The HR Black Hole: Five Ways You Can Fix It

How savvy tech professionals are avoiding the “HR black hole” and what HR managers can do to prepare their teams for the new world order.

By John Vlastelica

Dice surveyed more than 300 technology professionals to find out how they avoid the HR black hole. While 46% said it can’t be done, 41% said they leverage web searches and social networking sites to bypass the normal HR process and apply directly to recruiters and hiring managers. Is this a blessing or a curse to HR teams? And how can recruiting leaders adapt to this new approach?

There’s always been an HR black hole. Many candidates – not just tech candidates – regularly say that when they apply online or participate in an interview, they never hear back. They don’t even receive a simple email acknowledgment. So it’s no surprise that tech-savvy IT candidates are finding ways to apply directly. Social networking sites, blogs and even career sites are making it easier to do so. In fact, many companies are now encouraging candidates to apply this way. (An example is how Microsoft lists its actual recruiter names on its career site, with links to their online social profiles, for its gaming, hardware and software businesses. View Microsoft’s career site. Find out if the job boards you are using allow recruiters to create personal profiles on their site.)

Is this a bad thing? No. In fact, if your goal is to attract the best and brightest active and passive candidates, then you should make yourself as accessible and easy to find to tech candidates as possible. You should encourage your employees and hiring managers to create connections and a web presence that makes it easier – not harder – for people to be referred to your company. However, you need to groom them to handle the process.

Have you prepared your hiring managers? The problem lies in the “HR” black hole no longer being just HR’s black hole, because it can expand to suck in tech candidates who apply directly through hiring managers, too. This happens when hiring managers aren’t prepared for direct contact.  When this happens, these very valuable, interested and often passive tech candidates get lost in the recruiting process. In these situations, managers often forward an email without a resume to a recruiter, hoping the recruiter will reply. Or, managers respond to a passive candidate via LinkedIn with a “please check out our careers site… I’m not sure what tech openings we have now” message. Tweets and questions on blogs can go unanswered. The HR black hole has extended its reach and now encompasses your entire candidate universe. Now what?

Five things you can do to plug the black hole.

  1. Get your hiring managers and employees invested in recruitment. Reward those with a strong online presence and help them understand the candidate attraction power they possess. Then remind them, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The way they respond – or the fact that they don’t respond – shapes your employer brand, one interaction at a time.
  2. Arm your hiring managers and employees with tools to be successful. Ask them what kind of tools and templates you can offer to help them. At a minimum, they’ll probably want to know more about:
    • The recruiting process (i.e. how to refer someone into the candidate pipelines when they haven’t applied via the normal process/career site)
    • The employee value proposition (i.e. what they may want to highlight when asked – publicly – why people like working at your company)
    • Standard applicant responses (i.e. what expectations should be set with people who want to apply for jobs)
  3. Create a better auto-reply email for applicants. Many employers use boilerplate auto-replies from their applicant tracking system, such as “thanks for your application…we’ll keep your resume on file and contact you if an opening arises.” These are better than no reply at all, but wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could send an email letting all applicants know your timeline, too? For example: “The hiring manager will decide who to interview by this Friday. If you’re not selected, you may be considered for other similar openings in our technology department in the future. If you are selected, you will receive a separate email from us with information on our interview process by next Tuesday.” While this takes some work, it is a powerful way to plug the HR black hole.
  4. Personally contact anyone who interviews. At a minimum, anyone who had a live phone screen should receive a personalized email that lets them know that they were not selected. A phone call is better, but probably not realistic for most HR teams. But busy, savvy recruiters often still make time to call some candidates. If the candidate was an employee referral or came through a social network connection, a personal phone call might be smart and necessary. And almost all recruiters agree that anyone that invests time in an onsite interview deserves a personal phone call.
  5. Measure it. Use a cheap tool like SurveyMonkey.com to survey your applicants (start with referrals if you don’t want to ask all applicants). Embed your standard in the questions you ask. For example: “Our goal is to provide all applicants with feedback at the phone interview selection stage, the post-phone interview stage, and the post-interview stage.” Then ask the applicants what kind of communication – if any – they received at each of those phases. This will help you identify the leaks in your process and improve your communication.

As candidates find more resourceful ways to apply for jobs, there are more chances for a potentially valuable person to slip through the cracks. But for companies looking to attract to top-quality professionals, making an effort to plug the HR black hole can reap great rewards.

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