The Hype Over Job Board Matching Technology Is Just That: Hype

Posted April 09, 2013 by
Garbage in, garbage out photo

Garbage in, garbage out photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Perhaps prompted by a recent article by Bloomberg about on-line job search software getting smarter, it seems that a lot of attention this week is being devoted to matching technology being used by job boards. In theory, matching technology makes a lot of sense as it would allow employers and job seekers to save time finding each other and reduce the noise by reducing and perhaps eliminating contact between employers and job seekers whose needs are different. But is theory the same as reality?

A number of people in the job board industry for whom I have tremendous respect are writing that candidates should be able to just submit their resume and have it turned into a search query. Some even advocate taking the search entirely out of the hands of the candidate by using computerized algorithms to “read” jobs posted by employers and resumes posted by candidates and then returning to the employer a list of what the software considers to be highly qualified candidates. The problem with either approach and especially the latter is that they assume that both are forward looking, the job posting is well written, and the resume is well written. The problem is that for the software to work properly all must be true yet generally none are true.

Job Postings and Resumes Are Poorly Written

As any job seeker will tell you, most job postings aren’t worth the paper they aren’t written on. They’re often so short that there’s no description at all about the organization or team with whom the candidate would work. The actual duties and responsibilities are either not described at all or described in such general, bureaucratic speak that the words hold no value. I’ve read thousands of job postings since we launched in 1996 and I bet only a few dozen were so well written that a computerized algorithm could actually understand what credentials and career goals the ideal candidate should possess. Most describe the credentials. Few describe the goals.

As any recruiter will tell you, most resumes also aren’t well written. Most recruiters I speak with seem to believe that a poorly written resume should disqualify a candidate from consideration. One exceptional recruiter once walked me through why resumes are often completely worthless. I have yet to see any data whatsoever that would support the argument that a well written resume correlates with a high performing employee other than perhaps those who write resumes for a living. If a java programmer has a poorly written resume, does that make her less likely to be a high performing java programmer?

Job Postings and Resumes Are Backward Looking Documents

Most job postings and resume are backward and not forward looking. The job postings typically focus on what qualifications the candidate must already possess. The resumes only include information about those qualifications. Resumes are like alibis. They help employers understand where you’ve been and what you’ve done, but there’s typically no information in them about what you want to do. If you’re a college student or recent graduate like the vast majority of the candidates who use, how much experience can you possibly have? Is your major and perhaps an internship or two enough for an algorithm to accurately infer your career goals? Maybe if you’re in a specialized major like electrical engineering and you’ve lived your entire life in the same metro and your two internships were in electrical engineering, but the vast, vast majority of college students and grads have majors, work experience, and geographic information on their resumes which have little to nothing to do with what work they want to do upon graduation.

I truly hope that the next generation of job search software includes matching technology which actually works, but I just don’t see it out there today despite the marketing hype to the contrary. I suspect that the matching software available today does an okay job of matching a well written job posting with a candidate who has a long, consistent work history in one geographic area and who wants to remain in their field and geographic area. But what about the other 99 percent, especially postings for entry-level jobs and candidates with little to no work experience? With little to no data, what possibility does even a phenomenally well written algorithm have of properly matching? And even if it did a great job of matching well written postings with well written resumes, what about the even better jobs and candidates out there who are passed over because poorly written postings and resumes? And don’t say it is their problem if that happens. Unless you’re hiring that java programmer to write resumes, it is your problem too.

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