Is online recruitment failing to spot hidden talent?

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that many good people are overlooked because their story gets lost or is under-sold in a CV format, while others can make it through to a shortlist because their experience fits neatly against the standard CV structure.

Previously, before online job boards automated much of the initial process of sifting through CVs, the fact that someone had to look through every CV to check for the right experience and knowledge meant there was more opportunity for picking up on a CV that at first glance might not seem to have the right mix of skills.

The move to online recruitment is changing this and favouring those who have a particular type of experience. Combined with the fact that many businesses are now looking to reduce costs by taking recruitment in-house, or are using social networks like LinkedIn to try to identify the right people without the associated recruitment costs, it is likely that a lot of real talent will slip through all our fingers.

In particular, I worry that highly experienced people with in-demand skills are being overlooked by a system that cannot perceive real and much-needed ability hiding behind a two-dimensional CV.

The biggest issue I feel is with anyone who has taken a long career break. Lots of people who lost their jobs as businesses went under over the past two years took time off because they saw the opportunity to travel while the market was in chaos. Lots of other people take breaks to study, care for a family or pursue a personal interest.

These people are all likely to be overlooked because one of the most common filters is recent employment.

Now I’m not pointing fingers here because this is reality: a selection process is precisely that; this is how we all work.

But the irony is, we may be allowing fantastic talent to slip through our fingers, at a time when we are going through one of the biggest skills shortages in modern history, because we’re relying on technology to spot experienced people. The problem is that this initial sifting process is a human skill that in itself takes time and experience to acquire.

Here is just one example.

We recently approached a candidate who was looking to return to banking after a six-year maternity break. She posted her CV on an online job board but we were the only recruitment company to approach her. No one else had been in touch, most likely due to the gap in employment on her CV. Her expectations were modest and she expected a salary far lower than what she had earned six years previously.

By looking deeper into her CV, past the gap in her employment to her experience in product control, a sector of banking where there are currently severe staffing shortages, we actually placed her at a 60% higher salary than she had expected.

Now you could argue why didn’t this candidate work harder to get through the system? Why didn’t she call up some recruitment companies? Why didn’t she apply for more jobs directly? Isn’t it a bit passive just to post your CV on a jobsite and hope you’ll be found?

The truthful answer is probably yes. But equally, given all the hype about the growth of online recruitment and the fact that so many businesses are now managing recruitment in-house, it’s not unreasonable for someone to focus on job boards as their main route to employment.

Building a talented business starts at the recruitment phase and, ironically, some of the most talented people are also the ones whose experience doesn’t always come across well on an online CV.

People always say that recruitment is a people business and I think we need to get back to that somehow, while recognising technology is going to have a useful place. Our recruitment systems have to help us to be more efficient but not to marginalise talented candidates who may not immediately seem to have the right skills on paper.

 Olivia Yost is a director at recruitment specialist Poolia