Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gatekeepers (Part 2)

When the Stanley Kubrick movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” came out in 1968, I saw it nine times. At the theater. Nine paid tickets.

A friend of mine and I liked to think of ourselves as intellectuals (you were thinking “nerd,” weren’t you?) so we would see the movie, then spend hours discussing the “symbolism” within the story. The prehistoric apes, the monolith, the LSD-esque trip through a vortex of lights and sound, the dining/death scene, and of course, the Star-Baby orbiting Earth. The movie impelled us to explore the deep meaning of life, the possibilities of alternate realities, the potential for a better future and the existential questions…blah, blah, blah. Whatever! Truthfully, we were in high school. There were no text messages, no Facebook or Twitter and we only had three TV stations. What else was there to do? (BTW, I still have no idea what the hell this movie means!)

One of the classic scenes in the movie involves astronaut Dr. David Bowman having a discussion with HAL (more specifically, the HAL 9000), the onboard computer for the space ship Discovery One. Dave had left the ship in a small transport pod to retrieve a dead crewmember, who'd been killed by HAL. Once he gets back to the ship, the conversation gets intense:

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL,” Dr. Bowman instructs.

HAL responds, “I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.”

“What’s the problem?” Dave asks.

The emotionless response: “I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.”

I shared previously about the Nameless gatekeeper who determines if I will “get in” to the next person in the company’s food chain. However, in today’s “brave new world” of job searching, this person is not always the first step in the hiring process. Lest we allow too much emotion or sentiment to cloud the hiring process, many organizations have implement a failsafe measure of purging the flawed from the potential hiring pool. So, before my resume even gets to the desk of Jack the Ripper, it will be scrutinized by an automated “key word search matrix.”

This cyber-mastermind searches for predetermined words, phrases, skills, qualifications, employment history, etc., to rank the candidates. Those who meet the Darwinian standards move to the human screeners; those who don’t are assigned to some technological black hole of invisibility. (And almost always without any kind of “thank you for playing” response!) By some estimates, the number of resumes actually seen by human eyes could be as low as five percent. Talk about survival of the fittest!

Personal Example: I recently found a job listing for a Director of Communications at a local organization. The job description called for someone with proven “flair and creativity.” (Hey, that’s me!) I went to their online site, where I was required to complete a bland and innocuous fill-in-blank application form. As I finished each “page” of the form, I held out hope that I would eventually be asked to upload my perfect resume and insert an impressive cover letter, detailing how our corporate collaboration would exceed their expectations. Sadly, that never came.

Using virtually no brain power and even less imagination, the form was finished. (Me too, I felt!) I could visualize my colorful career being relegated to some black-and-white sector on the hard drive along with thousands of other faceless drones, waiting to somehow be singled out or deleted. As I clicked on the SUBMIT button, a Fatal Error flashed in my brain. How can a decision be made with just the information I had provided? For a job that demanded creativity, I’d had no opportunity to display that very quality. Query: Shouldn’t the application process at least match the requirements of the position?

I get that in today’s market, with thousands of us applying for that one position, this modern-day manifestation of HAL streamlines the process for the overworked recruiters. It’s the next logical step in organizational evolution. (Though evolution implies moving to that which is more human, doesn’t it?) But from the perspective of the interested candidate—often with no concrete knowledge of the specific “key words” being used by the techno-brain—it makes an already impersonal process feel more remote and detached.

I have visions of slowly dismantling the word search matrix, while listening to a haunting rendition of “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do….” (I know, if you haven’t seen the movie, that last reference is lost on you. Trust me, to quote a great cosmic philosopher from the future, it would be…fascinating!)

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