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.