Automated Resume Screening Has Turned Talent Into Lemons


Eliminating web pages stuffed with irrelevant keywords is not a struggle exclusive to search engines. Recruiters and hiring managers too have to navigate resumes whitewashed with trending keywords and skills that do not necessarily hold up at the time of the interview.

It may have been a no brainer that automating screening would speed things up. However, as it turns out, the intervention of technology in shortlisting candidates may have introduced a potential for increased false positives — for the recruiter as well as the candidate. As a result, the recruitment process gets further lengthened.

Template screens

It’s no secret that recruiters now use technology at the first level of candidate screening. “Most people are aware that organisations use tools, which look at keywords, while shortlisting candidates,” says Praveer Priyadarshi, HR consultant and former chief people officer. “The system is fed with a screening template, which then picks out those words from a mass of resumes and creates profile matches,” he informs. When done right, these screening templates are usually the result of discussions between the recruiters and hiring managers.

Keyword-ifying resumes

It did not take much time for candidates to modify their resumes to respond to these automated screening templates. There are enough professional resume writers, tools and websites recommending hacks to help candidates build their resumes. “So, people try to enhance their ability in the market by introducing certain keywords in their resumes,” notes Priyadarshi. “Placement consultants help them do that too,” adds Sunil Singh, former CHRO, Cadila, and now founder-CEO MindStream Consulting. “That’s how the hiring market has evolved over the years. From real competency to keyword competencies,” points out Singh.

Maximising chances

Experts, however, do not blame the candidates. “The real issue is that people don’t feel happy unless they’ve had the chance to present their credentials to a human being,” notes Abhijit Bhaduri, HR Leader and author, Dreamers & Unicorns. It is an attitude of wanting to get identified by any means. “They believe padding up their resume with keywords will maximise their chances to at least get identified by the recruiter and then they can explain their skills during the course of the interview,” adds Priyadarshi.

“Even if the human recruiter is rejecting them for exactly the same reason, candidates do not want a scenario where they have no idea why they’re being rejected,” explains Bhaduri. “It distresses people and these are methods to bypass that challenge.”

This behaviour is also the “talent market responding to the employer’s market,” notes Singh. “India is still an employer’s market because the opportunities are less compared to the talent available,” he explains. Therefore, “ It is not necessarily cheating or dishonesty,” highlights Singh, “but simply candidates looking at different ways to improve their chances. I would not recommend that anyone do it, but this is what it is.”

Lazy job profiles

Here’s where experts turn the lens on organisations. The job descriptions posted for vacancies are the source of these keywords for candidates to begin with. “Typically, they go through the job description and based on that they find some of the specific skills and talent required and include it as keywords,” says Priyadarshi. These job descriptions are no less on the keyword count, informs Singh. “Employers also use a lot of keywords in the job description and often when candidates land the job, they find out it’s not what they applied for.”

Singh blames lazy recruiting and hiring managers for poor and vague job descriptions. Most of the time, he points out, “people doing the first stage of screening are not the actual hiring managers.” And since there’s often a tendency for tasks to be delegated down to the lowest rung, “they usually don’t know the vacancy that well, and so, the person relies on parsing tools,” says Singh.

It is also common to copy-paste job descriptions that have passed their relevancy. “This is a reality in many companies,” reveals Singh. “The recruiters just use a job description that’s probably 5 -10 years old, at times even without consulting the hiring manager, when the role has probably changed over the years.”

It’s not just candidates that exaggerate their skills in resumes. Organisations try to oversell opportunities too. “Companies harbour a desire to look good. Therefore, they sometimes inflate the job description. The role may be only ‘x’ but they make it look like ’10x’,” explains Singh.

Unfair to talent

Ultimately, experts believe it presents an unfair situation for talent. “I think job descriptions need to be well written and people need to be encouraged to go through job descriptions closely. This may encourage both parties to use the right keywords,” says Singh. Most importantly, he points out, “There’s a need for transparency between the talent market and employers. There has to be some kind of discussion going on so that the relevant and required skill sets are transparently available to the candidates. This way, the talent market becomes a fair playing ground.”

Lemon talent

Finally, borrowing from Nobel Prize-winning economist, George Akerlof’s, ‘Lemon Market’ theory, Singh illustrates how it applies to the evolution of India’s talent market. Akerlof’s famous 1970 paper talks of an information asymmetry, which eventually leads to a degradation of the quality of goods available in the market. “I will say the hiring market is a very good example of information asymmetry,” says Singh.

Automated screening, lazy job descriptions and clueless candidates leave companies with talent that can only be described as Akerlof’s ‘lemons’.

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