Reject Job Applications

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009 - career change, Job Application, Job Application Rejection, job search, Professional CV, professionalism, tutorial

Reject Job Applications

When I first came into the world of recruitment and employment full time, two things suddenly struck me:

  1. That, on average in the typical job search, we were dismissing half of the job applications at the first stage: sifting
  2. That, to a great extent, the dismissed applications were dealt with as irrelevant and time wasting. They were, actually just pieces of paper we pushed around a desk

As someone who came from an operational background, although having recruited people for 15 years, most of my managerial training was about developing skill and talent, and not dismissing it.

This whole concept of dismissing talented people irked and disappointed me: seemed then, as it does now, such a waste!

Job Applications Process

So one day, I sat down with one of the researchers handling a position I was recruiting for, and asked her to take me fully through the process and the reasoning for rejecting half of all job applications.

Do you want to do this the easy way, or the hard way Ian she asked?

OK, the easy way then said I. She picked up a CV. As a CV Writer I could already see, without even reading the words, that it was: lazy and scruffy; spaced poorly horizontally; using a large font to create a 2page over a 1page effect. Even back then, having written CV’s since 1991, I was still writing around six Professional CV’s a month for friends – CV layout is key!

Now, in my old corporate employer, due to various pieces of equality legislation and working inside a heavily regulated industry, as the hiring manager you had to come up with at least three good reasons why a specific job applicant was unsuitable for that position. If you got it wrong, then they had the right of appeal. Where as, this researcher had dismissed the applicant in less than a minute, and was on to the next.

Why get rid of that one I asked?

Well she said, as her eyes rolled, and looked at me over the top of her glasses. We could read the whole thing, but if the skills are not in the top half of the first page, then mining for them through the rest of it is not going to get the job done. Plus, it will mean that the CV needs rewriting, and that means taking time out, and honestly – I know there are better candidates here.

How do you know that I asked?

Because, they called me and asked about the job.

Best Job Applications

That was my first clue to how the best job applications got those job seekers employed quicker. The best job applicants never applied for a job without making human contact first. Once they had, they had an inside track – they were through the sifting exercise and on to the real job application.

I wondered if this were true of both recruiters and employers, but on spending time with employers it was exactly the same set of processes, attitudes – and hence statistics. The only difference with a large employer could be that even the poor CV’s got stored electronically for later positions. But often I found that was pointless, as the HR person’s calculation was the same as our researchers: spend time re-writing the CV, so its quicker/easier to find better job applicants.

As an trained engineer, I like measurement and improvement; so I decided to measure the outcomes of each stage of the job application process. The outcome I wanted was: what worked better, and what didn’t. I wanted both sides of the learning experience.

It didn’t take me long or much data to compile a best job application process, or set of tactics that Job seekers should deploy to get employed. But the scariest thing was, the following Christmas holidays I was tidying up in the loft at home, and found some old papers relating to hiring in my old corporate employer for positions in my old team. On comparison of the data in the same format, the answer was – there was a less than 3% variance across the entire hiring process of the tactics each candidate applied then, to what I saw and measured in the recruitment office. In other words, the process, and the resultant best result practices, had hardly changed in 15+ years. The average job seeker needs to apply on average for 10 jobs to get one job interview

Recruitment Process

Should this come as a surprise? Surely now, with internet job search driven by tools like job boards, there were better systems and methods to deploy? It was a question I contemplated that New Years period for a couple of nights over a favourite glass or two of Glenmorangie: in fact, I went through a whole bottle in six nights! When I tell you it normally takes me a couple of years to finish a bottle of whisky at home, you can see how my mind was stirring.

The answer was simple: the job application process was the same two millennia ago, as it is today – people hire people. The best practises don’t change, but adapt to the latest available tools. The result is that they allow us to undertake the job search process quicker, over a wider geography – and in a less human way. The best lesson I learnt was that looking at the job search process one step at a time – such as having the best CV – was not improving job applicants success much beyond the average.

Hence why, the only key variance I have seen since starting this exercise is the rising rate of candidate dismissal at the sifting stage. Job boards make it both easier to apply, create more competition through addressing a larger geography – and therefore makes it easier to dismiss job applicants.

What is the difference of applying these best job search tactics and best job search techniques to the average job seeker? In measurement: four times as many jobs, with eight times the success ratio.

Presently, while the average job applicant is apparently quite happy to be told by their CV writer that every 20 job applications should result in 1 job interview, we are getting our Professional CV clients one interview every 2.973 job applications – rain or shine, good or bad economy. I don’t think we can get much better than 1 every 2.5 until we understand human chemistry, and that might take a few thousand years. But 1 in 20 to 1 in 2.973 can be achieved in less than a week.

Tomorrow I will explain how easy this ratio is to achieve

Good Luck!


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