In a perfect world, there would be only one applicant for each job opening. That would be the person best suited for the role. Economists would call it a maximally efficient market.
But that remains an elusive dream. Instead, we may be going in the opposite direction.
Executives boast of the number of applicants they receive — 50! 100! 500! 1,000! Meanwhile, eager-to-please hiring managers report to their supervisors that the hiring process is going well because the “applicants are rolling in.” The average corporate job listing gets 250 applications and rising.
This fuels the dominant job-advertising platforms, like Indeed and Ziprecruiter, which both market so-called “one-click apply” features — features that appear to be part of a natural evolution of job sites: Monster pioneered the online jobs board in 1994 and later became the first publicly searchable resume database. It was a revelatory advance in a double-sided marketplace, and today LinkedIn and others reach true global scale. One-click apply, in particular, sounds like a classic advance in frictionless software.
Instead of a triumph, though, one-click apply is a source of inefficiency, inequality, and misery.
A frictionless application process creates a nasty cycle: Ever more candidates apply for ever more roles, so hiring managers feel forced to buy an ever more complicated web of HR tech tools, from algorithmic parsing and automated scoring. This introduces bias.
At the same time, hiring managers struggle to respond to each candidate, so in turn, candidates feel compelled to apply for even more roles, speeding the cycle. No surprise that job ghosting is on the rise.
As the founder of a niche jobseeker platform told me recently: “One-click apply is ruining the party for everybody.”
Job-seekers were once told to apply to five to 10 relevant jobs. Now Indeed recommends 10 to 15 applications a week. Beyond that, though, the founder told me that he’s worried about the outliers. “On the high end, we’re seeing 500 to 1,000 applications,” he said. That’s only possible with automatic applications.
It’s difficult to imagine someone being really drawn to 15 roles, let alone 500 or 1,000. Candidate fatigue is filter failure.
Now, savvy team builders know something is broken. The enduring advantage of external recruiters is to outsource the headache, essentially instructing, “Don’t give me 50 or 100 or 500 or 1,000 applicants.” Likewise, executive-search requests for proposals frequently ask for five highly-qualified candidates. Not 500!
Less scrupulous third-party recruiters, however, use this to their advantage. For example, a recruiter once enrolled me in their mass spam effort by telling me they had “the perfect candidate for my data scientist role” — even though I’ve never hired a data scientist.
So where do we go from here?
The reality is that employers aren’t going to give up on the big platforms. One-click is here to stay. The key to mitigating the problem they create is to improve your filtering process. Really home in on what you’re looking for in candidates. The more specific you get, the better results you get.
At the same, it’s worthwhile to explore and invest in niche communities where you can build quality relationships. Even something simple like a local or topical online community can help you find the right candidates. Who knows? You may even discover that going niche may help you avoid the one-click behemoths altogether. Because after all, having fewer better candidates is almost always better than having more.
Christopher Wink is a journalist and entrepreneur. He is the CEO and co-founder of Technical.ly, the news organization that helps clients hire from its community of tech professionals. He is an active writer, reporter, and author with special focus on tech economies, workplace culture, and employer brand marketing.