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Recruiting in the Era of Big Data

By Catherine McClelland
Wednesday, February, 10 2016

The recruiting industry, like many information-based industries, has undergone significant changes in the wake of revolutionary big data tools.

A brief history of recruiting data technology:

The Paper Era:
The heart of the staffing firm was a filing cabinet of candidates organized by industry. The successful recruiter was a zealous collector of business cards and resumes; it was his only source of candidates. Much of the job search depended on a recruiter’s ability to recall suitable candidates from memory and keep detailed and accurate notes.

The Job Board Era:
With the dawn of Monster and other job board sites, recruiters could search for candidates they had never met, solely based on keywords. Memberships for both job seekers and recruiters soared in the late 2000s as unemployment rose, which made job boards the best and biggest source of resume data. Despite the expense of job board memberships, this kind of search became the most profitable way to quickly find qualified candidates. With the steadily growing pool of resumes, the pressure increased for a solution that could better manage large amounts of data—although the buzzword “Big Data” hadn’t yet come into use.

The Social Media Era:
Job boards haven’t disappeared, but instead of their previous role as the ultimate data source, they’re no longer the only game in town. The dedicated recruiter can curate a large database of candidates for free using social media tools such as LinkedIn. Also on the rise are data aggregators such as ZipRecruiter and Indeed, which post jobs and source candidates across many job-seeking sites to maximize the return on a single search. Today’s successful recruiter knows that a well written keyword search string is the best way to locate candidates, even those whose resumes aren’t perfectly written.

On the candidate side, resume-writing has also changed. Before keyword searches, the effective resume was a condensed, tightly written document that fit into a few pages. Today, an understanding of SEO is critical to getting noticed by the right hiring managers and recruiters. Resumes have gotten significantly longer and more detailed to include more keywords and phrases that intelligent search engines will pick up. If a resume or LinkedIn profile is out of date or lacks detail, a recruiter is likely to pass it over in favor of candidates who spell out their skills and experience clearly.

The success of social media has its roots in the shrewd use of data technology and analysis to get useful insights out of its users’ behavior. “Big data” tools are kept in the back end, to minimize the learning curve for front-end users. Search engines have advanced to manage the huge amount of data that users now expect to be able to access quickly.

Sites such as ZipRecruiter have pioneered intelligent search options: after a recruiter posts a job, it automatically suggests candidates from its database that appear to fit the requirement. The site parses uploaded resumes and locate phrases and words that people are likely to conduct searches for, and prioritizes those keywords—just like a recruiter.

Big data technologies have reduced the amount of work needed to locate and collect resumes in the recruiting industry. Recruiters can now easily access millions of resumes, many of them for free, and tailor their search filters to find the resumes that say what they want.

No big data technology has yet been able to replace the recruiter’s ability to judge a candidate’s presentation, company cultural fit, and likelihood of accepting the job. Even though hiring managers can easily access the same resumes themselves, the recruiter forms a critical human filter for the flood of resumes. That part of recruiting is here to stay.