Think of the last time you went to a crowded bar or club. If it was crowded, in all likelihood, you waited in line to get in. When you got up to the front of the line, you dutifully handed over your ID and stood there quietly awaiting confirmation from the bouncer that you could proceed. In that moment, the bouncer was the gatekeeper. He had the power to allow you to enter and have a great night inside said bar/club, or to deny your entry for any reason he wanted — legitimate or not.
In our current hiring model, talent managers or screeners or whomever is serving as the entry point for an applicant has a similar power, and low and behold they’re demonstrating all the same characteristics as bouncers.
Can you spell POWER TRIP?
The person that receives inbound resumes or connects with candidates online is often the first line of defense for a given job. Notice what I just said there, “the first line of defense!” This is how employers casually refer to the screening function: In terms of “defense!” It’s as if they have an existential fear of some horde of barbarians/candidates massing at the gate, poised to breach the walls. To the rescue comes the resume screener who will beat back this horde by only letting certain candidates proceed and rejecting the others. Heroic, isn’t she?
I’m overdoing it on this metaphor, but the idea behind it is true enough: a person, generally called a screener or a recruiter or a talent manager, has the power of the gatekeeper just like a bouncer does. And just like a bouncer can choose to deny you entry for wearing shorts or a hat, the screener can deny your resume for similarly arbitrary reasons. Whether they do so because you don’t appear to have enough experience, didn’t go to the right college, or haven’t worked at a well-known employer, all of the screener’s decisions to accept/reject your resume are made based on a litany of personal biases and preferences.
These biases, which we should be talking more about, are unconscious and part of human nature, so no amount of screeners saying “I would never do that” matters. They are doing it. They just don’t realize it. And these biases are harmful because they rarely have anything to do with someone’s ability to do the job.
With such power to screen people out, we shouldn’t be surprised that screeners, recruiters and talent managers demonstrate some of the worst elements of bouncer syndrome. It’s not the power that’s the problem. It’s them knowing they have it. When people know they have such a large amount of power, they often choose to wield it in harmful ways simply because they can.
So if the problem is too much power, is the solution to have less? Yes and no. I submit that the best solution would be for screeners, recruiters and talent managers to focus on attracting candidates, not screening them. As we’ve said previously, a complaint of talent managers at some companies is not having enough candidates or there being too many “passive” candidates. So why not focus more effort on attracting candidates instead of dissuading them? Those who they attract should be directed to an assignment for that job and asked to complete it. This assignment is what should be the screening mechanism, not a human reviewing a resume and acting like a bouncer. Let me repeat that because it’s a key point:
This assignment is what should be the screening mechanism, not a human reviewing a resume and acting like a bouncer.
By asking EVERY candidate to do this assignment, an employer is giving EVERYONE an equal opportunity to prove themselves. (more on this in Part 6)