Playing favorites with Recruiting Tools

Any time two or more recruiters are in a room together, the subject of tools comes up; tools for sourcing candidates, tools for tracking candidates. One of the challenges of being a recruiter with a pretty visible profile is that you get inundated with requests from tools companies to try their thing: “free trial”, “I’d like to schedule some time to explain to you the benefits of <some tool with a Web 2.0 name>”. I don’t even have to open the e-mails now to know what lies inside.

In my world, and in Staffing at Microsoft in general, managing ones time is a daunting task. Those that are successful time managers have mastered the art of leveraging others and saying no. I’ve blogged about the art of saying no before; a highly underrated business skill. The two year old that lives next door to me has got it down. She defaults to “no” in any situation. Sometimes it means yes, but “no” is more fun. Also, “Dora” and “papa”, but first, “no”.

One scenario where I invoke my talent for saying “no” is those tools calls/mails. If the tool sounds interesting, I’ll log on, poke around and try to understand the value proposition. For example, I was contacted by a company that gathers business cards at industry events, loads them into their database and then sells you access. I went in, did a search of a competitor company name and marketing and found nothing. I tweaked the search to go broader, nothing came up and that was that. When I let the account rep know, he wanted to spend more time with me on the phone crafting a search (something that any sourcing recruiter is an expert at and also, crafting the search in a tool like that should be easy). My response: no. OK, well actually, it was “no, thanks”.

People in the staffing industry really can get all gaga over tools. This type of focus on the technology of recruiting is pretty common among visible recruiters.  I’ve seen a lot of people really geek out over tools, but it’s more the promise of what the tool COULD do than what it actually does do. That’s why I think customer references are something I want before I even consider using a new tool. And when I talk to the customer, I want to know about results, meaning hires, that can be attributed to the tool. It’s amazing to me how skillfully an account rep can sidestep that question. And how often many of us neglect to ask sponsoring recruiters “have you used it?” and “have you made hires from it?”.

I have actually become significantly engaged with 2 tools companies over the past year or 2; one for the prospect of what it could provide, in terms of results, one because of what it does supply in terms of results. I started talking to Jobster because I like the idea of making job postings viral. I’ve tested it out using a few different scenarios and have not yet had any hires. I’m going to give it another shot, keeping in mind that there’s a point of diminishing returns when it comes to tools projects. I just want to make sure that I am selecting the right scenarios. And that the tool actually makes hiring easier or more efficient. And I also need to consider that what works for other people might not work for me. Our challenges staffing Microsoft are different than many other companies, especially here in the marketing space.

The other company that I have done a lot of work with, as you probably know, is TheLadders. My team has made a significant number of hires through them this year. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Plus, who else loves the fact that their leader, Marc, refers to his company as “not Web 2.0”. He’s right, it’s totally not, but who cares? Web 2.0 is overrated as a staffing enabler in the absence of actual results. If I thought the most effective way to hire someone was to send smoke signals, I’d be outside stoking the flames. Plus, there’s this new fangled thing called e-mail, and it’s predecessor, the phone, that work fantastically. Anyway, TheLadders works for me. And I think that flipping the job board model is brilliant because recruiters have lots of choices of places they can post jobs so free postings puts your tool at the top of the list.

I guess I wanted to get this out there since I see a lot of fanboy worship of tools without the discussion of whether the person has ever used the tool (seriously!) and whether they have made hires from it. I think the tendency for the industry to pat some tools companies on the back without some critical analysis of whether they work well (or even where they work), but rather because they represent the shiny promise of “web 2.0” (gag) is not really that wise. And I want to justify my avid support of TheLadders by saying that yes, we make lots of hires through them. And I like the way they think and work. And I want to support them because they do good work and they make my job easier. And since I don’t pay them for anything, all I can offer is my endorsement.

When it comes to the other tools (oh so many of them), the reason you don’t see me talking about them is…well, there could be a lot of reasons:

1) they don’t solve a business problem we have (for example, assessment tools don’t interest me because my team doesn’t do assessments)

2) they have been tried here by others and I’ve received feedback on their efficacy

3) I’ve tried them myself and they don’t work well/don’t provide what we are looking for/are too cumbersome/replicate a process we can accomplish better in another way.

I’d been thinking that the readers of my blog (or at least the intended readers) wouldn’t be interested in this kind of stuff because they aren’t really in staffing. But then I thought that anyone doing a job search probably is interested in the tools recruiters are using out there. There’s so much going on and it’s hard to get to the nucleus of tools companies that are effective and sustainable. I can’t really say what works for other people, but for the recruiters out there: cut through the hype and take the time to understand which tools have track records of success and will work for your business. To the job seekers out there: find out what the recruiters are really using.

That is all.

Comments (10)

  1. Steve Levy says:

    Heather, here’s my take on tools: When one becomes so good at using a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

    Tools may yield names, make it easier for resumes to be placed into a database, or enable a recruiter to test people online before coming in for an interview…but they don’t necessarily enable a recruiter to call someone back when promised, to tell a candidate that they’re not a fit, or to learn about the content of the position before heading off to recruiting land in search of the perfect candidate.

    So Candidates, definitely ask recruiters what tools they use – this is a perfect way to engage them (what’s ATS do you use at Microsoft? What are your three favorite ways to source candidates?) – you might even find that they like you more after the exercise.

    But don’t forget that no 2.0 tool can make up for recruiters who don’t follow through…

  2. Darren Cox says:


    Tools are one of those things that job-seekers are increasingly frustrated by.  I am the former owner of a recruiting website (actually I still own the domain name, but the company doesn’t exist anymore) so I have been exposed to hundreds of different recruiting tools.  I am now a job-seeker and I have made a point of keeping notes on the recruitment tools that are easy and intuitive for applicants and those that are brutal and time-consuming.

    Here, in my opinion, are the main issues that we applicants face:

    1) Tools that ask for a Word version of a resume and then require one to fill out a long, cumbersome web form that includes everything already detailed in the Word resume.  Applicants go to a lot of trouble to make résumés look nice and spend countless hours trying to make them stand out.  I ask you; what is the point of having a tool that sorts, filters and qualifies applicants if good people are so frustrated by the redundancy and poor design of application tools that they quit half way through the process.  Our time is valuable and filling out endless web forms with basic info is patently unnecessary.  A tool that asks, "Do you fill these requirements?" then lists them, would be much easier.  The only thing worse than that scenario is using a tool that parses info taken from your formatted résumé and places it into web forms incorrectly.  This results in great candidates spending even more time correcting all of the mistakes that the form now contains and inevitably leads to a sloppy looking application.

    2) I would guess that most HR people have never actually gone through the process of applying for a job using the online tools available to the public.  Also, a great QA step would be to have 10 people who already work for the company, and preferably are managers that hire people, gather in a conference room with their laptops, go through the application process as if they were outside applicants, then write detailed notes about what they think of the efficiency of the process.  Then compare and contrast this to ten people who have never worked for the company going through the same process.  Especially take into account how long it takes to apply and what questions are asked that each group feel are absolutely necessary.

    3) Almost all recruiting tools miss the mark when they do not enable one to ask pertinent questions about a position or contact someone to find out important details.  In fact, I think the problem with all of these tools is that they have taken the human element out of the recruitment equation.  For instance, if a position says it "requires" an MBA (as most of the jobs that I am interested in, and qualified for, do) I might want to ask if a M.A. in a similar discipline acceptable, or am I wasting my time even applying.  I have a an advanced degree in organizational leadership, along with 12 years in marketing and strategic development, but if a company insists on limiting their applicant pool to those with a specific business degree, I would like to know if the degree that I have might be considered an equivalent or if I will DQ’d by the software that will see my résumé before any person does.  The bottom line is that I only want to apply for jobs that I am qualified for so I do not look like I am just applying for every job posted on the site, but in many cases a tool might not recognize that I am qualified for a specific job due to fields which are too narrowly defined.

    4)  Many tools default to questions that are a little bit offensive and not pertinent to the recruitment process.  A GREAT example is asking for specific salary details of past jobs.  I completely understand the thought process behind this; figuring out whether someone who had a "director" level job title actually had a director level job.  The problem is that some folks who choose to work at smaller companies might wear many hats and have titles and corresponding salaries, like Analyst or Manager, but may actually be doing Director or VP level jobs which would easily qualify them for that level position at a larger company.  We are told that we should do what we love, but we are nearly forced into chasing dollars and titles by non-intuitive, "tools" that cannot take into account nuance, description and reason.  

    I think the best recruiting tool in use today is the telephone.  Spend five minutes on the phone with just about anyone and you can tell whether he/she will fit your company’s culture and if they are smart enough to do the job well.  The details of the position might require a more thorough evaluation of their experience, skills and abilities, but for those applicants who might be on the bubble, based on their resume, talking to them can quickly provide the information needed to decide what the applicant’s future value to your recruitment efforts will be.

    Finally, let me say that if companies did a better job of telling applicants exactly what they want to see on résumés submitted to them, they would likely get a much higher quality applicant pool.  If there is a way to better sell myself to a company, without wasting their time with extraneous information, I would absolutely tailor my resume’ to their specific parameters.  In the absence of this guidance, they get what I already have done and in some cases I feel like they miss important information and I miss out on jobs that are perfect for me.

  3. Karthikeyan Ramnath(KR) says:

    "And I want to justify my avid support of TheLadders by saying that yes, we make lots of hires through them. And I like the way they think and work. And I want to support them because they do good work and they make my job easier. And since I don’t pay them for anything, all I can offer is my endorsement."

    I/Any company would kill to get a recommendation like that!

    As a job seeker, I wish that these portals/recuiters gave us an option of being able to ‘chat up’ over phone or email. I find the process of contacting recruiters a little cumbersome on theLadders, but otherwise, I agree it sure helps cut through the clutter.



  4. Bad_Brad says:

    You know, come to think of it, I do recall spending a lot of time filling out a lot of online forms at Microsoft.  In some cases, the directions for these forms had 10+ steps, and some of those steps were themselves lists of steps.

    I even commented to the hiring manager that it seemed like the application process ensured three things about me as a candidate:

    1. My interest in the job was very serious (if it wasn’t, I would have quit halfway through the process of filling out these tedious forms).

    2. I had some basic computer literacy (which I presumed was necessary at Microsoft).  After all, many of the steps mentioned above required going to some link, and many of those links sent me to other links, etc.

    3. I could follow a semi-complex set of instructions to successful completion (again, presumably a necessary trait for someone at a software company where everything – EVERYTHING – is a process and thus involves instructions).

  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    Bad-Brad, funny that you mention that. I just sent mail yesterday on what I thought could be improved about our careers site. I’m sure open to additional recommendations that I would be very happy to collect into a document and pass along to the appropriate people. My biggest concerns are:

    1) We try to put everything on the US jobs page. Way too many links on the left side

    2) No flow to the site. It’s more like a spider with pages springing from it than one from which a user wuld flow from one site to the next (I am sure that there’s a more articulate way to explain that).

    3) Limited expectation setting with candidates

    4) We have all these different job descriptions but no real way to explain how different groups fit into MS and how these jobs fit within the groups. The verbiage we have sounds more like marketing speak

    5) We need to have videos on the site…people talking about their work so users can hear their passion and excitement.

    How did I do? What more would you add? ANyone out there want to give constructive feedback on our career site, let me have it; either here or send me an e-mail:

  6. crawdad13 says:


    I hope these comments will be deemed Constructive and a couple play off of some of the things that you mentioned above.  Specifically, #4 which I think would be the most helpful to me.<br><br>

    First let me say, just so you have some background info, that I have 12 years in Market Management, program development, product development and strategy.  I also have been a viability analysis consultant, started and sold a software company and an internet classifieds company.  I have  Masters Degree in Organizational Leadership and 3 Bachelors degrees.  I have been a Senior Manager at a fortune 50 company, a VP at a small software company and a director at a medium-sized Direct Marketing company.  Based on these things, I feel like a I have a lot to offer a company like Microsoft.<br><br>

    1) I have 2 "agents" that send me jobs that are posted on the Microsoft site that meet my criteria…Sort of.<br><br>

    I want to find out about marketing, program management, product management and evangelist jobs (in a couple of different cities, Minneapolis and Kansas City), however, the jobs that are posted on the site that fit those general descriptions could fall in any number of different categories.  For instance, the most narrowly defined agent that I have sent me 31 hits today that range from "Architect Evangelist" to "Marketing Manager"  My other Agent, which includes Redmond, came back with 630 hits.<br><br>

    Clearly I am not going to be a great fit for most of these jobs, but in order for me to find out about any of the jobs that I might be a great fit for I have to wade through a sizeable chunk of them.  I have learned, through trial and error, not to even look at anything that says "technical" in it given that I am a marketing person and not an engineer, programmer or Software developer. <br><br>

    I wish that there were a site that I could go to that explained all of the different renditions of a marketing manager at Microsoft.  Seriously, I know that is asking a lot, but when there are thousands of jobs that look alike, on the surface, it would be cool if there were  way to narrow the search based on my actual experience.<br><br>

    Also, even most of the jobs that I feel I am qualified for I don’t apply for since I often don’t understand the unelievable littany of acronyms that are often listed in these job descriptions.<br><br>

    Maybe that means that I am fooling myself into believing that I am more prepared for a job at Microsoft than I am, but it could also mean that whoever wrote the job description really wasn’t interested in anyone outside Microsoft applying for the job.<br><br>

    It could also mean that said hiring manager may not even realize that they are using unfamiliar terms because they use them so often in their daily work that everyone that they deal with actually knows what they mean.<br><br>

    In short, I think I am a qualified candidate, but without writing a 3 page cover letter I don’t think I can get that message across to a recruiter.

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    crawdad13 – those comments are totally constructive and I will make sure that they are shared with the right people. One of the big challenges is that the categories are selected by the admin that enters the job into the system. I don’t think that ther admins are trained to know the difference betwwen the categories and pipes. It’s much harder than it sounds. We get a lot of program management jobs in the product management category, for example. And a marketing program manager, which should be listed as a martketing position, may end up in program management. I use the agents for some of my work as well and it’s not clean.

    So from what you are saying, there are 2 problemts:

    1) the categories aren’t an effective means of selecting the positions that you want to hear about

    2) there’s a lack of content that would help you better understand the categories and how we interpret them at Microsoft as well as some of the cryptic verbiazge in the job description (which isn’t supposed to make it in there inthe first place).

    Did I get that about right?

  8. crawdad13 says:


    you are exactly right and much better at stating it succinctly than I am.  Ithink that maybe reducing the sheer number of options is the most logical fix for this issue.

    I want to be clear that I am NOT piling on here, Quite the opposite, you might be the very first hR person that I have ever talked to that has a really clear understanding of how frustrating it can be for an applicant to want to put his best foot forward and not being able to figure out how to do that.

    With that said, here is a list of jobs from one of my agents categorized in what seems to me to be logical groups, the problem is, I have no idea at all whether many of these jobs titles perform the same functions or if they are completely different.  Take a look and tell me if I am just being goofy or if there really might be a good reason for me to be confused.

    One more thing; I freely admit that there are at least a few of these titles that I honestly couldn’t tell you what they mean to Microsoft, I am just guessing based on what they sound like they mean.

    Internal Product Manager

    Internal Product Manager Management

    Product Manager

    Product Manager Management

    Marketing Product Manager

    Marketing Product Manager Management

    Marketing Product Planner

    Marketing Product Planner Management

    Product Planner – Marketing

    Product Planner Management – Marketing

    Product-Solutions Marketing Manager

    Licensing Marketing Manager

    Industry Manager

    Industry Marketing Manager

    Industry Marketing Manager Management

    Segment Manager

    Segment Manager Management

    Segment Marketing Manager

    Segment Marketing Manager Management

    Services Marketing Manager

    Internal Program Manager

    Internal Program Manager Management

    Program Manager

    Group Program Manager

    Program Management Office

    Sales Program Manager

    Branding Manager

    Branding Manager Management

    Engagement Management

    Audience Marketing Manager

    Audience Marketing Manager Management

    Customer & Partner Experience Manager

    Competitive Strategy Manager

    Market Intelligence Manager

    Market Intelligence Manager Management

    Communications Manager

    Marketing Communications Manager Mgmt

    Marketing Manager

    Marketing Manager Management

    Field Marketing Manager

    Field Marketing Manager Management

    Developer Evangelist – Academic

    Developer Evangelist

    Evangelism Management

    Partner Development Manager

    Partner Development Marketing Manager

    Partner Engagement Manager

    Partner Account Manager Management

    Senior Consultant

    Advisor Management

    CRM Manager

    CRM Manager Management

    Data Marketing Manager

    By the way, I am posting as Crawdad13 but I also occasionally post as Darren Cox

    Thanks for all your help and for your tireless efforts to help the rest of us understand Microsoft.  You are a great ambassador for the organization.

  9. Ryan Brooks says:


    I am trying to decide between using theLadders or RiseSmart. They both seem to offer the same things but RiseSmart is about $10 more. RiseSmart claims they have more personalized service with their "reception." Have you heard of them? Is this legitimate? What do you think? Thank you, I read your articles and really value and appreciate your feedback.


  10. HeatherLeigh says:

    Hi Ryan,

    I haven’t heard of them. I wish I could offer more help. I’ll ask around to find out if some of my cohorts have heard of them.