Are online job applications driving people insane? Or just driving them away from jobs they can do?

When PBS NewsHour‘s Paul Solman reported on America’s biggest job killer — the automated job applicant sorter — he asked me what I think about this practice. And what do you think I said?

Check out Ask The Headhunter on PBS NewsHour’s Making Sen$e. We taped my sections of this segment at the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia recently:



Is the Ask The Headhunter approach to job search the most encouraging advice for a human? Paul Solman says it’s “perhaps more practical than relaying on cyberspace in 2012.”

INVITATION: Want to be on PBS NewsHour? (You can use a screen name, of course!) As part of this PBS project, I’m taking questions from viewers! Submit questions on the Ask The Headhunter Q&A feature on PBS NewsHour. I intend to answer every question submitted on the PBS website! Please post questions on the comments section. The more questions you post, the more Q&A ATH columns will appear on NewsHour! Keep ‘em coming!

Online Job Application Forms:
Automating failure for employers and job hunters alike

  • Human judgment is eliminated from the process.
  • Human review is done only after the software rejects some of the best candidates.
  • The “out of the box creative thinking” companies claim they want is weeded out automatically. If you don’t fill out a “required” box, your creative thinking is rejected. The employer gets only applicants who perfunctorily follow all the rules. Rules that don’t work well at all. (Hell of a company to work for, that processes applicants like hamburger meat.)
  • Online forms encourage anyone and everyone to apply — employers have turned the recruitment process into a literal crapshoot. Like the New York Lotto commercials say, “You can’t win if you don’t play!” Employers and their personnel jockeys have turned hiring into cheesy gambling. And then they complain they get too many applicants! That’s why they need software to sort them!
  • That online form? It’s connected to an online job description. This is where an employer throws in the kitchen sink. They ask for everything, and if you lack anything on the list, you’re out. And the employer loses — because while you may lack one or two “qualifications,” you’re a fast learner who will get rejected. Meanwhile, you could be learning the job while the employer complains of the “talent shortage” and the job goes begging while the board of directors wonders why profits are down.(How’s that meatgrinder-worth of metaphors? Hamburger. Crapshoot. Gambling. The Lotto. Cheesy. Kitchen Sink. Works just like the job boards! “It’s in there!” And employers can’t find it!)

14.2 million

That’s how many Americans are looking for work.

3.2 million

That’s how many jobs are vacant in America. Do the math. What do Human Resources executives call that 4:1 advantage that employers enjoy in the market? A talent shortage! Give us all a break!

Q: If employers can’t hire who they need while there’s more talent on the street than ever in history, what are they doing wrong?

A: Processing applicants like hamburger meat. No one in HR ever touches the applicants. The grinder does it all. And HR won’t hire the product of that process. It’s icky.

I could rant all day. Online job applications are keeping America unemployed while Human Resources wonks are crying there’s a “talent shortage.” Meanwhile, the best talent is talking to managers who have time to hire the best.

What’s the solution for the job hunter?

Don’t fill out online forms. Call the employer. Tell them you want to stand out, so you’d like to discuss your qualifications on the phone — and if they don’t have time, you’ll go talk to one of their competitors that does. Then find one. I guarantee you — there are savvy hiring managers that talk to job hunters because they know the best hires come from trusted referrals.

Your challenge is to meet people who do business with that manager and to get introduced. Oh — did I tell you that just as there’s no magic pill (job boards?) for employers, there’s no magic pill for job hunters. You have to do the hard work of getting close to the manager that will hire you.

And job boards ain’t it.

If you’re new to Ask The Headhunter, learning how to enter a manager’s circle of friends is what we talk about here all the time. Check the postings on this blog — we tackle real problems faced by real job hunters — and visit the hundreds of how-to articles on Don’t miss the special article I wrote for PBS: Six Secrets to Beat The Job Market.

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  1. No, the answer isn’t to start calling the employers and thereby ensure that they will just retreat further back behind their firewalls.

    Nor is it to allow the “buddy system” to be the employment pipeline because that just leads to cronyism, which is why we have HR in the first place. If you want loads of lawyers on staff to fight the many class-action suites for discrimination that will follow, go this route.

    The answer is in fact to fire any HR director that doesn’t have extensive crosschecking that the system isn’t throwing out good matches, check that the requirements are realistic, etc.

    If the recruitment process is throwing away good candidates, then fire the HR director, regardless whether it is due to a badly set up machine, an airhead recruiter, or any other failure in the process.

    The HR director is responsible for making it work and checking that it in fact does, and if they aren’t doing that then get rid of them, today.

  2. And of course you’re numbers look worse when you consider the people who have given up looking, claimed disability, underemployed, underpaid, etc.

    The only talent shortage is those on the hiring end with cajones.

  3. There are two flavors of the employment paradox – too many unemployed vs talent shortage.

    Unquestionably there are a lot of talented, potentially-productive individuals who are under utilized. A lot of Nick’s readers are in this category. Stupid management has implemented ineffective recruiting systems that have a high false negative rate, ie, good candidates do not get hired.

    Unfortunately there are also lot of unqualified people: uninspired, lazy, dishonest, undereducated and unwilling to learn, emotionally immature, rude, substance abusers, and outright incompetent. They do exist. They do apply for jobs.

    Some are result of structural unemployment: they spent years being in the bottom half (or bottom tenth) of an automobile assembly line workforce. They aren’t willing, or possibly not capable, of learning new skills, and those old jobs are not coming back. The bottom tenth of many shrinking professions – real estate agent, travel agent, bank clerk, auto mechanic, construction, manufacturing, etc – are going to be difficult to employ anywhere. Nick’s advice does not help them. A laid-off travel agent might become a programming wiz, but she probably was never in the bottom decile of travel agents.

    I don’t have a solution, but simplistically telling the tenth decile to call up and make a pitch is not going to help them, or their employers.

  4. @Dave: Indeed, the numbers I cited do not include those who have given up.

    @Rick: There are enough people looking for jobs, any jobs, that the employment industry can make a handsome profit herding them into job boards and scam resume writing services. The trouble is, HR departments encourage anyone and everyone to submit applications — then HR complaints of all the drek.

    There are lots of good folks who really do need new education and training. But this can’t be addressed by creating new jobs. It’s an education problem. And education in America is just not oriented toward teaching people stuff that will get them hired.

  5. @Nick:
    “There are lots of good folks who really do need new education and training. But this can’t be addressed by creating new jobs. It’s an education problem. And education in America is just not oriented toward teaching people stuff that will get them hired.”

    I have to take issue with this to an extent.

    My own personal experience…

    I’m a second generation computer programmer. My parents were math majors at 2 different schools in two different states. Mother went to a large school, father went to a small school. Both schools just started offering computer programming courses through the Math department.

    I majored in Computer Science as an undergrad and was 2 courses from a minor in Math.

    We’ve sat down and compared notes. On a high level, we could say that there were a lot of things that we learned in school that we really had no use for in the real world – i.e. We don’t think we have done a derivative or integral since we left school. But there were transferable skills that we practiced/learned while we were in school – i.e. logic and problem solving, general concepts, etc. In some ways, not much has actually changed in decades (other than teaching such things as Java instead of FORTRAN ;-) ).

    The difference between the parents and myself has seemed to be that there is a lack of continuing career development/investment by companies these days. When my parents were hired, there was more of a “you’re smart and we’ll help fill in the gaps.” Companies were loyal to their employees and that bred loyalty in return.

    Universities can’t simply churn out people with 5 or 10 years of experience in a very specific laundry list of things.

    I’m also assuming that people who barely graduated with a degree in Art and partied for 5 years in college, then go into an unrelated field, don’t count in this scenario.

    Don’t get me wrong though, there are issues with the current state of education, though.

  6. @Dave: nice post and excellent point, especially with the example you gave re the differences graduates face today vs when your parents graduated. I’m with you–I don’t think this can be fixed by dumping it on the education system and expecting colleges and universities to turn out perfectly trained, able to do the job for any company anywhere without some investment and training on the part of the company. Unless that dept. on that particular university has all of the job specifications for a particular job at a particular company, a college or university can’t possibly train students for it. It simply isn’t possible. They can give the basics, build from there, and of course students have to be willing to work hard too. But companies have to have some skin in the game. There is a difference between college and university degree programs and vocational school/training and job training. You’re right–back in the day, employers didn’t expect you to meet each and every single “requirement” they had. Entry level meant that you’d need training, and employers provided it. If employers required you to have a college degree, the assumption was as you stated–you’re smart, so we’ll take a chance on you and train you. And you’d have to do what you did in college–work hard, learn as you went along. Now it seems that employers want perfect candidates who can do the job perfectly without putting any training into them, from day one. Oh, and then there’s the shoot for the moon list of requirements.

    And yes, there are many issues, many of them huge, with the current state of education. I worked for a large state university, running a graduate program. I can attest to many of them. But that’s a whole ‘nother issue for another day. Please let’s not confuse education with job training. They’re really not the same (leaving vocational/tech schools and programs out of this matter).

  7. Fewer employers have on-the-job-training because the workforce is more mobile and less loyal. A generation ago, many college grads looked for their career job at graduation; today most are looking for the first, 2-year position. If you were not in one of the major cities, there was a very small pool of potential employers. Learning about distant jobs has gone from difficult to trivial.

    Why spend money on recent grads who are almost certain to leave in two years. Let someone else pay for some training. While enlightened companies try to keep their trainees, youngsters have tremendous social pressure to move on. “What, you are *still* at your old job? How do you know there isn’t something better?” – similar to many love lives, too.

    I don’t have a solution. Part of the solution has been “internships” – free to low paying jobs to add resume experience. Far from perfect.

  8. @Rick: You make all the points that employers cite about hiring new grads. But it’s a shortsighted view they take. If no one trains new grads, where will the people with 5 years experience be in 5 years? It’s frankly insane. Any company that can manage sophisticated operations should be able to manage the reality that new grads will want more challenge and a variety of work in a couple of years. What dopey company can’t figure out how to capitalize on them anyway? I get your point — but employers’ behavior in this regard ranks as stark stupidity. To those companies that took this view 5 years ago, and can’t find “qualified talent” today — well, there you go. You’ve created your own employment hell.

  9. Personally, I think most of the talk (if not all) of there being a “talent shortage” is a clever lie by employers to avoid the fact that they are reluctant to hire anyone at all given the increasing uncertainty in investments across the board and cheaper labor abroad. Because of rampant financial corruption and senseless government policies, businesses are increasingly taking a short-term approach since longer-term ones are more prone to unforeseen factors. They are also seeking to maximize their profits, which means they are looking for, above all, cheap talent. HR departments, therefore, will necessarily become terribly short-sighted, putting aside their other shortcomings. Hence, stupidly constructed online applications.

    And yet, because admitting this truth is taboo in the media wherein their advertisers depend on consumers thinking they’ll be working tomorrow…this is depicted as a sign of a mythical talent shortage. To all but a few top professionals, there is no such thing, especially if we look at the dismal median salary changes in the U.S. for the past thirty years. The truth is that production costs are going up, and so employers will take every chance to hire more cost-effective labor…even if it means hiring a dumb HR department to screen out relatively more expensive yet competent applicants.

    Remember, in the end profits are what matter. If an employer can hire an idiot for one tenth the price of a professional, and it’s more productive this way, he will do it. Whether we’re laymen or professionals, it’s up to us to convince employers that we are the better choice. This simply can’t be done through the gauntlets of HR.

  10. I appreciate this article. It expresses what I feel about the current employment trends. I currently work for a staffing agency so I am exposed to both sides. I can debate from many different views: Recruiter, job seeker, employee, client. At the end of the day I am human and some of the information you are privied to sitting in my seat can be daunting and leave you pessemistc about every step in the employment seeking process, potential employers, and just what it means to establish job security and the best way go about it. Even though I work in recruitment, like I said before, I am human and my brain does think and consider the variables. I was a job seeker and can and probably will be again.

    DW poses a theory that the phrase ‘talent shortage’ is a clever lie. I have to agree. There are all sort of ‘reasons’ given by employers that are lies. Remember these employers are our clients. It is hard to find a viable candidate to actually come through and complete our process for a legtimate good position for which they actually have the skill sets for, in order to present to the client,(for varied reasons). If I get this far, I feel great about having a potential acutal placement. Then turn around and I get rejections of people because, now they may be ‘over qualified’. This means they are unwilling to pay. I have candidates get to the point to where they are selected to interview with a client, and the client rejects them due to not being physically attractive, weak hand shake, lack of eye contact, too much eye contact, not young or old enough, even though these thing have nothing to do with if they can perform or not. This shows not only do companies profit maximazing strategies affect the talent pool, but also thier hiring represenatives prejudices and or self-imposed idealogies affect the talent pool as well as a host of other things that have no place when making hiring decisons.

    The truth of the matter is every job, profession requires specific training to different degrees. The learning curve is dependent upon all parties involved. I strongly feel good investment in training produces quality employees, which in my opinion can trump education. Education is value-added, but it does not gurantee performance. It lessens turn-over and it displays a sign of commitment on behalf of the company. Which mean the company tries to the best of it’s ability to source capable willing canidates, who will turn into committed employees.

  11. @Nick

    “Any company that can manage sophisticated operations should be able to manage the reality that new grads will want more challenge and a variety of work in a couple of years.”

    And that’s the problem across the board, not just with new grads.

    People, especially that are worth hiring, don’t want to be stuck at the same pay grade/uncallenging job/rut for many years. In my mind, that is the #1 reason why people quit – they feel like they are being held back in some regard.

  12. @MF

    I understand the client/employer is paying your bills.

    However, the question that keeps popping up in my mind, is what moral/ethical obligation do you have, as a staffing expert to give honest feedback to a client? In theory, your clients pay you to give them insights into how to hire the right people.

    In your examples, it seems that your clients can be picky. What sort of feedback/push back can you give them to help them change their behaviour?

  13. @Dave… Uh… I meant everybody… :) Of course, you’re right. It’s not just new grads, though they seem to be targeted a lot of the time. And older workers. They get targeted for the same reason — You hire them to do a job that they’re overqualified for, and they might leave. And everybody inbetween is subject to the same problem. So what’s up?

    Maybe it’s a management problem, eh? :-)

  14. I think MF wrote one of the best, most honest statements that anyone in a staffing agency could write. It’s blunt and honest and full of heart. What do you do when you’re in the middle? I’ve fired clients who flat-out told me to discriminate. One wanted no gays. Another wanted no women. But those are the easy ones. One client wanted me to talk a $90,000 candidate into a $60,000 job, then didn’t want an Israeli national who’d been in the US 18 years “because of his accent.” I fired the client.

    As MF points out, clients get kooky sometimes. It’s not even just discrimination. It’s just lousy management, and the recruiter gets stuck wasting time trying to deliver a good candidate, when no one will do. Good recruiters fire lousy clients.

    Sometimes you can explain it to the candidate, sometimes you can’t. As a recruiter, you have a contract and an obligation to the interests of your client. Much of the time, it’s a matter of respecting confidentiality even when you think something should be disclosed to the candidate. But you can’t. And this is where the good recruiters stand out from the rest. The good recruiter goes out of his or her way to make sure no one gets hurt — sometimes it’s as simple as taking a minute to tell a rejected candidate, “It’s not you. I can’t get into details, or I’d violate confidentiality. But you’re a great engineer. My client needs to hire someone else. I don’t want to waste your time.” It’s all you can say. But if you play dumb or don’t return calls, that’s wrong.

  15. What about just plain old fear of the unknown as the real management problem?

    That is, when you hire someone, you’re taking a chance on someone unknown. You can hedge it ten rows deep, but there’s still an element of risk when you take someone new on. And that’s scary.

    I seem to recall reading somewhere else that when people are afraid, that’s when all sorts of crazy prejudices and stereotypes emerge.

    But that doesn’t tell us what to do about it, unfortunately. :(

  16. Here’s a concept–if companies want to retain their recent hires for more than a year or two, how about promotting those who have proven themselves, mastered the job, and show promise? How about nuturing talent, demonstrating to employees that they have a future with the company, and it doesn’t mean staying in the entry-level, mailroom job they got when they got out of college? If there’s opportunties to grow at the company, and if you, the employee, basically like your job and your colleagues and the area you’re living in, why wouldn’t you stay provided that you had the opportunity to move up in the company? People leave not because there’s some magical one year or two year window and once that time passes, they automatically move on. They leave because there’s no opportunity for them to move up in the company, because there’s no chance to get another job and learn something new, because management has made life impossible, because they want a life besides work (in the cases of those who are working crazy hours and schedules due to understaffing or insane management). They leave because of toxic managers/colleagues/environment.

    Anyone, not just the recent college grads in their first jobs, could leave. An employee could leave to return to graduate school, to make a career change, to earn a high salary, to take on challenges if she’s not feeling challenged in her job, to start a family, to take care of sick family members, to follow a spouse’s career (military or not).

    @Nick: it is nice to know that some people aren’t afraid to tell a client “no” (I can’t do that) and to fire a client if necessary. Not everyone would–some would care more about the fee than ethics or legalities. You can still let a candidate know that it isn’t him, but that you can’t say anymore. When you’re a job seeker, especially if you’ve been out of work for a length of time, the rejection and even the total silence re your CVs, résumés, applications, and more gets discouraging at best and can easily be taken personally (it must be me). Thanks for the reminder that sometimes it is the client (prospective employer) who is just plain wacky, not the job seeker.

    @Jane: employers take risks all of the time with employees. They’re taking a risk when they promote from within, too. Just because Bob is a wiz at making widgets doesn’t meant that he will be a wiz at marketing the widgets he used to make. Or that he’d be the best person for the widget accounting manager job.

  17. @mary beth and Jane

    If companies are really that risk adverse about hiring/keeping people then the should be ashamed of themselves. Business is a risk.

  18. When you pick up the phone and want to discuss your qualifications it says to me, a HR consultant with over 30 tears diverse exp. and an amazing education that,
    1 You don’t have the qualifications and want to try to BS me that you have them
    2 You are computer illiterate
    3 Not smart enough to look at the job and figure out how to get your resume to stand out based on that 3 page hint list (oh job description) we posted for you.
    4 Too lazy to writer a personalized cover letter
    5 Not very adaptable because you can’t adapt to job hunting in 2013 rather try to keep it as in 1979.

    • Point number two concerning computer illiterate, as in not filling your time consuming, idiotic online applications which are probably never read by an hr person anyway. Point no 3, go back to point number two. Boy this is the really stupid one, point number five about adaptability, yes people be adaptable join the millions of others who waste hours with online applications which go in the black hole.

  19. @greg pef: Thanks for proving my point.

  20. Hi, Nick –

    Happy New Year. I was one of the other folks featured in the PBS story. I’m writing to follow up on one point that I made but which didn’t get addressed due to the time constraint: companies running advertisements to update their talent pools and databases vs. actually doing any recruitment. From my experience, this is an extremely common – and rather deceptive – practice that contributes to a great deal of the frustration experienced by so many job seekers when they see an ad that fits them perfectly but which turns out to be nothing more than an invitation to submit so you can become a file listing as opposed to a candidate.

    In your opinion, how widespread is this practice?

    (Thanks in advance for your input – great job on the piece!)

  21. I have been unemployed since November of 2009, and today is February 9, 2013! I do not have a degree, but all of my background is in management, to include being a 8 year Marine, as well as 4 years in Law Enforcement. I am 48 years old, with plenty to offer. If I can go into a $48M government contract, with an excess of 200 employees assigned, and turn a Gross Profit Margin of (-23%) to a (53%) GPM within TWO MONTHS, I would think that a company would see benefit in that experience. This example is just a small sample of my past accomplishments.

    Being a Veteran, to include having a “10 point Veterans Preference” rating, is not looked at obviously. The market is saturated with marketing to companies to hire these Veterans, but I have seen zero activity, which makes me feel that this is all smoke and mirrors. Being a Veteran, I have exhausted ALL AVAILABLE resources in my job search, to include going to Veteran Job Fairs almost weekly, still no results. In these job fairs, if there were 100 exhibitors present, only 2 or 3 will actually take your resume. The rest of them have strict policies to forward the applicant to their website, which of course is supposedly read by an Applicant Tracking System (software), that never returns a call.

    I believe in Free Enterprise, but with the aggravations I have toward this recruiting process, I almost feel that government intervention (legislation) is needed, which will also more than likely be a failure.

    What many people don’t realize, is that the developers of this Applicant Tracking software saw an open door to millions in profits because of the economy. They were watching the unemployment numbers grow rapidly, and their marketing tactics to the companies in the world was that this software would reduce the overheads on the recruiting process, due to the expected high volume of applicants, and it would also make the recruiters jobs so much easier. Well of course these companies took the pitch, and this is where we are now with this process, GARBAGE! If you walk up to a recruiter and ask them if they like this software or not, and if they have seen results, they will immediately tell you that it is the best thing since sliced bread. This is because their jobs are made easier by letting this software manage most of their work, and it provides a strong sense of job security. They will defend this process to the last word. I also ask these recruiters that if they were to receive 500 resumes in one week for a position, would human eyes read “all” of them, and they immediately would tell that they read all of them. I have learned that this is not an honest answer. Trust me, I have confronted quite a few, and I have done extensive research on this. I spoke with a Federal Recruiter, and he told me that his office was not that satisfied with this software, as they were losing great candidates because the system was bringing the so called “perfect machine” to their door step because the perfect machine met the perfect keywords. He made me as an example in this discussion, because basically I could run circles around this “perfect machine”, whereas the perfect machine couldn’t perform half as well, due to EXPERIENCE. That experience is not looked at by this software. If that software were to actually know that I have shaken hands with well known military Generals, received several commendations, and helped support (thousands) of our military in several different countries, all with pure passion and enjoyment, maybe I would have a job by now. But that software doesn’t see this obviously.

    If anyone that reads my rants (posting) here, I am immediately available for hire. I am within a month or less of being homeless, literally. My savings (that I had) for retirement purposes, are now depleted. I will wash dishes if that is what it takes to keep a roof over my head. My current budget is requiring a (net) income of $2,300 monthly. I reside in central Florida, but I am unencumbered for relocation purposes. My email is dan walden at outlook dot com. This was separated to keep the web crawlers at bay. Look forward in hearing from you today.

  22. @Dan Walden: I think you nailed the situation and the “logic” behind it perfectly. Opportunists created software for lazy bureaucrats who don’t want to recruit but need to point to technology that they acquired to “do the job.” But it doesn’t work. And millions of Americans get screwed as a result every day.

    I don’t normally leave people’s personal pitches on this blog. But I’m leaving yours. If an employer finds it and contacts you (using mouth and vocal chords), I’m glad.

    The gap between databases and people is so huge that the entire HR profession has fallen into it, pulling along corporations and their investors. I don’t really know whether they will ever crawl back out. Meanwhile, the federal government is giving these clowns more tax dollars for “jobs programs.”

    I wish you the best, I really do. I’ll offer you the only advice that I know works, though not very quickly – hang out only with people who do the work you want to do. Make friends, get introduced to their bosses, and that’s how you circumvent the tomfoolery that’s called “recruiting.” In the end, we hire people we know first. The challenge is to get known, but I’ll tell you something – that’s a lot more fun and satisfying than diddling a keyboard.

    Thank you for your service to your country. You deserve better in return.

  23. The “talent shortage” everyone talks about is not shortage in low-end jobs like staff at McDonald’s, or other retailers, or any knowledge/phone job which can be outsourced to Asia/India…like travel/insurance agents, tech or customer support…it’s only in high-end onsite jobs like nurses/doctors/lawyers/engineers/teachers/other specialized knowledge which can’t be performed only with a phone…..and the trend is to ousource as much of it as possible / split the onsite into part remote (like online pharmacies)….Nick is correct, the online apps are to keep HR staff employed so they can say “look at all the resumes we have to wade through, you can’t let us go….”….but they’re useless in actually finding new employees…only useful for verifying references / prior employment / education after the fact….and keeping the employees aware of the latest legislation on non-discrimination / employment laws / insider trading / etc.

  24. There is an aspect to this topic that may be overlooked but perhaps factors in significantly. Since the wave of acquisitions and mergers in the early 2000s corporations have seemingly been run by ‘holding’ companies with keener eyes toward profit (or ‘sustainability’). It seeks increased value by savings, risk aversion, and risk management. Number crunching, rather than human reason, because of the sheer size of the ‘holdings.’ Integration (predominately ‘vertical’ integration)is made possible only by centralized IT capacities that crunch results of the size. The concerns of a vertically integrated set of investments requires ‘quantitative’ analysis rather than ‘qualitative’ analysis. It requires the ‘positive’ rather than the normative, for if it were to staff itself with human reasoning the profits could not satisfy the expectations of investment in today’s tight economy. In the vertical integration ‘landscape’ the benefits derived from overarching volumes of scale have displaced small and medium sized businesses with an effect of foreshortening these markets, adding barriers to their growth prospects. In a vertical integration model an entire supply chain is acquired, with the goal of profit at each link. The standardization of occupations, the automation of processes, and the centralization of IT capacity make jobs outside the model displaced, redundant, or even obsolete. On the basis of the vertical integration model the argument that ‘qualified applicants’ are few and far between, despite a seeming abundance of candidates, stands to reason. Growth, to the extent of investment aspirations made by a vertical model, could not otherwise be possible. Growth of the kind relies upon evermore specific technical applications, evermore defined positions, that in itself are antithetical to the creative broad-based long-running experience of many applicants today.
    Another aspect to this is the yet to be named revolution of information and the tremendous growth it has afforded to those most capable of harnessing it, but because of the speed at which it has and continues to evolve individuals are unable to adapt their skills at the same rate at which corporations adopt new technologies. Online employment applications may only be a reminder of the increasing gap between past and post IT-revolutions.

  25. While I definitely agree that one of the best ways to get jobs is through referrals, this doesn’t mean that all job sites are useless. If all job sites didn’t work and didn’t get people jobs, then how could they stay in business? Most of them sell job listings and advertising space at a high premium and don’t really do any research or collect any jobs directly from employer websites. However, there are some job boards that actually go the extra mile and get jobs directly from employer websites. One such website is Granted. It contains more than a million employer jobs, many of which are taken directly from employer websites. This means that they have a lot less competition and typically give the job seeker a better chance of finding a job.

  26. I hate the “online application process”. I was actually competitively hired by CIBC directly, face to face to leave another bank, take a job with them with better pay and benefits. The HR people actually made me go through the online application process even though I was already offered the job. Most nerve wracking was the request for references – in financial services if you are even seen as looking for another job you are usually given your severance pay and escorted out the door. I had a very long conversation with the (ignorant) HR person over the phone about how I was hesitant to provide my references, seeing as I was already offered the job and if something went awry I’d end up unemployed and without unemployment insurance.

    IMO these systems are put in place by HR. HR should be busy cutting the paychecks, ensuring benefits entitled are benefits paid, and dealing with disputes in the workplace. They should be referring all of the job applicants and resumes to the hiring manager, nuking only the ones who obviously do not qualify or who can’t put a few simple things together (cover letter, resume, any other relevant info).

    I actually had an amazing interview once, the process took 5 hours. They were hiring 5 people for a position and directed me to apply on their website – but the online application system didn’t work. Being a sales guy, I ground my way through their phone system to get an actual person to accept my resume, and landed the interview. I figured I was made in the shade seeing as all the barrage of garbage applicants wouldn’t be able to apply online.

    I didn’t get the job. Why? Well I was having an amazing conversation about 4096-bit RSA encryption and firewalls with the VP of technology during the interview, the guy thought I was amazing; we talked building clusters and some heavy duty technical stuff. Bare in mind this was all relevant because I was applying for an Enterprise Technical Support Analyst for a network security company. I was interrupted by the HR person and asked “If you were on the phone, how would you explain to someone to go to”. It was such a rediculous question, and the VP of technology looked bewildered. I did my best to answer the dumb ass question and continued on the more relevant topic we were talking about. I was not supposed to talk to your grandmother trying to figure out how to get to a search engine in this job, I was supposed to talk to network engineers applying network security systems to corporate networks sometimes in the thousands of computers.

    When I didn’t get the job, the person told me, “The HR person didn’t like how you answered a particular question”. It wasnt hard to guess which one. And this after a 5 hour interview including an amazing videoconference with people in Boston on a ultra 4K video conferencing system, including the CEO and the CFO.

    HR people are a bloated waste of money. There should be only like 5 HR people for a company of 5000 people. Let people do their bloody jobs.

    One HR person in another “interview” for a network engineer position was talking to me, and I asked if their systems were Linux or Windows servers. Very relevant question because I admitted I was amazing at Windows but I didn’t know much about Linux. The woman didn’t even know the answer. Left me wondering: “Why the hell is this person interviewing me when they dont know something so key to the job? If I got the job and it turned out to be Linux I would be terrible at it, but great at Windows; not everyone knows both.”

    I really wish we just went back to having the direct supervisor/manager that you will be reporting to be the one who reviews the resumes. These online applications are a dumb waste of time.

    Sidebar: I used to be a recruiter for a financial services company. I’ve done job interviews and reviewed resumes myself. It’s not that frickin hard – you don’t need a $50,000 software system to do it for you.

    • Taylor: Thanks for sharing your experiences and observation. You’re on the mark every time. One thing I want to comment on in particular:

      “I was hesitant to provide my references, seeing as I was already offered the job and if something went awry I’d end up unemployed and without unemployment insurance.”

      I can’t tell you how many stories I hear about rescinded job offers, many over the most ridiculous issues. Including after-the-fact references.

      Your interview with the security company: That merited a call to the VP of Technology. “Duhhhh???” I wonder if the VP had any idea…

  27. I take it you’ve read/listened to Bullshit Jobs, by David Graeber.

  28. 8 years later and nothing has changed. the whole system sucks.