The Home of Applicant Dead Letters

Published: Oct 10, 2006

By Peter Weddle -- As does almost every profession, recruiting has its own special set of rules for success. Its axioms have consistently proven their validity regardless of labor market conditions and the specific requirements of individual employers. While all of these guidelines are undoubtedly important, I think two deserve special attention, at least if you believe we’re in a War for the Best Talent. They are:

  • Rule 1: Always recruit the best candidates.

  • Rule 2: Be smart about how you do it.
The lessons imparted by these rules are as simple as they are challenging. First, the key to recruiting success in today’s tight labor market is the same as it was during the labor surplus market of the past: focus on hiring the best talent. Now, of course, no one comes into work each morning and says “Today, I’m going to recruit some mediocre employees.” That’s why the second tenet is so important. The key to recruiting success is to be efficient as well as effective in your efforts to reach and sell top candidates. It’s sage advice, and unfortunately, a lot of us seem to be ignoring it. We’re breaking Rule 2, and our employers are paying the price.

How can that be? We spend a lot of money advertising for prospective employees. In 2005, for example, the Newspaper Association of America reports that we spent in excess of $5 billion trying to make a connection with top talent, both in print and online. That money (usually) produced one new hire for each of our openings and hundreds, sometimes thousands of other candidates who were not selected for those positions. Now, some of those individuals were not among the best and brightest in the workforce, but others were extremely competent. For whatever reason, they were not deemed a good fit for the particular openings we had at that point in time, but they could be just the right candidate for another position in the future.

So, what happened to them? In most cases, their resumes were archived in our resume databases. We put them there so we wouldn’t forget about them, and then we moved on to the next of the 20 or 30 or 40 openings we had to fill. We had done our job and operated according to Rule 1 and Rule 2. Or, had we?

You’ve heard of dead letters, right? According to the dictionary, they’re documents that are saved, but ignored; they are still available, but worthless because no one makes use of them. Well, despite our good intentions, the resume databases in many organizations today are the home of applicant dead letters. Sure, we (usually) check the database for candidates for each of our new openings, but that’s about all we do with them. We keep spending the money to fill up that repository of documents, and we ignore the people behind them. To me, that’s the equivalent of ignoring Rule 2.

Resume databases are not electronic stacks of documents; they are human relationships waiting to happen. That distinction is important for two reasons:
  • First, the best candidates make careful career decisions. They want lots of information from sources with which they are familiar and trust. Building that sense of confidence among prospects takes time and effort. It is, in essence, developing a relationship. That relationship, in turn, enables you to better assess prospects for your openings, better sell them on the value proposition of your employer, and better fit them in positions where they can make a meaningful contribution to the enterprise.

  • Second, the investment required to build database relationships can save you advertising dollars. You can cut back on the sourcing required to find strangers for your openings and focus, instead, on picking the right person for each vacancy among those whom you already know. For that to happen, however, you must interact regularly with the (active as well as passive) prospects in your database. You must act as if they are important to your organization and its future and that you care enough to work at getting to know them better (even when you don’t have an opening that is appropriate for them).
How do you build relationships with the people behind the documents in your resume database? I think you have to embark on a “dblog” campaign. Most of us are now familiar with blogs—the logs or personal statements that individuals publish on the Web. These commentaries have been called “citizen journalism” because they enable anyone with access to the Web to opine about virtually any topic the human mind can conjure up and post their views where everyone else can read and comment on them. So, what is a dblog? It’s a database blog, a log or statement written for and communicated to the people behind the resumes in your resume database.

A dblog is an effective way to build relationships with the prospects in your database because of its special characteristics. It begins as a brief announcement sent via e-mail to each individual in the database; the message informs them that a new posting has occurred on a blog that is written specifically for them and accessible by them on your organization’s site. When they arrive at that location, they find a blog that is:

  • Fresh: a dblog must be published at least once a week in order to sustain the level of interaction that will nurture a relationship between the readers and your organization.

  • Tailored: there’s no such thing as a generic candidate, so dblogs must be tailored to the unique interests and information needs of specific cohorts of your database population (e.g., sales, IT, entry level college graduates).

  • Helpful: a dblog is not a press release or your latest job openings; it is a career enhancing message that is best written by top performers in your organization whose career field and experience match those of each cohort of the database.

  • Engaging: the best dblogs stimulate lively conversations that bring readers back over and over again and, in the process, sell them on the opportunity of working in your organization.
Dblogs, of course, aren’t the only way to be smart about recruiting top talent. However, given the investment most organizations make in filling up their resume database with relationships waiting to happen, it’s a good place to start.

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