"I never heard back from them."

Every jobseeker expects to repeat this line at some point. Whether they submitted their resume through a legacy web form or were forced to wait weeks for an offer letter, getting lost in a company's opaque hiring process is the norm. It's so common, in fact, that having a great candidate experience is being used as a differentiator for companies looking to attract top talent.

The root of the communication problem comes from how scaling firms have set up their applicant screening infrastructure. Most configurations restrict access to important information which keeps the hiring process moving forward... and they don't even know it.

Recruiting organizations have a variety of tech at their disposal to remedy such problems, but they often choose to solve for reporting or compliance instead of candidate experience. In my years of working with large companies using enterprise ATS systems, I have seen setups so restrictive that it's amazing that people are being hired at all.

The following are a handful of modern recruiting practices, enforced by software, which I believe create information silos for no good reason:

Candidates must apply once per opening

In most mid-to-large organizations, the need to hire one new person is identified in the Applicant Tracking System with a requisition (sometimes called a "request"). Each requisition is matched with a description of some standard role, like "Software Engineer," and with a manager who wants to hire someone.

Each requisition can have only one role and one manager. Once a person is hired, the requisition can be closed. This means that if a manager wants to hire three new software engineers, someone will need to create three requisitions with the same information listed. Following this organizational structure allows recruiting teams to more easily track and measure their performance against their hiring goals.

From the applicant's point of view, it quickly becomes clear that ATS systems are designed to help recruiting teams organize their work and not necessarily for optimizing the application process.

A careers page that shows the long form version of saying "we need senior software engineers".

Candidates who are interested in applying to work as a senior software engineer must apply to each unique opening that they feel qualified for. Doing so auto-associates their information with the requisition object in the ATS, notifying the recruiter and eventually the manager who will need to conduct the screenings. Unfortunately, if a candidate is strong in Java and only applies for one opening despite there being several similar openings available, the manager from that one opening will be notified while all other mangers will never hear about the candidate.

This process creates missed opportunities for both companies and candidates. Managers can't raise their hand when they are interested in a candidate who applied for an opening associated with a different manager's requisition. Rejected candidates who had applied for just one opening are often hired by competitors despite there being many similar openings in the same company.

Hiring a candidate forces you to reject the rest

Since recruiters and managers are working with requisitions, they can't hold on to applicants who weren't hired but were strong candidates during the interview process. For example, if a manager picks between two or even three candidates who made it to the final round, the chosen candidate will be marked as hired, the requisition will be closed, and the remaining candidates will be told that they were rejected.

For the rejected candidates, their interviewing journey has ended. Yet, their skills were enough to land them at the final round. If the hired candidate had tragically been hit by a bus on the way to the on-site interview, one of these other candidates may have been hired instead. Why are they being pushed back into the wild to get picked up by competitors?

With a little bit of operational overhead, final-round candidates could meet different managers who are hiring for the same role. The four (or more) hours of in-person interviewing could be used as an efficient distribution method instead of, well, whatever is being done now. Sometimes the ATS is too rigid to freely associate candidates with requisitions, but that isn't an excuse to leave candidates with fewer opportunities to apply.

Hiring managers have little or no visibility into the applicant pool

In a typical ATS-driven process, managers are only notified of applicants after the candidate has been screened by a recruiter. If a manager is looking at a candidate, it means that the candidate is associated with the manager's requisition. Candidates like that are, oftentimes, the only candidates a manager will ever review.

However, when given the opportunity to browse through all candidates, managers will shortlist candidates that aren't "theirs."

When I worked at Filtered (an asynchronous interviewing platform for hiring developers), I saw browsing behavior from hiring managers all the time. When asked, many of the managers explained that they were simply reaching out to the candidate's “owners” to coordinate screenings. Most surprisingly, the candidates being considered often looked nothing like what would match to the job description, yet managers had confidence that the most interesting applicants had appropriate skills for the role.

Since hiring managers are the people making the final hiring decision, why are so many managers given limited visibility in the ATS? It's very common for one manager to reject candidates by the dozens while another is lucky to look at three resumes in a month. The latter manager is, in my experience, happy to consider candidates that other managers passed over.

From an efficiency perspective, letting managers browse freely keeps applicants from getting stuck in limbo. The managers who need candidates the most will be seen most frequently browsing through applicants. Higher interviewing throughput is better for not only candidates, but for recruiters too, who are often measured on the number of openings they can fill.

Hiring managers sometimes don’t see their own job descriptions

For many companies, hiring managers aren't the ones writing job descriptions that get posted on the job board. Instead, a team member from recruiting or HR will quiz the manager on what they need, take some notes, and spin up the description using a templated structure to standardize the company’s voice and maximize application volume.

The trade off is that, in many cases, the description doesn't match reality and definitely doesn't take into account the manager’s flexibility. A poorly-written job description can leave managers with a pile of rejected resumes or simply no applicants at all. Candidates can end up wasting their time by applying for a role that was misrepresented by listing unnecessary skills or too many required years of experience.

Writing a solid job description is hard. Job descriptions are in the dissonant position of being both informational reading and marketing material. Recruiting teams can only post a one-page job description onto job boards, which forces them to cram paragraphs, bullet point lists, keywords, and legal clauses into a small space. Candidates, who are only able to see what's being presented in the final write-up, tend to over-analyze their attributes against what's listed in the job descriptions. If only they knew that most companies struggle to attract enough applicants.

Perhaps the solution is, in reality, to relieve some pressure on the job description by first fixing everything else. A typical posting is the public-facing representation of a requisition; it contains very specific information about the hiring team alongside the standardized attributes of the role being sought after. In a world where managers can browse applicants and make tradeoffs more freely, candidates will be able to apply to companies without the pressure of matching exactly or feeling the need to oversell their skills.

The future is automated

Luckily for scaling recruiting teams, HR tech is beginning to push centralized systems, like an ATS, out of the role of being a simple database and into a role where the systems can provide dynamic analysis and make suggestions. Integrating with other data sources like LinkedIn, GitHub, or Glassdoor can add additional context which helps hiring managers consider a wider pool of candidates. This has huge implications for what it might feel like to apply for jobs in the future. Ideally, humans will remain part of the screening process; being rejected by a computer is not just frustrating, it's sometimes illegal. Input from automated systems will help break down information silos and set better expectations for everyone.

I believe that we're not too far off from living in such an environment. "I never heard back" will be a tale for the grandkids.


Photo by John T on Unsplash