At Last! Recruitment is BROKEN!

At Last! Recruitment is BROKEN!

The CV is Dead. No more CVs.Late last night, at three in the morning, I heard the familiar *bing* of the iPad on my nightstand indicating a new e-mail. I don’t know what possessed me to pick up the device when I should have just ignored the tone, but what I saw caused me to jump out of bed. My eyes were wide open with a “eureka” glint.

The source of the midnight glow was a comment from Emma Reynolds, of e3 Reloaded, a boutique workforce innovation firm in Hong Kong. In her words, her company “facilitates disruption in the recruitment industry”.

As many of you know, every once in awhile I tend to go off on a rant about the job market. Specifically, my gripe is with recruitment infrastructure. I never quite seem able to articulate what my main beef is, but I feel strongly that something is very, very wrong.

Emma’s comment absolutely nailed the problem for me. I immediately sent her a LinkedIn invitation and started to chat. I’m looking forward to hearing more of her thoughts.

So you can see what got me so excited, I’m publishing Emma’s words here (with her permission).


Emma Reynolds’ comment on a Harvard Business Review discussion


Recruitment is fundamentally broken. As a process, it is still stuck in the 20th century ‘monologue’ mindset of posting jobs and receiving applications. It sucks for candidates and it sucks for hiring managers!

What are some of the problems?

  • It takes too long
  • It costs too much (high agency spend)
  • Monologue
  • Black hole – ie you never hear back
  • Quality v quantity ratios are way out, in this world candidates can apply for hundreds of jobs with one click, so it becomes a sorting nightmare. Only 1 relevant application for every 1000 applications
  • Conveyor belt, everyone going through same process, very little room for innovation or trying to stand out, like cows being herded into slaughterhouse
  • CVs are dead
  • Job boards are dying a slow death
  • Past performance doesn’t predict future potential – yet we only select and interview and hire based on past performance
  • Very limited focus outside of industry, always looking for people with experience in the industry, with a degree, that fit the cookie cutter model
  • Not collaborative between HR, candidate and hiring manager
  • Hiring managers don’t take any responsibility for metrics like ‘time to hire’

What can we do / what are the opportunities?

  • Ditch CVs. Candidates shouldn’t create them, recruiters shouldn’t ask for them.
  • Don’t post jobs. Post a business challenge, get people co-creating, collaborating, select based on future potential, ideas, not on past performance
  • If you do have to post jobs, don’t state ‘must have 100 years experience, plus a PHD, plus, plus, plus’ try and encourage people with different industry experience to apply
  • Shift accountability and performance metrics to hiring managers, and take them out of HR. Hiring managers should be responsible for ‘time to hire’ etc.
  • Build talent communities and hyper segment your audiences
  • Stop thinking ‘recruitment process’ and start thinking ‘experience design’ to surprise and delight candidates. Think like marketers, not like recruiters.
  • Re-think how you want to get work done. Does it need to be full-time / FTE headcount. Instead of just posting a job, really think about other ways of getting the work done (freelance, contractor, consultant, project team etc)
  • Top talent no longer tolerates poorly designed experiences – and most candidate experiences are tragic, poorly designed and disengaging. Where are the points at which you are ‘losing’ candidates
  • Look beyond traditional ways of finding people and candidates try and pop up where hiring managers least expect it. Move beyond job boards, move beyond recruitment agencies, how can you stand out and build relationships with people outside of the ‘traditional’ recruitment space. Best example of this is the SEO example in NYC.
  • Think people first, relationships first, technology last. Don’t just jump to Facebook because you think you should. Really think about the relationships you want to build, either as a candidate or a hiring manager.

Okay. Right here, right now, on this little purple blog, I am going to tell you that Emma’s vision is the way of the future. You may not believe me. You may think there’s nothing wrong with today’s recruitment infrastructure. You may believe someone put LSD in my diet coke.

But I swear to you, she is right.

To put it simply, our infrastructure evolved, but we didn’t.

Do yourself a favour. Follow Emma. Follow e3 Reloaded. Keep tabs on the work they’re doing, even if it’s just to prove to yourselves that I’m deranged.

In the meantime I’ll put some humble pie in the freezer. You might want me to reheat some next time you come over.

Incidentally, if you rabidly disagree with me, feel free to call me out in the comments section below. I could never say I’m always right. *evil grin*

I’m a professor of project management at the college where I work. My students continually amaze me with their insights, passion and all-around awesomeness. I figure they deserve access to more answers than I can give them by myself. This site is for them.
  • Lisa S.

    Love. this. As someone entering the “on ramp”, I’m preparing for a long and mighty journey through the modern “recruitment” process. Many job postings are asking for the proverbial purple squirrel. But, I am going to (naively?) keep the faith that the right company and I will find our way to each other. 

  • Hi, Lisa, thanks so much for your comment! I wish you the best of luck in your search and am going to be equally confident that you’ll find what you’re looking for.

    I’ll flip you a LinkedIn invite and maybe that will help a wee bit!

  • craigada

    Pity these guys aren’t working in my neck of the woods, I’m on board.

    Their “cool stuff” links go through to some amazing stuff.

    LSD and Diet Coke, hmm hadn’t thought of that, is that why your art is so good?

  • It’s true! This company is into a seriously kick-ass direction!

    HAHA as for LSD and Diet Coke, I consider my artwork akin to fingerpaints! LOL

  • I used to be the guy responsible for all of the HR solutions (including recruitment systems) for the largest employer in Nevada.  In 2009, we hired over 20,000 employees, because we opened a new resort.  You’re probably thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of hires!”  And you’d be right.  We processed over 200,000 applications, and on-boarded over 5,000 people in one six-week period.  Now, here’s the relevant part: the overwhelming majority of these employees were not high performers in creative positions; they were hourly workers in food and beverage positions, guest room attendants, maintenance workers, and so on.  Essentially, they were commodity labor for generic positions. 

    Sure, we wanted the best we could get for what we were willing to pay, but the truth is, we didn’t need a hyper-creative approach to hiring, we just needed something that they understood.  A lot of them were not very savvy at computer chores, and many had a primary language other than English.  So we created a process that they could quickly understand and use, and that the hiring managers could quickly understand and use.  And it worked well enough for us to meet our ambitious goals, on time, and on budget. 

    This might seem like a good place for a “Yeah, but …”  So I’ll raise the objection for you: this isn’t a common experience.  And you’re right.  Most new hires in the United States are to replace someone in an existing position – in other words, turnover.  But most of the jobs with high turnover rates are the hourly, part-time positions, like food service, maintenance, and so on.  Generic positions, needing commodity labor.  And the recruitment solutions are optimized for that sort of job and that sort of applicant.  It’s not entertaining, or inspiring, or any other form of positive experience because employers don’t need it to be; at least, not 90% of the time.

    Recruitment is like democracy – it sucks, although it’s better than the alternatives anyone has tried on a large scale.

  • Yay debate time! 🙂

    I won’t disagree with you that the vast majority of recruitment is to fill general worker positions. The reason these positions are high turnover is because they’re easy to replace (hiring side) and non-competitive in terms of pay (applicant side). As long as there are hotels and factories and global franchises that require thousands of employees to meet customer demands, this will continue to be true.

    However, the world is changing. As salaries and outsourcing both increase, the larger companies are losing ground to ambitious smaller companies. But the smaller companies can’t afford to hire general labour. They’re able to compete with the larger organizations *because* they only recruit creative, talented staff.

    But here’s the rub. As these companies grow to snag market share, they start to fall prey to the recruitment pitfalls that have increased in number since technology started to get in the way. 

    Problems I can see (in addition to those Emma mentioned):

    1) Job boards. Low cost of advertising a position means the influx of twenty bazillion resumes, most of which are crap. Someone has to wade through all of those to find the ones they want to keep.

    2) Sloppy job specs. Poorly worded requirements mean that ideal candidates will fall through the cracks because a gatekeeper doesn’t know exactly what the hiring manager really wants.

    3) Corporate systems open for public submission. These get flooded with more resume pollution. As a result, companies adopt policies like “you can only apply once a year” to minimize the junk. But they’ll miss candidates who applied earlier for a position they weren’t as well suited for.

    4) Increased reliance on word-of-mouth. Since there’s too much junk in all the online repositories, referrals are fast becoming the preferred way to find people–which means tremendous opportunities lost for both hiring managers and candidates.

    I could keep going.

    The net result is, companies are missing out on a lot of good talent, and good talent is missing out on a lot of opportunity. This is a direct result of an environment that we created in the last 20 years. We lacked the foresight to see the consequences of the very systems we implemented. That’s our fault through-and-through.

    I recognize your statement that recruitment is a democracy, but I fervently disagree with it. It would be a democracy if the processes on either side were efficient and well-understood. That’s not the case.

    Here’s an interesting tidbit. I had lunch with an old recruiter friend recently: According to him, anybody with a public profile on is essentially unemployable. Why? Because it means they’re actively looking for work. He finds all his candidates on LinkedIn and then does a cross-check. I asked him, how are people supposed to know about this? His answer: “that’s their problem”.

    That’s not democracy at work. If others share this recruiter’s view, then the public believes in a set of rules for job success that are not valid.

    So my next question, then, is how many people get lost in the cracks every day? The common answer to that is, “who cares, it’s not my problem”.To which I would ask, what are the healthcare and social support costs for these people? Do they rise high enough that they become part of the reason companies have to layoff due to revenue shortfalls? That would make conventional attitudes towards recruitment myopic and self-destructive.

    I absolutely believe recruitment is in a sorry state. We did it to ourselves, and it’s going to bite us in the ass (if it hasn’t already done so).

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  • I made the mistake of commenting on a discussion on a LinkedIn project management board a few days ago, and have been getting EMails ever since whenever any other poor fool chimes in.  This morning, I saw one from a guy who had a weird dialog with a recruiter.  “He was adamant that the target company used “SDLC” and I needed to have specific experience using SDLC.” 

    Now, those of us who do it for a living know that SDLC = software development life cycle, which is a class, not an instance of a class.  But recruiters don’t.  To them, it’s all just a bunch of buzz words on a shopping list.  Which should surprise no one, since so much of technology consists of arcana and acronyms.

    While I would love to be able to find the most creative person available for every job, that doesn’t mean they’d have the vocabulary to be immediately (or even quickly) productive.  Nor does it mean that they’d be the best person for the job – some gigs need pastry chefs, and some need bakers.  Personally, I believe that adding the sentence “Local candidates only” would benefit both the applicants and the hiring managers, but some companies like to pretend that they’re casting a wide net, when in fact they just want to poach their competitor across town.

    I get a lot of entertainment out of watching the Republican Presidential candidates “debate,” because there’s nothing good on TV, and the process is too broken to fix, so I might as well mock it.  But the truth is, it’s not too broken to produce a candidate.  So they’ll keep using it, and producing woefully inadequate candidates.  Because the goal of the process is not to deliver the “best” candidate, but to select the best qualified of those who express interest.  Just like every other job we’re trying to fill.

  • Lizy

    This is by far the best article I’ve read in a LONG LONG time. Very accurate, true and down to the point. Being a freelance PM contractor / consultant has made me need to hunt for jobs and lets call them gigs, and because of the narrow-minded ways recruiting mostly work these days, it’s been somewhat difficult sometimes to get my hands on the good stuff. I’ve been lucky enough to have found those few sites with mindsets similar to Emma’s, and because of these I can say I am slowly but surely finding success. @MavenTactics:twitter 

  • Thank you so much, Lizy, for the great comment! And welcome to the site! As a fellow freelancer, I can completely relate to your pain. I’m very, very glad to hear you’re getting the success you deserve!

    My personal approach has been to abandon any traditional venues for the job search. I do maintain a cv, but I consider it a document that’s kind of like a transcript. It’s something you give an employer so they can say you gave them one, but other than that it’s pretty worthless. Job boards are a joke, and I no longer submit “applications” for positions.

    Nowadays I pick companies I think would be a good fit for me, and research the hell out of their senior executives. I dig up quarterly reports and arm myself with as much background information as I can. I don’t look at positions they’re hiring for because quite frankly, they might not know what they want (believe me, this seems true more often than not). Instead, based on the information I collected, I try to find the gap. And then I introduce myself.

    I can definitely say this approach gets a lot more attention. And because I’m so active in my research, I feel like I’m doing something a lot more constructive than feeding my guts into a broken machine.

  • Deanne (@UnlikeBefore)

    Another cracking post Geoff. So good in fact I’ve shared it with a colleague of mine in NZ who’s having a helluva time recruiting as I type. The HR team are unable to cope with his, in their opinion, out of the ordinary needs and that gets compounded by the inabilities of local recruitment co’s. Given he’s recruiting senior technologists for roles in technology and innovation he’s quite naturally leveraging technology and using creative innovative ways to attract candidates. From what he’s said he’s having faster and greater success via Twitter than anything the generic HR / recruiter combined can deliver up.

    For those independents and full-timers with experience and expertise the cookie cutter recruitment approach is demoralising and getting worse. During some momentary lapses in sanity I dip into it by responding to something that takes my fancy only to be ignored and reminded about its futility. Recruiters understand next to nothing about the role they’re recruiting for filtering based on acronyms and buzz-words that bear little or no resemblance to what the role needs rather than the job-spec the client gave them. Doesn’t anyone do person specifications any more?

    Emma’s response was refreshing and enlightened. We need to help it go viral.

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  • Hi Geoff, good blog post,  As someone who’s been looking for full-time work this past year and getting only a few short, unsatisfying contracts I can entirely relate to the recruitment frustrations that Emma has pulled out here.  Having said that I’m not sure what is meant by ‘Build talent communities and hyper segment your audiences’.  Isn’t that what Job Agencies do now, segment people by the JD infront of them with the CV and match keywords? e.g. 3 years experience in X industry…tick, degree plus professional qualification..tick, etc

    I found it really interesting to hear how you go about getting the contract you want, that’s

  • Thanks heaps, Aidan! This is an area that I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at lately. I think you’ve asked a good question about Emma’s comments and she’s the best person to answer them. Emma?

  • Hi Geoff thanks for posting this blog which I found really interesting, and largely true!

    BTW…..I accidentally submitted my previous comment halfway through please ignore that one…

    As a project manager who’s been looking for full-time work this past year and getting only a few, short term unsatisfying contracts I found Emma’s email really interesting.  However I’m not sure what she meant by ‘Build talent communities and hyper segment your audiences’?  That sounds to me exactly what recruitment agencies do currently – match the keywords from the JD infront of them to the CV and tick off those people who match i.e. they hyper segment based on how well the candidates’ experience matches the JD, rather than include candidates with experience outside of the specified industry.

    I have been working as a project manager for the past 5 years in the not-for-profit sector here in the UK.  As you can imagine it’s a challenging sector, especially at the moment – all orgs are short of funds, all roles require high levels of commitment and drive, plus resourcefulness and a willingness to go above and beyond.  The downside is that there are few jobs, and none with long term prospects.  But my point is that these qualities that you have to develop in order to survive in the non-profit sector are really great qualities for many jobs.  However the biggest challenge that I face currently is how to explain that to recruiters.  How can I demonstate that my non-profit experiences are extremely valid and potentially make me better for the job they’re advertising for than others with direct experience in other industries?

    I found your comments about how you research senior execs in companies that interest you and then make an approach really insightful.  Certainly my current approach is not working, and it sounds like it hasn’t been working for a lot of people for a long time, so perhaps it’s time for a paradigm shift.


  • (I deleted your previous comment and kept this one *grin*)

    Thanks heaps, Aidan! This is an area that I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at lately. I think you’ve asked a good question about Emma’s comments and she’s the best person to answer them. Emma?

    It is a bad time to be a project manager. Something I learned back in 2005 when I was out and looking for work, was that when times are tough, many companies hold back funding for their projects until either the economy improves or business demands outweigh the financial risks associated with the work. Of course no project means no manager to look after that project.

    Still, we live in a time of great tunnel vision. The skills you’ve developed in the non-profit sector could likely benefit many companies who really need them…the challenges is getting them to recognize that. *cue drone* “Have you worked in healthcare / construction / investment banking before? No? Thanks for coming.”

    Since you’re in the UK I’m going to strongly recommend that you speak with Lindsay Scott over at Arras People. She writes about this stuff a lot on her blog How to Manage a Camel plus she’s in the PM recruitment space. She’s also completely fabulous.

    I sincerely wish you the best of luck. And thank you so much for the thoughtful comment!

    Keep watching this space because I have a lot more to say on the subject. There are big social problems out there today and they really need fixing!

  • Hi Geoff, I came across you website today during my book research and couldn’t resist replying to this one and sharing a slightly funny, slightly sad little story that demonstrates a few of the points above…

    Recently I started looking for new contracts (I’ve run my own business for the past four years as a contract PM). I saw a role on Seek (Australian job board) and applied for it. Then being the proactive person I am, I called the recruitment agency after researching ‘how’ I contact them (as we all probably know many recruitment consultants have selective ‘social phobia’ so they don’t post any specifics about who is managing the recruitment of a role or how to talk to them). My persistence paid off and I got to the right person. I asked her if she needed any more details about my background or if I can refine my CV to suit the role better before she selects the ‘three people she is allowed to send through’ so I have the best chance of being one of those lucky people. Her comment – “Your CV is too colourful, you need to make it plainer. They won’t handle how different your CV is very well.”

    Perhaps recruitment agencies have a previously hidden fear that we should all understand before submitting to their unwieldy processes…Chromophobia 😉

    I hope this crucial phobia information aids someone else in their search for a job, until the vision you & Emma describe above comes about 🙂


  • LOL “Chromophobia!” Okay that’s definitely a new one and should absolutely get put on job seekers’ radar. 🙂

    It’s true, though. I just spoke to my class this week about their job search (they’ll be graduating in a few weeks) and they’re struggling. They’re looking for some golden rule to follow regarding resume format or job search success and I had to say that there just isn’t one. Every recruiter or hiring manager is looking for something different, and that includes formatting, presentation and a million other variables.

    I find this a little ironic, given the lengths most hiring managers have gone to in their own silver bullet identification! LOL

    Personally, I’ve just thrown up my hands which is why I’m teaching now rather than looking for PM jobs hehehe.