The ins and outs of recruitment software

It can be an artificial gate for job seekers, and even some recruiters second guess the value

Talent management software screens candidates based on key words and intelligent algorithms, but job seekers worry the lack of a human element hurts their chances to meet with a human.

Job No. 1 in finding IT work these days is convincing résumé screening programs you have the required skills and should be granted an in-person interview.

"It’s obvious when you submit your résumé online it is going into some sort of database" and you have to be smart enough to tailor your pitch to match the keywords listed in the job description, says David Currier, whose home is in Seattle but who is currently on contract to Perot Systems/Owen & Minor Medical in Richmond, Va.

Talent management software from companies such as Taleo, Kenexa, SuccessFactors and Vurv Technology offers capabilities that range from recruiting to hiring and ongoing employee career development and training. The applications, often offered in a software-as-a-service model, provide tools for recruiters and hiring managers and typically feature a candidate-facing Web component that allows candidates to search listings, submit résumés and learn more about a company.

The recruiting capabilities of the tools help companies sort through hundreds or thousands of résumés by using keywords or intelligent algorithms. Proponents say by removing the manual labor of sorting résumés, the software improves the recruiting process for employers and potential employees.

"Especially in a period with an abundance of applicants, the automated recruiting process helps hiring managers focus on the most qualified candidates," says Angel Cabrera, CTO of Vurv Technology. "If there is no automation, you are diluting the experience for all the candidates because the human element cannot keep up or give attention to those that could best fit the position."

Read Morgan's first-person account of the hiring process.

What to wear when the interviewer is a program? 

Vurv and other suppliers say their tools employ artificial intelligence to correlate skills with job descriptions.

Yet inexperienced and experienced IT job seekers argue the software -- no matter how intelligent -- can be manipulated by savvy applicants, making it possible for less-qualified candidates to secure an in-person interview while others languish in the system. Currier looks for work often, considering he is on a limited contract in Virginia and his family resides in Seattle, and says he is accustomed to not hearing back at all from companies who use talent management software.

"I have been in this industry for years, even in hiring positions, and we used to ask questions in the interview that couldn’t be found in any book to show people could think on their feet," Currier says. "But now with these scanning apps, if a candidate only has seven of the 10 skills listed, [the possibility the candidate could learn the required skills is] not even considered, the résumé is discarded. But if you get wise to the system and list all the keywords, you just might get that interview."

One job seeker who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and has been looking for work for four years says privately that it’s a challenge to secure an interview unless the items on your résumé exactly matches what the company is looking for. “And you never hear back about why your skills aren’t right or why your résumé didn’t get picked out of the bunch," he says.

Others agree that using software to decide who gets face time with hiring managers hinders the process and hurts candidates’ chances at getting jobs they are capable of doing.

"The problem with the IT job market today is you aren’t even dealing with humans," says Terri Morgan, a principal at Wudang Research Association, who has encountered issues when seeking employment with companies such as IBM (see related story). “In IT, most people can learn new skills. That is what sets humans apart; we have the capacity to learn.”

Suspicion about résumé-scanning software isn’t exclusive to job seekers. While it is standard process for large companies to use talent management software, some recruiters say they opt out of résumé scanning for fear they are missing potential candidates.

"We don’t use the screening option because I feel it is too limiting," says Jennifer Russell, vice president and director of recruiting at Digitas in Boston. "In many cases, you don’t even get to see the résumés of these people.”

What’s more, some people know how to game the system. “Most people would know what answer the software is looking for so it would lead to us seeing padded résumés and wasting some time weeding out the candidates with skills and experience from the ones that just answered the questions correctly," Russell says.

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