The corporate hiring process has deteriorated and needs urgent makeover
The noise over the current hiring practices in corporate companies is growing louder with each passing day, especially on LinkedIn. More people are complaining about the lost value of humanity in Human Resources and are batting to return the “Human” to HR. They are citing many examples from their professional careers to highlight the deteriorating HR practices. At least a thousand of my job applications have been rejected in the last 7 years since I completed my MBA.
At its forefront is the Application Tracking System (ATS) which matches resumes of candidates to job requirements. From software applications, technology has grown in sophistication and matching is now done by software bots. Resumes are basically professional autobiographies written by humans to highlight their career progression, achievements and aspirations and is meant to be read by fellow humans. But they are now being analyzed by the so called intelligent bots whose intelligence is limited to the data humans have fed them. Candidates are now required to format their resumes to fit the comprehension of these bots and fill them with keywords that would match them better to the jobs they are applying for. What is ironic is, if there are software available for filtering resumes, why are there no software that are ATS compliant and can be used to write resumes by simply inputting keywords?
Standard resume sizes vary from 1 page for freshers to 4 pages for top executives. I have to limit my resume to 2 pages and it should contain a professional summary, core competencies, experience, project details and information about academic and contact details. So much in so less space means just selecting keywords that best suit my professional background and connect them with English words. This is what resume writing has been reduced to.
What we write as experience in our resumes with the companies we have worked for is limited very specifically to the role we were hired for. But we may be doing a lot more work than that. For example, when one of my previous employers decided to shift their premise to a new building, I was assigned the task of coordinating with the shifting of employees on one floor of the present building, get their computers and phone connections moved to the new building and ensure that they got network and phone access to get back to work with minimum loss of time. I was the “buddy” for new employees joining different projects in my department. I was their contact person to get desk spaces, computers and phone lines assigned to them and ensure that they had all the software applications and network access to start working in their projects. The head of my department used to take my help in drafting responses to escalation emails from clients. There were so many other tasks which I have performed over the years that were beyond my job profile. Where do I write all of these in a 2 page resume and what’s the point anyways? None of these would matter to the bots. I can showcase all my experiences in interviews when I am able to speak to humans but if the bots keep filtering out my resume each time, there isn’t much that I can do.
Even more bewildering are the interviews where some of the standard questions asked are plain mindless.
1) Where do you expect to see yourself in the next 5 years?
I wish I had the vision to see that far. Life on earth has always been uncertain, for humans as well as for all animals. No living being can claim in certainty that it will see the sunrise the next day. I have heard of ridiculous responses like the candidate wanted to be the CEO of the company or to be in the chair of the interviewer. Though people may be working together in an office in a project, they would most probably have different skills. Some may move out of the company and some may identify and learn new skills and move within or outside the company in 5 years. We can always be ambitious and we can speak about them but I believe those should be more on the lines of activities outside our current role, such as learning and developing new skills, adding value to business and working more at the organizational level and not with respect to a position or role in the company. Rather than looking for position and fame, our focus should always be on learning more and adding more value to our current role. Recognition and growth always follows hard work.
2) What is your expected salary?
This is linked to the question “What is your current salary?”. Every department head or manager will have a budget for each role in his/her team & there will be a minimum & a maximum value which will be conveyed to the HR when the hiring request is sent. The HR will try to negotiate closer to the minimum value with the candidates but has the liberty to go up to the maximum value. When a candidate’s expectation crosses the maximum value, the HR will revert to the hiring manager & check if he/she can exceed the budget which is usually based on how the candidate has performed in the interview and the hiring manager feels the particular candidate is the best fit for the role. Asking for current CTC is the HR’s way of knowing where the candidate’s current salary is with respect to the budget range for the role so as to do better negotiation with the candidate. Prospective employers should offer a package based on interview results, industry standards & other parameters which they are aware of for every role they are hiring for rather than making it compulsory for candidates to reveal their current CTC. A candidate could be working for a low paying job or a low paying employer and he/she could have taken up the job for many reasons, but it doesn’t mean he/she will want to continue working in a new job at a lower salary.
3) What is your biggest weakness?
The question could be asked to fresh graduates to test their self awareness and self assessment but it doesn’t make any sense to ask it to experienced people and especially managers. A manager who admits to having a weakness is demonstrating lack of continuous self management and self improvement and it implies that he/she cannot be a manager of other people. I believe a good way to respond to it would be to talk about a weakness in the past and how it was overcome or how the present company culture is fostering a certain weakness in the candidate or a larger group of its employees and use that as the reason or one of the reasons why the candidate is looking for a new employer.
4) How do you explain the employment gap in your resume?
Unless a candidate had a specific reason for opting out from working for a period of time, the candidate’s profile is out there on job sites and on LinkedIn. It should ideally be just the matter of time before being found by interested employers. Applying for jobs through job sites and LinkedIn is like putting matter into a black hole. These avenues do not even guarantee that resumes of candidates will be looked at by the HR teams. HR consultants also go on full silence after taking resumes of candidates for opportunities and do not even consider it necessary to inform the outcome to the candidates. Only if companies call candidates directly is there hope of at least landing an interview. In most countries, labor laws have been tightened and companies are no longer interested in hiring candidates from other countries. India is facing an unprecedented slump in employment after its government’s currency devaluation fiasco in 2016. But what would matter is what the candidates were doing during the period of job search. Looking for jobs is not a full day activity so what employers would look for are skill development and personal growth of the individuals.
5) Why are you looking for a job change (why did you quit your last job)?
The question has always me wonder whether employers are happy that they are able to find candidates that fit their requirements or if they are looking for reasons to reject candidates. People may quit jobs or look for new jobs for a variety of reasons such as better monetary benefits, bad managers, better roles and location. Why do potential employers have issues if a candidate has or had issues with managers in their current or previous jobs? This is life and bad things too happen. If an employee is leaving a company because of issues with the management, the company HR will not write a positive review about the employee in their records and in all probability is not going to give a glowing review about the employee during future background checks. Then what’s the point in the employee not talking about why he/she is leaving his/her current employment or had quit previous jobs? No company is perfect so there are no perfect jobs or managers. Then why are employees expected to have blot free employment records? It is commonly known that one of the biggest reasons for employee turnover in companies is bad management. Then why are employees expected to be positive and talk nicely about their previous employers? Such unwritten rules and expectations are what makes corporate employment corporate slavery.
6) How soon can you join?
This one pops out inadvertently from the HR after asking the candidates about their notice periods with their present companies. All companies have to serve notice periods with their current employers when they quit and the big companies mostly have 3 months. This is how they dissuade their employees from changing jobs and discourage competitors from poaching their best employees. Buying of notice period was in vogue for some time but it has been stopped by all companies. The same employer who is hiring the candidate will make a hue and cry when the same candidate moves to another company after a few years and requests to be relieved before the entire notice period with the company is served. I had faced this issue with a previous employer during hiring process and had to shut down the HR and hiring manager by asking them whether they will let me go early when I quit the company in the future.
Age is a big factor when it comes to rejection of candidates. I came across a comment that companies are looking for 30 year old candidates with 20 years of experience. This is how ridiculous hiring has become. My parents keep telling me that companies won’t consider me for jobs with advancing age. Unless I start my own company, senior roles in companies always require people with experience and maturity and both come with age through professional skill enhancement and personality development. This is why I chose to take up a professional MBA program after working for 10 years. When my job search faltered after MBA, I used the time on blogging and wildlife observation and photography. Blogging has led me to writing articles on a variety of topics for an online content publishing platform and writing and wildlife photography have led me to author my first book. If a company puts my age above my skills and experience I would be grateful for not having to be part of its journey.
The only factor that matters and will always be relevant is a candidate’s continuous evolution through skill enhancement and self improvement. I used to be a thorough IT professional and could have had continued to build my IT skills, but I have always known that to become either a senior executive in a company or an independent professional, skills other than technology are of far greater relevance. This was why I grabbed the opportunity to work as a part time business correspondent and caption writer with an advertising firm when I was doing my engineering under graduation. The skills I developed from that time were what helped me draft those emails for my department head and created the platform for me to become an accomplished writer. The key is to keep building skills while continuing to look for opportunities with patience and perseverance.