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QR Codes in HR Technology

For the last few years, we have been subjected to talk about the “future” of QR codes in business.  From marketing to recruitment they have been touted as the “next big thing” for so long that 10 other big things have come and gone in the mean time.  Yet QR code evangelists keep preaching and a group of non-technical business folks keep buying the pitch, thinking they are behind.

QR (Quick Response) codes work by letting a smart phone or other device take a picture of an image that then automatically takes the user to a website.  This image is really a next generation barcode originally developed by Toyota Engineers in 1994 to enhance the assembly process while cutting back on errors.

Since then, they have taken on a life of their own – wide spread in Asia, but almost non existent and seen as trendy here in the US and other global markets targeted to a very small group of early adopter social media types (and their kids).  Ask an average 5-10 year old what Facebook, Twitter or YouTube is – and you get an answer right away.  Ask them what QR codes are and most will look at you funny.

The same holds true for most 50 year olds. (and 30…and 70…)

Not surprisingly, at the HR Technology Conference a few weeks ago, there was still limited use of QR codes integrated in with the technology.   Many of the vendors are starting to talk about it or even use it in advertising, but a very small number are actually putting it in their 2012 roadmap.


  1. Usage.  A recent survey found that 64% of Americans weren’t sure what QR codes are for and only 17% had ever scanned them.  (I’ve seen higher numbers, but the source of other research was also online via social media which would skew results.)  If only 6% of mobile phone users are actually doing this, how high can the demand really be?
  2. Demand.  HR Technology vendors build what the market expects of them in 6 months and seems to launch it at HR Tech.  While many of the people in the conference and online world are social media “experts”, the reality is at most companies – the HR Leadership and C-Level executives are just coming to terms with social in the workplace.  The technology that is being launched now, as expected as it may seem to many of us who live/breathe this, is still light years ahead of 80% of the buying companies out there.
  3. Priority.  HR Technology Systems (Applicant Tracking, Talent Management, etc) are all flawed.  If anyone has seen the “holy grail” please let me know, because I’ve looked at more than 250 of them and all are behind on something – social, analytics, user experience.  Other than vendors that care more about being trendy than producing a great product – why would someone bump this to the top of their roadmap.
  4. Security.  QR codes are written/designed in a way to be unreadable to the human eye. The reality is, you don’t know what you are clicking on when you scan that image.  While we’d like to believe people are honest – we also live in reality.  Not everyone is.  A scan of a bad QR code on an iphone, droid, or similar can put in place a way to track your internet access, enabling the camera or microphone and even sending out messages on your behalf.  Until better security protocol can be put in place, this can be a big risk to the company using as well as the technology companies themselves.


HR Executives and HCM product developers are treading cautiously in this area – making sure they are seeking out the technology at the right time and cost (time and monetary) to both their clients and business partners. Its 2011 and social was finally the real buzz and standard among vendors this year – close to a 7 years after Facebook starts and 5 years after Twitter popped onto the scene.

QR codes in HR Technology are just not going to happen.

Yet, with all of those things in mind, I still frequently get calls from news outlets wanting to talk QR codes on resumes, in hiring and business.  Why? Regardless of the reality, priorities and security risks there is a lot of money to be made in QR codes – Social Media “Experts”, web developers, resume writers, professional speakers – and keeping this discussion on the table.




Sarah Brennan

Sarah Brennan is a recognized HCM industry analyst and advisor focused on improving the impact of technology on people, business and the future of work.  Sarah Brennan has been named a top global influencer in HR Technology by more than 50 publications and shared her insights at speaking engagements around the world. As Chief Advisor at Accelir, she partners with HR Technology vendors and investors as an advisor, interim CxO role and on engagements focused on growth strategies, product roadmap & market education/evangelism. She also works with corporate teams enhancing talent strategies.

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  1. Sam Higgins October 18, 2011


    I couldn’t agree more. Although I use (or more often, don’t) QR codes more from a marketing perspective, the math still works out the same. The very slight marginal benefit that QR codes provide over standard or shortened/trackable URLs is grossly offset by user adoption, and I seriously doubt that the numbers will ever make sense with QR.

    There is definitely a need for a more robust offline to online conversion vehicle, but QR isn’t it. Imagine the possibilities of an RFID style technology that allowed 2 way intelligent communication between content and user, without requiring a scan. THAT is something that I could see taking off organically. Current use of QR is instead a desperate (and failing) push by marketers, against odds and common sense.

    1. Sarah White October 18, 2011


      I totally agree. I know always looking at the next big thing is important – but not at the expense of practicality. Quite honestly the next level of geolocational tagging and mobile marketing is going to be a far more effective marketing channel and require far less effort on an already over technologized marketplace.

      Down with QR codes!

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