The Corner Office

Smarter matchmaking

Digital job application and recruitment tools have made the hiring process more complicated for both applicants and employers

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The job market has become like Tinder. Allow me to explain.

When I was taking the first big step in my media career, I found myself in the “enviable” position of leading a newspaper group as we were coming out of a recession. The local factories needed people desperately, and those help-wanted ads made us so much money that we started aggressively going out and looking for more. During such a precarious time for everyone, but especially those of us in print media, local help-wanted ads generated more per-space revenue than anything else in that paper.

The driving force behind the success of selling those help-wanted ads was the fact that the entire recruitment advertising marketplace was only accessible through newspapers. This wasn’t new; it was just the first time I’d seen it from the newspaper’s side.

When I was first starting out in life, I’d go out on Saturday evenings, pick up a copy of The Chicago Tribune, and pour over the third of the paper that was just help-wanted ads. And now that I’m a bit older, I can appreciate how sleek that business model was.

Businesses paid newspapers obscene amounts of money to run these ads; then, job seekers paid for access to where the employers were. The employers would get resumes over the next week, sift through them, then make their hires. In this way, you had newspapers as the middleman between employers and workers, selling both sides’ access to the job market.

But monopolies rarely last forever, and like with every other facet of life, the internet came in and disrupted the traditional dynamic.

Nowadays, that monopoly has disintegrated. Sites like Monster and Indeed became the go-to spot for job seekers, and the way that people access the job market has shifted. With virtually no barrier to entry on either side, the growth of digital media has skyrocketed the volume of transactions.

I don’t mean to paint this as a wholly negative change; undeniably, there are benefits to this new job marketplace. Once upon a time, if I saw a job that I wanted to apply for, I had to print out my resume, break out my typewriter to draft a cover letter, then mail the whole package off to my prospective employer. That was an investment; you had to put some amount of skin in the game just to get your name out there.

But now, that friction has been drastically lowered, at least on the side of the workers. Employees can apply to any job in which they have even a passing interest, and it’s often as easy as clicking “apply now.” And that’s not wholly a bad thing, but it’s got some clear drawbacks.

For employers, a listing that used to get them 20 to 40 applicants could now easily get them several hundred or even thousands. And while a wider talent pool isn’t a problem exactly, there are logistical realities to going through that many applications, especially when half or more aren’t genuinely interested in or qualified for the position.

Solving this new problem required new services and other players, so now automated systems recommend jobs to potential candidates and job seekers to employers (for a surcharge, of course). And this “solution” seems to please precisely nobody.

For businesses, you have to set ridiculous standards for each job listing just to avoid being flooded with unqualified applicants. And job seekers have to keyword-stuff their resumes and exaggerate experiences just to get their names in front of a hiring manager for a position that they’re more than capable of filling.

Applicants still have to over-apply to have any chance at getting seen, let alone be hired, and businesses still get so many candidates that they can’t carefully review each application.

In this constant, droning noise, there isn’t really time to do more than glance at a job listing or an applicant before deciding to — to use what my children assure me is the parlance of the day — swipe right or left.

So, what’s the alternative to a dating app culture becoming the way we hire people? Really, I’m asking because as nice as it is for me to fantasize, I can’t quite see newspapers coming back to replace ZipRecruiter or LinkedIn.

Maybe a more realistic solution will come in the form of a highly curated platform, with guard rails that put serious applicants in front of employers (and vice versa).

It’s a challenging situation, and I’d love to hear your solutions in the comments below. Is it going to take another developer to straighten this out? Are we all stuck in this space while we wait for the next big hiring disruptor to come along?

Doug Phares is the former CEO of the Sandusky News Group. He currently serves as managing director of Silverwind Enterprises, which owns and provides management services to small businesses. He can be reached at doug@silverwind.biz.

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  • JDeGeorge17

    Newspapers priced themselves out of the job advertising market long ago. Most of them partnered with top sites like Zip Recruiter and Monster and still could not sell their way out of a paper bag. They kept this now complicated packaged category with barely trained inside sales reps and continued to raise prices while print circulation dropped, ignoring the cost per thousand methods HR Managers now use to compare media. Newspapers are clueless to their secret strength, the ability to reach older, highly experienced employees, both active and passive job seekers which employers have not tapped into for a very long time. With the current labor shortage, NOW is the time to get back in the game. Drop all old ways. Focus as if you were a recruitment agency with outside reps selling to the biggest and richest employers in your area. Not little line ads, but full page, half page and quarter page agency quality print, online and social media packages. Focus on need such as Healthcare, Manufacturing and Transportation. Create a strategy based on your market demographics. There are still millions to be made if newspapers take a serious look at what is happening now in the market.

    Thursday, June 30 Report this