HAL the Hiring Director Can’t Go It Alone

John S. Furman


We all remember those chilling words spoken by HAL, the computer, in 2001: Space Odyssey, “I’m sorry Dave, but I cannot allow you to do that.” Imagine, a computer telling a human what he can do! That could never happen… right?

Ironically, over the past 10 years or so, a craze of online hiring tools has swept the nation. Everyone seems to be using not only an online application system, but a computerized hiring process.

I’m not opposed to using technology as a supplement to the hiring process. After all, that’s part of what I do. But in many cases, when we allow a computer to make critical decisions for us, the costs in lost talent can never be measured. I’ve been through them myself and have also heard the horror stories of many of my friends and colleagues. Honest, intelligent and quite capable individuals can’t even land an interview. Has technology gone a bit too far?

If you will bear with me for one moment, I would like to interject a bit of humor, yet irony, into what could be a disclosure statement on hiring sites these days:

“Thank you for most likely spending an hour or more completing our online application. No one here really has the time or desire to read your resume and learn about what you might actually have to offer, nor are we willing to invest the time it would take to help you learn the job. Therefore, if our computer determines that your background, education and experience are a 100-percent match for the open position and that you can hit the ground running, it will tell us to contact you for an interview. If not, you’ll never hear from us. Have a nice day.”

Now, before all the HR folks start screaming and lighting paper bags on fire on my porch, I am NOT saying that these tools do not serve a purpose. They do. For basic screening functions and applications, they are very valuable. Yet still, as absurd sounding as the above statement was, is there truth in it? Have we actually become so busy that we have allocated the selection of our greatest capital resource – our employees and the very future sustainability of our businesses – to a hard drive? Let me illustrate with a real life story from my past.

When I was area director of recruitment for a national corporation, I was interviewing for a new representative. I was given several resumes from the corporate office, which did not work out. At the same time, I received an application from a man with various experiences that had no direct relationship to the position. (With an online hiring system, this man would never have been chosen for an interview) After reading his resume, I was intrigued. I saw a correlation between the skills and experience he had to exhibit for success in what he did as quite parallel to those of this position. But once again, he had no industry experience. I interviewed him and subsequently I offered him the job. Not only did he do well in that position, but he went on to higher levels of management within the organization. Today, he is the national director of marketing for a large corporation and oversees hundreds of employees.

Now, people may say that I’m actually biting the hand that feeds me since I provide various hiring assessments in my business. The fact is that no tool, no matter how good, should account for more than one-third of the hiring process. Any successful recruitment company knows the importance of taking the time to invest in getting to know each candidate in order to not miss what transferable skills they could bring to a new company. In any case, you must always temper every tool with common sense and logic. For example, my clients use tools to help them identify top candidates for a particular position. A “total core person” assessment, gives an “under the hood” view of a candidate in a way not obtainable through the interview process. It provides established benchmarks and information that can identify a person’s thinking style and behaviors that most often will lead to great success in that position. In fact, studies have revealed that this particular tool can increase the odds of a successful hire from 26 percent to 75 percent. But again, common sense, logic and correct interpretation of the information by a hiring individual are critical. Otherwise, we could miss the important human experience component.

So, do we throw the whole online system out? No, we just tweak it and allow HAL to lighten up a bit to include the transferable skills component. Does that mean more work for us? Probably, although I still don’t understand how technology with cell phones, computerized voice mail, e-mail, online chats, pagers, IM, etc. have made less work or simplicity in my life by any means.

Bottom line: You still only get out of something what you put into it. Is a top performer or that “related experience” needle in a haystack worth the extra effort? If not, you can always let HAL do it for you.

John Furman is the President of Furman & Associates (furmanandassociates.com), a Butler, Pa.-based employee recruitment, retention and assessment provider.