Cost Cutting Algorithms Are Making Your Job Search a Living Hell
More companies are using automated job screening systems to vet candidates, forcing jobseekers to learn new and absurd tricks to have their résumés seen by a human.
Source: Motherboard | Vice
By Nick Keppler
“I’m doing something else while the system is interviewing my candidates,” [a “senior recruiter”] says with a smile. The message is clear: She’s offloaded much of her work to someone else. Ifeoma Ajunwa, an assistant professor of labor and employment law at Cornell University said automated systems will probably continue to amass between jobs and jobseekers. “I think that’s the way it’s going to advance… Companies have come to count on it.” The makers of more advanced applicant tracking systems are acutely aware of the bias problem, but are not certain of a solution. Should job applicants rebel? Should they refuse to take online assessments or to upload video faux interviews or engage the next faceless gatekeeper?
HR tech in your face: Nick’s take
Don’t miss this excellent run-down on the “pseudoscience” and “profoundly disturbing” technology that HR is using in its never-ending battle to turn you into a bucket o’ bits. See also Why does HR waste time, money and the best job candidates?
What’s your take?
Do you let employers put HR tech between you and a job? Between you and the hiring manager? When is this going to stop — and who’s going to stop it?
So many thoughts about this:
1. If companies have 250 applicants per opening then they are doing recruiting wrong.
2. Companies claim that they need this because of all the applicants, weed out potentially many good ones, then cry that they can’t find enough qualified candidates.
3. This systems only lets through those candidates that can game the computer, which can be quite different from those who can do the job.
4. The top applicants won’t bother and will be snagged by the companies that don’t do this.
5. It is never a good idea to annoy your potential new employees right of the bat.
6. I have a PhD in engineering and can’t find a job, and this is probably part of it.
@Oralloy: What’s very wrong is that there’s an entire, $multi-billion HR tech industry that reliesdepends entirely on companies expecting hundreds and thousands of applicants per opening. That ship has sailed — HR long ago swallowed the idea that “more is better” and “more is necessary.” The marketing was so successful that the idea is a forgone conclusion. “We need that pipeline to be full!”
It’s akin to restaurants selling the idea that obesity is a national norm because you feel better when we shovel more food onto your plate to “increase value for your dollar!” More marketing based on what the market will tolerate rather than what the real need is. Employers’ motivation is no longer to fill jobs; they pay to keep accessing the databases.
This is definitely part of your problem. The solution is to go around the system entirely.
“Should job applicants rebel?”
Heck yeah. Starve the automaton of the data it needs to justify its own existence, and it will eventually die a painful death.
As a side note, it’s interesting to see how many ATS vendors declined to be interviewed for the Vice article.
As in sales, you deserve the leads and pipeline that you get. You use ATS for mid-career and above, your company deserves to be stuck in the pit of mediocrity.
Hiring works the same as job-hunting. Your senior people probably know a handful of good candidates already from other jobs and companies.
While I avoid reading anything put out by Vice, I must admit, I can’t argue with certain empirical truth. I’m turning 62 in a couple of weeks, and I’ve spent the last 7 years in a day job with a small “mom & pop” company that’s falling apart before my eyes. Just yesterday, managers were walking around saying out loud “I don’t know what to do, what should I do”?
I’ve job hunted, and the ageism, is in your face. I recently had a job interview with a customer who I thought were stand up folks, but the sickening interview really changed my mind. Then HR and business owners use these high-tech shenanigans to further marginalize and disqualify perfectly good candidates. I’ve worked a decent additional part-time evening job the last 4 years. I’ve come to the conclusion that I may have to survive another 4-1/2 years where I’m at (that is if they don’t close the doors sooner), and then hang it up and do a couple of part-time gigs. I have some other irons in the fire now. Not able to hang it up, and will have to work into my 70s, but that’s how it is. If I lost my job today, I’d be in a world of hurt trying to find another job, even remotely close to where I’m at now.
What truly irks me is that those who commit ageism truly don’t seem to grasp that they, too, will get older and subject to the same bigotry.
Why is it that I, a “dumb jock engineer,” can see this, and all these hyper-educated MBA types in high positions can’t grasp it?
David Hunt, I too wonder the same thing. The times I’ve sat across the table in a waste of time interview with some young 25 year old Turk, or even some middle-age manager, who’s made fun of my dress and appearance to my face (like a catty girl in a sorority house), marginalized my skills and work experience, told me I’d be a “drain on their health insurance” (as healthy as the kid doing the interview), I’d be inept at the job, I’d fall flat on my face, and I wasted their time (then why did you waste my time calling me in for a pointless interview?), yada…..yada. I’ve walked out shaking my head and wondering how such people ever acquired and retained these manager jobs, and saying to myself “this too shall pass, but one day you may well be sitting where I am”.
@David Hunt PE: You have common sense, that’s why, and you’re not relying upon technology or computers to do your thinking for you.
I’ve often thought the same thing: all these younger folks who have no qualms about telling me that they don’t hire women over age 35 (this from a temp agency) apparently don’t think they will ever age and then it will be perfect karma if they’re treated the way they are treating us.
Regarding one-way video “interviews” which are uploaded & analyzed by bots: I wonder what it would be like if the video were recorded using anonymous-source techniques like silhouetting and voice alteration. No visual cues to judge & dismiss a candidate by.
I still think these video “interviews” are not true interviews since they are strictly one-way, though.
@Askeladd: Yep, they’re one-way. Huge problem, including that the employer has no skin in the game. In a column some time ago I speculated on the obvious reaction to video interviews by bot: The candidate deploys their own bot to do the interview. What then? Does the HR department cry foul?
I keep asking this question and have yet to get a response:
Are companies that reply on key words to filter candidates through a computer program expect to get the best people, or the people best at gaming the system? Because the two are not going to be identical – or IMHO even close.
@David Hunt: Do companies, led by their HR departments, actually want to hire the best people? I’d argue that that goal comes in a distant second (at best) to the primary goal of transforming the workplace by achieving their “diversity” goals (which actually means a demographic mix that mirrors that of the HR “profession”). Diversity for our kind, but not for the other kind.
“We want to hire smart people who think out of the box.”
That’s the HR line everywhere. So they open the door of the box, walk in, close the door behind them, and “search” for “talent” within the confines of the keyword box — and pretend they’re scouring the world for “the best talent.”
It makes no more sense than managers that dis older workers because the managers don’t realize they’re getting older themselves.
Remember my old tag line “The best place to find an ‘outside the box’ thinker is… outside the box?”
My philosophy is that everybody who says “think outside the box” is perpetually stuck inside said box. =)
“I’m doing something else while the system is interviewing my candidates,” [a “senior recruiter”] says with a smile”
Shouldn’t a recruiter spend her time doing recruiting, a part of which is interviewing? What “something else” should a recruiter do? Watch cute cat videos?
I really look forward to the time technology can do my job, so that I can do something else while getting paid. Except, I will probably not, because my boss will not pay me for just being here.
@Karsten: Recruiting means going out into the world and searching for what you need. It doesn’t mean waiting for it to come along. Recruiting means identifying small, well-defined clusters of people you need — not turning on the ATS fire hose and then complaining you’re getting drenched with more than you can possibly drink.
As a hiring manager, I found Ziprecruiter a complete waste of time – not one single candidate ever responded. I was pretty sure they were all fake.
As a job seeker, I have never gotten a single interview request or response of any kind on Ziprecruiter.
When are they going to prosecuted for fraud? They should be forced to prove their system is real and works! I’m pretty sure it’s a total scam.
“When are they going to be prosecuted for fraud?”
Unfortunately, from a legal standpoint, deception of this nature is a very grey area, particularly if pecuniary loss cannot be substantiated/documented. There are very few jurisdictions which recognize that a mere “waste of time” equates to a quantifiable loss. You spend thirty-five minutes filling out an online application that is ultimately rejected by a computer algorithm/ATS for questionable reasons? No loss. You spend 55¢ – for which you have a printed receipt – to snail-mail a résumé which is ultimately rejected on the basis of suspected age discrimination? Well, NOW you have a possible claim.
Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission does not employ a dedicated police force focused on enforcing truth-in-advertising tenets. Monster, Indeed, LinkedIn, Ziprecruiter, et al. are all free to make vacuous claims about the efficacy of their respective technology platforms. However, prosecution on the basis of fraud requires real harm – not a mere “they annoyed me” complaint.
If you personally feel that you have been a victim of fraud, you should seek the counsel of a qualified attorney. I am not personally affiliated with this organization, but I wholeheartedly endorse their mission:
DISICLAIMER: I’m NOT an attorney. The above should NOT be construed as legal advice.
Nick, you know and I know, but it seems that some recruiters and HR people do not know. They seem to believe that they can recruit without actually recruiting, do the work without the nitty-gritty of actually working.
I saw something yesterday that surprised me. My current employer is looking for a truck driver. The ad on Indeed.com is short and to the point; a Class B CDL, a minimum of 6 months experience (preferably with roll off container experience), and a clean DOT driving record. Wages were listed on the ad as well. To my complete surprise, they’ve actually raised their historically substandard wages for drivers to at least now being in the local playing field. In just one day, they received over 50 resumes. With the exception of two candidates who were even remotely qualified, they had resumes from candidates who were stocking shelves at grocery stores, working at convenience stores, managing fast food restaurants, mechanics, landscaping laborers, school teachers, and oddly enough, a pipe fitter. Some candidates listed upwards of 8-10 jobs in one year! Rejecting each and every candidate who applied would have been far too time consuming. While I hold a rather dim view of many employers out there (including HR types, Indeed.com, and recruiters), I have to concede that employers are being inundated with completely unqualified and unacceptable candidates too.
@Antonio: Please think about this carefully, because the answer to the predicament you describe is in your post.
The problem: “employers are being inundated with completely unqualified and unacceptable candidates”
The cause: The employer posted the job on Indeed so that everyone in the world could apply for it.
What does the employer think is going to happen? That eager people who want to make more money driving trucks than stocking store shelves are going to tell themselves, “Hey, I’m not really qualified for this job. I should not apply.”
No, they tell themselves, “It costs nothing to play in this lottery. Why not?”
When an employer announces a lottery that costs nothing to play, it had better have a big budget to handle the teeming hordes that want to try.
Or, that company could go look for truck drivers where good truck drivers hang out.
If you get too many applications, the obvious answer is: Stop asking for them! Why don’t employers get that simple message? FOMO? Fear of missing out the pink unicorn candidate needle in the big haystack – so they ask for the biggest haystack possible?
Nick Corcodilos. Agree. The “cattle call roll of the dice” Indeed.com post a job opening will yield a mass response from mostly unqualified and weak candidates. Employers like mine think the lazy cheap way to hire is the best. They even say this openly. Looking for truck drivers where they are at? I’ve lobbied hard and heavy to contact local truck driving schools, attend truck driving associations or trade fairs, advertise in truck driving trade magazines, word of mouth referrals. even go to truck stops and hand out business cards. But my employer prefers to sit back, donut dunk, and be fat, dumb, and happy. When they do get drivers off Indeed.com they’ve generally not worked out.
@Antonio Zoli: I suspect the reason is that people are looking for an opportunity to improve their wages. I suspect another reason is that too many employers have trained job hunters to take a chance and apply anyways because too many of them list far too “requirements” for jobs that could be done with a little time and training. It becomes harder and harder to figure out whether the jobs actually “require” the education and skills listed or whether this is simply the employer’s wishlist/dream candidate (and there’s little/no hope that anyone will actually meet all of them), or if the employer will consider those who have most or some of those of “requirements”.
Posting vacancies all of the internet, using Indeed and other third party “recruiters” for even low level jobs has also created the open cattle call that results in hundreds of applicants.
In your example, that’s different–but I wonder how many of those who applied are even aware of the requirements for truck drivers. It sounds like your employer’s ad was short and sweet and didn’t have a laundry list of requirements other than the basics. But too many employers don’t do this, and it has gotten to the point where job hunters figure that they might as well apply because maybe the job really doesn’t require everything listed, or that they can learn. Your employer would have done better to run the ad in the local newspaper, or to ask their other truck drivers for recommendations (as in tell your trucker buddies that we’re hiring, and send them here if they’re interested) instead of posting it on Indeed.
I don’t fault the applicants. Your employer had an open cattle call, then was shocked to get so many applicants. If they don’t want the universe to apply, stop advertising to the universe!
Marybeth: I have to believe that most of these unqualified applicants know they don’t stand a snowball’s chance of being hired for this truck driving job. And listing having 8-10 jobs in a year’s time? There’s something intrinsically wrong there! The old school ways you site of newspaper want ads, help wanted signs (I still see them, but then the applicant is directed to some bizarre and lengthy online application process), and word of mouth are (unfortunately) relics from the past. As is going out, pounding the pavement, and handing out resumes in industrial parks. I spent 14 months on the unemployment line 10 years ago, and I put out well over 1,000 resumes, mostly door-door. Back in the day, this technique showed some initiative and tenacity, and I found jobs (be they always not the best suited for me, and that was me being to desperate for any job at that point), but today, well, I had people scream at me, throw my resume in my face, and threaten to call the cops. I think this problem lies much deeper with the employers today as well, and with their moral compasses (or lack there of). Case in point, I’ve spent 7 years now with a small family owned company. Last month, they left the envelopes with the 2019 W2s indiscreetly sitting out in front of man and God (place is bush league in every way). The stack with the current employees was about 4” tall. The stack with former employees (for 2019) was over 12” tall! They had gone through over 100 employees in 2019! Need I say more.
@Antonio Zoli: A couple of years ago I saw a job vacancy posted that I figured I could do. I didn’t have every single thing she wanted, but I had most of them. So I spruced up my résumé and stopped in, asking if I could have a few minutes to speak with the director. She barely glanced at my résumé before throwing it in the trash in front me, then going off on a rant about how busy she was, how she was often at work trying to do everything and needed someone yesterday but had no time to train her, that she couldn’t do everything, and that she was finding that people applying were like me–they had most of the skills she demanded, but not all of them. I was puzzled. Part of the job was updating the library’s website, maintaining their facebook page. She said that the previous employee had done this on her own time, from home. Anytime I’d done this kind of thing for other employers, I’d done it from work, on a desktop computer. She complained that the people who had the social media/tech skills completely lacked the library skills (which included some computer skills, but with a different kind of system) and those who had the library skills lacked the social media skills.
Throwing my résumé in the trash before my eyes and going off on a rant showed me not only that she had unreasonable expectations, including the apparent work for free updating their social media but that she was opting to wait for the perfect purple squirrel and having to stay until 10 or 11 pm doing everything herself instead of hiring someone who had one set of skills and training her in the skills she lacked. It wouldn’t be that difficult to get up to speed. But this would be common sense, so she hired no one, and only added to her duties.
While I was waiting in line at the supermarket last Friday, the man in line behind was on the phone to someone to whom he was loudly (as in so everyone in the lines on either side of him as well as those of us in front of him and behind him could hear everything he said) complaining about the job candidates he was being sent. From what I could deduce, he needed to hire someone to work in his office (type of business is unknown), and he was using Indeed and others so he wouldn’t have to do the hard work of hiring himself. He was unhappy that the candidates didn’t meet his requirements, complained that Indeed was sending him people who live in California and Georgia (the job is in Massachusetts), that the ones they sent him couldn’t write, didn’t know how to file, etc.
When he got off the phone, those of us around him felt free to comment. A woman told him that her daughter had years (as in decades) of experience in running offices, another woman suggested that he hire someone older, who doesn’t rely upon spell-check and who knows the difference between “there”, “their”, and “they’re”, and who would know enough to file clients/customers by last name (his prior employee had filed by first name, creating chaos). I suggested that he not use Indeed or outsource finding candidates to third parties whose vested interest is in NOT giving him good candidates–they make their profits when jobs remain unfilled. The blank look on his face told all of us that this had never occurred to him–that companies like Indeed make more profits when employers like him don’t find candidates because he’ll keep going back to the Indeed well. He then told all of us that he was too busy, didn’t have time to hire, but still couldn’t understand why he was getting people from out of state. A man suggested that he put a help wanted sign in the window of his business, then be prepared to spend 10 minutes talking to those who wander in, curious about the job. Another woman suggested that instead of posting his vacancy all over the internet (hence getting applicants from out of state) that he run a help wanted in the local newspaper, or even two local newspapers, and this way he’d get people who live locally, not in Georgia. He complained that this cost too much (Indeed and other third parties are cheaper). Then he told us that we couldn’t possibly understand, to which I told him that when you have a loud conversation on your cellphone in a very public place such as the checkout line at Stop & Shop on a busy Friday evening, you’re inviting comments from the peanut gallery.
The woman whose daughter had decades of experience in office management said her daughter was unemployed when the company closed, and she hasn’t been able to find another job. Ageism, employers requiring candidates to have degrees in office management (her daughter is older than me, and back then, there wasn’t such a degree; you majored in something else, and you learned on the job), and expecting the perfect candidate who needs no training means there is huge disconnect. Yet I suspect that he will return to the Indeed well, hoping that this time they’ll give him the perfect person. In the meantime, good people who don’t fit whatever demographic he wants can’t get jobs.
I saw an ad for a job in my local newspaper, and I’ve applied for it. The ad asked for a résumé, cover letter, and writing sample to be sent to the local newspaper (care of). The employer didn’t disclose who they are, so writing my cover letter and editing my résumé has been a bit of a challenge. It is more helpful to know who my audience is, but even this is better than directing me to some generic email address. I did telephone the newspaper to ask who the employer is (nothing ventured, nothing gained), but they wouldn’t tell me, which I expected. This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this in a very long time, and while I would have been happier to know who the employer is so I can do some research, I’m heartened by the fact that they are eschewing an online application or using a third party, at least at this stage. Hopefully human beings will read the materials they’ve requested, and not simply scan them into an ATS and let it do the work.
HR people DO NOT WANT TO KNOW.
A couple of years ago, leveraging my late father’s name at Harvard Business School, I got an hour’s conversation with one of their senior HR professors. Cordial at first, it became more pointed when he said that he’d read some of my criticisms of HR / hiring and recommended I take them down. (E.g., the perfect fit mentality “or Purple Squirrel” hunt, etc., as well as criticizing ghosting candidates and how it would come back to haunt – and I was right! – and so on.)
When I asked, honestly, “So, am I wrong?” he didn’t reply, just stared with a cold shark stare. TAKE. THEM. DOWN.
David Hunt: talk about “cancel culture”. Forget the first amendment too. My late father, a WWII era journeyman machinist used to say ”HR people are frustrated psychologists”. Everything you’ve said here is true (e.g. purple squirrel, perfect candidate, ghosting candidates). It’s amazing how much these HR gatekeepers wield (mostly undeserved) power. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve been dismissed by HR people. I guess I didn’t give them the tingles. You as an engineer can appreciate this story. A guy I went to church with was an M.E. at a large consulting engineering firm in my area. They were looking for an E.E. Like a college, this outfit appointed a search committee to find a suitable candidate. After an exhaustive search, they found their “needle in a haystack”. The rub was that there had to be a consensus. One member, an HR woman, voted no, so the candidate was immediately disqualified. Later, the M.E. asked her why she voted no. “He looked like my ex husband, and it made me uncomfortable”, she replied. Need I say more.
At 64 years of age, I thought that I had heard everything. Boy, was I wrong!
I had an interview once where I THOUGHT I’d knocked it out of the park and past the next block. Finally managed to get some feedback on why I’d been rejected. Per the recruiter: “The two engineers that interviewed you said you reminded them of someone they worked with before and didn’t like.”
Harvard University recently showed their true colors when the president of the school intervened to prevent the tenure of an economics professor who was a vocal proponent of a wealth tax.
@Marybeth: Every legislator should read your comment. It is stunning. Thanks for posting it. I wish someone had taken a video!
@Nick: So do I! I would also liked to have had someone capture his very public rant with their phone and post it online (YouTube or some other site) or send it to the media so it gets on CNN, Fox, and the local stations.
I’ll be grocery shopping again tonight–wonder if he’ll be there, complaining again. And maybe, just maybe, his solution would be to hire someone and train her/him. It isn’t rocket science, cancer research, or brain surgery. But I’ll bet that he’ll continue to use online “recruiters” for lack of a better word.
Sigh. I miss the days when you could pound the pavement, as Antonio Zoli mentions, and actually meet and spend a little time talking with managers. Back then, managers weren’t afraid to come out and talk to people. Today, they’re too interested in their phones, and if they deign to talk to you at all, it is to tell you how de trope you are, and that if you want to apply, go online (even when there is a huge “HELP WANTED” sign). Then they complain they can’t find good help. If they can’t spend 10 minutes talking to someone, how on earth will they ever manage him if he should be hired?
Between the absurd logic on display in the article, “I’m doing something else while the system is interviewing my candidates,” [a “senior recruiter”] says with a smile”, reader experiences and my own personal experience with employers putting less than minimal effort into hiring, I seem to come back to the same bemused question. You’re going to have to put some effort into this process at some point, aren’t you?? I just don’t understand why there’s such hard coded resistance to independent thought, or even just plain old thought, or, you know, doing your actual job, in the hiring process anymore. And it seems to only get worse every year. Until we’re at a point in society where robots can independently hire, manage, fire, buy from, etc. other robots, it might be good to actually engage with other human beings and exercise the spongy grey matter between the ears from time to time.
Maybe the market will force some changes? In my area, there’s a terrible shortage of people in skilled trades. Employers, due to such deficits, may be forced to drop the “purple squirrel” criteria if they want skilled workers, and thus want to survive. One company I know in my area is a large metal fabricator that fabricates and stamps all sorts of HVAC vents. The production managers, shop floor supervisors, and engineers had a coup. They forced HR and Plant Management to stop the “purple squirrel “ criteria. They resolved that they had to train their workers in house themselves. They test both existing workers, and new candidates. They often start with paid OJT remedial math, reading, and writing classes (public schools in my area are a joke). Then they continue with paid OJT classes coupled with paid shop floor experience in Tool & Die, Welding, or Metal Fabricators. Each accomplishment receives a guaranteed merit increase until they achieve full journeyman wages. Those who don’t make the cut are out (incidentally, Engineer Kevin, from California, this is in a Right to Work State, and in a non-union shop). Expensive? Yes! Effective? Yes! No Indeed, no recruiters, no temp agencies. Run ads in local newspapers or word of mouth. They have a waiting list to boot. It’s an investment, coupled with competitive wages and benefits. Turnover? Very low!
My late mother (ok, bragging: the first woman to get a DBA from Harvard Business School), whose focus was on PERSONNEL (not “Human Resources”* during most of her career, once said that companies should hire based on APTITUDE and POTENTIAL and then train for SPECIFIC SKILLS. And that used to be the case. For example, when I hired into Ford Motor Company in 1995, I knew precisely squat about automotive lighting which was the prime product manufactured at that site. My boss told me point blank that he didn’t expect me to do anything significant for the first few months – proved him wrong, found a huge cost savings in scrap reduction in the first couple of months.
But the “Purple Squirrel” syndrome came about from several factors IMHO:
1. The 1980’s MBA craze that turned employees from assets to be cultivated, to expenses to be minimized. (And in parallel turned PEOPLE into RESOURCES and TALENTS, which went from a unique individual to something interchangeable.)
2. The slower economy that created a surplus of people looking for work. Thus, employers felt like they could pick and choose.
The problem that I see in hiring is that the PS syndrome still exists.
David Hunt: Amen!! My current employer of 7 years was founded by a man and his father years ago. They had one philosophy “people first, profits second”, and these old school guys lived and practiced it! Imagine this philosophy today. There’d be witch burnings and character assassinations. Shortly after I started working there, the grandfather took me out to lunch one day. I’d never been taken out to lunch by an employer in my life, let alone by an owner. This guy reminded me a lot of my late father, a WWII era journeyman machinist. He told me flat out that he trusted me more than his management team, and that he knew how to read people. What? Profiling (lol). Fighting words today. Fast forward, the grandfather (in his 80s) was ousted In a family coup, and the son and grandchildren have driven the company into the toilet. I too remember the push in the 80s with the “MBA” altar of worship. There’s a joke “how do you tell the guy with the MBA? He’s the guy with the bigger spatula”. I understand that the Japanese don’t have business schools and MBAs? Again, when did this PC culture stop “trusting our guts”?
David Hunt: also, as you well articulated, “aptitude and potential, then train for specific skills”. As in your case with the automotive industry, you knew nothing about the specific product, but you acquired that knowledge. In late 2010 I was laid off in a “downsizing” after a buyout. I was 52, and spent 14 months aggressively looking for a job, and eventually any job. Despite having skills easily transferable into parallel or other industries, I was told “you have skills, but they aren’t specific to our industry”, or “you have skills, but the skills are not current”. Ageism? Definitely, but an example of how things are today with employers.
@David Hunt PE: Your comments re the Purple Squirrel Syndrome are apt. Several years ago I applied for a job at the college where I worked. I had plenty of experience, more, in fact, than what they required in terms of amount. But my experience wasn’t a perfect match–I had experience advising older, non-traditional graduate students, and the job was looking for someone who had experience in, and who would be, advising older, non-traditional undergraduate students. I was forced to apply online, and naturally I never heard from them. Nearly a year later, I was at work when a couple of people came into the library who worked for the same college. They were complaining about that job, how it was still open, and how they couldn’t find anyone “good”. At that point, I spoke up, introduced myself, told them that I had applied and never heard anything. I told them briefly why I thought I was a match, and listed my experience. Both of them were shocked, said that they didn’t remember me. A week later, one of them came back to tell me that their computer system had rejected me, which was why they didn’t recognize me. I asked why, and he said that I didn’t match up perfectly. I said that if I had spent 8 years advising older, non-traditional graduate students there was no reason why I wouldn’t be able to advise older, non-traditional undergraduate students. He agreed, but the computer/ATS dictated who they saw and subsequently interviewed. That told me that no human thinking was going into this, especially when he said that job was still open because they couldn’t find talented people. They weren’t looking for talented people. They were looking for someone who had done that exact job before, not someone who had similar experience and who would have easily adjusted/learned to help undergraduates.
That’s the problem with relying on computers and ATS. You’ve discussed it in your article (thanks for the link). Not seeing people as human beings but as “things” and thus as easily replaceable as a broken part in an appliance that you can get at Home Depot, pop it in, et voilà, that stove/washing machine is running again. But people aren’t replacement parts. A replacement part never wants to learn something new, to be challenged, to improve. Technology has convinced companies and agencies that to get the perfect employee, all you have to do is plug in what you want, and those people will magically appear and fall into your lap. Scary.
I have talked with two recruiters, both of whom have placed me into interviews, and they told me identical stories which have happened to each of them multiple times:
* Company can’t find anyone
* Recruiter is hired
* Recruiter asks to look through their ATS database
* Recruiter finds suitable people in their database that the ATS rejected
* People are brought in to interview
* People are hired
The double irony is that when we “peons” point this out, we’re told we’re trouble-makers.
@David Hunt PE: At my old job, the former dean used to tell HR to send her applicants who didn’t make it through their minefield. Many times she said that she was expecting someone or several someones to apply, and was puzzled when she didn’t get their applications from HR. She’d call the people she had expected to apply, and upon learning that they had applied and gotten the auto-rejection or didn’t hear at all, then she’d go to HR. HR never gave her a hard time about getting those applications. But when she retired, all of this common sense stopped. The next two deans relied solely upon HR, so if you didn’t make it through their minefield, or if HR added requirements for jobs, the new deans never challenged HR, but they did complain about the process and how long it took. Suggesting that they can override HR went nowhere and got me chastised. But the new deans LOVE technology, and both of them preferred to spend time watching cat videos and scrolling through facebook, posting personal photos and clicking likes. I guess when you have to do this, you don’t have time to deal with hiring.
I’m not adverse to technology, and technology can be great, but like anything, it depends upon how it is used.
Another article I wrote, more pointedly to the Purple Squirrel syndrome:
I had several others but I pulled them down.
Marybeth: here in lies what I’ve said countless times “this whole online pajama blogging LinkedIn Indeed.com application process is to enable lazy or disengaged HR people, company owners, and managers, and to disqualify qualified candidates”. Advising undergraduate vs graduate students, is almost (with few exceptions) identical. Makes no sense. Back in 2011, after a lengthy job search, I finally landed an interview with a company where many of my skills matched up, but I was rejected (at least they called me back and told me… a shocker!) because the other candidate was familiar with their computer system. Ok. But did the other candidate know their product line (Steel) which I had nearly 30 years of experience in at that time. Evidently not, as 90 days later, they were running the ad on Indeed yet again. One can assume the candidate they hired didn’t work out. I called them and tried to reapply, but was dismissed. Strange, but in the last 9 years, I’ve seen this ad pop up several times. I’d say we have both a hiring problem, and a character problem with many employers today.
@Antonio Zoli: Oh, I agree with you. Apparently using technology and computers for this means the human brains have stopped working, and people are relying upon computers to do the thinking for them. I told the two people that if I advised graduate students, I could certainly advise undergraduate students; it isn’t rocket science and is more a matter of learning the degree requirements, having access to their academic records and schedules, knowing the college’s policies and deadlines, and knowing alternatives/options should students be unable to get into their first choice courses. Academic advisors, be they faculty or staff, aren’t psychologists, so I’m always puzzled when I see job postings for academic advisors and the schools require applicants to have graduate degrees in psychology or counseling. If students need help dealing with other issues, then at one of my jobs they were directed to University Health Services. So either schools are getting cheaper or whoever is writing the job requirements doesn’t understand the difference.
Your story is even worse, but mirrors mine in that both of us failed to match perfectly, so the ATS rejected us. The positions were left open too long or the person who did match still couldn’t do the job.
And like you, I’ve often seen the same job ad pop up often, and thought either they hired no one, and now are running the ad again, or the person they hired got fired or quit. The constant churn makes me wary and not likely to apply for fear that I too would get chewed up and spit out.
Marybeth, did you get the job?
In other words, if one has robust experience in the herding of black/white cats — according to the people who piss’n’moan about being unable to find talent — this skill set does not transfer over to the herding of gray cats.
@Omar Schmidlap: Yes, that sums it up perfectly. In fact, having plenty of experience herding black and white cats makes me unqualified to herd grey cats!
@Antonio Zoli: In my local newspaper, there is an ad (yes, in an actual newspaper, print edition) for a local company. The ad lists what they require in prospective employees, but here’s the shocker: the ad tells you to stop in IN PERSON. My jaw hit the floor when I read that. Finally, someone is starting to get it. I’m sure that if people go online to this company’s website, there is a way to apply for employment online. But the ad in the newspaper didn’t push people to the company’s website at all. It is a start. Maybe they’ve figured out that it is the certifications, licenses, and skills that matter, not how well or how poorly people do at the online obstacle course aka the online application.
This entire subject reminds me of a story. A good friend of mine (age 64) is trying to hold out until 66-1/2 at a lack luster job that was over sold and over promised, but grossly under delivered. Prior to this he had interviewed for a job through a recruiter for a Production Manager position with a company that manufactured stainless steel fittings for the oil industry. One strongly preferred qualification was some knowledge of machining processes with CNC lathes, but they were willing to let the candidate have some ramp up time. My friend met all the other qualifications (years of management experience in parallel industries, plus had an MBA), and made a splash with the Plant Manager, but he lacked one criteria; he didn’t have Six-Sigma Lean, Black belt, Green Belt, yada…yada! So they brought some young kid in who had these certifications and credentials, but he had no machining knowledge, in fact, no experience even remotely related to what these guys did. The Plant Manager (who kept in touch with my friend) told him later that they brought the kid in for an interview. As they walked the production floor the kid asked “what are those things” (pointing at the CNC lathes)? “Those are CNC lathes”, replied the Plant Manager. “Oh, I don’t know anything about them”, the kid replied. He was hired based on that he had the Six Sigma Lean certifications. 90 days later, they were looking for another candidate as the kid hadn’t worked out for them.
@Antonio: Can you spell BAD MANAGEMENT? When a company doesn’t fire a Plant Manager for making lousy hires, there’s the problem.
Nick Corcodilos, “when a company doesn’t fire a Plant Manager for making a lousy hire”. That’s the problem, no accountability!!
It’s all in the metrics.
If hiring managers knew they couldn’t delay and delay and delay, and were called to account for doing so, things would change. Of course, they’d then say – if they made a “bad hire” – that they were pushed to by “X.”
Give you an example. A few years ago I went on an interview through a great recruiter. First interview feedback – GOLDEN. The second interview “should just be a formality.” Well, one of the interview pairs were openly hostile to me from the moment they came in the room. So, no go.
That position had been open for almost two years, with over 30 people brought in for ON SITE interviews. The recruiter told me that they finally ended the search saying they couldn’t find a good fit for the role.
This was for a Senior Engineering position, nothing super high.
If I were that manager’s manager they’d be on my carpet explaining after the 10th interview why NONE of the people were right. After 20 interviews with nobody I’d step in and take over.
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Why are the recruiters that work in HR not paid on commission (per hire) like the headhunters HR often uses to fill jobs? It would change everything.
There are, in fact, some companies that do this. But the most astonishing one I recently heard about from an HR insider: The company employs a manager of “search” to find good candidates, then pays the independent search business he runs when a candidate is hired. All above board. The company knows what he’s doing and approves.
Antonio, you bring up a number of familiar and sore points. In my recent job searches I have been encountering a lot of superfluous requirements for Agile, Scrum, and Six Sigma experience and/or certifications. This has no relevance at all for telecommunications infrastructure, which never touches software production or manufacturing.
In the telecommunications business we have a similar non-sequitur known as an “RCDD” (Registered Communications Designer) certificate. Imbeciles can and have obtained these by paying a fee and taking an exam, but the enrollment qualifications and restrictions prevent those of us who specialize in enterprise class data center and information technology design and construction from getting them. We have a growing number of inexperienced people who think they’re qualified to work in this field, yet know nothing about the business. I have to tolerate them breathing my air while they’re taking work away from me.
But a story you would appreciate is how, during a recent college credit OM course I had an assignment to write a short paper on a video presentation that covered an OM topic. I chose one about the Baldridge Award, and how Motorola got one for developing Six Sigma. Video featured (then) President Ronald Reagan presenting the award to (then) Motorola CEO Robert Galvin. I wish they were still around to see how I skewered them, explaining how much of a mess Motorola was in back in 1988 (and even as late as 1998). At just about the same time when Reagan was handing Galvin the award, Motorola was still being investigated for questionable product quality and anti-competitive issues for certain public-sector products and procurements (some of which in which I was involved on the customer side). I explained that contrary to all the phony PR produced during this time, Motorola never put anything close to Six Sigma into actual use, as far as I or any of the Motorola employees with which I knew and/or dealt with knew. As far as I was concerned, the fact that Motorola was even considered for any award for “excellence” kills any credibility that the Baldridge awards may have had. I described how Motorola had continued to produce technically flawed devices, and used poor quality software development and management decisions and processes long after the “award” had been given. From my perspective, if that’s what Six Sigma is all about, it has no more credibility than the Baldrige Awards.
Now that we’ve trashed the more popular designer management consultant add-on’s for extra follow-on work, we still have newly minted PMP’s who present the same issues. For one enterprise telecom project I worked, the customer’s own project manager with PMP certification, took more time to create and update their “smiley faces” and “sad faces” for their status reports than actually checking anything, while I was creating, updating, and tracking my project plans while showing that their own people were holding us up.
Steve, I know your frustration with these shenanigans and silly useless job requirements. I’ve run into a similar situation. My background is strong in metals/metal fabrication & welding. I’ve spent the last 13 years in a parallel metals related industry. My current employer of 7 years is in trouble, and I’ve been doing a stealth job search. I recently interviewed with one of my customers, a sheet metal fabricator. One thing I’ve encountered is “do you have a CWI (Certified Welding Inspector)? CWIs are very expensive (several thousand dollars), and involve an intense all day study class, followed by an intense all day test. The failure rate is high. For me, at age 62, and at this stage in my life, and the direction I’m headed, acquiring a CWI makes no sense, especially for a job that they want to pay $35-$40K for (wages are low in my area), thus the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze. Here’s one for the story hour about Six Sigma Lean I think you will appreciate. I once spent a year between jobs, at a stop-over job with a dubious small employer (owner bounced paychecks, egregious OSHA and EPA violations, etc.). One day they flew myself, and a cocky young M.E., and an equally cocky young MBA Shipping Manager, to a company that started making wagon wheels for wagons heading west in the 19th century. The company moved into other products when wagon wheels were obsoleted, and ended up manufacturing steel warehouse pallet racking. We were met by the owner (well in his eighties and still working) and the Plant Manager. The Plant Manager told us at the onset of the plant tour “turn off and put away your cell phones”. My two young colleagues not only kept their cell phones on, but they pulled them out several times to both take photos and record. The Plant Manager told them twice to again to put away their cellphones, and threatened to stop the plant tour then and there. I was knee high to the curb with embarrassment. One thing I noticed about this plant, it was as immaculate as the Mayo Clinic inside, there was almost no scrap, and it was clearly run like a finely oiled machine. I was like a kid in a candy store talking shop (metal fabrication/metals/welding/powder coating) with the owner and the Plant Manager, despite my young colleagues bad behavior. At the end of the plant tour, they opened up a Q&A time in the conference room where they served us refreshments. Equally to the bad conduct during the tour, my young colleagues asked all types of self-aggrandizing and impertinent questions. Again, major embarrassment. The young M.E. curtly asked “why aren’t you using Six Sigma Lean, 5S, Kanban, yada…yada? What kind of company are you”? The aged and sage owner looked at the kid and replied calmly “young man, this company has been in business for 150 years, and we’ve been profitable and survived. We don’t use Six Sigma Lean, we use COMMON SENSE”! I could only chuckle to myself the entire plane trip home.
Some years ago I was interviewing for a company that wanted to launch LEAN MANUFACTURING.
Now understand, I was the LM champion for a 1.1 million square foot Ford Motor Company facility. I had metrics for what the team – and I personally – did. I wasn’t certified though. So no go.
@Borne: No, I didn’t get the job. I never got called for so much as a screening interview, and this with my then-dean’s help–she made a call to that dept. and strongly suggested that they consider me. Why? Because I didn’t make it through their ATS obstacle course minefield, meaning that I didn’t perfectly match (I had advised older, non-traditional graduate students, and they wanted someone who had advised older, non-traditional undergraduate students).
In the meantime, the job remained vacant, the other employees were doing their jobs plus taking on duties from the vacant job, morale had plummeted, etc.
Marybeth, I’ve seen, and experienced, your story played out over and over again. Rather than hire a candidate who possesses say 70-80% of the qualifications, maybe has some age on them, is trainable and willing to learn, and has soft skills worth looking at, employers are making due without. Then they throw the refuse on their overburdened workers. Again, is it moral bankruptcy? Is it Nihilist curriculum and indoctrination in academic institutions churning out a generation of sociopaths? Is it just knob polishers and not “get the job done” types that call the shots and hold the gold? My late father used to say “take care of your job, and it will take care of you”. Men in my family, women in my family, their children, and even their grand children worked for their entire careers (45-50 years) at Honeywell, 3M, US Steel, and General Motors. I know that’s long in the past. I remember in the early 1980s, the president of Honeywell told a group of several thousand employees “don’t expect life time employment with Honeywell, just expect to be better qualified for your next job”.
Or perhaps FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out the perfect candidate.
Again, a comparison to dating is apt: Internet dating sites will tell you that there are thousands of beautiful Prince or Princess Charming, perfect matches on looks, values, interests and personality, waiting for you; you only need to create a profile, select the one you want and proceed to checkout. Indeed, Ziprecruiter an all that jazz will tell you that you only need to gather as many resumes and keywords you can, then the super-duper-AI will sort through and deliver The One candidate.
IRL, no person is perfect, every relationship demands some kind of compromise, and acceptance of flaws and that interests do not match 100%. But many people who date continue to churn through profiles and dates, hoping for a 100% match, rather than settling with perfectly good, reasonable, and real humans at 80%. The same seems to be going on for some employers: They just want to believe the perfect candidate is out there.
Referencing back to my comment:
One time a person with whom I was doing an “informational interview” said:
“I want what I want, and will wait to get what I want.”
So I asked where the factory was that was spitting out people to his exact specifications. The tour abruptly diverted back to the front desk. I wonder why. ;)
Coda: This was not for an entry level position; he wanted a senior level person with an exacting list of requirements.