster.com. And Hotjobs.com (these were the first two that I remember). For a recruiter, they were a dream. For me to post in the Houston Chronicle in the late 90’s for one Sunday and Wednesday ran me over $1,000. I could post for 30 days on Monster for a few hundred bucks – and get three times the resumes within hours of posting. It was awesome! Except for one teeny little problem: while I was getting a lot more applications, I was also getting a lot more crap as well. High School kids who tried to equate their experience counting down their tills at Kroger with what I was needing in a Controller. The reason is obvious; before online job boards, you had to put a little skin in the game (or at least some saliva). With online job boards, you could apply for every job you saw in a matter of seconds. No printing, no buying stamps, no licking envelopes. Pre Monster, if a stamp was $0.25, to apply for 200 jobs would run you $50. In the early days of job boards, you could apply for 200 jobs in 20 minutes and it wouldn’t cost you a dime.

HR people can be slow on the uptake, but we did realize pretty early in that this simply wasn’t going to do. As more people looked for work on the internet, the number of applications only continued to grow, and as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. The invention in this case being the applicant tracking system.

There are other factors that come into play with Applicant Tracking Systems. One being the legal requirement to retain resumes for a given period of time. Before applicant tracking systems, I kept a two year tickler file, and simply tossed all the resumes and applications I got in there, shredding them after their retention period. Luckily I did not have to retrieve resumes very often, but when I did it usually involved a fair share of grumbling and soul searching as to whether I had chosen the right career.

So there – that is the history behind the HR Black Hole. It is designed to make our lives easier. Good for HR, bad for job applicants.

But how do you get around it? Only apply for jobs where you are highly qualified. Have a good track record closing out your till at Kroger? That’s fantastic, but don’t be mad if you don’t get a call for that CFO posting.

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