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What 11/22/63 Can Teach Recruiters

Stephen King has another best seller out called 11/22/63. It's a time-travel story about a man who ventures back to that date - the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. His mission is to change the past, to prevent the crime, and thus reshape the world he and we know. It's a fascinating yarn, but just as important, the truth it reveals about resetting ourselves offers an important lesson for recruiters.

The time traveler is a high school English teacher who befriends an old man with an astonishing secret. He owns a greasy spoon diner that holds a portal to the past. The old man is dying of cancer so he extracts a promise from the teacher. He agrees to travel back in time and avert one of the most shocking crimes of the 20th Century - the murder of a young president and the obliteration of the hope he inspired.

The time travel portal, however, is a fickle passage and deposits the teacher in 1958, over three years before his appointed date with destiny. As he awaits that moment, he prevents a heinous crime he knows will be committed (thanks to his foreknowledge of the past), runs afoul of a bookie because he wins too much (thanks again to his foreknowledge of the past) and meets the love of his life (for which he is totally unprepared because she's not in his future unless he changes the past). Get it?

Throughout it all, he steadily and stealthily prepares for his assignment. And, it's that effort which teaches him King's view of the past. As the author sees it, what's over and done with cannot be done over. Or, as he says, the past is "obdurate." It stubbornly refuses to change. The teacher is deeply committed to his mission, but the past conjures up situations and people to keep him from accomplishing his goal.

You'll have to read the book to see if he succeeds in saving President Kennedy. The nature of the past, however, is an important insight for recruiters. Why? Because undoing some of the events in our past would do some good. While we are obviously innocent of any crime, we have on occasion acted in ways that would benefit from correction. None of us is perfect, so getting a second chance could have a very positive impact.

Revisiting the Past to Undo It

There are, of course, at least two versions of the past for those of us in the field of recruiting. There is our version - the way we see the events that took place - and there is the version of job seekers - their view of what happened, particularly to them.

While we often saw terribly written resumes, totally unqualified applicants and atrociously unprepared interviewees, our applicants saw something else entirely. And, while our view is important and likely the most accurate, it is the view of those candidates that will determine the caliber of our organization's employment brand and ultimately our success in the War for Talent.

So, what is the prevailing view of applicants? Survey after survey confirms that they believe they have been mistreated and disrespected by employers and recruiters. As they see it, they send in resumes that disappear into a black hole, they are thrown into a process that feels like quicksand, and they are interviewed by hiring managers with the social skills of a brick.

The past they know is discourteous, demoralizing and all too often demeaning. But, it is not obdurate. Memories are malleable. We can change applicants' view of the past by making the present a more engaging and respectful experience.

How do we accomplish that?

By transforming the static database of electronic records in our applicant tracking system into a dynamic community of people. By devoting the same time and effort we now invest in sourcing strangers on social media sites to building relationships with prospects who have already expressed an interest in employment with our organization.

Many employers and staffing firms now have hundreds of thousands of resumes in computer storage. Unfortunately, getting to that point was probably an unpleasant experience for many of the applicants behind those documents. Their sense of the past, however, can be reset. Not by traveling back in time, but by moving forward in the present with the simple act of paying attention to them on a regular basis and in a helpful and respectful way.

Thanks for reading,
Peter

Visit my blog at Weddles.com/WorkStrong.

January 2012
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