In the January 10, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a long-time reader ruminates about how stupid the recruiting and hiring process seems to have become. Employers aren’t really looking for talent — they’re shopping for mediocrity, using lists of keywords:
I’m a career changer and I’m finding it very hard to get past the recruiting agency or even the internal HR shell. I have a number of friends in similar situations in other fields and industries. Perhaps it’s the economy, or maybe it’s just the nature of the recruiting business, but it seems that these days if you don’t match a long checklist of criteria, you don’t have much hope. Many agencies even go as far as to specifically call this out in their ads: Don’t apply unless you meet all of these (10-15) criteria.
It’s a real shame, too, because it seems only natural that successful people will want to take on new challenges. But the recruiting practices of most companies lead them to search for candidates that have already done what they’re being hired to do, and who are content to continue doing the same. They seem to say, “Give me practiced mediocrity rather than a chance to find a star.”
Maybe that makes sense for a recruiter whose job is to maintain the status quo. But how does this produce truly exceptional performance or lead a company into the future?
I will continue to await the day when we try to measure each other by the limits we will have tomorrow, instead of those we had yesterday. In the meantime, thanks for your article The Horse’s Ass in The Rear-view Mirror, about how recruiters drive away a company’s best hires. It gave me faith that there are still people out there that hire people, and not tie racks or check lists. But what should I do next?
This is even worse than you suggest. Stupid hiring practices are not a philosophical problem. This is a structural problem that’s destroying our economy from the inside out.
There are 14.2 million unemployed Americans and 3.2 million vacant jobs. That’s a 4:1 ratio, a 4:1 advantage to employers. But, “We can’t find people who match” is the refrain. Do the math. Those 14.2 million Americans are not morons, incapable of learning on the job, or worthless pieces of dung because they don’t have 100% of the right keywords on their resumes.
The problem is that employers have gotten sucked into a reductionist approach to recruiting and hiring that’s been foisted on them by job-board databases and recruiters and HR departments that have no idea “who” they’re looking for. They spend all day scanning buzzwords, driven by a fantasy of the perfect “match.” They’re not interested in people or in talent. Just in magic matches.
Consider the staggering cost of leaving those 3.2 million jobs vacant, because personnel jockeys can’t figure out who’s worth hiring — and because managers don’t know how to mentor, train, and bring those people up to speed. All that work — 3.2 million jobs — left undone.
There’s the hole in the economy.
The solution is teaching managers that management means hiring smart people and teaching them how to do the work. Management does not mean matching keywords and then sitting back while the peg fits neatly into the hole.
The problem is structural
The media feed the frenzy: “All those unemployed people are not qualified! They need new skills!” Well, “they” needed new skills in 1990 and in 1995 and in 2000. But “they” got hired anyway, and they did the work.
The problem is structural. This is the dominant “filtering” mechanism employers use. The problem is that employers really believe that, if they wait long enough, perfect hires will show up. The few headhunters who have brains, and the few employers who actually size candidates up for their abilities, are doing quite nicely, thank you.
The rest of the economy is sucking wind because work is left undone because managers aren’t managing. They’re waiting for the databases to spit out magic hires. It ain’t gonna happen.
Cut out the middlemen
Your challenge is to avoid the process that takes your keywords but ignores your ability to learn and to stretch. The alternative is simple: Cut out the middlemen — HR and the recruiters and the headhunters — and go directly to good managers you’d like to work for. Find out what work they need done, and show how you will do it. Show how you will boost their business and they will hire you.
Read that again: Go to good managers you’d like to work for. That means making choices before you approach anyone about a job. It means avoiding the cattle calls. It means avoiding waiting in line. It means avoiding asking for jobs from people you don’t know who don’t know you.
If you understand this, you have an advantage: Everyone else is diddling the job databases, while you’re out talking to a handful of managers you really want to work for who really want and need to hire you. No resume, no interview, no joke.
Here’s what to do next
Pick three companies or managers you really, really want to work for because they are the shining lights in their industry. Then describe (briefly) three problems or challenges each company really needs someone to tackle. (You don’t have to name the companies.) Post right here in the comments section — and I’ll show you what to do next to get in the door.
No resume, no interview, no joke.