Over seven months I applied for 68 vacancies, attended 12 introductory meetings with recruiters, had eight telephone interviews with recruiters, and four face-to-face interviews with employers. I am a 53-year-old with 34 years’ business experience. I have a BA (Hons) in business studies and an MSc in an HR-related discipline. I have extensive experience in operational HR management, leadership development, and organisation development, change and consulting.
There are two broad categories into which reasons for rejection of my applications fell.
There first is what I call ‘industry specific’. Recruiters tell me that their clients often use the phrase, “I want someone who can hit the ground running,” and that they will not consider managers from other industries.
There is no willingness on the part of the employer to consider the advantages of recruiting for diversity, to contemplate what a pair of eyes from a different industry might add. It’s a rejection of difference rather than a celebration of it.
The second I can only describe as the ‘too…’ category; “too old”, “too experienced”, “too many years with one company”, “too intellectual”, “too international”, “too smart” and, remarkably, “too good for us”. Three recruiters advised me to ‘dumb down’ my CV for applications outside the state capital cities.
Here are some of my experiences. Recruiter ‘Bill’ said, “Most HR managers in this area have worked their way up over the years and have no tertiary qualification in HR. Do you think they are going to take someone into their team with excellent psychometric test results and a master’s degree?”
Recruiter ‘John’ said, “Thanks for attending the interview with the CEO, Trevor. He said you’re a really nice guy, could do the job easily, but he feels you are at a crossroads in your life so he’s not going ahead with you.” John couldn’t explain the mysterious ‘crossroads’ comment because he didn’t attend the interview. One CEO kept me waiting in reception for an hour, so I read the company values brochure, which included ‘respect’ and ‘operational excellence’. A few days later, Recruiter ‘Jeff ’ called to say the employer had said I was “too intellectual”.
Recruiter ‘Pete’ reported that the employer said, “He has a reputation for quick and effective organisation change. You see, I don’t think he will fit into our company culture.” The recruiter was clearly not a strategic partner in this relationship.
Recruiter ‘Fred’ said, “Now Trevor, I do not want you to interpret what I’m about to say as an ageist comment, but…” The reader can figure the rest – it was an ageist comment.
Recruiter ‘Karen’ interviewed me for an hour. She talked for roughly 45 minutes, telling me of her personal life and how as a Kiwi she had come to Australia. Noticing the time, she asked me to talk through my CV – that’s my entire career in 15 minutes.
A growing industry
The recruitment industry has grown enormously over the past 20 years, to such an extent that companies are increasingly outsourcing the entire recruitment process. IBISWorld estimates that the industry is worth $2.6 billion annually in Australia alone. For filling a managerial position, the recruiter will earn an average of $15,000.
The vast majority of applications are now made through online recruitment service engines. On a number of occasions, employers withdrew the vacancy. What was a job one day, was not the next day. Other times, positions were filled before the application closure date. Some of my applications were scanned by software designed to look for keywords and phrases in my CV, so I needed to re-write it each time to ensure a human being got to look at it.
Recruitment is the first sight a prospective employee gets of the employer’s company culture. One company mailed me five months after I applied for the position, stating that I had been unsuccessful. I found that 80 per cent of the recruiters I met felt their job was done when they presented living, breathing applicants for interview.
The remaining 20 per cent were strategic partners who helped their clients choose the best candidate. I am shocked at the number of recruiters who are unable to adequately explain to an applicant why they were unsuccessful in their application. Only one recruiter attended an interview. How does someone who was not present at the interview challenge the client’s decision and convey the bad news in a factual way?
As a former HR manager, I can’t help but wonder if the recruiter is really creating value, and if the employer is using the recruiter’s services correctly. Employers need to abandon the mindset of ‘get me some bodies to interview’ and instead demand high-quality, strategic advice on recruitment.