What’s Wrong with Recruiting?

Have you ever received an unsolicited message from a recruiter about a position you’re not interested in? Do you ever get passed up for positions you are qualified for before you’ve even interviewed? There are reasons for that, and they kinda suck.

I’ve worked in the HR automation field for about a year now, and this is what I’ve seen:

  1. Sourcers often aren’t familiar with the jargon of the positions they’re hiring for.
  2. Search engines aren’t good at ranking candidate profiles.
  3. Candidates don’t know how to write their profiles to make them easily searchable.
Whats Wrong with Recruiting.png
An entity relationship diagram of candidate sourcing, with the three relationships that cause the most pain in red.



Sourcers are the people who look for candidates who are both qualified for open positions and are interested in filling them. The people who do sourcing often have the job title “recruiter”.

The process of finding and hiring a new employee can roughly be broken down into the below steps. (Depending on the company, steps may be condensed or done by the same person.)

  1. A manager tells a hiring manager that they need someone with some set of qualifications/skills.
  2. The hiring manager write a job requisition.
  3. A sourcer reads the job requisition and looks for candidates who meet the qualifications.
  4. The sourcer contacts the candidates, verifies their interest, and refers them to the hiring manager.
  5. The hiring manger / team / etc. interviews the candidate.
  6. The candidate is hired.

The issue here is with step 3. Sourcers generally have very little training, learning most of their trade on the job. They also hire for many, many different positions. The same sourcer may look for accountants, software developers, and mid-level managers. There’s so much jargon and so many different skills to juggle that sourcers rarely get much more than a superficial understanding of what they’re looking for. They don’t have the time to absorb the overwhelming amount of information in every profession. (Hiring managers, luckily, tend to specialize and pick up on the nuances of what they’re looking for)

Recruiters source for many, many different roles and don’t often have a deep understanding of what they’re looking for. A recruiter sourcing their first “Database Architect” may discard a candidate with a decade of “NoSQL” and “Data Modeling” experience because they aren’t familiar with the field. This can cause problems for candidates who use jargon that is too specific – they may be passed up because their resume or professional profile isn’t comprehensible to a layperson.

Candidate Search Engines

Sourcers usually go after passive candidates. As opposed to active candidates who are currently looking for a new position and applying to openings, passive candidates are waiting for opportunities to come their way. The set of potential passive candidates is in the many millions – it’s literally the entire job force. There’s no way a human can look through this set for every opening.

Fortunately, sourcers have tools that make it easy to filter down the candidate pool and sort candidates by different criteria. LinkedIn Recruiter, for example, gives recruiters a search engine for everyone on LinkedIn (it’s one way LinkedIn makes money on your professional profile). Like many other such tools, it gives sourcers the option to look for candidates with specific job titles, skills listed, and degrees. On the surface, this sounds great.

In the real world, people are messy. For the most part, these are text searches of what candidates have typed. Did you type “Master of Business Administration” while the sourcer searched for “MBA”? Tough luck. Did you say “MySQL” when the sourcer searched “SQL”? No dice. Are you a CPA but the recruiter typed “Accountant”? Nope. Are you a “Software Engineer” but the sourcer typed “Software Developer”? Unless you type what a sourcer thinks to type in their search engine, your profile won’t appear.

A common response sourcers have to this is to construct terrifyingly elaborate boolean queries containing hundreds of variations on titles and skills. Sourcers sometimes share parts of their queries, and some sourcers don’t even know how parts of their own queries work. If a part of the query breaks it may take hours or days to find the problem and fix.

Candidate Profiles

The above problems are unintuitive. There’s no way for a candidate to know that sourcers are (1) passing them over for using jargon more specific than the sourcer knows or (2) just not seeing them because they don’t match their search queries.

Candidates are startlingly diverse in listing their qualifications on resumes. Even seemingly-limited fields like “degree” may have tens of thousands of variations. Once you get to a more varied field like “educational institution”, you can end up with tens of variations for the name of a single university! This isn’t just misspellings: many people include the college within the university, their major, acronyms, and explanatory text. Job titles are an order of magnitude worse (I measured it).

The candidates who receive the most unsolicited messages about job openings are simply those who have typed what the average sourcer thinks to look for. I should do a follow-up article on advice for specific fields in a resume or job profile, but the gist is to keep in mind that your resume has to be general enough that someone unfamiliar with your role could do a search and find you, but specific enough (e.g. in job experience descriptions) that it piques the hiring manager’s interest.

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