Why Won’t Recruiters Get Real About the Skills Gap?

Anywhere that people are talking about talent, someone is bound to mention the skills gap.

What is the skills gap? Simply put, the skills gap is the difference between the qualities needed to do a job and the qualities applicants possess.

There may be plenty of unemployed people who want to work, the theory goes, but there simply aren’t enough qualified people to do the work that needs doing.

There are lots of opinions about how dire — or not — the situation truly is, with some arguing that if there were a skills gap, employers would be raising wages and spending more on training, two things we’re definitely not seeing in the marketplace.

Recruiters ask dumb, irrelevant questions

For my part, however, I agree there’s a skills gap all right. And if recruiters would look themselves in the mirror, they’d see it in action. Right there.

That’s you I’m talking about, Mr. and Ms. Recruiter. Can you honestly say you know what the hell you’re doing?

Because during my career (and particularly in the last year or so) I’ve talked with more recruiters than I can shake a stick at, and I’ve talked to more job seekers than I can shake a stick at. And I gotta say, I don’t think you do.

Let me tell you why I believe this. And like Don Lemon said, if this doesn’t apply to you, then I’m not talking to you.

Here’s why: You ask dumb questions that have nothing to do with whether an applicant can do a job. Things like:

  • What is your current salary? (What?)
  • When can you start? (Start what? We just began talking three minutes ago, and I know darn well this isn’t a job offer, so what’s your hurry?)
  • Why do you want this job? (Seriously? Am I supposed to manufacture a “right” answer about a job I know next to nothing about?)

Why do you keep things one-sided?

Which brings me to another reason why:  You’re determined to keep things one sided, and it’s counterproductive and annoying as all get out.

All I have is a job title — not who’s hiring, why they’re hiring, or the rate of pay — and you want to know all kinds of things about me so that you can decide whether I’m a “good fit” for the job of your imagination? Why don’t you give me some information so I can help you out? I get it.

Here’s why: You’re (a) concerned I’ll learn enough about the job to contact the company directly and cut you out of the picture (by the way, don’t you mean you and the other three recruiters working on this job?); or, (b) doing what you can to avoid embarrassing yourself or your company by presenting a completely unsuitable candidate.

Understand, however, that if you’re competent I’m happy to have you be the go between, but also understand that I have no desire to waste my time interviewing for a job when I don’t qualify for it.

We’re on the same page, I promise you. We may have different underlying reasons, but trust me — I don’t want to make a mistake any more than you do. It would be nice if you acted like you knew that.

Please, spend more than 6 seconds on a resume

And here’s yet another reason: You don’t work hard enough to determine whether an applicant could do the job.

Last year, Business Insider reported that recruiters spend just six seconds on each resume. In that six seconds, recruiters look at the applicant’s name, current title and company, current position start and end dates, previous title and company, previous position start and end dates, and education.

That’s it.

I know that you may receive hundreds of resumes, but this six-second deal is a bit scary. Not all job titles are created equal, you know, and just because someone has done a job doesn’t mean he’s done it well.

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Also, whatever happened to the concept of transferrable skills? Nope, we’re not interested in those anymore? OK.

You’re a poseur

Listen Mr. or Ms. Recruiter, I mean this for your own good. You’ve got some power, that’s for sure, but stop pretending that it is what it isn’t. You get the resume, you think it looks good, you forward it to the hiring manager, she says, “No way,” and you show her another resume. End of story.

You’re not employing any skills of persuasion here. You’re not making any reasoned and analytic arguments with the hiring manager about the suitability of the candidate. You’re not in the strategic seat in this process.

Stop fronting. Yes, you’ve got a role to play. Yes, you are the gatekeeper. More than that, you’re a fellow human being trying to make a living. I’m not mad at you, until you start acting superior, that is, and then I can’t stand you.

Here’s my bottom line:

For most people — those who rely on wages for a living and aren’t terribly jazzed to play a bunch of dopey mind games — looking for a job these days is darn near torture. It would be better, way better, for all concerned (job seeker, recruiter, and employer) if the process were a little smarter, a little more honest, and a lot more humane.

Ask more about skills

For God’s sake, give it a try Mr. and Ms. Recruiter. Approaching your job as though you’re one part psychic, one part psychologist, and one part egomaniac (did you mean to reveal that last bit, by the way?) is, as the kids say, not helping. It almost feels like you’re setting up candidates to fail.

And while it’s not your job to help the candidate per se, you still do need good candidates, right? Am I missing something here?

Why don’t you ask about skills? Ask how candidates do what they do. Ask for detailed information about experience. Be willing to reveal a salary range, instead of asking 101 questions trying to figure out whether the candidate will take the job and bolt the minute someone offers more money. Do you really believe you’re qualified to make those judgments?

Be a partner. Tell the truth. (Nicely, if it’s a harsh truth). Be as transparent as you can and still maintain confidences.

I know, that all takes skills. Hmmm …

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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4 Comments on “Why Won’t Recruiters Get Real About the Skills Gap?

  1. RE: the “not all job titles are equal” remark.

    Absolutely true. However, in general, the recruiter is not well suited to determine which other position(s) require essentially the same skill sets (as alluded to in the article), which would tend to not only limit their ability to find suitable candidates, but also require in depth interviewing of the ones they do find to determine if the requisite skill sets are all actually included in previous job titles.

    Worse, employers have also made a bad habit of collapsing 2 or more positions within their own organizational structures into single job titles. Expecting to match such job titles to external candidates who come from other companies with their own unique methods of re-structuring their internal workforces is not only an exercise in futility for many recruiters, but likely another contributing factor toward the appearance of a “skills gap”.

    The “qualified” candidates may well not exist due to the specialized structure a lot of job titles have taken on over the past couple of decades. So, the recruiter is left to find “purple squirrels”.

    1. Hi Zach, I agree. It’s hard, and looking for that “Purple Squirrel” or that “Prius” candidate (thanks, Jacque!) is chasing fool’s gold, in my opinion. There are plenty of smart, adaptable people with good critical thinking and analytical skills who could learn something new for Heaven’s sake. However, I’m not at all certain most recruiters are qualified to know them when they see them.

  2. I absolutely agree. Being in the staffing business I have seen many recruiters believe they are and have more power than they really do. Remembering the human perspective is the most important part of being a recruiter and where the “power” should come into play.

    Being a recruiter is about selling and screening but not just to a potential applicant, also to the hiring manager. If you are a good recruiter and you see something in an applicant that doesn’t come across on the resume you should be able to sell that to the hiring manager.
    http://www.marketing-for-staffers.com

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