Tech Took the Human out of Human Resources

Human Resources is a lovely discipline occupied by thousands of wonderfully insightful intelligent people. Formally, the field is referred to as Industrial/Organizational Psychology (or the name on your degree). The science behind Human Resources aims to make organizations more productive while ensuring productive and healthy lives for its workers. Translation: workers happy, company thrives. They even used to call it PERSONnel!

But then the HR folks wanted a part of the technological revolution and they upgraded themselves in a big way. A marriage formed between HR + IT and it formed a whole new world (HRIS). But somehow the technology tornado swept through and sucked the Human out of Human Resources.

The HR departments are no longer filled with "people people." Instead, the pressure to keep up with the Technology Jonses has forced traditional HR folks into bits and bytes decoders.

Back in the day … and by back in the day, I mean back in the day when I first graduated college (1996), I was still thinking about the quality of paper upon which I printed my resume. I wore a navy suit with pantyhose and pumps. I carried a leather portfolio and sent a handwritten thank you note.

Today our job hunt begins and ends with the computer; it is our porthole into the market. We log on to let the world know that we’re looking. We have to be our own email marketers and drive our own viral campaigns. We network online, we apply online, we click to send our saved resumes and the upload yet another cover letter. We always email to follow up. We summarize decades of experience with a maximum number of characters and we send it out into the online abyss.

I worked at a recruitment advertising agency for 7 years so you figure I’d be able to navigate some sort of back end armed with the inside scoop. Wrong. Turns out I don’t have the formula any more than anyone else does.

Most large companies have applicant tracking systems (ATS), which are databases designed to hold and process the millions of resumes. When you are applying to a job online or via email, your resume is automatically going into this database. Often you may be applying to a position that isn’t even available; the company just wants to build a “pipeline” of candidates.

When the company is ready to hire someone, the first order of business is to have the HR folks search through this ATS. The hiring manager provides the HR person with cryptic keywords and then they go into the massive database, laden with millions of our career histories and conducts a keyword search. Code given, code entered, resumes served.

If you know the correct code that will yield your resume, hurray for you. The rest of us better figure out the code. The current economy means companies can get the best bang for their buck; employees come cheap. It’s the simple principle of supply and demand.

When I worked for the recruitment advertising agency, my clients often wanted me to advertise hard-to-fill jobs on very obscure Websites. One client was seeking a highly specialized nurse. The position was so distinct – there was only 18 known practitioners in the country. I thought a better approach would be to call the 18 nurses and give them a personal pitch. The client preferred to psychologically guess which Websites they might be visiting. In this instance, technology brainwashed (and trumped) the human.

The online job-hunting marketplace has gotten so overwhelming, they created a search engine to further simplify the process. Or so you think. These one-stop shops (like Indeed and Simply Hired) let you enter a title and a location and voila – jobs at a click. But how many of these jobs are legit?

It’s often the same job on different sites. The job boards have gotten very nepotistic and have created relationships and partnerships all over the place. When a company advertises on one site, they get a dozen others as a bonus. What this means for a job hunter is same job, different www.

Oh the online forms! Some of the big sites like Monster and CareerBuilder let you store your resume and apply to jobs with a click. Many of the large companies mandate you fill out their own profiles on their company’s career page. Fun!

You cruise around the Fortune 500 Online world filling out forms ad nauseam. Hours of virtual paperwork to earn some space on a database. You spend countless clicks inputting your life into online boxes. You indicate your gender, your nationality, if you’re a veteran. Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Have you ever worked here before? Sometimes the experience will lend itself to a little “pre-screen” interaction where they give you a series of questions and you click off some buttons answering what they want to see. You customize a cover letter with their words.

I feel ahead of the game. The older generation is at a disadvantage in this technologically dominated new job-hunting universe. It is not enough to maintain expertise in your profession of choice; you also have to be proficient in navigating the Web 2.0 and Social Media world. Without it, you might not stand a fighting chance.

But for the thousands of those currently unemployed, they should use the technology rather than compete with the technology. Candidates have to be louder than the technology. They have to integrate a little human back into the mix.

If you find yourself enthralled in a slightly older school of job hunting, you may find yourself busting out the suit, pumps and folios and doing the headhunter dance. That scenario usually plays itself out like so:

You find a job online and apply for it, often unknowing that you’re really applying to a headhunter. Said headhunter will call you and ask you a series of questions and then hopefully deem you worthy of an in-person interview. When you come in for your in-person, you use your tiniest handwriting to fill out a 10-page archaic paper application. This is the exact same content you filled in when you sent in the “application” online. You wait to be called and then get escorted into a cubicle conference room. There you make small talk and answer the same questions the headhunter asked you over the phone. This time they write it down. They put it in a file with your name on it. They tell you all about their unparalleled opportunities. They direct you to complete the online application at home. The say they’ll be in touch. Sometimes they are.

… And that’s what happens when you add the human element.

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