The Dehumanizing Mindsets of Recruitment

When I say “dehumanizing mindsets”, I’m not necessarily targeting recruiters themselves, but rather the organizations. The current job market, especially in I.T. and software development, is short on candidates. Everybody is looking for front-end developers, Scrum Masters, name it. And they are ready to do anything to hire.

But it is the way the job market uses recruiting that makes it dehumanizing. Please take good note that I’m talking about the job market that’s about hiring people in permanent positions, and not the contractor market in which candidates are first and foremost looking for contracts.

When there’s a price on our heads

Big corporations, especially those that deal with intermediates who are headhunting, are creating a job market that is not sustainable in the long run. The result is also a market model that’s less and less human. We want heads, and there are prices on them.

When the hunting season is open

I’m a former Scrum Master, and even if I don’t pursue this career anymore, I’m very in demand as of now. There are days where I’ll receive, either on LinkedIn or by email, tons of messages from recruiters and headhunters who are all offering me the same position. On these days, I know that a big corporation (generally from the finance world) is looking to find one or more experienced Scrum Masters.

I would say it happens every 3 months, more or less. A tsunami of recruiters all looking to fill the same position, and who are all looking for senior Scrum Masters (whatever that means). I’m generally nice enough to let them know I’m not interested and promise to do due diligence if I think of someone who’s open to new opportunities.

The fact that these situations exist means that the hiring organizations are ready to invest in finding someone fast. The recruiter who can find someone as quickly as possible will win the contract. We’re talking about fulfilling a very immediate need. The salary that’s offered is generally proportional to the emergency of the situation, which definitely helps to find someone. But the discussions in regards of what kind of future the candidates are hoping for, who they will work with, what they need to be at their best will very rarely happen. Going through proxies who are ready to react at any moment works really well for companies, but generally to the detriment of candidates.

The market of “Everything, right away”

The previous point created another monster which mere existence is troublesome. Several times, recruiters contacted me, saying “I need to create a team as fast as possible, and I need a Scrum Master”. When asking about their timeline, the deadline was sometimes from one week to a few days.

A few days to build a team.

“A team”.

I don’t know for you, but in my experience, creating a team is a process that takes many months. You need a cohesion, dynamics, a minimum of performance. In a few days, the best you can end up with is a list of people who are available. People who never talked to each other, but have the required skills. They are not a team.

There’s no indication that they will complete each other, work well with one another, or will be performing together. Nothing indicates if they can come to an interesting level of maturity, or can communicate properly. Of course, a team needs to be born in one way or another. But can we expect to see an actual team within days? Certainly not. And even if it was only one person being hired. I hired 2 developers in my current roles. Because I wanted to be sure they were a good fit, it took me 2 months and a half to find the right people that will, in the long run, bring optimal value to the team and the organization. I greatly doubt we can achieve this in 3-4 days.

How did we get there? Is everything in the work world that short-term, that pressing? The exponential amount of “Everything, right away” needs the market has frightened me. What are we doing to the recruitment world?

When recruiters insist to recruit you

Often times, people approach me using car seller techniques. I know it’s a minority, but this minority didn’t appear by chance and is getting traction.

The aggressive recruiter

One day at work, my boss tells me “A recruiter is calling every developer here and tries to recruit them. He’s very insisting”. I told him I’d take care of it. One of the devs let him know what was happening. The recruiter in question called an employee on the company’s phone. He also called another colleague many times, sent him multiple email messages, and even called his mom! It was easy to get his name.

After a short research on LinkedIn, I found someone responsible for recruiters in his company. I contacted this person and explained the situation, and let him know it creates a very unflattering perception of his organization and of his colleagues. The manager was curious and suggested a phone call. He didn’t know the recruiter in question and didn’t agree with his methods. He swore that they didn’t have personal goals that were too aggressive and that the pressure to recruit was quite mild. After a few minutes of courteous discussion, we deduced that it was probably a new recruit trying to impress and build himself a reputation. He promised to try and contact the manager of his colleague and see if he could be provided with the necessary coaching.

The story took an interesting turn when I learned that someone from management in my workplace tried to call the VP of their company to deal with this case. It apparently ended in a refusal to cooperate, followed by “My clients will be very happy that my recruiters do these things!”.

And that’s how what I always say gets confirmed: Those who are the closest to a problem are better suited to fix it.

That person who insisted that I change career

There was a time when I was approached with great compliments: someone gave me as a referral and talked about my Scrum Master skills. As always, I nicely refused and opened a door to an eventual collaboration if ever I found someone else who could be interested. But the discussion took a turn and he asked me why I didn’t want to be a Scrum Master. I told him about my pain points and the fact that the most interesting problems to solve are at the head of organizations, in their mindsets, rather than on the floor with people who are the victims of those traditional mindsets.

The person really insisted that his organization was way above all these problems, that they really offered to their employees to change things, to take initiatives, and that frankly, it would just be better for my future is I went back to being a Scrum Master. I already knew I wasn’t interested, but to have it shoved in my throat left a weird taste in my mouth. I will never work in this great, big and heavy organization.

The “Case of beer” approach

I came up with that name. It is more an observation than a problem for now. In fact, that’s me challenging the status quo (for a change).

When I was in transition between two professions, I was quite irritated by the fact that I was always offered jobs I didn’t want to do anymore. It’s certainly my fault, as my LinkedIn profile was screaming “Scrum Master”, and I had to remove almost all of it. Rather than tell about where I was from, it would now tell about where I’m going. I noticed that almost all the job market is based on punctual needs. And it bothers me profoundly. When a candidate has a phone interview, he will always be told about a specific position. “I have a position that might interest you”, am I told. I’m being offered a box, in which I must jump.

And the positions are all determined in advance, with the necessary qualifications, expected experience, and the available salary. It’s somewhat flexible, but not that much. That’s where I got the reference to the case of beer. The case is of a certain format, and one must find bottles that fit in it. However, all bottles aren’t of the same shape or size. I’m starting to find it difficult to receive calls to see if I fit the mould, and if I answer the immediate needs of the company. The interviews that I prefer are generally those that aren’t about the position to fill, but where I’m asked: “Where are you heading in life?”.

I decided to allow myself to have that during interview calls, and starting telling recruiters “You know what? Before you tell me about the position, I’ll tell you about where I’m going. Then, maybe there are 4 positions that will be interesting for me, rather than the one you’re thinking of”.

Innovating while recruiting?

There are a lot of ways to find interesting candidates. I think we need to innovate. There are multiple approaches that exist already, like organizing a hackathon that’s open to any developer to see how they work, and already create a real experience of working together, a real contact… then the team of devs can provide you with the names of 2 or 3 participants which they had a great synergy. Then, if everyone is interested, these people get absorbed.

To absorb rather than recruit, I find it an interesting idea. Rather than making a choice based on theory, why not use a real work experience? Observe people in action. There’s definitely something to it. There must be a lot of interesting things like this in startups. How can we scale that up to bigger organizations?


Olivier Fortier
Olivier Fortier
OLIVIER Fortier is first and foremost a believer in human beings. Owner of the blog Primos Populi -- which is Latin for People First -- his focus is to find innovative ways to bring back (and keep) people at the core of businesses, and ensure they can thrive. A manager, agilist, servant leader, facilitator, and former Scrum Master, all of these interesting titles and roles represent only the means to achieve what he truly believes in: cultivating people's awesomeness. His favorite things to reflect on are leader-leader relationships, psychological safety and the right to fail, career and personal development, humanity in recruitment, and how to lower the center of gravity of decision-making processes. Considering that businesses wouldn't exist without people, can one imagine how powerful it would be if all employees wholeheartedly wanted to be in their organizations, and wanted to do what they do? This is the work world Olivier wants to live in, and the goal he set for himself.

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  1. In my view, it has become indispensable for companies to interact with users, activating with them a conversation and a relationship similar or equal to that of everyday life. At the same time it is necessary to give the brand the same personality in terms of popular content: no more slogans or purely commercial sales techniques, but a real recognizable tone of voice, its own style, of its own interests and topics of conversation beyond its own product. The traditional approach of a single standard message cannot fit into today’s world, where people are used to being engaged in meaningful and personalized conversations through social media.
    The recruitment process, therefore, must adapt to this new scenario, be dynamic and interactive: it is necessary to make the candidates feel listened to and appreciated and give them the feeling of being an important resource for society; it is essential to guarantee feedback; it is necessary to make the company known and to imagine how it is possible to fit into the corporate culture.
    What seems to emerge as fundamental in the new environments based on interactivity is, in my opinion, the need to make the candidate perceive the moment of the candidacy as a learning experience and not, as often happens, the time spent ( if not “thrown” in the hope of receiving an automatic reply to know whether the candidacy was successful or not.

    • All in all, if companies would just DO what they say they do, they’d be in a much better position right?

  2. Olivier, where have you been all my life! I find it nearly impossible to get management to understand, it is all about the people. People are the messy, emotional, imperfect creatures that make the world an interesting place to inhabit. Most managers can repeat the current buzzwords, and if they buy into the concept, then they are inept at dealing with people on a human level.

    Your article caught my attention because I am in the middle of a job search currently and experiencing many dehumanizing factors in the process. In case you think the problem is isolated to the technology area, let me tell you it is not. I have over 25 years experience in all aspects of the communication field, from marketing to PR, and even in this quasi-creative space everyone is looking for a round peg to shove into their round hole.

    Thank you for sharing this article and keep fighting the good fight!