Are recruitment analytics superior to employer surveys?

Ever since I was an undergraduate student I was always struck by the volume of mis-information that circulated about what employers want from job applicants. Often these seemed to be quite anecdotal (and in some cases comical), and were based on an individual’s experience in a job-interview, or on talks given by career counsellors. None was evidence-based.

In my first management posting I was amazed to find a newly appointed senior manager openly reading the recruitment section of a national Irish newspaper. I (half-jokingly) asked her why she was considering jumping ship so soon. She replied that she always read the recruitment sections so she could keep abreast of how roles were changing within our sector, and what new skills were required , not just at a sectoral level, but in management in general.

She didn’t read recruitment sections in the way they were ‘supposed’ to be read.

She read them to learn things about work that organisations didn’t know they were teaching.

Since this wonderful manager shared her insight, I’ve always been keen on recruitment data analytics for understanding how the nature of a work in a sector, or a profession is developing or changing.

As a management educator, this is crucial for ensuring that the teaching I design is based on evidence which put my students at an advantage in their search for work. As a management theorist, it means that I can develop models for understanding how, and why, certain forms of work change.  As a researcher it means that I use the most reliable evidence possible.

Why do job adverts provide more reliable data?

Often educational institutions design their programmes on the basis of employer surveys. I contend that job adverts are superior to these surveys because the person taking the survey is a human being. Even the most analytical mind will inform a survey on the basis of the most pressing HR problem they have faced recently. Local organizational priorities and problems come to the fore.  These passing issues are not the best evidence for a student to plan their future professional development. The are also based on the assumption that the survey population take the questionnaire as seriously as the researchers. How many times have you filled in a questionnaire as quickly as possible, without giving all questions the fullest possible consideration? How often do you imagine this attitude is adopted by a recruiting manager who needs to fill a key strategic position.

Job advertisements, however, are drafted to clearly express the human capital that an organization needs. They are written in a way that is designed to attract the best candidates. They are carefully crafted documents that are designed to deflect the under-qualified, inexperienced and under-skilled. Although no organisation creates these documents for close analysis, they are made freely available in the hope that the best candidate will see them. Because no organisation wants to recruit problems, they are essential texts in the ‘War For Talent’. In other words, they provide richer, more considered insight that it is possible for any recruiting manager to conceive and express.

In the past I’ve conducted recruitment market research on managers, librarians and information management workers, and I’ve recently turned my attention to two emergent fields; sustainability and data analytics.  In the field of data analytics, huge shortfalls of qualified professionals have been predicted.  I’ve just reported summary findings for last month (January 2014) on the recruitment market data for sustainability-related positions and organisations in Ireland here, and hope to report some initial findings on recruitment for data analytics shortly (follow me for updates on twitter). In both of these projects I will attempt to use this data to model how work in these burgeoning employment fields are developing. I hope that developing a model based on ‘real-life’ data will not only make a solid contribution to the field of the sociology of work, but also will provide my students who aspire to working in these areas with a real competitive advantage in the recruitment marketplace.

When I first commenced this type of inquiry almost 15 years ago most of the research I conducted was on hard copy of actual newspapers. Since then, things have changed considerably. Now, most of the sources I use are online recruitment websites. This makes data capture a little easier, but also means that there is much more to analyse. Some industry sources, however, have proposed that the recruitment industry and HR profession may themselves be on the cusp of some significant changes themselves as a result of the ‘big data revolution.

Just as data analytics has increasingly changed the way in which strategic decisions are made, could it be that the same is on-the-cards for how strategic recruitment will happen in the age of analytics?

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