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Are Your Recruiting Rules Working?

Are Your Recruiting Rules Working?

While working in a small village north of somewhere we needed to do a quick recruitment. I was working with Doctors Without Borders recruiting talentand medical data was coming in that indicated a rise in measles cases. Due to the conflict in the area, the previously functioning health system was in shambles and for several years children had not been receiving their normal routine vaccinations. We made the decision to respond before an epidemic hit.

We would hire from the community over 50 people: guards, drivers, assistant nurses, nurses, logisticians, and an administrator to help with the month-long vaccination project. We were in a small village in which people identified with and were bound by the family they came from. It would be a delicate recruitment in order to balance getting the skills we needed with having a good cross representation of families to ensure the community was focused on working with us and not focused on comparing the number of positions one family received over another.

We posted a job announcement outside our doors in multiple languages. The next morning we were flooded with “applications.”   The announcement requested CVs and motivation letters but only a small percentage actually submitted a recognizable CV and not one motivation letter was provided. Over 90% (yes, I counted) of the applications received were on pieces, not full sheets of paper but pieces of paper that had been torn in half and even quarters. Information on the paper usually included a name, phone number, and the stated desire to work with us. It was 50/50 odds that the title of the position they were interested in was listed.

It was just one more instant in my life when I had forgotten the context I was operating in. I had started the recruitment process with the same expectations I had while living in the US, a country with a fully functioning infrastructure. In reality I was in a country torn apart by civil strife.   Electricity and fuel were non-existent let alone access to computer, internet and even basic supplies like pens and paper.   Candidates who had paper were tearing them into pieces and sharing with their friends so they too could submit their applications.

There was simply no possible way to select candidates based on their applications we received. The only logical thing we could do was invite everyone who had applied to a group interview.   The groups were randomly selected with 10-15 people in each group. Because most people shared phones we only had to make one phone call for approximately every three people (this is an estimate, I did not count). For those without phones, we asked our staff to get the message to the right people. It worked.

During the group sessions we worked with a translator to explain who we were, the details of the project and then went around and heard from each individual about their work experience, skills, and availability.   Confidentiality in this village was not an issue. After this initial triage of applications, we ranked, sorted, and had the hiring managers do the technical interviews.

In looking back, this is one of my proudest moments as a recruiter. We connected with the community and took time to share who we were and what we were doing as an organization on their behalf. People reported that they felt they had been seen, heard and that all had been given a chance. Within two weeks, we sorted through the hundreds of applicants, we put people where they would work best, the process was open and transparent, we avoided inter-family fighting, and we had a full team in place in time for training and implementation.

I am well aware that this is an extreme recruiting moment. And it took such an extreme moment to make me realize that the pieces of paper we received were not just applications. They were hopes and dreams. Hope for an income to feed a family, if only for a short time.   Hope to help directly the community they lived in. The dream to learn something new and the dream that such an opportunity would lead to more opportunities.

During that recruiting moment, we did what we did because we wanted candidates who had more than just paper. We wanted motivated people to work with us and had to look beyond our self-imposed recruiting constraints. To suggest that organizations operating within a functioning infrastructure do something similar is not feasible to the same extreme. But imagine if it was. Imagine if within your recruiting processes and systems, there was the possibility to look beyond what you thought you wanted or what the job description listed.   To see far beyond what a computer system spits out as one solution from amongst hundreds, if not thousands by searching only tags and micro-specific parameters.

It all makes me wonder. Do the technical recruiting solutions we rely on today put the right people in place? Are you getting the people you want in your organization? Do you wonder about the passionate and motivated candidates walking out your door because they don’t fit in the boxes created by the rules and systems you have created? What candidates are you losing because the system doesn’t search for cultural fit, creativity, or resiliency and simply leap frogs over hopes and dreams?

In the name of “what have you got to lose”, instead of entering search parameters, take some time to randomly read the hopes and dreams sitting in your system just to see what treasures you find. I don’t know of any system that can see that something special about a candidate. That something special that just dances on the screen, tugs on the heart strings and insists on being seen and heard.   Humans are the only ones I know of that have this capacity.

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Catherine has been working in and around the Human Resources field as a generalist since starting her career oh so many years ago. In the more recent years she worked with a non-profit organization that provided support services to children and families in crisis where she began to see firsthand that sometimes people just need help. Currently she is working with Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders (http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/) as an HR and Finance generalist. She travels to the countries that MSF sends her to and does her best to support the MSF staff as they provide the help that is so desperately needed in this world.

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One Comment


  1. This is a wonderful report. I will keep it in mind in my eveeryday life.

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