5 reasons why bad applicants aren’t always bad candidates

Bad applicants - CareerGiftIt’s a fatal mistake to believe that great candidates automatically know how to write great CVs. As any recruiter who has been around the block a few times will tell you, even the most successful and well-educated candidate can write an appallingly bad CV. In fact I adhere to the belief that recruiters (and very often their wider HR colleagues) – in true “cobbler’s shoes shoes” tradition – often write the worst CVs of all.

The hard truth is many people just aren’t good at presenting themselves in the best light. Others value quantity over quality. Then there are people who think one CV is perfect for every application. While others believe unusual script typefaces, multi-coloured paper or using 7 point text to cram everything on two sides of A4 is somehow “smart” – rather than a recipe to give a hiring manager a headache.

What all this starts adding up to is a prescription for why a lot of good candidates – people with great behaviours and competence – fail to succeed in hiring processes. They are just bad job applicants. So why does this happen?

1. The harsh reality is most people go through life never being shown how to write a decent CV.

Careers aren’t properly on the agenda at school or university. There’s no GCSE or NVQ in job search skills. Being taught to write CVs by people who have only ever got a job by filling in an application form is like letting someone with a cycling proficiency badge loose with an HGV. How many schools have a full-time, professionally trained career coach on their team?

Of course schools and universities aren’t rated on the career outcomes they deliver. Which is probably one of the root causes of the problems with the UK education system…

In fact, latest research suggests young people increasingly avoid seeking advice from within the education system. Generation Y (the “self-help” generation) preferring instead to seek advice from the internet.

2. The internet is crammed full of shockingly bad careers advice.

Today I put “Career Advice” in to Google and got 71,600,000 results in 0.35 seconds. So if it is quantity you are after it’s there!

And that, in a nutshell, is where the problem lies. There is just too much of it out there. And no qualitative filter that lets uninformed job seekers sort the wheat from the chaff. There’s also the localisation problem: i.e. what good looks good in a US resume is not always the same as what looks good in a UK CV.

As an example, and for reasons that still escape me, US executives seem to think it is a neat trick to insert a photograph of themselves in job applications. The “hoot” being this is usually so obviously 10 or even 20 years out of date. (It is always the clothes and hair styles that give it away folks…).

We recently invested a lot of time and effort trying to aggregate “the best of the web” in terms of career advice. Let’s just say it wasn’t an abundance of riches…

3.  A lot of initial screening these days is done by machines not people.

Unlike an experienced recruiter – who can often spot the diamond hiding in the slag heap – the typical applicant tracking system (ATS) just applies logic. It can’t draw inferences or make intelligent connections. It just thinks in a binary “on/off” – or should that be in/out – way.

As a result many potentially good candidates won’t get to the top of a shortlist compiled by an algorithm. Especially, as one recent commentator on one of our blogs put it: when shortlisting depends on buzz word count.

Lazy recruiters will let the machine do the work. And apply arbitrary cut off points in machine generated rankings.

4. Lots of bad applicants know how to cheat the system

Having a great CV isn’t a guarantee of being a great candidate. After all you can pay a professional CV writer to do the job for you. It’s not that expensive. Provided of course you can find one that actually knows what they are doing (see point 2 above).

A CV is an individual’s sales brochure. Hands up all those who have fallen for a glossy brochure or a slick ad for a consumer product only to be hugely disappointed with the end purchase… Recruitment is just the same.

And it extends beyond CVs. Some people are great at doing interviews but lousy at doing jobs. As one football manager recently said about a player: “…he’s great on the training ground – got every trick and skill in the book. Put him in a match situation and he falls apart…” Great applicants don’t always make great employees.

5. Employers often don’t do enough to help candidates.

Recruitment very easily becomes a “one way street” – applicants having to do all the work. That’s fine when talent supply exceeds demand. However when talent is scarce you can’t afford that luxury. Missing out on those “hidden gem” candidates because the computer says “no”.

Employers can help bad applicants become good ones – by giving them a basic toolkit of job search advice that helps them perform better in the recruitment process. Everyone wins.

CareerGift is just such a toolkit. In the final analysis no employer will ever be able to give every applicant a job. What you can do is give them all a helping hand. And in some cases that will be sending them away with the ability to come back next time and succeed in your process.

Ian Gooden

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