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Hiring process ‘broken’ in many Canadian firms, experts say. What’s the fix?

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As Canada continues to struggle with a nationwide labour shortage, some experts say that the hiring process in several organizations across varied sectors is “broken.”

They say the issue has existed for a long time due to companies’ heavy reliance on referrals and was exacerbated by workplace changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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According to Nita Chhinzer, a professor of human resources and business consulting at the University of Guelph in Ontario, the problem with the current hiring processes in some organizations is that many small or medium-sized businesses don’t have a human resources department that’s up-to-date with current technology or knowledge of where to find labour.

“Without having an HR expertise in-house, the businesses are relying on owners and managers who are assuming that they know employment laws, employment practices, (employee) selection and job description,” said Chhinzer.

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She explains that in reality, these people are strong in sales and business development but rather than relying on an HR expert, they are banking on referrals and word of mouth, which according to her, is the most frequently used recruitment tool among small and medium Canadian enterprises.

“When you rely on referrals you actually end up with a small candidate pool and often that candidate pool doesn’t have diversity because people do tend to network with people who are like-minded or from similar demographics,” said Chinzer. “They also might not have the required skills.”

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Chhinzer added the reliance of some businesses on referrals or word of mouth is creating a “barrier” for many job seekers who may be relying on Indeed, LinkedIn, or career centers in their community to find jobs.

She said that right now “it’s a job seekers’ market,” meaning there’s a high demand for filling in jobs because of the talent shortage caused by the pandemic-induced “great resignation.”

According to the World Economic Forum website, the great resignation is a term that was coined in May 2021, describing the record number of people who have been leaving their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic. After an extended period of working from home with no commute, many people decided their work-life balance was more important to them.

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“Employers have to offer more than things like compensation. Employers need to offer … the opportunity to develop as an individual, a positive work environment, and flexibility with how and what work people are looking to take more control of their employment relationship,” Chhinzer said.

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Sarah McVanel, chief recognition officer and founder of Greatness Magnified, a company that helps organizations retain top talent and combat burnout, says respect and recognition should be at the forefront for employers and needs to be reflected in the hiring process too.

“Our hiring process is broken,” said McVanel. “People wanted to be able to apply for a job, have a nice human review their resume, have the screening, go in and talk to somebody, and not sit in a waiting room for two hours and be grilled like it’s the French Inquisition.”

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McVanel says people are applying for jobs online and don’t know what’s happening until the job seeker gets an email or phone call from the recruiter, but even then, the person who applied doesn’t know if the interview will be done in front of a panel, virtually or if there will be another screening.

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“It’s ridiculous. We would never imagine saying, ‘I need to go dress shopping’ and then you show up and you have no idea if there are any on the rack? … You would never be unprepared like that. But that’s the way the hiring process is in a lot of organizations. So I get why some job seekers are frustrated … Because there isn’t transparency, there isn’t the efficiency,” McVanel explained.

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She said that she’s been helping organizations work on how to best attract job applicants by being transparent.

“People are seeing posted jobs sitting up there for a month, so wouldn’t it be great to know what’s happening in that month? For organizations to provide updates?” McVanel said.

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Halifax-based Mitch Ferguson, 35, told Global News in a Facebook message that before he finally found his current job, he applied at up to four different companies.

“I wouldn’t even get a call saying whether or not I’d been advanced and when I checked at a different time the same company was looking for the same position,” said Feguson.

Read more: Demands from job seekers, employers exasperating tight labour market

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Another job seeker pointed out that the worst part about job hunting is when a salary is not listed.

“You’re expected to go through the whole application and interview process before finding out (what the job pays). If you ask, the company assumes you’re just in it for the money. Like, no … I need to make sure I can keep a roof over my head,” said Carrie Campbell who resides and works in Halifax, N.S.

McVanel says businesses should show more appreciation and be reasonably responsive to the needs of employees or job applicants.

“If you’re not treating employees like human beings, not just as a number, and investing in their careers, then no matter what sector you are in you are less likely to be able to fill your position and attract people,” she said.

What can job seekers and employers do?

Since a lot of businesses rely on referrals, Chhinzer says job seekers need to start networking more in order to find jobs, but that doesn’t mean employers shouldn’t change their approach.

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“Networking is problematic,” said Chhinzer. “From the employer’s perspective, (they) have to figure out where the job seekers are and they’re not just limited to (their) network.”

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Chhinzer recommends employers start looking for people in the local community through university alumni groups, career centres or chambers of commerce.

“Employers have to take some responsibility for advertising to their target audience in order to reduce the amount of time they spend screening candidates who don’t fit the criteria as employees,” she said.

The other thing Chhinzer recommends is for organizations to build a LinkedIn website, tweet about job postings, use Facebook and experiment with new technologies.

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McVanel has a similar recommendation and suggests businesses share videos on LinkedIn about what it’s like to work at their firm to make their job postings more attractive and inclusive.

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“What if the recruiter puts up a little video on LinkedIn saying that ‘this is an amazing place to work’ and have their kitchen in the background because they’re working from home?” McVanel said.

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She says recruiters can be creative in the use of social media and other types of technologies.

“That’s what we do in our everyday life, why wouldn’t the employment sector look like that too?” McVanel said.

When it comes to job seekers, however, Chhinzer recommends they reach out through many networking methods to show that they’re active.

“It may be through an employment agency, an executive recruiter, or a friend,” she said.

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