The Dehumanizing Tools of Recruitment

This article is the first of a series of three, concerning the progressively dehumanizing trends in the world of recruitment. Part 2: The Dehumanizing Mindsets of Recruitment. Part 3: An Attempt To Rehumanize Recruitment.

In my career, I ended up sitting on both chairs of recruitment: as a candidate, and as a hiring manager. I observed (and I’m not the only one) a stupendous progression in the appearance of tools and approaches to recruit faster. This also comes with its share of dangers.

As a hardcore agilist who always had a strong bond with the first value of the Agile Manifesto: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools“, I would like to expose you to some tools usage that I judge questionable and dehumanizing in the recruitment world. It goes without saying that these also represent automatic red flags when the time comes for me to look for a job.

That time when I cheated the hiring process

I simply didn’t want to work with a company that chooses employees using algorithms.

It was in 2016. Following a phone interview, I had to take a psychometric test and a maths test (for a job that requires 90% of soft skills?). I had only talked to a recruiter so far. Not with my future team, not with my future boss. After the call during which I was told I’d receive both tests by email, I already knew things wouldn’t go any further. I simply didn’t want to work with a company that chooses employees using algorithms. I want a warm, human connection. I want to be chosen unanimously by people. But I decided to play the game anyway. Why? Well, I was between jobs, I had some free time, and I like doing experiments.

I don’t really recall the psychometric test, but I remember answering very haphazardly, sometimes giving real answers but pushed to their extreme, and sometimes answering the opposite of what I was thinking. As for the maths tests, it was pretty funny. One had to take it using a desktop computer, and the software would know if I used the calculator, so watch out! I’m not very good at maths, so I got my smartphone, disconnected it from the wifi, and unleashed my calculator using skills. Since I took the test any old how I wasn’t expecting much from the results. A few days after accepting an offer in another company, I got a call from the recruiter, letting me know that I passed both tests with brilliant success. Bewildered by this information, I answered that I already accepted an offer elsewhere.

To this day, I still regret stopping there. I should have engaged in a discussion with the recruiter, tell him what I did and see how he felt about that. But I was too astonished to think of doing so.

Personality tests used in hiring processes

Around the same time, another company asked me, following an in-person interview, to fill in the MBTI personality test (Myers Briggs Type Indicator). I know the MBTI personality types quite well myself, as I use these often in team-building activities. While it should be taken with a grain of salt, knowing the personality type of a colleague can be of great help when it comes to communicating.

I am an introvert. People who meet me have a hard time believing it. I’m extremely efficient in small groups discussions. I often take all the room. What I don’t say is that I need to isolate myself afterwards to recharge my batteries.

As I already know my personality type, I immediately answered that I’m INFP, excited to learn that a company was interested in these sort of things. Some hesitation, however, slowly started growing in my mind. For anyone who knows this tool, it is tempting to be biased on how two types relate to one another. One can easily judge that they are incompatible with the type opposite to theirs. Not to mention that there are many prejudices caused by a global misunderstanding of what introversion and extroversion are. I am an introvert. People who meet me have a hard time believing it. I’m extremely efficient in small groups discussions. I often take all the room. What I don’t say is that I need to isolate myself afterwards to recharge my batteries. But I digress. Extroverts have had the wind in their sails for so long. I was often given warnings: “watch out, this candidate is introverted”. With this in mind, I started feeling that it was a slippery slope to use such a test in an interview. It makes it easy to compare people, to become biased towards certain types at the expense of others, and it’s especially dangerous if one is required to pass that test even before being met.

It is only sometime later that I  found, on the Myers Briggs Foundation’s ethical guidelines page, the following paragraph:

It is unethical and in many cases illegal to require job applicants to take the Indicator if the results will be used to screen out applicants. The administrator should not counsel a person to, or away from, a particular career, personal relationship or activity based solely upon type information.

Upon reading this text, I understood the hesitation that I previously had.

Convenience and ease of use, but at what cost?

Monster, Indeed, Jobboom, LinkedIn. And probably a lot of other tools that I don’t even know of, including in-house tools. There is a wide range of technological means to boost our brand, and it goes for candidates as well as for employers. When one is suddenly open to new opportunities, it can very quickly spread like a wildfire. And sometimes, it cannot even be stopped. I still get approached to know my interest in positions such as developer (I haven’t touched a line of code since 2013) and as Scrum Master, two roles that I can’t imagine going back to in any foreseeable future.

I love technology, but not at the expense of the human experience.

I once got an offer, with salary and social benefits, without even having talked with someone in person. Their need must have been quite urgent (and I’ll tackle this topic in the second article of this series). No one wondered what I was aspiring for, it was simply taken for granted that the high salary would interest me. Which means they knew nothing about me, and that’s exactly my point: it would have been easy to get to know me by meeting me, or at the very least, calling me.

I don’t believe that these practices are widely used. But it’s the extreme at its worst. Let’s do whatever it takes not to get there any time soon. Tools are not of great help when it comes to understanding people’s aspirations, what motivates them, the organizational culture they need to be at their natural best, and, most importantly, if they will fulfill their future team’s expectations. Tools can help us find someone quickly, and hire quickly. But is quantity so important that we need to sacrifice quality? Like all tools, it’s what we do with them that really counts.

And, just to be true to myself, if I’m ever asked the very popular question “What tool should I use to select my candidates”, I shall answer “Have you tried speaking to them?“.

Olivier Fortier
Olivier Fortierhttp://www.primospopuli.com/en/
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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Maureen Nowicki
Maureen Nowicki

Olivier your examples were outstanding and made me shake my head from side to side as I have experienced some of what you are talking about. I used to administer True Colors to accompany a multitude of other recruiting tools and it was by far only used to work with sparingly in team building activities. I believe in a multi-diverse approach in understanding a human being and their gifts, talents, challenges and organizational fit. Technology and assessment tests are great – but the good old fashioned sit-down-in-front of you and have a flesh and blood experience tells you so much more. Cool piece! You sound like someone who would have some neat perspectives in a sit-down chat!

Olivier Fortier

I’m glad you liked it Maureen. Let’s connect on LinkedIn if we’re not connected already?

Mary Schaefer

Oliver… what a great article. Your first-hand experiences and observations are gold. First, from the article – “I love technology, but not at the expense of the human experience.” I’m all for using technology for things humans are less efficient at, but we absolutely cannot substitute tech for true human connection. I’m blown away that you given a solid job offer with speaking to a soul.

Second, from the article – “Have you tried speaking to them?” I guess we have become too dependent on tech out of habit or avoidance. Your question is the same one I often asked as an HR manager when an employee or manager appeared in my office with an issue with another. I know it’s hard, but we gotta talk to each other.

Getting back to recruitment – I can’t wait to read the rest of your series.

Olivier Fortier

Hi Mary! Thank you for your feedback, it really means a lot to me.
I agree with you, we should automate low-value work, eliminate no-value work. But high-value work, such as finding a fit between a candidate and a company should never be automated.

Know that the two other articles of this series are already available via my personal blog :

Article #2 – https://www.primospopuli.com/en/dehumanizing-mindsets-recruitment/

Article #3 – https://www.primospopuli.com/en/an-attempt-to-rehumanize-recruitment/

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