Context versus Content

Think back to the last time you bought something expensive – a new cell phone or a new tech gadget, perhaps.  How much of your purchasing decision was based on the manufacturer’s advertisements versus reviews from Internet or friends?  If you’re like me, aside from getting product specifications from the manufacturer, most of the information I use to make the decision come from either hands-on experience with the product or information from third party sources.

So why isn’t it this way with hiring?

I just finished going through the hiring process for a wave of regular hires and interns.  We have a well known enterprise solution for managing job openings and applicants, and like most enterprise software it’s not the easiest thing in the world to use.  It hit me the other day that I actually don’t use much of the information supplied in the system in making my screening decisions.

My case may be different.  The people I’m looking hire are either PhDs or PhD candidates, so these scenarios may not apply to other kinds of jobs.  The CVs I get from the resume system provides me with the basics – contact information, research program, list of publications. etc.  But what I’m actually interested in are not what the candidates tell me about themselves, but what other people say about them and what kinds of impact their work has had in their field.

To get the information I need, I start with the candidate’s website or LinkedIn profile to see what kinds of narrative they are telling about their work.  But then I check to see if anyone on the web is talking about their work.  I go to specialized databases to see how their work is received by the field – is it being cited by other researchers.  Has anyone provided any feedback on their demo software?  I check out their research group to learn about their advisors and peers to get a sense of the work that they do.  I check out the conferences and journals the candidates have published at and see the quality of the publications that generally appear, etc.  You get the idea.

Basically, in my filtering process, the context around the candidate is just as important as the content, if not more so.  Now if only the resume software can provide all this information for me instead of having me dig all over the web for this information…

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