In the August 29, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, we call out employers, politicians and analysts who bellyache about the skills gap.


skills gapA few years ago you called out employers for their misguided crying about the talent shortage. (News Flash! HR Causes Talent Shortage!) Now the terminology has changed. Employers reject countless qualified job applicants (example: me) who don’t match 100% of the key words in a job description, bellyaching that we’re imperfect. Are we really just pathetic examples of a national skills gap? How can we fight this, uh, hiring incompetence?

Nick’s Reply

I’m not sure there’s a difference between the talent shortage and the skills gap. The terms are used interchangeably by unskilled personnel jockeys, employers, and untalented government wonks and elected dupes who haven’t had to look for a job recently.

Both these excuses for the national epidemic of hiring failure are bogus, but they’re easy for abused job seekers to swallow. It’s time to barf up the truth.

Wharton’s Peter Cappelli has long been sticking this conventional-wisdom pig with a fork, as noted in the article you mentioned. Now the M.I.T. Technology Review has stuck yet another bunch of facts into this “controversy” in The Myth of the Skills Gap, an article by Andrew Weaver at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Weaver is another voice calling B.S. on the cheap attacks leveled at America’s workforce.

Oh, yeah? Says who?

Just because HR executives blow their recruiting budgets on job boards, applicant tracking systems, and key-word databases doesn’t mean you have to behave stupidly, too. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.) Just because personnel jockeys and job-board marketing geniuses tell you there’s just one way to apply for a job doesn’t mean it’s so. I mean, we’re talking about people who unabashedly admit they can’t fill jobs!

Likewise, prisoners of the labor market who cry themselves to sleep without jobs or paychecks every night shouldn’t believe employers and HR experts. It’s not true that today’s workers don’t have skills worth hiring.

Weaver, who is an assistant professor at the School of Labor and Employment Relations, writes that, “when we look closely at the data, this story doesn’t match the facts.” There’s nary a labor study, he points out, that even measures skills! So Weaver set about surveying employers about the skills they need, then asked whether they’re having trouble finding workers.

The skills gap is B.S.

Here are some of the surprises Weaver found.

  • Three-quarters of manufacturing plants surveyed complained they couldn’t hire skilled workers.
    But less than a quarter of them actually had job vacancies of three months or more.
  • IT departments complained of dramatic problems in filling help-desk jobs.
    But only 15% of IT help desks reported “extended vacancies in technician positions.”

So, where’s the lack of skills?

Weaver also found that the kinds of skills we’re told are sorely lacking are not really the problem.

  • Advocates for STEM education clamor for more workers with more “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills.”
    But Weaver’s data “show that employers looking for higher-level computer skills generally do not have a harder time filling job openings.”
  • Those who blame a skills gap also cite a lack of “soft skills” among younger workers — the ability to cooperate and to work on teams.
    But Weaver found the challenge for employers, even in manufacturing and help-desk jobs, is finding higher-level reading and writing skills.

The gap in conventional wisdom

Weaver and his fellow researchers focused their surveys on a narrow group of jobs (manufacturing and IT help-desk), but their findings seem to blow big holes in the conventional wisdom about many kinds of jobs. For example:

  • Top-level federal officials cry the workforce needs more computer programming skills.
    But programming isn’t what many jobs — even technical jobs — really require.
  • Lack of specific skills is the problem.
    But Weaver’s surveys suggest on-the-job experience and apprenticeship is what’s lacking.

Perhaps most stunning is a problem Weaver exposes in the ranks of economists and “labor-market experts” who drive public opinion and corporate hiring strategies: They “don’t know the exact mix or level of skills that particular occupations demand.” So why does anyone accept their declamations about skill gaps?

What’s the real problem?

Employers and labor-market experts, who aren’t even assessing or measuring skills, seem content to go along with the unsubstantiated contentions of “conservative tax cutters” and “liberal advocates of job training” that workers lack skills. That’s distracting everyone from a fact-based approach to managing the labor market and improving it. And it’s polarizing employers and workers.

Andrew Weaver’s findings dovetail with Peter Cappelli’s.

  • The problem isn’t with workers. The problem is employers “promoting unproductive hand-wringing and a blinkered focus on only the supply side of the labor market — that is, the workers.”
  • Employers are not cooperating with those who teach skills to workers; for example, colleges and other training institutions.
  • Employers are not investing adequately in employee training and development. “Only half of U.S. plants provide formal training to their production workers,” reports Weaver. Twenty years ago, 70-80% did.

Weaver closes with a warning:

“Misguided anxiety about skill gaps will lead us to ignore the need to improve coordination between workers and employers. It’s this bad coordination — not low-quality workers — that presents the real challenge.”

So, what should a job seeker do?

I publish only a small selection of questions, stories and complaints I receive from readers. The #1 issue I hear about: Frustration with employers who don’t seem to know what they want, who they need to hire, or what skills they really need in a worker. The fallout is confusing interviews, unexpected and questionable rejections, and enormous amounts of wasted time and energy.

The real skills problem seems to be this: Employers want skills, but they’re not willing to contribute to the skills pool or to pay for the skills they need. Meanwhile, employers pretend the problem is you — the workforce. So what’s a job seeker to do?

It’s not hard to navigate around the piles of b.s. in the jobs market. Let’s consider some strategies and tactics. These are just my thoughts and advice. The best advice is yet to come — so please post it.

Take control of your job search

“Based on your book I went into a job interview without the requisite experience but still won the job because I demonstrated that I understood the business objectives and challenges of the company and had a plan to achieve them! Thanks!”
-Sandeep Srivastava

From Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention, “How can I make up for lack of required experience?”, p. 8.

I think the strategy is easy, if we define the objective for ourselves rather than let the pundits and policy makers confuse us. The objective is finding and landing the right job.

Finding and landing the right job is not about appeasing the jobs processors. It’s about picking good employers and being ready to walk into a manager’s office and demonstrate, hands-down, how you’re going to do a job profitably for the employer and for you.

Such jobs are not in job boards or in key-word lists. Jobs are controlled by individual managers who need profitable work done. Go find the individual managers and get the facts directly. Go around HR. Ignore the recruiters. (See HR Managers: Do your job or get out.) Ask the manager: What’s the work? What’s the deliverable? What skills do you want and need?

Don’t buy the education that schools market. Don’t listen to the headlines or to the Department of Labor. Find out what skills the employer you want to work for needs, then design your own education accordingly. That’s right: Contact companies that make products you want to work on, get in touch with the managers of departments you want to work in, and ask them exactly what skills you should learn. Schools that lack close ties to industry don’t know what industry wants, so don’t trust their curricula — or their marketing!

Pick employers with a solid, documented record of training and developing their employees. Bypass the rest. You’ll save loads of time because researchers have shown that most employers stopped investing in their workers many years ago. Be selective. Invest your career only in companies that can show you they’ll invest in you.

Pick schools that have a documented record of close ties and cooperation with employers. Look for active internship and apprenticeship programs. Bypass schools that can’t demonstrate such relationships. If what you want is a good education and a good job on graduation, don’t compromise on this. Most of the biggest names in higher education fail this test. (See New Grads: How to get in the door without experience.)

Pick schools with great career offices. This will make your choices easy because most schools don’t offer solid career services. Go visit and meet with the counselors. Study their career programs and offerings. Ask for references — grads who are working and employers who hired them. A college that delivers courses in your area of study but fails to deliver education in how to get a job is delivering only half an education — and it will leave you with a fatal skills gap.

Is there a skills gap? How can the gap between capable workers and jobs be bridged? What will it take for employers, schools, and government to get together with the workforce to create a healthy job market? I’ve shared a few tips for job seekers — but the best is yet to come. Please post your suggestions about how to wrangle a job out of an employer whose hiring methods are full of gaps!

(Many thanks to long-time reader Nick Tang for tipping me off to Andrew Weaver’s article!)

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  1. Nick,

    The points you make in your reply and the information in the job market studies referenced are consistent with a story I saw a couple of years ago about a San Francisco based tech recruiting firm found in response to the whining that was going on in Silicon Valley about the lack of qualified applicants. What the recruiting firm found in their market was that out of about 25 tech job categories that the Silicon Valley firms were claiming did not have enough qualified people, only one of the categories had an actual shortage of qualified applicants. Of the other job categories, some of them actually had an available supply of qualified applicants that was 2X to 3X the number of open positions.

    What the recruiting firm found was that the tech companies were relying on computerized screening apps and HR would not review any applicant that was not a 100% match on the key words. Additionally, over a series of years, the approach those companies’ HR staffs used was to increase the number of key words, rather than evaluate whether or not the key words were actually relevant to the jobs posted. They also concluded that it seemed the tech companies were more interested in being able to justify an increase in the number of H-1B visa authorizations, rather than actually cleaning up their recruiting systems to be able to identify existing qualified applicants.

    • @Richard: What you report is what Peter Cappelli (Wharton) has found. Employers’ recruiting methods don’t work. Real recruiting has been supplanted by automated wishful thinking. Job boards and LinkedIn market one thing: “The perfect candidate is in there! Just keep looking! Increase your search criteria (more key words)!”

      It’s frankly obvious and stupid — yet the feds and pundits just don’t see it. It’s a structural problem with the dominant recruiting methods. HR fails to recruit effectively, and the easy excuse is “There’s a skills shortage!”

      Only in HR. While there are some very good HR folks out there, the HR profession and function as a whole holds out its use of “HR Tech” as proof that HR is doing its job. This is largely on HR.

    • …”tech companies were more interested in being able to justify an increase in the number of H-1B visa authorizations”…

      That’s exactly what they do. HR will write a job description that no one can reasonably meet then say it can’t be filled by a US citizen so they need an H-1B visa holder.

      I had a high-level manager at a software company (a friend) tell me they don’t hire Americans anymore for certain positions because they can get two or three people from overseas for the price of an American. The lower rates paid to cheaper, imported labor are also used to justify lower rates to Americans. What a game! What is needed is an accurate assessment of the labor market so appropriate policies can be created rather than all this nonsense.

      • Well this is true. Every single time some manager has mentioned to me the “skills gap” they usually mention that not everyone needs to go to college and then I ask their qualifications and so far 100% of the time the answer has been they have graduate school under their belt but “b.s. reason here” is why that doesn’t matter now.
        At the end of the day, almost every job in the World requires constant training. Fairly or unfairly the pieces of paper you have accumulated do dictate the level of salary you can demand.

        As a financial analyst I have seen more budgets than I can count and companies pay more significantly more for those with graduate degrees.

  2. There is always a “specific” skills gap for any industry. That’s why we bring people on and train them to fit the particular instance.
    No one is born an adult. We have to grow into maturity. Same with a job.
    However, I believe there is a skills gap regarding reading, basic math and business writing.
    That’s the fault of our education system.

    • @Tony: Good summary.

    • @Tony: that’s it in a nutshell. The problem is that too many employers not only no longer want to train new hires but an increasing number think it is no longer their responsibility to train new hires. They’ve outsourced the training to academia, which is crazy. I work at a community college, and prior to that at a university. We can’t train students for specific jobs at specific companies or agencies because we don’t work there, don’t know their procedures, policies, how they want work done. At best we can provide general training and skills, assuming that students do their part (not always the case).

      I see the skills gaps you mention everyday. Too many students graduate from high school without good reading, writing, and math skills, then have to spend more time taking remedial/developmental courses in college BEFORE they can take the college-level courses.

  3. Here in Denver the Post had an interesting article. The tech companies are whining about the talent shortage. In Denver an apartment is $1800 – $2000 for a one bedroom. What the post found is two problems:
    1. The wages are too low. WAY too low. Comcast wants IT pros on their helpdesks for $13.75 an hour. People are passing. This is not rocket science people.
    2. The time it takes to hire. One example was a firm hiring 4 Java coders. Took them 2 1/2 weeks to offer the jobs. All four candidates had moved on to better-paying positions.

    In the Front Range area this is a common issue. The Work Force Centers are reporting that in talks with complaining companies – not just tech – they don’t understand why 40K does not cut it for a 60K job description/responsibilities.

    Years of low-balling labor are over. Companies need to learn how to find good people and toss out their old and Zip Recruiter ways. And learn to PAY people and treat them with respect.

    They have had it ‘their way’ for a few decades. It’s over. Deal with it.

    • @Jim: I’ve watched this cycle play itself out in Silicon Valley many times since I started headhunting. And I agree with you — employers need to start paying market rates. But I wonder just how long LinkedIn’s marketing (“The perfect candidate is in there! Just keep looking and paying us fees to look!”) will keep driving the HR bus over the cliff.

    • The time employers take to hire nowadays is getting more and more ridiculous, i.e. starting with a phone interview; panel interview; cultural fit and meet the CEO interview….

      The most ridiculous number I saw was 29 interviews for the same position at the same employer and the applicant didn’t get the job. How can they justify wasting people’s time like that?

      • What if they took the dollar amount that the 29 interviews cost, and put it into sponsoring a monthly happy hour. Have managers and c-level officers there just to talk about life, the ball game, and a [very] little bit about the company?

        • I actually mean the job seeker’s time that is being wasted.

          If we assume an initial phone interview, the job applicant could be spending about 28 hours just interviewing with one employer. Excluding time needed to prepare, travel there etc.

    • It originates from a sense of entitlement to be in business, and in particular entitlement to set rate is because they are allowed to bring anyone from anywhere for the rate they define. I’ve yet to find any story on I-can’t-find-workers that didn’t break down to absurd expectations, either illegal or abusive.
      The 2016 federal database on approved H1Bs includes $7.25 for a teacher, less than $8 for a software engineer and PhDs post-docs for $21. These are payrates that will not pay for an apartment, let alone a US grad’s student debt. My doc said the influx is killing US’ medical graduates also, $32K a year for their intern years.
      Being as there are billions on the planet, many of which are willing to come here for ultra cheap, this comes as no surprise. The purported enforcement of payrates for white collar foreign workers isn’t enforced unless/until worker(s) complain – which is disincentivized as it’s a threat to their I-want-a-green-card goal. Even worse for blue collar, between the “agent” charging them for job-finder-fee, inbound transportation, and percentage of their pay.

  4. My brother-in-law told me a story, he needed to hire a couple people. So he goes to HR and asks them for resumes on file. They did not have any. Apparently the form letter that says “While we were impressed with your skills..we will keep your resume on file.”

    It boggled his mind that even the simple task of tossing resumes in a file drawer somewhere (this was years ago) was beyond the ability of the professionals.

    His takeaway was to do his own talent acquisition.

    • I have been telling job seekers for years that the “we’re keeping your resume on file for six months and will let you know if we have openings” is a lie. I was going to use a softer word, but that would be mincing them.

      At one time, there were file clerks, secretaries, and receptionists. There are very few people in those roles anymore. More often there might be an administrative assistant who is tasked with those roles but who may have very little if any time to do them. Nothing gets filed. Walk into the average office and you’ll see more papers sitting in piles than in files, on any flat surface that exists. No one is going to paw through those piles in six months or ever for any reason.

      Same with electronic records. Odds are that someone who was looking for a job in April is no longer looking in August, and if they are, they’ll send out a new application. No need to use up storage capacity on the odd chance that one of the people they represent might be interested in an open position in some indeterminate future. No one.

      • Which was his point (and mind). Why would a company not want to keep track of people that are interested in coming to work for them? Especially in this day of electronic storage. This is the lowest form of networking. Perhaps a place to begin developing a talent pool?

        • @Gregory: You just hit on one of HR’s biggest failures. HR spends loads to recruit for a job. When they’re done hiring, they throw out all the resumes and candidates. Next month, HR reinvents the wheel. Spends more money “recruiting” when it already paid for candidates and great referrals.

          “Talent Pool” is a term HR consultancies sell in very expensive “white papers” that HR reads and throws out — after bandying around the term to make themselves look like they’re doing something.

          You hit the nail on the head. HR’s problem is that it’s been brainwashed to believe “all the talent is in the LinkedIndeedZip database” — so HR doesn’t need to save or store anything. When HR needs to recruit, all it needs to do is spend the money all over again to search those databases.

          An HR VP at a Fortune 50 company told me he can’t get a dime to actually go out and meet people to recruit them, because the big job boards wine and dine his execs — and all the bucks are spent on diddling the databases.

          So, tell me — who’s in charge of recruiting?

      • I disagree with you. Someone looking in April could very well be looking in August. Also once someone gets rejected, the chances of them spending the time and effort to apply again are much lower. Stop being lazy and hold on to the resumes, especially the ones that made it to the top.

  5. If we are to believe the governments unemployment numbers, companies are going to have to raise pay or settle for someone less than perfect (or both).

    I’ve heard of numbers that say it’s still taking 30+ weeks for the unemployed to find a job. I’ve seen jobs being tweaked and posted again and again for 3-4 months or more. As I’ve commented on other blog posts before, I don’t believe that having an empty chair is better than having a “promising rookie” fill the role.

    So, the numbers don’t jive to begin with.

    The even sadder part is that I’ve seen government institutions fall into the trap where they post a job, conduct interviews and decide not to hire anyone so they decide to re-post the job. Of course, the hiring/on boarding process for these organizations can easily run 4-5 months to begin with, so it could easily be a year before they fill a position. Again, I don’t believe that everyone interviewed in the first round was so dumb that they couldn’t be up to enough speed in the 6 months it would take to find the perfect hire. Your tax dollars at work!

    • @Dave: Jobs and job seekers are ships passing in the night. And the job boards love keeping it that way. Consider this: Job boards make money when jobs DO NOT GET FILLED. Not when they do.

      Cool revenue model, eh?

  6. This all matches up with my observations as a Career Advisor at a state funded employment resource center. I’ve been vocal about it for a few years now but it just makes me look like a loony. I appreciate having relevant articles like this that I can share with management to show them where I am coming from. It’s especially important right now with the DOL’s budget being cut because my organization has to do more with less. If we can educate employers to work WITH job seekers instead of against them we might be able to stop throwing money at employers to get them to “take a chance” on hiring an employee they “desperately” need but won’t hire without an incentive.

    • @A Al: You’re scaring me.

    • I have had career advisors who work for the local job center tell me similar things. They are non-profit and get money from the state. Of course, when the U3 numbers are lower like they are now, someone in the capital thinks everything is OK and cuts funding.

      The problem the career coaches run into is that instead of more people receiving UI, they are working part time at Wal-Mart or whatever so they feel they still need funding.

  7. I am currently looking for a job and have been for a long time. I have seen all of this many times. My favorite part is when they list a software package or similar that could be learned in two weeks as a required skill. Companies are unwilling to train.

    I am looking for post-doc positions, which used to be a good way for new PhDs to gain skills in new areas, but now the postings are so narrow that if you did not do your dissertation in that exact area, you don’t have a chance.

    • True story: Interviewing for a position.
      Me: “Give me two to three months and I can be up to speed.”
      Mgr: “We do not have two months. This is critical. We need somebody up to speed now.”

      Six months later:
      Me: “Hey, I see you are trying to fill that position. Give me two to three months and I can be up to speed.”
      Mgr: “Filling this role is even more critical now than six months ago. We do not have two months. We need somebody up to speed now.”

      • @Gregory: Ah, how many times I’ve witnessed that urgency…

      • I just saw a job advertisement that had about a dozen requirements. After that, they specifically said to apply *only* if you meet all of them because they were going to give you a project on day one because of job demands.

        Five will get you ten that that particular “project” gets delayed or pushed onto some overworked person because they’ll take several months to find the purple squirrel. Well, they’ll take several months to determine they can’t find the purple squirrel so they’ll have to reissue the job advertisement…..with more required qualifications, no doubt.

  8. I think we all realize that HR departments are the national leaders in incompetence, at least when it comes to “talent acquisition”. Just last week, I spent an hour and a half struggling with a job application that should have won a JD Powers award for its radiant stupidity. They want skills, want me to list my skills, select from a drop down skills menu that lists over 500 “skills” and not in any discernable order. Select one to populate the field in the application, go back to find the next, and it takes you to the top of the list. Skills. Did you know that MS Excel is a skill? I thought it was a tool. Do carpenters have to claim “hammer” as a skill? Oh, wait… what they really mean is am I skilled in the use of this tool. Of course. So, then they want to know how proficient I am in the use of this tool. Beginner? Intermediate? Advanced? As compared to what? But wait, it gets even better. They want the date I acquired this “skill”. How do you answer that? Might as well ask me what “date” I learned how to read or do math. BS on top of BS. And you know the best you’ll get from their “talent acquisition team” is a nice rejection email, which could arrive next week, next year, or never. Telling me how impressive I am and inviting me to continue to visit their website for similar time wasting opportunities. To be honest, I’m not sure I want to be deemed acceptable by a group this dumb. Started out this morning with two such rejection emails from what appeared to be decent jobs I recently applied for with requirements that seemed pretty much aligned with mine. As I write this, I’m killing time waiting for a call from one of “my” recruiters calling to “touch base”, which means he’s got nothing for me but wants to assure me he is still there. And this is a firm that specializes in contract positions. It just leaves you initially speechless and ultimately defeated. I am sure all of us could relate similar and even more stellar stories on dealing with HR departments who seem to be staffed by Moe, Larry and Curly.

    So I read this article today with great interest. Yes, I’d love to sit down across a desk from a manager who needs someone who’s been around a while, who’s seasoned and professional enough not to make a horse’s ass out of himself the first minute he walks through the door, and who has a skill set that is a reasonable match with the job requirements, who can quickly get up to speed and more than that, wants to. Put any one of us in that spot, and we’d all be working by next week. So, just find companies with good hiring track records and straightforward managers who are more interested in getting the work done than in processing BS. How do I find these companies? How do I check their track records? How do I locate these managers? How do I get in front of them?

    If this is so doable, if it is so easy, why are there no professionals offering this service to those of us schleps who do not have these skills and no clue how to acquire them? And I should ad, no desire to acquire them. I want to work in my profession, if I wanted to be an investigator, I’d be an investigator. Don’t know how the job market is for them. I’d gladly pay for these services, just as I would to a realtor to sell my home, or a lawyer to represent me, or a mechanic to fix my car. And I believe I know the answer to my own question. Because it is not doable. It sounds good, it sounds reasonable. Navigate around the BS. I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent, well educated man, and I have no clue how to approach it. And I don’t think I’m alone by any means. If there is anyone out there who is good at this and enjoys it enough to want to work with me, on a commission basis, I’d love to hear from them.

    An even better question – why would companies rather pay severance to good workers (according to their own performance reviews), whose specific jobs are being eliminated due to a reorg, rather than provide a little training to fit them in a related role? Love to see an article on that. Maybe Moe Larry and Curly are running more than just the HR department.

    • @Tom:

      “If there is anyone out there who is good at this and enjoys it enough to want to work with me, on a commission basis, I’d love to hear from them.”

      That’s the basis of virtually every career scam out there. Most people would rather pay someone to find them a job. Know why such “services” don’t exist? Because you’re the product. No one but you can sell you. Hard to accept, but the sooner you do, the better.

      “If this is so doable, if it is so easy, why are there no professionals offering this service to those of us schleps who do not have these skills and no clue how to acquire them?”

      It’s NOT easy. It’s far easier to peddle fake solutions — and that’s why you can buy them easily online.

      “I want to work in my profession, if I wanted to be an investigator, I’d be an investigator.”

      Even investigators have to find clients or customers. It’s why everyone has to find an employer. Being good at engineering or marketing or doctoring doesn’t mean you don’t have to be good at finding and getting those jobs. Please get over it. You already know you can’t buy a job.

      “So, just find companies with good hiring track records and straightforward managers who are more interested in getting the work done than in processing BS. How do I find these companies? How do I check their track records? How do I locate these managers? How do I get in front of them?”

      I’ve published tons of advice, methods and tips about how to do all that. It’s not rocket science. (I’ve published PDF books that I sell, too, but you can get most of what you’ll need for free here on the website. I make no bones about selling more organized versions — I want to earn money just like you do.) What I teach works. Comments from people who’ve done it using what I teach: (All names are real.)

      I know you’re frustrated. The employment industry is a racket. A huge racket. And that’s because the ranks of management in today’s companies are starkly inept. Successful companies survive because of the efforts of just a few smart people who make it happen.

      HR departments have turned into spammers. They don’t recruit or hire. They “process” applicants. So avoid them. Don’t pretend to apply when they pretend to hire. Consider this: Salespeople get paid commissions when they make sales. HR gets paid salaries when they fail to hire. One thing that would help solve your problem is for companies to pay HR for making hires. Suddenly, it would all be much smarter and more efficient.

      I can’t wave a magic wand. It really is hard work. The first lesson is to recognize what’s broken and stop doing it. The second lesson is to ask yourself what product or service you want to work on, and find a few companies that do those products really well. Then you solve the problem of finding the managers you’d be working for — and you work backwards to identify people they know and work with. And you get into their circle, make a contribution, earn their trust, and get recommended for jobs.

      Here’s the kicker. This is a life-long, career-long task. Anyone who tells you jobs are going begging on LinkedIn or Indeed is lying to you. Learn to do it right, or in two years wish you had started two years earlier.

      Look — I don’t know you. Don’t take this personally. I’ve said this many times to many people. There is nothing you can buy that will land you a job. You must learn to do it. I put my methods up against anybody’s. And you can try any methods you want.

      • @ Nick

        I’ve long held forth that if one of the sports agents would take me on and get me a nice fat contract with a signing bonus, I’d be happy to pay their twenty percent.

        Why it will likely never happen is less about sports agents being paranoid about taking on a IT Pro / PM rookie and more about finding a company that is actually willing to hire and more directly to the point: Hire American.

        • @L.T. It’ll never happen because there’s no money in it. While a headhunter can earn fees filling jobs, it’s virtually impossible to earn a living getting jobs for people. One employer can give you one assignment after another, after you’ve mastered the learning curve with that employer. A job seeker isn’t going to give you another assignment.

  9. Why aren’t employers demanding a system where they only pay when a posting results in hired employees? It seems counter to logic that a business would pay for something that does not solve their problem. The whole employment system needs to be dissected, analyzed, and fixed, the same as any other dysfunctional system or broken machine.

    • @Amy: I think I love you.

      • Ha,ha. OK, so why is recruitment viewed differently than other purchases? If my job was to buy 100 office chairs, and I chose 100 of those white plastic lawn chairs, I would be fired (for incompetence). However, if HR “buys” recruitment services that waste everyone’s time, everyone says “well, that’s the way it is.” Who benefits from this system so much that they can’t be plowed under by someone with a smarter plan?

        • The first in a long list of answers to you question is companies do not hire people or employees. They are now called “resources.”

          As in “People. Our most disposable resource.”

          • This is actually the right answer to Amy’s question.

            Exhibit #1: The ZipRecruiter ads that say that hiring is the worst part of a managers job.

            Until “People” are put back to the top priority, nothing will change, only get worse.

        • @Amy: I can’t think of one CEO, COO, CFO or board member that wants to dip their toes in the “yucky” business of their HR department. They prefer to remain clueless, because they don’t want to get their hands dirty. “We can’t fill key jobs because there’s a talent shortage” is preferable to, “We can’t fill jobs because our HR department is using recruiting methods and tools that don’t work.”

          Who benefits are the vendors to HR, whose business model is simple: The fewer jobs that are filled, the more money they make.

          Because no one judges HR on how many jobs it fills with the right people, HR just keeps blowing money on vendors who are best at asking for their business.

          Who ever got fired for posting jobs on LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed?

          • It’s the HR version of “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”

  10. RE: entry by TOM:

    “It just leaves you initially speechless and ultimately defeated.”

    Please omit these thoughts from your write-up, and most importantly, your mind.
    You can obviously read, write and think, so are way ahead in the “work for a living game.”Just consider: most of the executives who lead companies do not know what technical areas they will be producing products for 6 months from now. They do not know how to do risk assessments of all the factors that they must deal with. Hence the inertia in hiring throughout their company’s structure. Most hiring managers do not know what problems they will have to solve next month’ much less what background skills person that they will need on board and working then.

    So what can you do? Try getting out of the house, go to a Starbucks or equivalent coffee shop / watering hole, try to meet people in various fields, and, when you find someone in your field of interest, talk shop. And read every new post by Nick Crocodilos.

    PS:I have “seen it all” from incompetent HR and incompetent managers / executives, and most importantly, I have survived. You will too.

  11. RE: entry by TOM:

    Tom, you ask: “How do I find these companies? How do I check their track records? How do I locate these managers? How do I get in front of them?”

    First, this is something that you need to do. Waiting or looking for someone to do it for you, in this current world of work, is simply not going to bear fruit. And if your job search consists of finding advertised jobs, sending in applications, and waiting for the phone to ring, well, that also is not a winning proposition.

    Second, there is a process that *you* can follow to answer your questions. It’s called networking plus informational interviewing, but it’s something *you* have to initiate and follow-through on.

    Third, if you’re still with me, here is a suggested reading list (in the order shown would be best):

    What Color is Your Parachute? By Bolles

    Smart Networking by Lynch

    Cracking the Hidden Job Market by Asher

    Ask the Headhunter: Reinventing the Interview to Win the Job by Corcodilos (and the books offered on this web site)

    The point is, as Nick and many others keep saying, the current “job market” and “hiring process” in this country is broken. So we (you and I) can keep waiting for someone else to save us, to do the networking and informational interviewing that leads to job-search success that we should be doing … or … we (you and I) can decide that we will do what we need to do and should do, will decide that it’s up to us, and will stop waiting for someone else to do what we should, and can, do for ourselves.

  12. A buddy of mine just sent me a link to this fine example of employers’ failure to define skills to themselves:

    I added my two bits to the comments on the column. :-)

  13. I think what most employers are looking for is less about skills, and more about willingness to forgo a career in favor of short-term contracts, peanuts for pay, and conditions that would make a 1840’s slave master cringe.

    However, I remember a while back a major trucking wanting to have an application, along with “a written testimonial”. One wonders if it was more about the testimonial, or to see if the prospect could string a few English sentences together coherently?

  14. As Nick knows, I’m a frustrated “lavender” job searching squirrel (not purple enough, apparently). Yes, I’ve applied on company websites, worked with recruiters, and temp. agencies while I identify organizations that I can target.

    Which leads me to an example of how some recruiters don’t care or don’t read. I emailed my resume and cover to a recruiter for a posted position. She had some questions after “reading” my resume. She wanted to know where I live since many SoCal employers won’t hire candidates they feel live too far from the organization. My address was on the second line from the top, under my name. She asked if I’m on LinkedIn. The clickable LinkedIn icon was on the third line under my name and address. The last was could you write a blurb to address some specific points, which I did. After one week, the recruiter wanted to know if I’m bilingual English/Spanish because the client now wants that skill even though it wasn’t in the job description. I’m an intermediate level Spanish speaker, so, I didn’t even get an interview.

  15. This article and most of the responses correspond with my experiences – most firms/agencies (despite what they say in printed/web statements and creeds) really do not value human capital; really do value lowest-cost options for anything/everything; really do not want to use any time of their own to identify/gather/improve their human capital.

    One of the things that I still do not understand is that all HR work can (and apparently should) be outsourced as a business expense (versus a strategic investment), the same way that most firms outsource (or rent/lease) every other asset needed to do business. Might turn the whole HR world sideways.

    I am still waiting for a proper answer to Tom’s question taken from Nick’s blog – “Pick employers with a solid, documented record of training and developing their employees. Bypass the rest. You’ll save loads of time because researchers have shown that most employers stopped investing in their workers many years ago. Be selective. Invest your career only in companies that can show you they’ll invest in you.” Other than “hang out in a local Starbucks” and “network”, what fairly short-term (long-term efforts to ID employers will end up in frustration and need to work at anything to pay the bills), specific, truly effective ways exist to ID these employers?

    • I’d argue that one needed to start yesterday building that network so that when the time comes a job can come quickly.

    • I’d like to know the answer to how to do this, also: “Pick employers with a solid, documented record of training and developing their employees.”

      I got pigeonholed in my software development career as a legacy programmer. I always wanted to work on new technology and learn new things but my employers were always “but I need you here”. So I stagnated. Now that I’m a business analyst I find that I’m also stagnating because I’m not finding employers who need me to use new business intelligence or analytical tools. My skillset is now limited to MS Word and Excel – very pathetic! And I now don’t even qualify for most BA jobs because I don’t have demonstrated experience with the tools.

      So how do we identify these employers?

      • @Sharon: First, networking is work. And results are slow. We all pick up on it when someone approaches us because they want something from us (picture the insurance agent or financial planner looking for clients at a networking event). Also, we pick up on those people who only show up when they are looking for a job. Do not be one of those people.

        When you start building your network, go with the mindset of what you can do for others.

        Do not go “looking for a job.” It can come across like the guy in a bar seeking a girlfriend. A business card is quite enough the first time you meet someone. Be sure to follow up.

        As a programmer, look for programmer clubs or support groups. Look for a way you can add to the group. Be on the social/hospitality committee, people like us hate those duties. You will start hearing about where to work, where to avoid, and who wants someone with programming chops that is interested in learning new software (in 2014 I worked a contract to migrate Novell to Active Directory).

        Here are some great podcasts by an introverted programmer who developed a very successful monthly networking even (Tech After Five) and monthly luncheon (The Learning Lunch).

        All the best with your hunt.

    • @David E, Sharon: Gregory answers your question nicely. Networking is work. Please see his suggestions. When you try what he says once or twice, you’ll see how much sense it makes.

      • If I may…one of the best networkers I know* told me he hates networking. Especially after hours. He would rather curl up with his wife and watch a movie at home. He sets goals when he goes to a networking event. It might be something as simple as collect five business cards, follow up with each one with a comment on something they said that was interesting. Or meet someone who subscribes to the Nick Corcodilos method of talent acquisition, or… you get the idea. When he has met his goal, he is free to go home after that.

        *This guy ran a successful sales coaching business for many years. And did many workshops on networking. And he always had a positive word whenever i would see him.

      • Nick, I respectfully disagree. You stated to “Pick employers with a solid, documented record of training and developing their employees. Bypass the rest. You’ll save loads of time because researchers have shown that most employers stopped investing in their workers many years ago. Be selective. Invest your career only in companies that can show you they’ll invest in you.” Pick employers, not employees. You can network your life away and you will rarely hear a current employee publically “bad mouth” their employer. You can find out all sorts of technical info about their current job, what projects they may be working on, what tools they are currently using but you will rarely find out about their office politics or the real corporate culture (which is usually very different than the one advertised). Only a trusted friend who knows you will not “squeal” on him will tell you that and there is not enough time in the world to develop that many trusted friendships. Where I’m located there is even a “Best Places to Work in ____” and those places are not all that reputable – so it looks more like a PR/HR sham than true info.
        So how do we find these employers so we can start networking with their employees?

        • I think the place to begin is how you define “network.”

          If you and I meet for the first time at a “networking event” and you ask me Company X, I will you a generic answer about the bad, probably good answers about the good. So if I say “They have a great training program!” there is likely something to that.

          But as for the other info, no, I will not risk my reputation and good standing for someone I do not know. But if you show up, introduce yourself, and my father-in-law walks up and says “I have known Dave E for years. He is a stand up guy. Let’s go somewhere and you tell him the good and bad of your company.” you will get a candid answer.

          That is why real networking is hard work. It is also a long game. I have met many people on the hunt. Have tried to help them when I could. Even if I could directly help them, I have been interested enough to meet for coffee and follow their progress. In most cases, when they figure out I am not a hiring manager, and I am not handing out phone numbers of hiring managers, they have no interest. Or I make arrangements for someone else to meet them. And they never show up.

          So no, you will not “network” your way into getting information that you want. But by building trust, doing for others, and being there (not just when you want something), you will create a network. Those people who you have served with in Little League, Scouts, church, or PTA? The ones that see what kind of person you are…they are your network.

          • Gregory – OK, I understand about the different levels of personal networking, different levels of trust, etc. but either Nick’s original statement about finding the good firms first and bypassing the rest is an impossible task or there is more to the implementation guidance than “it’s a long game and you might get lucky” (or maybe not; or you might never find those good firms but you may find some new friends after a long time). Not trying to be a smart___ – just looking for the implementation guidance for Nick’s original statement. If it’s available, I’m all ears. If it is really impossible to do in any kind of reasonable time (which is what I suspect), then I’m good to move on.

            • I am inclined to say (and certainly not not trying to speak on behalf of Nick) that they type of networking he talks about is outside what most people would consider a reasonable time line and reasonable effort.

              As for me, who I work for depends on my circumstances. Times I have been laid off…I work for anybody doing anything (as long as it is honest). When cash flow is an issue, I am not picky. But that does not prevent me from looking for better.

              And in the interest of full disclosure, I am not one of those people who has a network where I can pick up the phone and get any kind of gig I want. Mine continues to be a work in progress…a lifestyle, if you will.

    • @David E:

      One of the things that I still do not understand is that all HR work can (and apparently should) be outsourced as a business expense (versus a strategic investment), the same way that most firms outsource (or rent/lease) every other asset needed to do business.

      Outsourcing recruiting is like hiring a drunk to go to bars to find you someone to marry. The reason recruiters suck (see ) is because recruiting is outsourced and the lowest bidder gets the job.

      I think one solution (necessary but not sufficient) is for employers to STOP outsourcing recruiting — and that means firing the likes of LinkedIn, Monster, Zip, Indeed, et al.

  16. I believe the “skills gap” corporate America talks about is primarily the soft skills gap. And I think it’s just as big of a crock, with an added huge serving of emotional abuse.

    ***Long version***
    I spent years feeling depressed and unemployable, hopelessly lacking in these soft skills, because of my interactions with our broken hiring and recruitment system.
    How unworthy I must be as a person, if HR can say with such confidence that my past experiences and education were not good enough… and decide I didn’t deserve the chance to practice my raw skills and turn them into real accomplishments.

    I felt there was something fundamentally wrong with who I was as a person, and that the entire world could see it.

    I spent a long time analyzing my life, wondering what the hell I could point to as evidence of demonstrating good soft skills. And feeling like I couldn’t compete; because when I was younger I was socially awkward, and therefore others were not inclined to give me opportunities to advance. Plus, I was dissatisfied with my personal life, and hadn’t played team sports (something a disturbing number of executives had said were vital for picking up social and leadership skills).
    Put simply: I didn’t believe I could prove I had good enough soft skills.
    Correcting that problem seemed tantamount to having to go back in time and relive my life.

    I saw ANY interaction with other people as making or breaking career opportunities for me. Which meant I couldn’t bounce back after rejections– because I believed that in building a “social resume”, only successful interactions– acceptances, yeses– counted as valid experience. Rejections deprived me of that vital practice, and were an indictment of my personality.

    I was even afraid that not having a good enough romantic or marital history, could convince an employer I wasn’t socially adept enough. Married men do make more money than single men, after all; and it’s been documented that the reason is that marriage is assumed assumed to bring men a host of intangibles: responsibility, maturity, and confidence. I think you might add to that, “has documented proof, in the form of a wedding band, that you’re likeable enough for someone to share their life with you.”

    It took me a long time to realize a lot of these “soft skills” weren’t ones I even wanted.
    Why, for starters, did I need to think of my hobbies and pastimes as resume enhancers? Why was I torturing myself thinking of every relationship in my life as up for grabs? That’s not a healthy way to think of friendships OR enjoyments.
    And also: others GIVE me opportunities? Like gifts? Why was I thinking of job opportunities as gifts?

    I also noticed that, based on the kind of people who got rewarded in this system, that the definition of “soft skills” too often was keeping your head down, and unquestioningly obeying both the boss and the corporate culture. And doing it with a smile, too; for remember emotions are contagious, and every job is a sales/customer service job now.

    What if we don’t all want to be salespeople? What if we don’t want to all compete for the same opportunities, or copycat the same personality?

    To say nothing of binge drinking to fit into the team. Or going without adequate sleep for weeks on end. Or spending as much time on your looks as possible. Or popping ADD drugs to live up to some corporate cultural standard of productivity. I want none of those “soft skills”, thankyaverymuch.
     ***End long version***

    I feel much better about myself and my job skills now. But I still feel intimidated by the daunting lists of personal qualities employers seem to demand of their prospective employees. I get that old feeling of needing to go back and redo my life.

    Shouldn’t making workers and job applicants feel like their whole life experience is worthless, qualify as emotional abuse? I think so. And that fact that HR does that so easily and blithely, turns my stomach.

    • @Lucy: Ever wonder why an employer doesn’t sit the candidate down at the machine they’ll have to operate if they get hired and say, “Show us how you can work this and we’ll give you the job”?

      (Substitute marketing, designing circuits, doing accounting, whatever, for “the machine.”)

      Everything you’ve been through is silly indirect assessments of your ability to do a job. That’s no way to evaluate a job candidate. But it’s what they waste their time on. Applicants have to change the interview themselves — push the employer to let you show how you’d do the job.

      Er, ah, that puts the onus on you! Yep. Because, who wants to trust the employer to figure it out???

    • Very eloquent!

  17. Maybe another “reason” for the skills gap?

    Sunday morning light news package on a local haunted house recruiting ghouls for this Halloween season.

    Point 1:
    The owner is “formerly from the corporate world”. Translation? I’m not bringing my obvious skills to your soul-killing faux salaryman position. Ever.

    Point 2:
    For the haunted house, they lead off with a open house. Then they have training sessions with professional ghouls to see what you are interested in doing. Only after that do they have auditions.

    Corporate America, after Halloween you need to contract with this guy to overhaul your failed recruiting efforts so ‘salary and benefits’ can get back to doing the only two things they can do well.

  18. Sorry, everyone. I’m not buying the whole skills gap argument when it comes to basic math and writing, either.

    I’m a published writer. My work is in paid publications, not the Huffington Post. I’ve been trying to get some sort of job using my writing skills for years.

    Recruiters hiring for industries that claim to require excellent writing skills have no idea what they’re doing. Just look at the job boards and you’ll see what I mean. They ask for degrees in journalism, plus a minimum of three years experience writing copy for fashion, tech, healthcare etc.

    I recently saw an ad for a popular online company that sells shaving supplies. Their job posting asks for a minimum of five years experience writing copy. Well, I checked out the copy on their website. Most of it consists of four sentence product descriptions that a talented high school senior could write.

    There is no reason that someone who has published journalism or a literary work can’t learn to write about shoes, or computers, or pharmaceuticals in a few weeks or so.

    However, now $30,000 “portfolio schools” are all but required as a gateway to get even an internship in advertising. And most so called “technical writing” positions will ask for very specific experience that almost no one has.

    What I really love, is when you go onto a job board and see people posting jobs for writers, and the ads themselves contain misspellings and grammatical errors.

    I know someone who was a successful reporter in London for years. His experience includes in-depth interviews with celebrities for publications like Rolling Stones. He can’t even get a job writing about real estate in New York City now.

    If executives are so upset about the lack of good writers out there, I invite them to come to my writers group in Manhattan. Every week over a dozen of us, all of whom have been published, meet and critique each other’s work. We’ve been accepted by editors in the New York Times, literary publications like Tin House, and various magazines.

    There are plenty of dedicated people out there who can write. They just don’t have the perfect match in a specific subject area.

    JK Rowling herself wouldn’t be able to pass the keyword jockeys in retail, who act like you must have a lifetime of experience writing copy about women’s clothing to do it.

    • @David: Recruiters seeking writers would never come to your writers group meetings. That involves going out and meeting people. Recruiters don’t do that because their employers and clients don’t pay for recruiting. They pay for applicants and keywords — neither of which have anything to do with actually filling a job with someone who can do it.

      Anyone recruiting good writers can find the people they need by (a) reading good writing and contacting the people who wrote it (most online writing nowadays is by freelancers, thus they’re probably available for other work) or, less betta (the opposite of mo betta), (b) solicit verifiable writing samples rather than resumes.

      You should see what happens when those same recruiters try to recruit and assess engineers. If an engineer hasn’t already designed the desired circuits, they are rejected.

      All this is proof that companies don’t know how to hire recruiters, either.

      • Nick,

        I’ve been reading your stuff for over year, and I have to admit that it depresses me. Not because you don’t know what you’re talking about, but because you are the only one out there who does.

        Why aren’t you being interviewed by the ostensibly concerned journalists at NPR? Why aren’t you on news channels, speaking truth to power?

        Do you know, that before Obama left office, I wrote him a letter about this phenomenon? I got a letter back from him. It was a form letter, but in it, he claimed that he knew what was going on.

        The same month I got that letter, he was on television saying that we were in full recovery, and the only people who weren’t getting jobs were those who had left the workforce or those who needed to go back to school for skills.

        And, as you know, the dysfunction is not limited to jobseekers. I have friends in corporate jobs they hate, and when they want to move within a company to try something new they are blocked.

        This dysfunction is killing innovation, and restricting American workers, many of whom are talented and motivated, from reaching their full potential.

        What is to be done about all this, you, Peter, and the author of this MIT study seem to be loan voices in the wilderness who are being ignored.

        • @David: Thanks for your kind words. Employers have forgotten that people learn. That they should hire smart people who are motivated to work and let them work. And when employers assess applicants, assess them for what they can do — not for what keywords they have.

          These ideas don’t get a lot of airplay because Peter, the MIT guy, and I are critical of the system. That doesn’t play well. I really don’t care. If I’ve got a good-sized bunch of people like the folks on this website who are on board with these ideas, then I’m happy. I’m not going to hire a PR agent so I can be on NPR. I’d rather talk with the people here.

          But it is all rather mystifying.

    • I have been question for a few years whether this is indeed the new face of employment in America, where it’s assumed you can only perform your job across identical industries (so, an accountant who worked in a hospital can never ever be “qualified ” to perform accounting in a bank, and a plumber is not “qualified” to install toilets in a bowling alley because the only toilets they’ve ever installed have been in every other kind of establishment but no bowling alleys). I often had to deal with this nonsense in the design field, i.e., “MUST have experience designing in the pharmaceutical industry” which always made my eyes roll. One time some dumb agency (Real Staffing) advertised a job like that, I applied and explained to the recruiter I can’t prove I have specific experience in pharmaceuticals but I worked for eight years in a design agency where we had loads of pharma clients, and then tried my best to explain that any successful designer must be able to adapt to every industry out there at a moment’s notice, company industry is completely irrelevant as no designer is going to last very long if they cannot design across more than one or two areas (you learn about an unfamiliar industry by meeting with the client, asking pertinent questions, etc., right?). She kept asking me “are you certain you’re comfortable working in that space” (about which I kept thinking “really???”) and then said she had to check in with her manager about whether they could submit me to their client. Whatever, I dismissed them and moved on. Two weeks later I got an email from her saying she’d “like to learn a little more” about my work with pharma clients at that agency (a job which had ended some seven years earlier) before submitting me to their client. Good grief. I restated the above points, never got a reply.

      Btw, I often see writing jobs tacked on to design jobs, i.e., “seeking writer / graphic designer,” funny how it’s always the creative jobs that can just be added to anything (most popular I see is the combo receptionist / graphic designer ad). I keep wondering when this is going to spill over into other areas, like “seeking nurse with HVAC background” or “now hiring accountant/mechanic”…

      • Sighmaster, they combine jobs in ads for technical positions also. I’m a former software engineer, currently a business analyst. I frequently encounter ads for jobs where they’re trying to combine a software developer and project manager, or combine a business analyst and a project manager, or a developer and a manager. On rare occasion I note (by the requirements list) all three jobs combined into one! Of course they’re not going to offer a triple-salary for these. They’re trying to get one person to do the work of two on a single full time salary. This is also why they claim a skills gap.

        The most ridiculous ones are where they try to combine a technical position with a non-technical position. They are two completely different skillsets and even mindsets. It’s a very rare person who can excel at that combination!

        • @Sharon: Re: Combined jobs

          That’s some personnel jockey thinking they’re clever. “Hmmm. We’ve got two jobs here. I can save us money by concatenating them into one job posting, and we’ll get double the applicants for one fee! We can sort the incoming later!”


      • @Sighmaster, it isn’t just design jobs that get other jobs tacked onto them. This practice has been creeping into academia for years, and now I see all kinds of unrelated jobs or semi-related jobs combined into one. The most common one I see is for director (sometimes dean) of admission/director of financial aid. Twenty years ago these would be two separate and distinct jobs, located in different departments, held by different people. Now they’re combined into one job, which is nuts at best. I think the real skinny is that employers are cheap and are looking to get as much out of one person as possible, even when the job combinations don’t make any sense. Admissions and financial aid are fulltime jobs by themselves, so why anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together would think that one person can do two fulltime jobs (especially admissions, which requires a great deal of travelling and even more unpaid overtime once deadlines have passed) is beyond my understanding. Like you, I’m waiting for the day I see ads seeking brain surgeons/cafeteria cook, lawyer/plumber, car mechanic/beautician. When will this insanity stop?

      • The part that really rankled me was when she kept asking if you’d be comfortable working in that space. Ugggghhhhh.

        So, what’s happening here– will the company, if they hire you, be monitoring your “comfort” and “happiness” levels and be ready to drop you like a hot potato if they find you insufficiently comfortable or happy?

        Of course, we know the most likely answer– HR people no longer believe adult humans can adapt or learn, or corporations think that’s too costly anymore, or both. So the new trend is to reframe any stretch, adaptation, or getting-to-know-you period as “uncomfortable”. And they have a new, nicey-nice way to say they’re rejecting you… and they get to pat themselves on the back for supposedly being compassionate!

        HR being so concerned about my “comfort” would actually make me MORE uncomfortable. Plus, I know all along HR couldn’t care less about my comfort– only the company’s. So stop with the faux compassion already.

      • @Sighmaster: Employers and recruiters assume you can’t learn.

  19. How to handle all the frustration that is evident in this week’s blog run by Nick Crocodilos?

    Try bringing the issues to the attention of Top Management. Middle management, and most hiring manager probably don’t care. Only the Top Management will consider “Change”, since their time at the top is getting shorter and shorter.

    So I have taken just one issue in recruitment / hiring of USA workers noted in this week’s blog, and crafted it into a letter just sent to the Wall Street Journal. Hopefully, one or more of their editors will read it. Probably won’t be published. So what. Send more letters. Somewhere we will find at editor at the WSJ and other business publications who has the “critical thinking skills” to make note of it, and act on it.


    The first sentences of the WSJ editorial (More Worker Visas for Less Government, Sept 1 )raise a big red flag.

    “The biggest labor story this Labor Day is the trouble that employers are having finding workers across the country. Friday’s report of a modest gain of only 156,000 new jobs in August doesn’t change that reality even though the jobless rate rose a tick to 4.4%”

    Just look at the leadin to a recent (and regularly recurring) message that I received from LinkedIn: “Explore job openings in the Greater Los Angeles Area. More than 153,000 new jobs are available now.”

    Really? Has the WSJ pushed back and asked the employers exactly why they are having trouble filling these “New Jobs”? Has the WSJ tried to verify if these jobs really exist? Is there a coherent job description for each? Is the location, duties and salary or salary range specified? When is the start date? What is the expected duration of the job? What do any prospective job candidates think about the location, duties and salary or salary range specified? Does the HR representative who posted this job receive a commission when the job is filled, and a live candidate reports for work? Or is it just a matter of posting something on an internet bulletin board so as to give the company some visibility, and allow the HR department to pretend that they are busy and overwhelmed? And then the Chamber of Commerce PR folks can send press releases to the true-believing editorial writers at the WSJ.

    Meanwhile, the p.1 headline ,”Low Wage Growth Challenges Fed” tells another story. If there were real desirable jobs open, and a shortage of candidates, would not wages be increasing?


    • I would love to know how many of these open jobs are actually duplicated. I have seen the same job posted by 2-3 recruiting firms for the same contract job, or the same job posted on a companies website and then listed by a recruiter elsewhere. And that’s all I publicly know about with 5 minutes of looking.

      I agree that the numbers are conflicting. As I mention above, I’ve talked with people at the local career center and the shift has been from unemployment to underemployment where people are taking ANY job.

      • @Dave: I’m laffing my A off. Job boards sell access to databases. Bigger databases bring more revenue. Doesn’t matter what’s in the database. Job boards are rewarded for duplication and drek.

        Keep in mind: Job boards make more money when employers DO NOT FILL JOBS and keep looking for candidates. Cool model, eh?

        This raises the question: JUST HOW STOOOPID IS HR, which funds this nightmare?

        Okay, okay, I’ll tell you the answer.


        • Two failures I have personally observed by outsourcing recruiting and head hunting (note: outsourcing is not the same as retaining a consultant for their expertise).

          1) Multiple submissions for the same position. This happens when a company posts the position to multiple headhunters. Most companies have an automatic “dropped from consideration” if there are multiple submissions from the same applicant.

          2) “No poaching” limits the potential pool of applicants. Headhunting/contracting firms do not take people who are currently working for one of their clients. Especially from clients that are large corporations (think Fortune 500). So an SMB might never see highly qualified people who are interested in a change.

          • You know, Gregory, I normally wouldn’t say anything nice about low-hanging fruit pickers, dialing-for-dollars recruiters or ZipRecruiter on a bet.

            However …

            If the Big Name recruiting companies don’t want to deal with an individual due to a perceived “poaching issue”, then maybe corporate HR is justified in looking to “dialing-for-dollars” recruiters and ZipRecruiter to get a pathway to the best candidates.

            Or they could get their hiring managers off their chairs and out actually recruiting and hiring instead of relying on HR.

  20. Back in the 90s I had my first experience with a recruiter. He treated me fairly and even helped to map out several possibilities for career progression and what it would take to get there. I enjoyed working with him and think we made a pretty good team.

    These days I am just blown away by how unprofessional, if not just outright abusive some of the recruiters are. From listening to my friends as well as my own experiences – it seems as though verbal abuse, outright lying, scamming, and treating candidates with absolute disdain is the way these recruiters work. Not sure why anyone would want to work with the abusive people.

    • @Anna: They’re not recruiters. They’re telemarketers dialing for dollars. But the kind of recruiter you encountered long ago? There are still recruiters like that today — you’ll know them instantly when you meet them. The challenge is to ignore the rest.

    • @Anna: Ditto! Only difference, my first headhunter experience was in the 80’s. Seems the downfall began around 2000 after the dot-com implosion.

  21. I know this will sound weird, but I think I know what’s going on. Companies are hoping to get anyone else they can to train for them to do X, Y, and Z. They want either cheap foreigners to do it (quality doesn’t matter) or they want to manhandle the education system to transform it into a pipleline to create workers for them. What I’m finding in my research (and the research of my friends) is that this whole fed ed/workforce training stuff is intended to use assessments to steer one toward a certain career path and, once steered, you’d only get the courses, etc, to do X, Y, Z. You wouldn’t be able to go outside of that path. (Doesn’t that sound like the keyword searches, etc?). They weren’t content using it on adults and now want to use it on kids!

    What I believe they are after, apart from cheap labor, is a move to make sure a competitor can never arise. Zuckerberg, Gates, etc were happy for capitalism, but they want to cook the books lest someone ever come up with something that would ever beat Facebook or Microsoft. That’s why they are so hyping on conformity. People who can think for themselves and think outside the box are a threat to their power.

    They don’t want Americans to challenge them, so they bring in captive H1Bs. They don’t want students to be able to leave so easily, so they try and limit the career paths with federal “education reform”.

    Their myth of the skills gap is because if people ever realized they were lying, they’d stop this push for the federal education/workforce and the endless supply of “the best and brightest” (legal or otherwise) from overseas and they’d lose a ton of money.

    • Mongoose, I think I love you. You hit all the right notes. And it’s heartbreaking.

      Whatever America is supposed to be, it is most emphatically NOT a place where your path is fixed early in life. Our ancestors left Europe because of deterministic thinking like that. One of the main reasons we hated, and fought, Communism was their “work where we tell you to work” attitude.

      I just hope in a generation America still has people left who think for themselves, whose spirits have not been beaten out of them by the need to survive our workplaces.

    • I don’t think your post/thinking is weird.

      Zuck and Billy complain that they need more STEM workers and they want to encourage people to get into it/have schools offer more education in those fields.

      Look up the “Talent Shortage Myth” article/video from the IEEE. The numbers are now 4 years old or so, but we’ve already hit the point where the number of graduates in STEM every year is more than the number of job openings every year. That’s before you consider people who are unemployed or underemployed.

      I don’t mean to dump on STEM, as these degrees generally are more applicable to real world problems than say “music theory.”

      I’d also point out that I’m a second generation programmer/IT guy. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, there wasn’t generally a “computer science” degree, and programming courses were offered under the math, science or engineering departments. Companies hired kids out of school to be programmers even though they didn’t have a comp-sci degree and things didn’t burn to the ground.

      • Why not dump on STEM? We keep hearing how there need to be more STEM graduates. Along with that, we hear there aren’t enough STEM workers and employers need to fill the STEM jobs that would go begging with H-1B visa holders, which is a load of manure. Employers want cheap overseas labor to fill STEM jobs, not Americans.

      • The UN and Gates, among others, are behind this STEM push. I’ve followed the money and other things to find that out. If everyone is pushed into STEM via federal education and loads of foreigners come in on H1Bs, there will be a massive glut of STEM workers and a shortage in other areas, that will, I believe, require more guest workers and illegals and stuff.

        Besides, what I’m finding in IT, among other fields, but it’s notorious in IT, is age discrimination. Basically if you get laid off after 40 and especially over 50, your career is pretty much over. Bringing in H1Bs, etc, is just making the issue worse.

    • @Mongoose: Wow, I thought I was cynical! :-)

      I do agree that “quality doesn’t matter.” But that’s already biting many companies in the behind.

  22. Might as well bring up something topical, with the end of DACA:

    Those against immigration love to say that immigrants steal jobs.

    No, honey, it’s greedy employers who steal jobs, give them to immigrants, make their working lives unstable and miserable, and eventually steal their jobs from THEM.

    It’s keyword jockeys and shortsighted HR people who steal jobs. It’s algorithms and applicant tracking systems that steal jobs.

    They steal jobs, mobility, opportunity, and– critically– the ability to move on from your past.
    Learning from your past requires the chance to escape it, and do something different. Our recruiting system tries to keep us stuck on our old paths forever; keep us stuck with the same personality, the same strengths, the same preferences we have as young adults.

    • I think you are right but I think part of the problem is that we’re pushing kids towards college (and then internships/co-ops), whether it is warranted or not – so some of the trades jobs that are available are no longer sexy.

      • @Dave: I’m not at all convinced that young people who go into the trades don’t need a good liberal arts education. I’m thinking they do. Don’t confuse the problem of ridiculously high-priced college education with its actual value. Plumbers with college educations that don’t break the bank are a good thing. Education isn’t just about a job.

        • Some universities, like the one I graduated from (LeTourneau) offer degrees that combine trades with a two or four year degree.

          For example, combining Automotive Technology (“car mechanic”) with a business degree.

    • I so agree. Still, if they don’t have the immigrants (legal, illegal, or guest), then they can’t abuse them to displace us.

      I have been advocating for hitting the companies DIRECTLY with boycotts but can’t seem to get things off the ground despite making lists of all the offenders on H1Bs, offshoring, H2B, TPP, Amnesty, Dream Act, and DACA.

      It seems too many are willing to whine but suddenly become quiet when asked to give up something to help fight the wrongs going on.

    • Can’t wait to see what happens to employers who depend on low-cost, low-skill, undocumented, WILLING workers when they’re all sent packing.

  23. @Dave

    Normally, I wouldn’t use the phrase “It Takes A Village” even if threatened, but I think it applies here:

    Trades jobs will only become sexy again when people quit thinking that they have to be chauffeured around in a $200,000 sports car, and start advertising to the 18 – 20-something crowd that a plumber, wood worker, painter, etc. is just as desirable of a date as a application writing millionaire.

    • The irony is the welder or automotive tech is the one driving around in the $200k car. Or an old pickup truck. One thing I learned when I lived in Texas is never judge someone by the car they drive or the overalls they wear.

      • @Gregory: Texas?? I got judged by my torn shorts in Palo Alto!

    • It is also very difficult to outsource trade jobs to third world countries. When you need a plumber you need him to be physically here, i.e. not someone on the phone thousands of miles away.

      • A robot could do it. It isn’t comfortable but I think no jobs are safe and the labor market is changing quickly.

        Heck, I know someone who got a law degree from a well known school, passed the bar, and went to work for a large firm as he was told he was supposed to do. After working for several years with crazy long hours he quit and now runs a blog.

      • But you can INSOURCE them with illegals (see what happened to construction) and with guest workers.

    • When talk turns to skills gaps, talent shortages/surpluses, and all the rest, I am constantly puzzled by the deluge of remarks blaming new grads for the low numbers of them seeking/working at trades opportunities. I’ve lived in multiple cities where, when Gen-X (my cohort) was “up and coming,” those ahead of us in age/experience told us, straight-up, that the trades contained no opportunities for us. Now, those same people are sobbing and wringing their hands over some so-called “entitlement complex”…alas, that is not the fault of “Millennials.” It is instead a choice made by those who would employ them in the trades. The shortage of suitably trained and ready to work personnel under 50-some years of age has been entirely THEIR creation, and their problem to solve!

      Equally baffling is the constant insinuation that today’s newcomers to the post-bacc workforce are all clones of the highfalutin’ richie-rich dude who sneers at the very NOTION of the working class, let alone considers a job in a skilled trade. No, where he gets his rocks off is by climbing ladders and stepping on fingers and necks to get ahead in one of many exciting white-collar fields where his chief job duties all involve screwing people over and getting paid large sums of cash to do it. Better yet is the women’s version, starring some gold-digger who flits about sneering at working-class men “HAHA, you low-class losers!” while she dreams of wedding dat I-banker prince. The comeuppance-at-30 is the hallmark of this style of vignette: with no Wall Street mogul-bearing-diamonds in sight, and no other potential suitors from her cohort pool — because, scolds the omniscient narrator scolds, not only was she “too good” to “date down,” she also offended every tradesman in the known universe! — now she is too aged and decrepit for love and will be dying alone. Lesson learned, ladies…always “date down!”

      Here’s the thing about these tales people pass around…they simply don’t line up with the demographic realities of American adults over the age of 24. Roughly just over two-thirds of adults age 25 and up have NO college degree. Adults over 25 who’ve earned a Bachelor’s or higher comprise a distinct minority of the U.S. adult population — the rest of the workforce relies on a high-school diploma, a GED, or at best, “some college.” 40% of breadwinners among today’s American families are women, suggesting there’s not exactly an epidemic of women holding out for men who earn twice to thrice their salaries. Above all, since 2008, half the country has been declared “low-income,” which is a kinder, gentler way of referring to those “existing a half-step above abject poverty” — and that’s if you use “official” sources…the real figures are likely even more bleak. This nation is not one filled with highfalutin’ i-bankers, tech rockstars, and various and sundry other extremely well-off white-collar professionals whose salaries place them among the top 2 to 5 percent of earners. Au contraire, it is a country of low-earning, semi-skilled, service-sector workers whose hopes and dreams don’t dare for marrying up or working at Facebook — they’re more concerned about making the next light bill most days of the week.

      • That said, these people are eminently trainable. And they work insanely hard too. Many of them are low-income because they were permanently expelled from the semi-skilled white- or pink-collar jobs that once kept them in the middle class. I just despise these fairy tales that lay blame for the “skills gap” and “talent shortage” at the feet of the American workers, doubly so if those workers are displaced and discouraged. HR and the rest of the loons who play these games have really got SOME nerve kicking people like that when they’re down!!

        • Caroline – I’ve been following the valiant efforts of Mike Rowe ( and others like him but what I’ve found (in both the trades and skilled labor) is that there is a missing element in all the boo-hooing. The statements should read “There is no skilled, cheap labor.” It goes back to the old project management rule – there are quick solutions, cheap solutions, and good solutions, pick one. If firms really cared about their employees (like promoting from within, getting current employees to recruit new employees, having current employee panels interview candidates, etc.) things would be far different. Notice what firms do, not what they say.

  24. What is business about? Making money! So why doesn’t a genius in business realize that the tools they are using are crap? If a retail company uses a vendor that provides credit card readers without chip-readers in them (by now), wouldn’t the retail company threaten the vendor with, “You better provide chip readers by Sept 30,2017 or else we’re switching to a new vendor.” So why don’t CEO’s threaten their HR VP’s with the equivalent scenario? Why would a CEO continue to pay for a process, product, or tool that does not work efficiently? Has a better product been created/packaged/marketed? Are we in the same situation as the veggie market….that it is hard to market a natural product? (Can we reflect on why people are drinking less soda these days?)

    • Sometimes I wonder if they are in so deep that they would rather continue to feed the lie as long as they can stay in the green by whining to Congress, cutting corners (salaries, benefits, etc), and cutting down quality and hoping the customers than let the truth come out.

      They are investing billions and perhaps trillions in all these lies. If the lies are exposed, their business models crash and they all go out of business as the market turns on them and new good guys come in and take their place. By continuing to keep the lies going and the public misinformed, people aren’t motivated enough to stand up to them.

      That’s why they keep doing all this stupid stuff that wastes money if it keeps feeding the lies that keep the public misinformed. Also, I believe many of them are considering short term (i.e. how can I get as big a salary and retirement as possible) rather than long term (the product, the company, the country for future generations, etc).

      They have become so greedy that they are like the Spanish, who, having looted the Aztecs, won’t let go of some of the gold loot and end up starting to sink in the water due to the weight of it. (At least that’s what I heard in Age of Empires II under the Aztec scenarios in one of the games. Not sure how historically accurate that part is. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true.)

      • Meant to say “hoping the customers don’t care enough about it”.

    • @Amy: HR VPs pay headhunters only after headhunters fill a job.

      Think about that.

      Why don’t CEOs pay HR VPs only after they fill jobs?

  25. I have had a number of interviews in the past where I would even go out of town and when I returned home, I didn’t hear back from the potential employer. It’s one thing to not hear after applying online, but it is inexcusable to not hear after you disrupt your life for a day or two. In retrospect, i would not want to have worked for these employers anyway. Here is the common pattern: These were cutthroat environments where either the boss or coworkers were jerks. In one case, the boss was nice, but the employees were not nice – the boss eventually got fired. In my current job, it only took an hour to be interviewed by my current boss and my performance ratings have been good. Yes, my company, a large international company, has candidate tracking systems, and yes, they are bureaucratic. The bottom line is my boss knew what he wanted and let me know of his decision very quickly. The day of my interview it was “I think you are the one we want but we have 2 more interviews.” That was on Tuesday. On Friday, he called me, “I talked to the other two – you are the one we want, but now we have to go through the approval process.” He called me each week. When I was offered the job a few weeks later, the package was just right – so I accepted it within a day.

    In thinking about every job offer I have ever had, when they want you to come on board, it is very clear. If it is not clear, they probably don’t want you. By the way, I have been turned down few times only to be hired a few months later.

  26. Dave said above, “Look up the “Talent Shortage Myth” article/video from the IEEE. The numbers are now 4 years old or so, but we’ve already hit the point where the number of graduates in STEM every year is more than the number of job openings every year. That’s before you consider people who are unemployed or underemployed.”

    Richard Bolles (see below) clearly explained this many years ago. The government / the job market / somebody does a survey and finds that in say, 2015, there were 175,000 unfilled STEM jobs in the US and that there will be a projected need for 50,000 additional STEM jobs in the upcoming decade. So various schools gear up to turn out STEM graduates; parents start telling their high school-age children to study STEM; government workforce agencies start re-training programs into STEM; employed folks who think (know) they can do better start turning from their current field to STEM; and so it goes.

    So what happens? In about five or so years (as Dave points out) the STEM “job market” is saturated, wages become depressed, and STEM graduates start learning a new language that begins with, “Would you like fries with that?”

    And the point? Again from Bolles: discover who you are, what you can do, what you want to do, and then find organizations (or customers / clients) who will pay you to do that – there will always be a job for you somewhere.

    If this seems to make sense to you, if you are looking for a career path or even “just” employment, and if you have not yet done so, I highly recommend you read the book, What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles.

    • I have always been able to find a job as an electrical engineer. I love the field, having grown up with a soldering iron in my hand. In my current job, I was hired for my analog and microwave background which is serving me well, but in the meantime it turns out that software needs help, so I jumped in. I’m spending some time getting up to speed quickly on USB.

      Look at the market, and come up to speed on the latest technology. The easiest place to do this is with your current employer. Just volunteer.

      PS: If the EE jobs decline as predicted, then I will do software/firmware. Please, no comments about age – I’m 51 and my work life is good. I know people in their 60’s and 70’s who are getting jobs.

  27. Blatant bigotry is still in problem in Silicon Valley and the United States in general. Keep in mind the guy below, was handed employment decisions and should rightfully be sued into bankruptcy.

    “‘N**ger, n**ger, n**ger’: Tech bro CEO insulted employees and beat multiple women, says lawsuit”

  28. Many companies insist on advanced education and after they hire you, they treat you as if you never finished high school. Just go into business for yourself.

  29. Does not address hiring criteria: compatriot. Lots of arguing overhead between the cubes, as coworkers vied for next hire criteria, “must be [north India/south India/China born Chinese/American born Chinese]”.

  30. I’m a new graduate Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, with a former career as a high tech management consulting executive. The news is full of articles about the primary care health provider shortage at all levels – MD, NP, PA – especially in smaller towns and in rural areas. People are literally in danger of dying. Experienced providers generally don’t want to uproot their families to go live in such areas, often for less pay. Even most new grad providers want to live in or near big cities. Yet, it is very difficult for a new grad NP to find a job in these underserved areas, such as California’s San Joaquin Valley, most of Alaska, Nevada, etc. Even when people’s lives are at stake, most employers don’t want to make the investment in training and will leave positions vacant for months.

    On a positive note, I recently had an excellent recruiting experience – a small hospital in the San Joaquin Valley – within 2 hours of receiving my resume (no tedious online application), the HR Dept forwarded my resume to the hiring MD and he called me, thrilled that I had applied and spoke with me at length, and made an effort to sell me on the position. This is in a specialty that schools do not cover in depth, so he said they can train me. He admitted the physical location was considered undesireable by most people. It was clear that the HR person (specialist in provider recruitment) was working closely with the hiring managers and they communicated clearly and promptly. I’ll be going to the in-person interview next week. They even arranged for a real estate agent to show me the general area and some properties. In other words, they are rolling out the red carpet for me because they are smart enough to realize very few people would be willing to move to this area. If I get the offer, I’ll take it! Smart employers know how to recruit people.