Is Recruiting Broken (and Can It Be Fixed)?

Updated: March 18, 2011

In short, there are numerous online posts and discussions that feature a recurring pattern. Active aging workers with decades of documented business success are finding it difficult or impossible to get jobs or short-term projects. Some of these people have been unemployed and actively seeking employment for a decade or longer. Since before the dot-com bubble burst, let alone before the current recession began. This despite frequent declarations at the Web sites of companies large and small that they are always seeking to engage people with proven successful business track records.

Clearly, a disconnect.

Those online discussions, persistently high unemployment rates and conversations with HR professionals offer some clues that the disconnect means that recruiting is in fact broken.

Despite public pronouncements of an imminent economic turnaround and what company Web sites say, a lot of companies are still not hiring and/or taking longer than usual to fill posted positions and/or coping with limited HR expertise.

The current economy means that every hint of a job posting generates a deluge of expressions of interest, putting every HR professional under incredible pressure.

Applicant tracking system (ATS) software scans, analyzes and scores every résumé and cover letter, often before a single human being sees it, and can sometimes have unintended and/or intentional biases against deep experience and/or how it is expressed and/or formatted.

There are a lot of hiring managers out there clueless about, uncomfortable with or downright hostile to the idea of hiring people older than themselves and/or most of the people around them at work. (Some of these hiring managers and/or their bosses may also fear being accused of and/or sued for age discrimination.)

Items 3 and 4 are particularly problematic. The rules and processes that govern the behaviors of ATS software and hiring managers all come from decision-makers who may believe that they are doing the right/best things for their companies. However, those beliefs appear to be skewed against the current reality. That reality is that able, active people older than 50 making up a growing percentage of the population and the workforce.

All of this is especially troubling given the growing need companies of all kinds for experienced thought leadership in the marketplace and operational leadership within the organization itself. If the burst of the dot-com bubble had a single primary cause, it could arguably be summed up as a lack of adult supervision. (A trailing indicator: why would anyone even write a "business plan" on the back of a cocktail napkin, let alone fund such a plan?) In today's world of global competition and sustained economic pressures, why would any sane decision maker not hire someone for whom this was not a first time at the rodeo, as long as they were still able to saddle up and hold on?

There are also widely repeated anecdotes featuring candidates for jobs telling potential hirers that the candidates weren't looking for senior positions and would be very happy at low levels of compensation. Despite the willingness of candidates to put such assurances in writing, hiring managers insist that those candidates will simply move on to "greener pastures" once the company had "invested" in them.

This response darkly reflects the tortured reasoning offered by typically male hiring managers when refusing to hire women attempting to enter or re-enter the workplace. ("You'll only stay long enough to find a/another husband.") The response also seems at odds with common sense. If a 50- or 60-something with a relatively stable life says that they are not really interested in career-building or job-jumping, why would anyone logically not believe them?

One reason might be that the person making the hiring decision just doesn't know any better. For example, the person making the hiring decision may believe that older people "can't (or won't want to do what it takes to) keep up" with the pace of a given business or market. But more experienced people have longer track records to provide evidence of their abilities to perform and produce. And any hiring manager worth their compensation package should be focused more on documenting and tracking performance and results than on making facile but likely erroneous assumptions about someone based on perceptions of what their age may mean.

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