5 reasons why the online recruitment experience still sucks

The general state of the online talent attraction experience is shameful. The web has matured, even my local plumber and butchers offer a smoother, easier to use and simpler experience than many Fortune 500 career sites. Recruiters accept that it is ok to provide a sub standard online experience.

I believe online recruitment experience is out of date because of the following reasons:

  1. Lack of tools delivering best practice online experience.
  2. Overwhelming volume of 'legacy' systems deeply rooted in recruitment.
  3. Defensive mechanism held by some recruiters where they promote the myth that a painful application process filters out poor candidates and leaves the only the top talent. Where as the only certain truth here is it reduces application volume.
  4. Impossible to measure the unknown - recruiters can only measure what talent applies to jobs. The quality and potential of talent that drop out of the online experience comes with no metric.
  5. Inadequate statistics to provide insights around the true performance of the current talent attraction experience.

Unfortunately many UX concepts and best practices completed ignored. If you don't believe me, and think the landscape is better let me know so I can share numerous examples. Countless fortune 500 companies  show candidates a page with a full job advert, on clicking apply the candidate is presented with the full job advert again, but in a different layout requiring them to find the apply button (which has moved) and click it again. This experience will result in drop off where potential hot talent leave the website instead of clicking the second apply button. Do these companies measure this drop off (probably not, specially as it is across multiple vendors)? do these companies know how much marketing budget acquiring talent is wasted from driving talent away? Ironically a few of these examples are from very successful e-commerce businesses who would never put up with such an experience for there customers. 

10 years ago, when many of todays recruitment processes and online practices were designed the general populations experience of the Internet was very different. Today people are used to easy to use and fast online services. In my opinion the frustration levels felt by many candidates can only have a negative impact. 

It feels absurd that the recruitment industry consider a career site as high performing if it generates completed applications from 3% of its attracted audience. Is it really acceptable that career sites, with millions of dollars of targeted marketing spend, frequently fail to obtain an application from 97% of its talent visitors? 

I want to see an online recruitment landscape, including small staffing agencies through to the Fortune 100, where the online experience is simpler for the candidate. Simpler means - easier, more obvious and less friction.

Less waste of talent visitors logically would reduce the need to attract so many talent visitors and save significant advertising dollars. 



5 tips for a Job First Mobile First career site

Why bother with a recruitment website?

Typically it is to attract talent and convert them into applications. Often a great deal of time and money will be invested to help the job seeker land on the career site. The career site can make or break the ROI of effort to attract talent. Unfortunately many recruitment websites seem to hide the 'goods' from the talent - they are NOT job first! 

The career site has a key role - it should show off the jobs, communicate what working at the company is like and help the right talent apply. If you accumulate all of this the objective is to convert quality applications

Career site conversion of talent visits to applications is typically poor - about 3% . Failing to be optimal on mobile web will turn away 4 out of 10 talent visitors - wasting a significant amount of investment to attract them in the first place. The career site experience needs to support the objective as well as function on mobile. I describe it as "job first mobile first".

The talent journey starts with the question "are there jobs I could do, in a location I want to work". Typically only when a job is available does the research start to ensure its the kind of company they want to work for. This is true for the majority (c80%) of the workforce who is pragmatic and wants to stay in their local community. The careerist (c20%) puts their career path first and is searching for a specific job and company with the right brand as their next stepping stone.

Last week at a conference I presented at, a common questions I received was what employer sites I would suggest are "doing it right". There are a small number that really impress me and PepsiCo is one of them. PepsiCo recently relaunched their career site. They have done a very good job with "job first mobile first". There are a few areas on mobile optimization where it could be fine tuned, but it is better than most (maybe I am too picky)! 

PepsiCo's career home page has a very prominent call to action to find jobs. At the bottom of job descriptions the call to action to find more jobs is clear to improve the experience. I haven't had chance to catchup with Chis Hoyt but I expect the new site is converting visitors to start apply with more success than the old one.

I urge you to go and review the following:

  • What is the talent journey on your site?
  • How many clicks are needed to find a suitable job?
  • How easy is it to learn about the company?
  • What is talent is on a mobile device?
  • What help do you give candidates? 

This should give you an idea of how you are doing today and hopefully inspire you with what you can do better.

Employers ignore community genius

Last week with about 1,800 other people, I attended a technical conference in Chicago on the programming framework called Ruby On Rails (RailsConf2014). The event included 81 different talks from active members of the Ruby On Rails community, each one had something to share and wanted to help others in the community. 

Unlike rigid corporate driven technology communities, the influencers / creators of the technology do not follow a corporate statement and need not have a “message” that is “on strategy”. This was evident as the core rails team (the group of people who develop the technology and manage contribution from the community) had polarizing opinions on various topics. These views were made public and discussed in different talks. Can you imagine that happening at a Microsoft or Apple conference? From many years of experience I can share that such closed technology events have talks that are 'on message' and disagreements are kept strictly behind the scenes.  

As key influencers of the community openly discuss their opposed views it encourages debate throughout the community. A community that has the ability to explore alternative views in an easy manner with the goal of progression and helping more people at its heart felt very powerful. 

These opinions were not hampered with the politics found in the work place, as none of those taking part are looking to ‘score points’ to achieve promotion. I am not suggesting the community is ego free, but the willingness to listen and consider different perspectives is highly active. 

As I enjoyed improving my skills in the Ruby on Rails technology stack, I found myself feeling overwhelmed that such an advanced and valuable asset has been built by people all over the world, remotely communicating and sharing without profit being the motivator. There is a common belief throughout the community which along with the specific technology flavor brings everyone together. However the ‘Rails Way’ is loose enough not to prevent creativity and innovation. 

Compared to traditional corporate controlled technology development, Ruby on Rails (and I expect other open source projects) feels efficiently developed and rapidly finds the path of least resistance to achieve its goals. 

The traditional company could learn and borrow from communities like this to better use the genius in the organization. Too often only the opinions of those who have climbed a politically fueled ladder to senior management have voices that are heard. Too frequently the honest views are kept silent, because failure is seen as a weakness and blame will be credited with negative career consequences. How often was that silent view the missing key that could have saved looming disaster or complete waste of resources?

The total intelligence of an organization is huge, there will be amazing insights that could change the companies fortunes throughout the business at every level. Unfortunately the label of hierarchy job titles regularly creates a culture where the true aggregate genius of the company is lost. 

An open culture should be embraced by organizations and the power of the community tapped to improve all aspects of a companies execution from product development, customer service, commercial strategy through to employee treatment and support. 

In a global commerce filled with knowledge workers the draconian approach to company structure is not only outdated, it is inefficient. I ask everyone to look deep into their culture to consider if it really works for them or works against them. You think you are open - can employees ask “why”, can they say “maybe this would be better”, dare they go talk to or email the CEO, what happens if there is failure? 


Break up the silos.

Yesterday at RailsConf2014 (a Ruby on Rails event, not something to do with trains) the closing keynote, by Farrah Bostic, touched on inclusion of engineers with the product teams and business. In the product consulting work I do, I witness this culture issue of tech and business struggling to align and collaborate.

The issue is often a failure to share a common goal. The engineers want the product to work fast, efficiently and elegantly - which is great. The business wants to make cash out its customers paying for the product - which is also great. Are these two perspectives conflicting? Not really, so why the difficulty?

More times than not, no one can communicate what the actual value proposition of the product is. The commercial teams can repeat unique selling points and share marketing bullshit while the engineers can list uninspiring details of every feature and options of how to use them.  Neither of these describe the value the customer gets. 

Given a lack of common focus each discipline will migrate to what it knows best, this 'defacto' position is not conflicting, it is also not aligned. It immediately creates a mutual, unwritten, unspoken law that neither discipline needs to involve the other in their decision making. This is probably the biggest opportunity a great product manager has - break the silos!

The genius that every organization contains, and few tap, is the hive of brain power and opinions. It does not matter about org chart level, job title or education - anyone within an engaged staff with a shared customer centric focus can spot that killer feature that will amplify the value of the product. But to do so they need to know what the value is. Then they need to know how to communicate the information. So many times a customer facing employee will be heard saying "we should make this widget work this way it would be so much easier", but how many times does that insight reach a decision maker who can make it happen? What a huge loss!

Every one in the company should be working to deliver or enhance the value the customer gets. This means the product manager must encourage collaboration and entice solutions out of the business and deliver them as marketable products. But I see many product managers who believe their job is to dream up the ideas, dictate their designs to engineering to build and marketing to promote. This is just dumb and is NOT product management.

To often the first time the engineering team find anything out about the new product features is when they are handed a very details specification and told to code it. Unfortunately many companies operate this way.  The result is a disengaged engineering team that ends up losing its best talent and making do with sub standard replacements, coupled with a shit product that only sells successfully if there is an amazing marketing campaign to convince customers there is actually value hidden in there.

Before the product manager can really achieve this goal there needs to be some job empathy. Do sales or marketing staff have any empathy with what engineers do? Do engineers have any empathy with what marketing does? Having a tiny insight into the joys and pains of the different disciplines provides a more integral working relationship and improves communication. 

While I believe the product manager has the most opportunity, influence and likelihood to break your companies silos it should be the responsibility of everyone. So what are you waiting for? 



8 deadly sins of a product manager

The job title in tech companies of Product Manager has become common place. 5 years ago in the UK few companies adopted this dedicated function. Unfortunately there is serious confusion surrounding what product managers should do. This impacts on company performance as marketing, sales, engineering, leadership and customers all have different expectations. I regularly read articles by so called "product managers" which are mis-guided and illustrate a clear failure to deliver what their company actually needs and probably expected.

Firms with these "pseudo product managers" regularly suffer from the following (and regular) complaints from their product management:

1. We don't have enough resources to deliver a competitive product.
2. We must deliver these hundreds of hundreds of features to have a product people will buy.
3. I have designed the system architecture to deliver the product needs.
4. Look at all my beautiful wireframes, no you can't change it.
5. Great idea, I will add it to the (already freaking enormous) backlog.
6. We are going with this design because I like this design better. (Just emotive ownership)
7. No customer has ever asked for that feature we don't need it - it's not a priority.
8. That innovative idea is great, we cannot consider it for years, first we need all these features the competitor already has.

So what's wrong with these statements? Maybe you have said them. I know I am guilty of using the "I will add to the backlog" as an excuse to not have bother telling the passionate creator their idea sucks, has nothing to do with our value proposition and sounds quite possibly like we would need the R&D budget of NASA (before NASA was cut) to achieve it. Please note, I have not used that excuse for years, I have learned what a waste it is to have a creative employee not on thinking on strategy! 

These 8 "broken record" product complaints illustrate that the product manager is not managing the product! I plan to write a bit more around this topic mainly due to frustration from product consulting that opened my eyes to how much better product management could be in so many companies.

Here is my perception of a true product manager...

The most importantly the product manager is responsible for managing the value the product delivers to the customer and the company, while maximising the resources available.

Product managers are not responsible for "how" it is implemented, if they were there would be no point in hiring talent such as engineers, designers, UX architects or project mngs / scrum masters or VP of engineering. At the same time they must appreciate the how and the technical strategy / capability of the company.

A great product manager gives a lot of responsibility to those who are going to deliver the product, which sometimes is mistaken for flexibility in the wrong culture. There is no point being stubborn around low level detail unless that low level detail really impacts the core value - the more fluid and collaborative approach with engineering / design allows for those who are responsible for "how" to be efficient. All companies are stretched for resource so efficiency is your friend.

Great product managers identify clear customer value proposition and communicate it company wide through various channels. Inspiring those around them they drive innovation to deliver the core value proposition in a smarter and simpler way than any customer or competitor could ever imagined.

They learn which features are must have to be competitive (it won't be all the competitions feature set). They refer constantly to the core value to keep the product on strategy instead of letting it go off track on a "me to" feature frenzy.

The best product managers understand it is not there job to dream up every concept, they encourage input and ensure credit is always given to the originator. They don't want credit for ideas, nor do they need it they are product manager - they get credit when the product demand is in a state of high growth and customers are loving it.

Awesome product managers are more obsessed with metrics and listen to customers to validate market fit than they are with drawing reams of wireframes. Many product people seem to really want to be designers. They probably should be! Product people need to be balancing what features get built vs resource vs competition vs go to market demands vs sales vs p&l vs comms vs change. This role is not for the feint hearted and the very best have little time to be tweaking wireframes! This does not exclude the wireframe as a communication medium or collaboration medium for the product manager but it is only one tool in the toolbox! 

The product manager may not lead sales or marketing spend but they are directly responsible for company revenue (assuming it's a product you sell). The p&l contribution of their product lines should be a major factor in their role.

Product managers need to be in touch with 360 degrees of their product. They need to forecast and anticipate where their efforts will be needed and proactively deliver! Being reactive is too late! If a new release is in dev then they must communicate to marketing, they must evangelise the customers benefits to sales, they must influence who writes what in the press.

The individual must make use of every communication medium possible and be able to excite board members as much as customer service reps.

Still think your role is product manager?