Job Applications Are Dead. Long Live Conversations.

The rules for hiring have changed. A hire no longer begins with a completed application. It starts with a conversation — with the right person at the right time.

After transitioning out of my previous startup, I decided to take some time off to recharge and figure out what I wanted to do next.

Having a background in recruiting and HR tech and plenty of time on my hands, I found myself mentoring college students and recent grads on navigating their careers.

Everyone I spoke with complained about the time they were spending perfecting and submitting job applications, only to never hear a peep from these employers. They were all frustrated, discouraged, and annoyed by the whole experience.

Having built recruiting software in the past, I fully understand the need for recruiting teams to leverage software to help weed out unqualified candidates, cut out unwanted noise, and automate as much of the process as possible.

But at the same time, I can’t help but think the way we are approaching recruiting today is broken.

For anyone exploring opportunities in the market today, it’s still a terrible experience, even after all the hype in recent years about the candidate experience.

The experience is nothing short of disheartening, sometimes even dehumanizing.

I decided I no longer want to be a part of proliferating the problem. I want to help find solutions that fundamentally shift the way we approach recruiting.

So despite my attempts to try my hand at a new industry (I almost launched a marketplace for buying/selling breast milk…a funny story for another post), I’ve found myself back in the world of HR tech.

I’ll get to what I’m up to momentarily, but first, let’s go a little deeper on how recruiting looks today and some of the problems that need addressing.

Job Applications are Dead

So let’s go back to those college students I worked with. Want to hear the advice I gave them?

Never apply to a job again.

They all looked at me like I’m crazy at first, but after I explained the way corporate recruiting works and we mapped out a strategy, they were in.

This idea feels counterintuitive on one hand — job applications are at the foundation of traditional recruiting, right?

Actually, people are bypassing the apply process all the time and seeing far better results.

For job seekers, applying for a job should be seen as a last resort, a last ditch effort if all else fails.

In fact, Stanford professors Dave Evans and Bill Burnett, who teach the course, Design Your Life, currently the most popular class at Stanford, tell their students that applying for a job is a complete and total waste of time. Their book, also titled Design Your Life, is a must read for anyone gearing up for a job search. They advocate having exploratory conversations with companies instead and lay out a beautiful strategy for executing on this.

Conversations are the New Application

If a process is not effective, it’s worth examining the rules by which the process is structured.

For talent acquisition, conventional wisdom states you post a job, sift through applications, and in whatever time you have left, source candidates on LinkedIn. Rinse and repeat for every job.

Pretty reactive, right? Turns out it works just good enough for it to remain the standard practice. But it’s time is coming to an end.

The job application was invented to serve companies, not the people interested in working for them. And the application process has historically been the best way to put up a high enough barrier-to-entry to keep the number of applicants at a manageable level.

Conventional wisdom says, “If it’s too easy for people to opt in, we won’t be able to manage all of that noise! If they aren’t willing to complete an application, they’re probably not that interested in working here anyway.”

But what if it’s the best talent that’s choosing to self-select out of your process? 🤔

Active candidates, a term coined to represent people in active job search mode, represent only 12% of the workforce. Most people fall into the category of passive candidates, meaning they are proactively thinking about what’s next and open to have conversations about good opportunities.

Passive candidates, representing 73% of the labor market, don’t apply for jobs, but are actively doing research, networking, and open to connecting about relevant opportunities.

Passive candidates will not spend 30–60 minutes applying to you job. But they will take 10–20 minutes to have a relevant conversation.

Job applications are a relic from the days when companies were in the driver seat. But those days are gone, and in our current, hyper-personalized, on-demand world, a candidate-driven process wins out every time.

Candidates are now in the driver seat, and companies that have adjusted to this new paradigm are winning — and winning big. In the future, hiring will no longer revolve around the job application — it will run on conversations.

Conversations are engaging, informative, and productive. And with the right technology to support a Conversational Recruiting strategy, you can scale it with ease.

That’s what we’re building at Grayscale — software that makes it easy for recruiting teams to adopt and scale a Conversational Recruiting strategy.

Job applications are dead. ☠️ Long live conversations. 😁

Ty Abernethy

Ty Abernethy is a former recruiter and co-founder & CEO of Grayscale.

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