The #1 Mistake in Corporate Recruiting

While no company has a flawless recruiting system, process or solution, there is a glaring problem shared by many corporate recruiting functions from which the Fortune 500 and the Big 4 are not immune.

As some of the most respected companies in the world invest quite a bit of time, energy and money into social recruiting efforts, interactive recruiting solutionsLinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and career site optimization, one critical piece of the recruiting puzzle seems to be all but completely overlooked.

Before you read any further – do you believe you have an idea of what I might be talking about?

From the conversations I’ve had over the years with many corporate recruiters and recruiting leaders from small companies all the way to the Fortune 500 and the Big 4, as well as the contract recruiters who are hired to help these companies source and recruit talent, I believe that the #1 mistake in corporate recruiting is the failure to fully realize and take appropriate action on the value of the human capital data they already possess.

The #1 Mistake in Corporate Recruiting

In my opinion, the single biggest corporate recruiting flunk is the failure to accurately value and appropriately leverage the human capital data they have in their applicant tracking and/or CRM systems.

Let me show you the depth and complexity of some of the contributing factors of this issue.

The Shiny New Candidate Syndrome

A bachelor’s degree in psychology certainly doesn’t make me a psychologist – but it doesn’t take an advanced degree to recognize that it seems to be human nature to want what they don’t already have.

Certainly I cannot be the only person to be confused by companies investing a large amount of time, focus, energy and money into social recruiting, fancy and high-tech job posting systems and optimized career sites in order to identify and attract new candidates when they might already have the best candidate sitting in their ATS.

Getting a shiny new candidate via your Facebook advertising campaign or your LinkedIn Recruiter account is perceived by some to be “cutting edge,” sexy and seems to afford bragging rights at recruiting conferences. Heck, anything recruiting related that can be tagged as “social” is certainly cooler than ATS mining (for those few companies that can and actually do mine their ATS!).

However, who is to say you don’t actually have faster and lower cost access to better qualified candidates already in your database?

To be sure, the most recently identified candidate is not necessarily the best candidate, and I can speak from experience when I say that some of the best candidates I have ever placed came from “old” resumes – some as old as 4 years since the last update. Someone I recently trained was happy to report he had made a placement by calling a candidate whose resume had not been updated in over 6 years!

Instead of focusing so heavily on trying to find “new” candidates from external sources, companies should spend more time leveraging the candidates they already have at their fingertips.

Resumes acquired in the past that were never reviewed by someone are essentially new candidates – they might be “old” in your ATS, but they’re new to you when you finally dig them up and review them for the first time! There are plenty of “new,” unidentified candidates in corporate ATS/CRM resume databases – you just have to look for them!

The Big Fat Ugly Assumption

Why are so many companies and recruiters focused on looking outside their own database in places like LinkedIn, Monster, Twitter, Facebook, etc. for talent?

I’ll tell you why.

Although largely unspoken and unrecognized, the big fat ugly assumption in recruiting is that every candidate captured in an ATS/CRM has been reviewed, and that if a candidate fits for any position, someone would know.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

I’d estimate that a good portion of every ATS consists of candidates whose resumes have been acquired, but not reviewed, and thus not identified. If that sounds a bit backward, that’s because it is.

When relying on job posting for the majority of the acquisition of candidate resumes, you can actually acquire a resume that is not reviewed. And if you haven’t reviewed a candidate’s resume, you can’t identify them as a potential match for any position, let alone the one they responded to.

If your organization isn’t putting enough emphasis on searching your resume database, you can be assured you have plenty of candidates that have technically been “acquired” because you’ve captured their resume, but have not been identified because no one reviewed them, and thus they cannot be matched to any position.

Even if a company does review 100% of all applicants for the positions they apply to, many great candidates are still overlooked, are not properly identified and are never matched to positions they are qualified for. See “Right Candidate, Wrong Job,” and “The Time Value of Resumes” below.

Do not make the mistake of assuming that someone has searched for and reviewed every possible candidate match in your corporate ATS/CRM. As I said above, there are plenty of “new,” unidentified candidates in corporate ATS/CRM resume databases – you just have to search for them.

A Heavy Reliance On Posting Jobs

Many companies rely heavily on posting jobs for talent attraction and acquisition. I’m aware that some companies get such a high volume of responses from their online job postings and career sites that their recruiters are so buried with reactively processing applicants that they practically have no time to proactively source candidates from their own ATS.

While it may sound like a good thing to have a steady stream of people interested in joining your company and applying to your job postings, no matter what technology or solution you use, there are some serious limitations and universal truths to using job postings to identify talent:

  • Posting jobs is a passive candidate identification and acquisition strategy – you are 100% reliant on the right people finding or stumbling across your opening.
  • Posting jobs offers no control over the qualifications of the candidates who apply – the phrase “post and pray” is quite accurate, because it comes from the fact that you are essentially hoping that the people you want and need actually find and apply to your opening.
  • While 100% of the people who apply to online job postings are interested in the positions they are applying to, a good portion aren’t actually qualified for them (which is both a bad and a good thing – more on this later).
  • Posting jobs – via web 1.0, 2.0, or x.0 – primarily attracts the attention of active job seekers only, which is the minority of all people. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that approximately 14% of all people are “actively” seeking a new job. Even if you add in the estimated 20% of people who are “casually” looking for a new job, you are still missing nearly 66% of the workforce if you rely heavily on posting jobs to find your next great hire.
  • Passive and non-job seekers simply do not “see” job postings, even if you place them on their Facebook or LinkedIn pages. Sorry.

It is a HUGE mistake to place a large amount of the control over your talent acquisition strategy in the hands of others – the talent you’re hunting.

Without a strong focus on proactive ATS/resume database mining, you’re primarily in reactive mode, waiting for the people you want and need to come to you, and you can simply cannot target and tap into the elusive and highly valued “passive candidates.”

Right Candidate, Wrong Job

Assuming that every resume submitted into an ATS is reviewed (remember what I said earlier about this assumption), what happens to all of the people who apply online to job postings who are great people, but just aren’t qualified for the specific position they apply to?

If a person doesn’t meet the basic qualifications of the position they directly applied to, does that mean they don’t meet the basic qualifications of other open positions?

Of course not.

The unfortunate reality is that every company in existence is sitting on a pile of people who are a great match for a position other than what they directly applied to. Unless a recruiting organization focuses specifically on mining their resume database, a great many of these people will never be matched to the positions they actually are qualified for.

The Time Value of Resumes

What happens to all of the people who apply to positions that they are not yet fully qualified for, but will be in 1-3 years?

Unfortunately, in most cases the answer to the above question is absolutely nothing, which is both unacceptable and a significant opportunity for all companies.

If I had $1 for every time I have heard a recruiter say that it’s a waste of time to search “old” resumes because they’re old and “out of date,” I’d be a millionaire. Resumes don’t spoil, and they don’t have a “best used by” date – I cannot stress enough how shortsighted it is, as well as just plain wrong, to believe that a resume over 1 year old is worthless.

Just as a point of reference – not too long ago I spoke with someone in a recruiting leadership function from a Big 4 firm that mentioned their organization “purged” millions of resumes during a migration to a new ATS. Ouch!

Failing to search your resume database for people who applied to positions 1-3 or even more years ago is an epic #fail.

While I could write a small book on the many reasons as to why, for the sake of this post, let me just say that it’s quite easy to calculate a person’s career trajectory, and calling people with “old” resumes is a very effective way of recruiting passive candidates – including non-job seekers that you simply cannot identify and acquire through any other means.

Resumes do not lose their value as they age – they actually do gain value over time.

If your organization is burdened by a large collection of worthless old resumes – I will gladly give them a good home. :-)

Black Hole ATS

Practically every company has an internal database filled with actionable information on thousands to literally tens of millions of applicants, candidates, and professionals.

You would think that a private internal database of people that an organization has actively and passively, tactically and strategically collected over the years would be a prized possession and be viewed and leveraged as a significant resource and competitive advantage.

However, this post on Weddles gives us a glimpse of just how wrong we would be to think such a thing. An Online Sourcing Survey conducted by TalentDrive found that almost two-thirds (64%) of the employers represented by the survey’s participants did not know how many qualified candidates were in their own ATS databases.

Yes – you read that correctly. Most companies don’t even know how many people are in their Applicant Tracking Systems.


While that is an especially disturbing statistic and a sad reality, I’m actually not that surprised.

Many Applicant Tracking Systems have horrible search interfaces and extremely limited search capability. Prospective candidates go in, but they don’t come back out. If you can’t easily search your internal database, how can you find the top talent hidden within, let alone determine the total candidate population?

This problem is not isolated to small companies with home-grown Applicant Tracking Systems. I recently spoke with a corporate recruiter from a well-known and highly visible Fortune 500 brand who told me that it’s easier for her to find candidates on Monster and then cross reference the names in her ATS than it is to actually source candidates from her ATS.

Epic #fail!

If you’re sitting on a stockpile of resumes and applicants, you should be able to quickly, easily, and precisely retrieve exactly what you need. If your ATS/CRM doesn’t have advanced information retrieval capability – it’s time you took action to remedy that so you can begin to fully leverage all of the human capital information you’ve harvested, likely at significant cost.

You Don’t Need LinkedIn to Leverage 3 Degrees of Separation

One of the great features of LinkedIn is that it is easy to see beyond your direct connections and to leverage 3 degrees of separation.

However, you don’t need LinkedIn to leverage degrees of separation. To think the value of an ATS resume database is limited solely to the direct access to the people contained within is a serious mistake.

Every person in an ATS database knows other people, who also know other people.

The resumes you have direct access to essentially represent 1st degree connections, through which you can reach 2nd and 3rd degree connections and beyond.

You’d be surprised what happens when you call people from your ATS simply to network with them and ask for help. Why more companies don’t realize that the value of their ATS goes FAR beyond just the people contained within is a mystery to me.

Lessons to be Learned

While it is a huge mistake for companies and recruiters to fail to fully realize and take appropriate action on the value of the human capital data they already possess, mistakes are simply opportunities to learn.

It won’t take much effort for recruiters and the companies they work for to begin to fully leverage the human capital data buried in their ATS databases.

Lessen the obsession with finding the next “new” candidate via external sources and bright shiny social channels and focus more time extracting the value from candidates that are already in your possession but have yet to be truly identified or acted upon. Not fully leveraging an internal resume/candidate database, which has likely been built through significant time, effort and money is a serious flaw in any talent acquisition plan. In some way, shape or form, every candidate record in an ATS has been paid for, and there is simply no sense in paying for something that you don’t use.

Recognize that while posting jobs online can open the candidate floodgates, posting jobs to attract talent some serious limitations, not the least of which is the fact that it is a completely passive talent acquisition strategy offering no control over candidate qualification variables. Also, don’t forget that job postings can only attract active and casual job seekers, limiting you to only 1/3rd of the talent pool available at best.

Mining your ATS is a proactive sourcing and recruitment strategy which affords you significant control over critical candidate qualification variables, and you can specifically and strategically target and tap into the other 66% of the talent pool by searching for resumes that have not been updated or acquired in over 6 months. If you get “too many” applicants to your job postings, make sure there is at least 1 person (ideally more!) who doesn’t have anything to do with processing applicants – you need to have resources that spend 100% of their time proactively mining your ATS as well as external sources.

Ensure your ATS/CRM is highly searchable – if your ATS/CRM is as easy to search as it is to put candidates in, you will be able to fill more of your company’s openings from talent you’ve already sourced. Any opening you can fill with candidates already in your internal system saves you the time, effort, and cost of advertising and searching for “new” candidates. Filling openings with candidates already in your ATS can afford you significant and measurable cost-per-hire, time-to-identify, and time-to-fill benefits.

Having a highly searchable ATS/CRM can help you reduce your reliance on paid resources if you currently use them (LinkedIn, Monster, etc.). Strive to ensure that your ATS/CRM is more searchable than LinkedIn, Monster and even the Internet itself. It should not be easier to search and identify potential candidates via external sources than it is to mine your own private candidate database!

In addition to high searchability, your ATS/CRM should have robust and easy to use contact management functionality to enable recruiters to stay in touch with the people who enter the ATS. Maintaining regular communications with candidates, regardless of their job search status, allows an organization to be ready to take appropriate action when the candidate’s status changes, or when a new position opens for which the person is an excellent fit. Plus, staying in touch with candidates ensures that resumes never get too out of date (if you’re bothered by that sort of thing)  – it’s easy to request an updated resume each year using solid contact management functionality.

And last but certainly not least – be sure to recognize that the value of your ATS database goes well beyond the people contained within. Every person in your internal database knows people, who in turn know other people. Leverage those degrees of separation for professional networking and ask for help in the form of referrals.

  • Christine

    Excellent thought leadership Glen! Social networks can be useful but there’s always need for a human being to dig into results ! and better be a smart one ;-)

  • Once again, a solid point.  Hope all the recruiter peeps out there are paying attention…

  • Dschreiber

    I can’t tell you how many instances in which I have come across excellent candidates that have applied to company XYZ  at some point and their resume was just sitting in their database. As an agency recruiter, I see poor data management on my corporate client’s behalf far too frequently (although this helps justify my existence as a resource;).
    Sadly, companies often have strict representation rules that prevent agencies from submitting candidates who are already in their database, even if they have not spoken with them about a specific job opportunity. This prevents them from being notified of potentially the best candidate for the position – another result of mis-managed data.

  • Glen – great post

    This happened to me, when I was looking at a Director level position – I applied through the company’s website, spoke with a peer level director of the company about the position – then a week later got a call from an executive recruiter about the same position – eventually got the position through the executive recruiter, because the peer director never passed my resume on to the VP.  Cost them $35K in fees, for a resume they already had.  I told the VP this during the first interview and I think it was the main reason he hired me to figure out how to never have that happen again!


  • Glen – great post

    This happened to me, when I was looking at a Director level position – I applied through the company’s website, spoke with a peer level director of the company about the position – then a week later got a call from an executive recruiter about the same position – eventually got the position through the executive recruiter, because the peer director never passed my resume on to the VP.  Cost them $35K in fees, for a resume they already had.  I told the VP this during the first interview and I think it was the main reason he hired me to figure out how to never have that happen again!


  • Glen – great post

    This happened to me, when I was looking at a Director level position – I applied through the company’s website, spoke with a peer level director of the company about the position – then a week later got a call from an executive recruiter about the same position – eventually got the position through the executive recruiter, because the peer director never passed my resume on to the VP.  Cost them $35K in fees, for a resume they already had.  I told the VP this during the first interview and I think it was the main reason he hired me to figure out how to never have that happen again!


  • rphilby

    Glen, great post.  The other glaring mistake organisations make is to not tap in the talent pool they already have.  If you “shook down” every employee you already had for contacts and then “shook” the resulting contacts again, the chances are you’ll never need an external campaign ever.

  • Mark Dinan

    Great post. When I was in-house at a client  in San Francisco, I made it a project to e-mail all past applicants to technology jobs. My thinking was 1) many good candidates are overlooked, as there are a million ways to fall through the cracks 2) If they applied directly on-line, they already had an interest in the company 3) Even if they had interviewed in the past, it is possible that their skill set had changed/evolved/improved.  It was an interesting project  – LOTS of response, and many good candidates.   The unfortunate  bit was that management saw the e-mailing of existing employees as more of a threat than the benefits of contacting untapped candidates in a competitive labor market for software engineers. Yet one more sign that I am better suited to work as a third party recruiter than work in-house…

  • Cathy Ou

    Excellent points and post Glen! I hope that recruiting managers are reading this bc it seems like there needs to be some sort of redirection/ restructuring of responsibilities for in-house recruiters. While some be assigned to handle the “floodgates” of applicants to job postings, there should be others mining & contacting past applicants already in their CRM/ ATS. I agree w the prior comment that bc in-house recruiters aren’t recognizing the talent they already have in their ATS/ CRM and bc agency recruiters can’t represent a candidate that the company already has, the company is shooting themselves in the foot bc that candidate may very well be a great match.

  • You’ve again hit the nail on the head Glen. I think you just described one of the most challenging aspects in corporate recruitment. This is the one I can definitely relate to :)

    It would have been so easy if we could have created a candidate out of thin air. Guess what – it’s not possible. If we can not honor what we have – we should not look for “new” every-time. The new shiny and sexy ways of getting candidates (like social media) will only throw the same candidates – in a different way.

    It’s best we get best what we have right in front of us before we look for new….

  • maja

    Excellent post – fully agree with your observations.

  • Paul

    Excellent commentary, Glen… on describing the many challenges of effectively and efficiently sourcing candidates.  I would say that the profiles in a respective ATS database can be useful but imagine if you could pull on a community of already interested passive candidates with real time, up to date information (derived from an individual’s LinkedIn and Facebook profile)…..that’s what provides (a way for recruiters to confidently source from a talent community that continually remains relevant).  Great read….keep up the awesome work!

  • Raji Nilakantan

    Wow! Great thoughts .. Completely agree !…There really seems to ba huge gap in identifying the inhouse shining candidates who have proved their mettle with the organisation whereevr possible and instead getting in new stars …The org is more than happy to give the new candidates a huge hike on their salries , invest in training , travel , reimbursement & relocation rather than give the inhouse employees a reasonable hike & a promotion . They let the inhouse bright performers leave because of a small hike that they had demanded and the end result is losing out on knowledge , expertise and loyalty I sincerely wish companies start relooking at this strategy which is all about revenue loss and knowledge loss

  • Jane

    What an excellent article!  Many years ago, we had a simple concept called a “Hold on File” file, but somehow this has been lost with the new concept of searching for the “new and shiny” candidate!  Thank you for reminding us, I have sent this to my recruiters!

  • Brilliant Glen! Which Fortune 100 org do you think leverages their ATS best? (That you know of.)

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  • Edonczyk

    Great posting, I think you hit the nail on the head. Another thing I would like to add is the way companies are starting to look at education and degrees. My company is going through restructuring and it seems like unless you have a degree of some sort you’re on the chopping block. I’ve been out of work for almost a year and can’t even get an interview because most opening out there want a BA or degree. What ever happened to experience?
    My generation of grade 12 educated collegues built a 2 billion dollar a year company.Imagine that, no degrees, just experience and  a little bit of sweat.

  • Kevin

    Glen-Need advise on ATS/CRM, which one is the best i am trying to buy one.

    Thanks in advance,

  • Vmahillon

    I love how you break down the big fat ugly assumption. At my previous company, we had an enormous database consisting of candidates who were eager, able and willing to work for us. However, everyone seemed to assume that if they were still there, it was because they were either hired already or simply not good enough to be hired. This really reminds me of the Bystander Effect or Genovese Syndrome where nobody reacts proactively because they assume someone else has done so already. When I recruit for my portfolio companies at OpenView Venture Partners, I look at every resume in the database that’s a fit. If someone’s beaten me to the punch, then so be it. I don’t mind spending 5 minutes to make sure my bases are covered. Great post – keep them coming!

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  • Jared Lupton

    I totally agree with you. The difference between myself now and four years ago before I had my BA is the amount of time I’ve spent reading, studying and doing research, which I already had the drive and ability to do as a workhorse then, as I do now. It does depend on the person though; not everyone has a good work ethic and wants to learn a lot of information in a structured way, with a structured goal. I like to keep an open mind and remind myself that every case is different.

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