Job Agencies Will Hire HR-XML

Protocol promises a lingua franca for resumes.

Scanning; manual parsing; garbled transfer to a searchable database; bending, folding, spindling and mutilating.

It might sound like the Spanish Inquisition, but its just the routine torture that both paper and online resumes go through, all thanks to a lack of data standards. That absence of a lingua franca for human resources applications and procedures winds up adding some 2 to 3 minutes of processing per resumes;a substantial slowdown for both job candidates and staffing service companies that process several million resumes each year.

Thankfully, help is on the way. Many major U.S. and international staffing companies and online job boards have pledged to adopt within the coming year a new XML (Extensible Markup Language) protocol aimed at standardizing the format of online résumés. The HR-XML Staffing Exchange Protocol, adopted by the 89-member, nonprofit HR-XML Consortium in September, provides a standard method of posting job listings and applying to posted jobs.

For example, résumés posted to job boards that comply with the protocol will use the same terms for headings such as "on-the-job experience," and even for subheads within that category, such as types of programming experience in the case of a techie job searcher. The protocol also provides a standard mechanism for creating, updating and deleting online job requisitions that promises to keep postings up-to-date.

This means staffing or other companies recruiting on the Web can conduct more efficient searches of résumé databases, consortium members said, providing "a seamless data exchange between hiring companies, job boards, staffing companies and job seekers."

That sounds like heaven to the 5,000 recruiters at Philadelphia-based staffing giant CDI Corp., a consortium member. CDIs recruiters use the Internet to ferret out the best candidates and resent being slowed by an endless array of incompatible file types. "You get some text files, some HTML files. Some are attachments, and others are not," said Erik Lind, director of the e-Solutions Group at CDI. Before the résumés can be processed by CDI recruiters, these formats must be standardized to the companys computer system. This, according to Lind, slows the process of getting job candidates to the interview stage with CDI clients. The variety of résumé formats also retards the process of finding the candidates in the first place, he added.

"Recruiters want to post open jobs on multiple job-listing boards, but they must do it potentially in 10 different formats" to fit the varying standards of the different Web sites, Lind explained.

But will the automation brought by XML make it less likely that an actual human being will read a given résumé? On the contrary. "The standard allows us to spend less time on incorrect candidates and more time in person-to-person interaction with the right candidates," Lind said.

Indeed, if job seekers, job boards and staffing agencies are all speaking the same language, job applications will end up on the desks of decision makers who can really make a difference for applicants, rather than languishing in the files of HR managers who might not understand what the work histories on those résumés really mean, according to Naomi Bloom, managing partner at consortium member Bloom & Wallace, an HR consultancy based in Fort Myers, Fla.

Once adopted, how far-reaching will the standard be? Consortium members said theyre confident the reach will be significant. After all, the consortiums membership includes many of the largest players in the staffing and online job-board industry, such as and Kelly Services Inc., as well as companies that simply want to streamline their online recruiting processes, such as Aetna U.S. Healthcare Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., FMR Corp. and Oracle Corp.

The protocols impact could also go beyond Web hiring to other HR functions, Bloom said, such as online health care and benefits information. But, in the short term, the main impact for job seekers will be speed of response, said David Baliles, director of product development at CareerStream Inc., in Atlanta, another consortium member. "Now that weve agreed on XML as a delivery method for résumé data, it will translate into quicker and more targeted job searches," Baliles said.