Friday, April 27, 2012

It Sucks Being At The Mercy Of Lazy/Old/Stupid HR Systems

If you've applied for any job in the past few years, you know what I'm talking about.

First you painstakingly craft your resume, choosing the proper format to best highlight your skills and the stage in your career, weighing and discarding words that don't seem exactly right in favor of words with even a slightly better nuance, arranging the information in a way that is quick and easy to read while still maximizing how much information you're able to present, and babying details like margin widths (small enough to let you fit all your info on just one or two pages, but not so small that it looks like you're crowding the page), font (too informal? too difficult to read? too boring and won't catch the recruiter's notice?), and whether or not to include that one last key word that may or may not make or break your chances of landing a job.  If you're doing a completely new resume or a ground-up re-work of an old one, this can take quite some time.  If you're really diligent you might show it to your spouse or send it to some friends to get feedback and suggestions, and then you go back over the whole thing again to incorporate those suggestions.  It's not unnecessary - research shows that the average resume gets about six seconds of visual examination by most recruiters, and especially during these tough economic times most recruiters probably have enough resumes to rebuild the tree for every position and have no problem ejecting yours from the stack.  If you can't succeed in those six seconds, you're completely sunk.  Of course, that's assuming you got through their filtering software to begin with.  Still, after finally completing the polish on the masterpiece, you're ready to apply.

And that's when the aggravation factor really skyrockets.

Pretty much every job application is done online now.  That's great - it's a fast, efficient way to give and receive job applications and resumes.  Unfortunately, I think most HR systems are running the same software that they used back in the late 1990s.  They're out of date, they're slow, they're disorganized, and they're generally very unuserfriendly.  You know how this works:
- you go to the company's website and hit the Careers section
- you have to create a login (it's free, they tell you, as if that helps make up for the fact that you already have a list of one-time-use logins longer than your arm to manage)
- you login and search through their jobs, finding the one to which you want to apply
- you upload your resume in Word format

It is at this point that my blood usually starts boiling.  Never mind the fact that you've just uploaded your painstakingly crafted resume, and thus communicated 100% of the information the company needs to know about you...they invariably direct you next to a series of screens where you have to manually enter all of that information again.  Are you kidding me?!  It's hard to envision any bigger insult to my time than to make me do all this twice (and this is coming from someone who types very fast and knows how to use keyboard shortcuts to jump from one empty text box to another), as if I'm so desperate to get their advertised job that I have literally nothing better to do than spend another 30 minutes typing in the same name and address that I just gave them.  Let's also consider some of the absolutely idiotic things they ask for.  In the past few months, I've had to supply things like my high school GPA or the phone number and mailing address of my elementary school.  Really??  Why would any of those details be necessary -- much less relevant -- for any job application?  Waste of my time, waste of my time, disrespectful...and a waste of my time.

Occasionally, I've found an application process that makes a half-hearted attempt to auto-populate those manual data entry screens from the Word document you uploaded, but I have yet to see one actually get more than about half of the information correct (and, for the record, the format of my resume has been deliberately simplified precisely to avoid as much auto-populate confusion as possible).  I appreciate the gesture, but it really doesn't save me time or aggravation.

Don't even get me started on companies (like mine) that force you to repeat the entire process every time you apply!  Uh...didn't I create a free login so you would remember my information??  Nope, guess not.  That's not just wasteful and disrespectful, that's a nasty combination of arrogance, belligerence, and obnoxiousness that can only come from a self-absorbed HR department that considers itself a gatekeeper holding back a horde of riffraff from gaining entry into the promised land.

The technology exists today to not only parse a resume and auto-populate every conceivable field correctly, but also to do so in such a way that the system can even make educated guesses about the context of the information on that resume to prioritize skills according to how important they were to previous positions held.  It can deliver this information neatly into the hands of a recruiter who has had 80% of the work done for him/her and can take more than six seconds to look at it.  As an IT professional, it's hard to think well of a company that obviously puts so little effort into the application process, even to the extent of making it actively hostile.  This is a personal axe to grind for me, sure, but I'd bet money I'm not alone.  And here's the bottom line - successful and productive people are busy and know how to prioritize their time and resources.  If a company wants to attract those people, an ineffective and hostile application system would go a long way toward discouraging those people from applying.

The icing on this festering cake is, of course, the complete lack of response and respect from the company to the applicant.  No, the canned email saying your application was received doesn't count.  I mean an actual response issued by a living human being.  It just doesn't happen.  Believe me, I've submitted dozens (if not hundreds) of applications over the past few years to many different companies of all different sizes and in a vast array of industries, and I can't recall the last time I got an actual response from a real person.  I know, they get hundreds of resumes for every posted job, yadda yadda yadda.  But if a personal interaction is just too difficult, then how about at least a cold and impersonal one?  You can't tell me that it's terribly burdensome for a list of names that get rejected by the automated system to be sent a polite automated thank you/rejection email rather than simply get discarded.  But no, in my experience it's pretty rare to even get that - after the application it's just a giant black hole of nothingness, and that's just rude and insulting.  In the unlikely event that a manager or recruiter actually lays eyes on a resume, there's no reason they shouldn't provide at least a quick personal thank you/rejection note.  The applicant is expected to grovel and scrape through this entire process, so the least a recruiter can do is politely tell them they can get up off their wounded knees.

Get a clue, HR executives who make these decisions: get a real application system, and stop being evil.

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