Blog Post

Software Makes Recruiting Better. Let's Embrace It

Dean Carter

Vice President of Human Resources and Shared Services, Patagonia

A version of this article originally appeared in HR Tech Outlook.

When I tell people that I work in HR, most of the time they assume I hire and fire. But in reality, the biggest thing I do is adapt.

Across my 20 years in the industry, technology has evolved and fundamentally changed the way I work—from the online job boards like, to the applicant tracking systems, to the rise of artificial intelligence. And I would venture to guess that another technological shift is on horizon: In 2018 alone, global investments in HR technology surpassed $14 billion.

There is often a sense of dread that comes when new technologies emerge (Will my job go away? Will I be able to keep up?), but I've found that if we adapt to the technology, we actually get better at what we do. Over the years, I've helped my teams adapt at a variety of different companies—from my time at Fossil, to Sears, to my job today as Head of HR, Finance, and Legal at Patagonia—and I've learned some strategies for adopting the continued swell of technological tools in our field. The keys? Embrace your data, push for innovation and keep culture first.

1. Harness and Customize Your Recruiting Data

As HR professionals, we have access to so much useful data today that we didn't just a few years ago. Software tools can tell us the number of applications we have for a certain job, highlight words that appear most frequently in the resumes of people we've hired and much more

But there's more to be done with the data than rely on a pre-fabricated, default dashboard a given software offers up. We need to dig deeper to ensure we can draw the most effective insights—creating a more customized view of our data.

At Patagonia we recently took a closer look at our data to see the impact of a few videos we released on childcare for applicants. We looked closely at the dates we released certain types of videos on social media and cross-referenced that data with types of candidates applying during the same periods. We found a video around dads at work drove a 42 percent increase in applicants. It was a crazy increase, and it showed us that the message about dads at work really resonated with prospective applicants—an insight we might not have uncovered had we used pre-cut dashboards. Rather than relying on only the insights you know you'll need—like common attributes of top applicants—explore the raw data to unearth new conclusions. Often, we ask our data scientist simply, what did you learn this week?

2. Don't Get Comfortable: Innovate, Innovate, Innovate

I find that HR and recruiting teams often get too comfortable with whatever system they're using and don't look around at what's out there. When I joined Patagonia four years ago, we had outdated processes despite the fact that other departments were driving innovation on multiple levels.

We've changed almost all of our processes since then—and I'm still on the lookout for new things. In fact, twice a year we hold an HR demo day where our team listens to pitches from the different services available. Usually, somewhere in that group of pitches is an important innovation.

Your candidates might be the innovators driving the way you do things, too, so pay close attention to their changing habits and preferences. Today, most young workers communicate with text: Research suggests millennial candidates open and read only about 20 percent of the emails recruiters send, while texting platforms report response rates of 60 to 70 percent.

3. To Make a Change, Know Your Culture

Keeping pace with trends in technology turns recruiting teams and HR leaders into change-drivers—and that's not an easy role. If your company needs a new technology every few years, it can be challenging to make the case to your CEO, much less your team who will have to adapt to the new system.

Use data when you pitch a new idea: it can be easier to make a case when the argument isn't only based on the head of HR's opinion. Also make sure you know your company's culture well enough to frame your proposal. When I worked at Sears and I was trying to promote a new HR tool, I would talk about how the change would give us the ability to drive performance at the company. At Patagonia, the culture is very different. If I were to say to my leadership team, "We're going to have better data about candidates," that would not be impressive. But I can say: "By being more efficient in our hiring, we can allow our recruiting team more time with their families."

4. People Will Always Be the Heart of Recruiting

One of the biggest fears in recruiting HR is that emerging technologies will eliminate jobs. AI, for example, is still in the early stages of implementation—but one day might be advanced enough to conduct entire interviews independently. I'm confident, however, that there will always be a place for people because of something Paul Depodesta told me when I was at Sears. Famous for his work in baseball statistics and was portrayed in the film Moneyball, Paul told me: "You know, Dean, the worst decisions we ever made in baseball were made by gut only or by data only. The best decisions are the ones where we combine really good data and really good human gut and experience."

I think there will always be a place for great HR people who are combining great technology with great humanity. And I'm already seeing the benefit of added technology for my team today, where the machine is doing a lot of work that our eyeballs used to have to do. Now, I can use my recruiters for what I need them for: To have key conversations with candidates and inform our data with strong intuition.

Photo: Creative Commons

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