The Hiring Process Is Broken

square peg round Most job seekers will tell you today's hiring process has become a dysfunctional assembly line fraught with hyper rigidity that is more focused on identifying why candidates aren't right for the job than it is at identifying potential transferable skills and upside. This finding a "square peg to fit a square hole" approach might have worked well when companies were looking to fill clearly defined and very specific manufacturing roles, but it is not equipped to effectively evaluate today's multitalented job seekers. With the advent of applicant tracking systems, online applications, and technology that should help organizations more effectively and efficiently screen applicants, things have instead gotten worse.

As companies have grown from a collection of small- to medium-sized regional players to massive, multi-national corporations, so too has the need for a sizable Human Resources function. Screening applicants, which was once handled by hiring managers with years of deep experience within their verticals, has been outsourced to recruiters who oftentimes either lack adequate details about the job or the same level of subject matter expertise as the hiring manager. And this ineffective screening has only been compounded by the innate challenge of sifting through a never ending supply of candidates who fall along a continuum of completely unqualified to incredibly talented.

Huge companies and an explosion in the number of applicants means most companies had to become great at developing job descriptions more than identifying candidates based on their—potential. If a job seeker's background is even slightly outside of what a hiring company is looking for, it's extremely difficult (if not impossible) to even make it through to a first round interview. Recruiters get frustrated with candidates who lack minimum qualifications and incredibly talented candidates get frustrated with spending hours poring over their resumes and cover letters and never receiving a phone screen, or even worse, a rejection email.

Management consulting firms and similar sectors that value diversity of thought and pure intellectual horsepower seem to find a way to look past a pre-determined and narrowly defined range of academic disciplines or previous work experience. And they might be on to something.

Is it really mission critical to find someone with at least seven years of related work experience because someone with six years and three months just won't cut it? I know there are massive numbers of applications to screen and people to interview, but what about the rock stars you're missing out on because they fall a few months short of an arbitrary milestone?

Applicant tracking systems and a fixation on measures brought much needed efficiency to the hiring process. However, time saved that could be used for more value added and insightful screening must have been redeployed elsewhere.

Until we get better at assessing candidates based on relevant skill sets as well as their potential instead of assessing candidates based upon a rigid qualification check list, we are going to continue to overlook highly qualified employees as well as the occasional game-changing rock stars.

Find Shawn Graham at CourtingYourCareer, on Twitter @ShawnGraham or via email at shawn(at)

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  • Levi Smith

    Appreciate the article. I believe that acquiring the right people, including culture, not just competency fit, is critical for smaller companies to be attentive to. I wrote a post earlier this year on this subject sharing a little about how I've been taking my company through a process to transform our hiring into a competitive advantage.

    Levi Smith

  • Heather R. Huhman

    Hi Shawn,

    Great post! You’ve clearly explained the #1 frustration candidates are facing right now – rejection without reason.

    I think all candidates, under- or over-qualified, deserve two-way communication from employers throughout the recruiting process. And most “applicant tracking systems, online applications, and technology” don’t offer that.

    Employers, recruiters, and hiring managers also need to step away from those unreasonably “rigid qualification checklist(s),” and start using social media recruitment marketing (like Cachinko). It’s the only solution I’ve found that combats dependency on job boards and the endless time spent sorting through resumes that allows you to connect with relevant, multi-talented candidates.

    To put the peg in the hole … Your “value added and insightful screening” has most likely been redeployed to companies that connect to talent through 2nd or 3rd degree referrals, build relationships with them, and stay connected to them. Staying connected to current and past employees can also help employers find relevant candidates who are aware of the company, position, and culture.