HR Technology Column

Recruiting Software Goes Berserk -- Again!

After seeming to settle down and consolidate for a while, recruiting software has once again become the most competitive, contentious and confused sector in all of HR technology. Why? Because they still haven't gotten it right!

Monday, November 17, 2008
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For the last 10 years at least, I've said the recruiting software sector (be old-fashioned and call it Applicant Tracking Systems or ATS; be hip and call it Talent Acquisition) is the most competitive, contentious and confused area of HR technology and maybe of all business software!

I'll never forget the moment in 1999, when Jenni Lehman, then Gartner's HCM analyst, said publicly from an IHRIM stage that she was getting calls from new ATS vendors every week and just didn't have time to follow the space. Of course, that made me redouble my efforts to do just that, especially since it has been one of my specialties since 1988-89, when I was present at the births of pioneers Resumix and Restrac (later Webhire).

Lately, though, it seemed things were quieting down through consolidation: Taleo buying Vurv, ADP buying Virtual Edge, Kenexa acquiring BrassRing, StepStone in Europe buying i-Grasp, JobMachine and Arbita merging, etc.


A whole new round of start-ups has popped onto the radar, returning us to the days of competition, contention, and confusion. As always, the most ambitious are focusing on the noble (but so far unattainable) goal of replacing the resume: the most idiosyncratically formatted information document in the business world and one that has been the bane of recruiting systems since they became automated.

During a dinner after Taleo World, I asked the former CEO of BrassRing, Deb Besemer, why recruiting software continues to be the greatest source of innovation and of new companies in all of HR technology. Was it because there were so many steps in the process or because they just hadn't gotten it right yet?

"Yes," she said, without hesitation, "we still haven't gotten it right." And she should know.

The occasion of the dinner was to meet W. Blair Heavey, CEO of My Perfect Gig (MPG), a year-old start-up emerging from stealth mode.

Besemer is a member of the board of directors of MPG, which was founded by Mark Dane, the technical innovator who also started BrassRing --- where he used the Internet to create the first modern "home factory" -- and also wisely stepped aside to let a business person run his company.

Later, at a three-hour briefing with Heavey, Dane, and another BrassRing alumnus, Gary Cormier, the company's value proposition became clear: Match candidates with jobs in a completely new way, similar to, but better than (they hope), Jobfox.

If you don't know Jobfox (once called Mkt10), it is also the second act of Rob McGovern, founder of CareerBuilder, who, just like Dane and Dave Duffield, is doing the same thing again but presumably better. Okay, Workday is actually Dave's fifth act, but he's a little older.

So we've got two experienced, previously successful, middle-aged recruiting software guys going at it hammer and tong!

Both systems offer supplies of candidates; they both offer jobs; they both use a taxonomy of candidate abilities and job requirements to match the two instead of a resume; but there are many distinctions -- large and small -- between them.

Foremost is that Jobfox requires both sides to select their own descriptive taxonomies through branching questions, while MPG has hard-coded those in advance, though so far only for engineering positions of various sorts.

Jobfox wants to compete with, and eventually replace, the big job boards such as Monster; MPG hopes to partner with them. And Jobfox is already rolled out in 25 markets across the country with about a three-year head start on MPG.

But that's just in the center ring!

In the second ring, we have Zapoint, which surfaced at the HR Technology Conference® in October. Founded last year by executives from outside HR, Zapoint hopes to replace the resume, too. But understand the long and tortuous history here.


Nearly 10 years ago, during the dot-com boom, Doug Merritt, then CEO of high-flying ATS-vendor Icarian, helped fund the nascent HR-XML Consortium with the express hope it would create a descriptively tagged resume template that would eliminate the informed guessing of parsing and extracting information from untagged resumes. A process that is still never more than 90 percent to 95 percent accurate -- and it drove him crazy. The effort failed, even after Microsoft and Monster were brought into the negotiation, and obviously efforts continue to this day.

One hopeful sign is that all the new players are using more sophisticated technology. For its part, Zapoint's approach is to use patented scoring algorithms that assign numerical values to an individual's skills and achievements.

It then uses those numbers to turn resumes into spiffy "LifeCharts," including lines for professional, educational and personal achievements nicely plotted on a chart. Candidates are ranked, of course, and each talent profile, in addition to the chart, includes numerical scores of overall skills and even scores skills used on each previous job.

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Zapoint's ambitions are larger than Talent Acquisition: They've created a "Talent Platform," on which they've already written performance and goals management, succession planning, org charts, diversity and even social networking. Clearly, another talent-management suite vendor is in the making.

And then there's the third ring!

Here, I feel a little like Jenni Lehman, because I've guiltily seen demos of only the first half dozen or so. But they include InterviewStudio (a "cool" vendor at HR Technology), Checkster (from Taleo alumnus Yves Lermusi), SmashFly (with at least two more BrassRing alumni), Jobvite (employee referrals on steroids), Jobstick (with its own taxonomy), Jobs2Web (candidate attraction), MrTed's new free SmartRecruiters ATS (which just signed the first partner to help pay for it) and Vitruva.

Plus ERE Expo provided a stage for four very early-stage start-ups I don't yet know: Interactive Applicant,, Snap Talent, and Urgent Career.

Obviously, part of this proliferation is due to the Talent Acquisition process having so many pieces: the many facets of sourcing alone, assessing, selection, etc. So, many in the third ring are focusing on just one part of the process, and not an end-to-end solution.

But should you imagine things are calming down, I got an e-mail -- literally while writing this column -- from a 28-year-old consultant, pitching a new candidate-screening tool from another start-up. He wrote, "HR can record standard interview questions via Web interface and then send the candidate a link to answer the questions," and listen and track them. Sounds like an audio InterviewStudio, but we'll have to see.

The recruiting rollercoaster is just cresting the second hill. Hang on.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chairman of the 12th Annual HR Technology Conference & Exposition ® in Chicago, two weeks earlier than usual next year, from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. He is also host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show . He can be reached at .

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