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The Hiring Manager: Human or Bot? Job Seekers Need to Know

Comic pic of a woman in a business suit compared to a pic of a man shaking hands with a robot.

You're job searching and sending out applications. Will they be read? By a human or by a bot?

Seeking a job in higher education? Prepare for a long process. Professor Services advises recent grads they should expect to send out 100 applications before they are invited to an interview.

The application and hiring process outside academia used to be much faster. That’s changed.

“It’s probably only been in the last four to five years that interviewing has become a competitive sport,” said Robynn Storey. The resume writer and job coach has almost 875,000 LinkedIn connections. She has become a celebrity among job seekers.

The focus of Storey’s posts is on just how difficult the interviewing process is. It now demands more time, energy and free work from job seekers.

“A typical story we hear from clients is that they have done 12 interviews, completed a substantial homework assignment and now it’s four weeks past the hiring deadline and no one from the company has even gotten back to them to say yay or nay,” she recounted.

ATSs, video screeners & assessments

Technology supports employers in searching for ‘the right fit.’ For job seekers, just getting into the interview chair has become more difficult. Blame applicant tracking systems (ATS), video-based screeners and assessment tests.

“Companies are automating the process and integrating AI at every turn,” Storey explained. “There used to be someone called a screener. Their job was to call the top applicants and ask them five or six questions before deciding who would advance to an interview. The questions may not have had anything to do with that specific job, but screeners could report on the applicant’s enthusiasm, insight and communication style. Now it’s just over the top. Companies are overwhelmed and try to whittle down the applicant pool so that, by the time anyone gets the human being, there is almost no one left.”

The applicants who are left, experts agree, are very like the employees the company already has.

“They are eliminating everyone they say they are dedicated to hiring,” she said. “If you really believe in diversity, equity and inclusion, then you need to make the process more manual again and get human beings back into the equation.”

Employers are missing out

Gretchen Fontichiaro is one job seeker who would love to interview with a human being. Fontichiaro has been searching for a job for over a year. She has 8 years of experience teaching psychology at the college level. She also managed seasonal hiring, vendor relations and back-office tasks at her family’s bike shop.

“Screeners and assessments are just another way to ensure people who are neurodivergent, or just different and learn in different ways are eliminated as quickly as possible,” Fontichiaro said. “Why do I need to do an assessment to test my mathematical reasoning skills for a customer service job? As someone with a learning disability, it just sets me up for failure. It’s really de-humanizing.”

Fontichiaro has developed skills to work around her learning disability. She earned advanced degrees in psychology as a result of that work. Fontichiaro has reached a level of education that reflects personal discipline, a strong work ethic and high-level reasoning abilities.

Experiences like Fontichiaro’s have not gone unnoticed by experts in the field.

Companies are missing out!

“Automation and AI programming have resulted in tools that can tell what kind of job you should be slotted into within about 20 minutes,” said Jason Albert, an executive recruiter and talent acquisition consultant. “It can tell me I’d be a highly efficient cashier.  That often means that viable candidates don’t even want to apply and, when they do, highly qualified and diverse candidates are slotted for lesser jobs.”

Albert is worried companies are missing out on more than great hires and lost opportunities for innovation.

“I’ve worked with companies and shown them that their ATS is not giving them any ROI. One CEO recognized that, but acknowledged they had already spent the money. These systems also don’t increase employee retention or assist with workforce development,” he explained.

Those losses to the bottom line don’t represent Albert’s biggest worry about what these automated hiring practices will bring.

“My greatest concern is where they are going to find their next generation of leaders?” he said. “Looking at recent history, the corporate leaders who have made the greatest impact have been off-the-wall thinkers who were just different. Those individuals would never make it past the screeners now.”

Putting the human back in human resources

Both Storey and Jason would like to see the human put back into human resources. There are, though, some tips job seekers can use while we are “at the mercy of the bot” as Albert calls it.

First, applicants must identify the keywords in the job description and customize their resume (or CV for academic positions) with those. It’s what Albert calls writing a compliant resume.

Application packages for jobs in higher education are so lengthy that there are many ways to use the job description key words.  Your statement of teaching philosophy and cover letter are useful places to deploy keywords.

“You also want to make sure you align your past experiences with the roles and responsibilities identified in the job description,” Albert advises.

When it comes to assessments, remember that they are reflective of the company.

“Assessments are rooted in culture and personal dynamics,” Storey said. “Are you going to rock the boat? Are you going to challenge the boss? Are you going to tell a higher-up if something is wrong? Some companies really are looking for that. And, in terms of assessments, they are impossible to differentiate from the companies who are looking for people who will be compliant and go with the flow. The most important thing is to answer consistently because consistency is a sign of honesty and self-awareness.”

Meanwhile, in higher ed

How concerned should academic job seekers be about these tools in higher education?

“The writing is on the wall,” said Professor Services COO Sheila Fry. “ATSs have been in place for a while and we’ve refined the strategic use of keywords in our clients’ CVs. Video screeners will probably play a bigger part in the process at some point soon. I’d be very surprised if assessments became a larger part of the process because using them would undermine the value of a degree. I do agree that the careful reading of job descriptions for key words and skills alignment are important for each and every application.”

In the meantime, as job seekers navigate their search, they need to remember they aren’t being rejected for their skills or experience.

“The way these systems are created, developed and launched is rooted in human behavior and reflect human bias,” said Storey. “They just aren’t doing a great job in the hiring process.”

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Kate Baggott is a digital content veteran. She is the current Head of Content and Communications for, The Babb Group and Professor Services.
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