A scroll through business media or even a stroll through your local downtown is enough to reveal just how desperate companies are to hire right now. “Help Wanted” signs adorn nearly every shop window, and the press is full of stories of companies offering extraordinary perks to attract talent.
Given the incredible difficulty of hiring during “the Great Resignation,” you’d therefore probably be pretty shocked to hear that many of America’s most respected businesses are turning away millions of qualified applicants for no good reason at all. But that’s just what recent research from Harvard and Accenture found.
Employers are rejecting millions of qualified applicants
The report, titled “Hidden Workers: Untapped Talent,” digs into why the process of matching job seekers to available openings has been going so slowly. And while the research turns up a number of issues, the lion’s share of the blame falls on companies’ recruiting practices, particularly due to specific job descriptions and automated hiring software that unnecessarily screens out many qualified candidates.
First, the researchers note that companies often do a less than stellar job of writing job descriptions. Instead of thinking critically about the handful of competencies crucial to perform the role, they often adapt existing descriptions, or throw every “nice to have” item they can think of into their job ads.
These epic, over-prescriptive job descriptions certainly deter some job seekers from even sending in a resume, but the real problem occurs when these bloated lists of requirements are fed into automated hiring software. Thanks to these systems, millions of resumes are tossed because of gaps in employment history, or other “problems” that aren’t really problems at all.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, lead Harvard researcher Joseph Fuller “cited examples of hospitals scanning resumes of registered nurses for ‘computer programming,’ when what they need is someone who can enter patient data into a computer. Power companies, he said, scan for a customer-service background when hiring people to repair electric transmission lines. Some retail clerks won’t make it past a hiring system if they don’t have ‘floor-buffing’ experience.”
In fact, 88 percent of employers the researchers spoke to agreed that qualified candidates are vetted out of the process because they do not match the exact criteria in the job description. This is not a minor problem.
Fixing the issue
Improving the software to do a better job of screening candidates isn’t an overnight job–though large employers like Amazon and IBM are apparently working on it, the WSJ reports–but some quicker fixes are available. The most straightforward is to rewrite your job descriptions, including only the most essential skills and qualifications. Does someone really need a college degree to do the job, for instance? Previous studies show that in many, many cases the answer is no.
The report also suggests moving from a “negative” to “affirmative” logic when screening for jobs. Rather than crossing off candidates for a long list of perceived issues, employers should instead aim to include all resumes that meet a shorter list of must-have attributes.
Finally, smaller businesses with a manageable number of positions to fill may want to automate less of the process. Yes, it will take you longer to screen resumes by hand–but if that saves you from struggling to fill the position for weeks or months, maybe your fancy hiring software is a false economy.