Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Resume Black Hole...Is It Real? You Bet It Is and I Now Know Why

Companies worldwide are missing out on talent because of their Applicant Tracking Systems

I’ve just had an experience with one of my clients that clearly explains why applying to corporate websites can lead to the resume black hole.  I refer to this Abyss as the place where resumes go to die.

I have a CISO client who is smart enough to consider talented candidates versus simply relying on 3 years of this, 4 years of that, a BA/BS degree, 2 certifications and a partridge in a pear tree.  The CISO is relying on my security recruiting skills to identify the security, risk, 
compliance, disaster recovery and software quality assurance talent his company would not otherwise know how to get to on their own.

Hiring Talent versus Hiring Resumes

This CISO’s willingness to consider talented candidates rather than simply relying on who made it through his company’s applicant tracking system just caused a significant problem to occur.  The problem also made the issue of the resume black hole crystal clear to me.  Allow me to explain.

The CISO was ready to make an offer to a candidate I produced with my personal guarantee that if he met the candidate, he would likely want to find a place for her on his team.  I was right and the CISO indeed did decide to make room for this candidate on his team.

I don’t know if he ever intended to create the job that he created for this candidate before this candidate came along but the point is that after meeting this super-talented person, the CISO had his HR department pull together a job description that aligned with the candidate’s skills.

A Normal Corporate Job Description

The job description was written the way nearly all corporate job descriptions are written.  Demonstrate 3 years of experience with this, 4 years of that, a BA/BS degree, 2 certifications and so on.
In the company’s Taleo applicant tracking system, the candidate had to complete a formal application for the job once the job was posted.  Apparently the formal application process included a series of questions that looked something like this:

  • Do you have x number of years of IT experience?
  • Do you have x number of years of specific information security experience?
  • Do you have a 4-year degree?

There were many more questions and I might not have gotten these questions 100% right but I hope you get the idea.  My point is simply that the candidate had to answer on-line questions even though she had already been interviewed on the phone and in person and the CISO was ready to make an offer to get the candidate on board.

Although the candidate completed the on-line application precisely the way she was asked to complete it, apparently a couple of her honest answers caused the system to dump her application into the black hole. 

It took a week to figure out why the candidate wasn't showing up in the system.  It was because she had been dumped into the black hole.

The Moral of this Story

Because of my human interaction with this highly talented candidate, I was able to get her in front of a CISO who sent me out into the marketplace to find talent.  If the candidate had not worked with me and had gone directly to my client’s website and applied on-line, her application would have never seen the light of day. I’ve been doing this work for a long time.  I hear black hole stories all the time and I’ve often wondered how it could be as bad as some of the stories I’ve heard.  Now I know.

Bigger Picture

The Applicant Tracking System my Fortune 500 client uses is used by many companies in the Fortune 500.  I suspect that one of the selling points of the system is that the system’s artificial intelligence can help to screen candidates in or out. 

In this case, no amount of artificial intelligence could evaluate the talent of the candidate I brought to my client.  Sure, I counted up the candidate’s years of this and that kind of experience and I made note of her degrees and certifications but what I did that artificial intelligence cannot do is to consider her accomplishments, her ability to communicate, her behavioral traits and her entire talent package as a job candidate.

I considered the value this candidate had created for past employers and built a case for the kind of value she might be able to build for my client.  My CISO client obviously agreed with my assessment or he wouldn't have decided to move to the offer stage to add this person’s talent to his team.


The candidate still has an offer coming and the CISO still wants the candidate’s contributions on his team.  The CISO now has to work with his HR department to do whatever he has to do to make an exception because an exceptional candidate is ready to join his team.'s Security Recruiter Blog