A Few Flickers of Hope in Employment-Related Communication

The sluggish job market isn't going to reignite overnight, but we have recently noticed a few positive communication developments that could eventually help more qualified candidates land the jobs they want.

1. The growing realization that auto-screening applicants is not automatically a good idea

When companies complain they can't find qualified applicants for unfilled openings and qualified applicants complain they can't get any interviews, something is clearly wrong with the system. Wharton's Peter Cappelli identified the overuse and misuse of automated screening software as one of the causes of this perplexing stalemate. As this article in Workforce explains, resource-strapped HR departments too often rely on screening software that is either poorly tuned to specific jobs or mindlessly automating a process that doesn't work well in the first place. As a result, screening criteria are sometimes set absurdly high or include irrelevant checks that needlessly filter out promising candidates.

Fixing this problem will require fine-tuning processes and software, but at least more companies should be now aware of the problem and recognize the upside of using these software tools more effectively.

2. The decline of brainteaser questions

We have long been skeptical of the value of interview questions such as "How much would you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?" or the classic "Why are manhole covers round?" Unless the job involves answering bizarre questions in a pressure-packed setting, it's hard to see how these questions lend much insight into a candidate's ability to perform. William Poundstone, author of numerous interviewing books, is quoted in this article in Time as saying "there’s very little solid evidence that tricky interview questions work." And not only are these questions of questionable value, they can turn off good candidates who don't respond positively to being put on the spot in this artificial way.

The article suggests there is conflicting evidence about how extensively these puzzle questions are still being used, but any evidence of their decline is good news.

3. The increasing scrutiny of social media profiles
The fact that more employers are reviewing the online media presence of job candidates is usually—and rightly—presented as a cautionary message. Clean up your social media profile or risk getting booted out of the selection process. Why then do we consider it a positive development for job hunters that more employers are doing these background checks? Because a person's online presence is one of the very few aspects of the job search process in which the candidate has total or near-total control. It's an opportunity to creatively present your value package outside the narrow constraints of a résumé, an applicant tracking system, or the interview structure. Every job seeker at every level can take advantage of this revolution in the hiring process.


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