Recruiters and job seekers are all going bonkers, and algorithms make everything worst

Human or artificial I don’t know: but “intelligence”, this is not.

Recruiters and job seekers are all going bonkers, and algorithms make everything worst /img/purple-squirrel.jpg

If finding a job has become harder, may it be the fault not just of ordinary robots, but, as the Guardian wrote in May 2022, of “robot recruiters”? That is, of job applications screened automatically, only by software that evaluates resumes using “artificial intelligence”? When that article was published, I shared with some friends my strong belief that “robot recruiters” are both a necessary evil, and a mere amplification of a couple of decades-old trends, plus a more recent one. Then, yesterday… but let me present those trends first.

Trend 1: too many USELESS requests for “education”

There are too many offers for many types of jobs that start with schooling-related requirements that are against the interest of the recruiters. These days, too many companies demand college degrees for no concrete reason, even for many roles (clerk, office secretary, cashier, that kind of stuff) that have been performed really well for decades, and still are, by people with just primary school degrees.

So these days, when any of those people is fired, they lose any possibility to do exactly the SAME job, much better than any novice could do, possibly at some company around the corner that would greatly benefit from their experience. Only because, with or without help from algorithms, the recruiters of that company won’t even open a CV that does not mention college.

The necessary evil: there is too much ignorance out there

From what I hear (again: for years now, well before automatic, AI-based CV filtering became a thing) I am pretty sure that many public or private organizations, in many countries, have come to demand “college degrees” simply as protection from the sad state of public education (whose fault THAT is, is a topic for another day). They filter on degrees, that is, merely because it has become a legally acceptable way to be reasonably sure that only people who can speak decently, and do basic math, will be called for an actual interview. This is necessary at ALL levels. Back in May, for example, I saw the sad report of a public competition for the italian judiciary, whose main points were that:

  • only 220 of the 3797 candidates that participated to the first phase of the selection wrote essays decent enough to be admitted to phase 2
  • this abysmal quality was a “vertical drop” with respect to the previous selection, held in 2019: it was really embarrassing, said the organizers, to see hundreds of essays showing “so great a distance from minimal standards of writing and reasoning”
  • that drop in quality happened even if the requirements to participate were (exactly to block totally unprepared candidates) higher than in the past

Trend 2: applying for jobs is too easy

Software has made assembling and submitting scores of job applications at once really quick and cheap. This is a blessing (theoretically…) for everybody who needs to find a job, any job, as soon as possible… at least as much as it is a serious, concrete curse for every HR manager who needs to fill some vacancy wasting as little time as possible. Now…

(take what follows as constructive provocation, please…)

think for a moment, just as food for thought: what if recruiters were not just allowed, but required to evaluate only job applications and CVs that come to them completely handwritten, by candidates who should prove, if interviewed, that they personally wrote them (*)?

Trend 3: easy software is easy to abuse

If CVs are too often trashed by computers and websites, before any human even opens them, people who need to find a job soon will just do what’s natural.

They will use computers and websites to send many more CVs everywhere, just because they can.

Without checking if they are totally unqualified for at least half of the 300 job offers they answer, because they just can’t.

This loop, plus the necessity to avoid candidates who, degrees or not, couldn’t understand written directions to the company’s cafeteria, leaves recruiters with only one choice: take user-friendly software, and misuse it.

If recruiters get glittering web dashboards shock-full of boxes that are too easy to tick even when they are irrelevant (e.g. college degrees), they will all too easily tick too many of those boxes, with the only practical outcome to force every job seeker to spam ANY job opening they come across.

That was in May 2022. Then…

When I shared these beliefs of mine back in May, some of those friends agreed, and some did not, basically because “if you are really good work really hard, your job applications WILL work, eventually”.

Maybe. Or maybe it is true that automated hiring systems are so out of control that, as I postulated, they are (finally!) starting to hurt employers more than applicants. Otherwise, I would have not found this report (July 2022) that one overlooked factor behind the worker shortage in the US may be exactly “the use of automated hiring systems to fill those open positions”, and exactly because of what I called “Trend 1” above:

More recruiters want “purple squirrels”

that is candidates with (emphasis and parentheses mine) “superior skills, that meets the qualifications and (uselessly) goes beyond them, the kind a recruiter would dream of hiring, [rarer than] a purple squirrel."

And they want, or are able to demand such squirrels, precisely “because it’s possible to filter and get so much information about all of (a candidate’s) different attributes, [leading to] a raising of expectations in hiring”

For possible solutions, read the full report. Here, I only wanted to remind everybody that the problem IS real.

(*) please don’t get distracted by the obvious exceptions to be granted for e.g. disabled applicants. Focus on the general problem first.