In the January 22, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, reader John Franklin (who appeared with me on a PBS NewsHour segment last September) says recruitment advertising is often deceptive and asks how widespread I think the problem is:

Hi, Nick — Happy New Year. I was one of the other folks featured in the PBS story Is Applying for Jobs Online Not an Effective Way to Find Work? 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. They see an ad that fits them perfectly, but it 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!)

Nick’s Reply

Happy New Year to you, too! Thanks for writing to follow up on an important point you made to PBS NewsHour that didn’t make it into the program.

The practice you describe is as old as job ads. It probably seems innocuous to most people, but it’s an insidious practice that I believe contributes heavily to America’s jobs crisis.

When employers published jobs primarily in newspapers, they’d create what we used to call “composite ads.” To save money, they’d run one ad rather than five, and that one ad would include requirements for perhaps five different positions. It was the proverbial kitchen sink of recruitment advertising. The hope was that they’d get enough resumes with enough of a mix of skill sets that they’d fill at least one job, hopefully more.

recruiting-whopperFraudulent job ads

At the same time, employers were doing exactly what you’ve noticed: filling their filing cabinets with resumes. I’m sure employers bristle at the suggestion that this is deceptive. “We’re soliciting resumes for jobs! So what if that includes jobs that are not open yet?”

It’s worse than deceptive. I think it’s fraud. A job ad is a solicitation that implies there is a current, specific, open job to be filled. This creates anticipation in the job hunter, and the reasonable expectation that the job will be filled in short order — not that the resume will be filed, to be used later and who knows when. Job hunters reasonably expect a timely answer when they submit their resumes. But we all know what really happens: usually, nothing at all.

If employers want to gather resumes to stock their databases, that’s fine, but they should disclose what they’re doing. I’m sure they’d nonetheless rake in lots of resumes, but at least people would know the difference between applying for a job and applying to have their resume stored for later use.

Fresher stale jobs and resumes

How “fresh” can stale jobs be? The games employers and job boards play with resumes don’t end there. You’ll find that employers “update” their job postings with a few minor changes to keep them high in the “search results” — even though there’s no material stale-breadchange in the position. And the job boards encourage this practice. They remind employers to “refresh” their postings as a way to make the jobs databases appear “up to date” with “fresh jobs daily.” It’s a racket and a conspiracy. It allows a job board to claim it’s got X millions of “fresh, up-to-date job listings!” when all it’s got is stale bread with a new expiration date stamped on it.

The job boards tell job hunters to do the same thing with their resumes. “Keep your resume high in the results! Update it regularly!” Translation: Keep visiting our site so we can report high traffic to employers, who are so stupid that they not only “refresh” their own old listings, they pay us even more money for “refreshed” stale resumes!

HR funds the jobs crisis

Corporate HR departments are funding and propping up the job boards in an epic scam that has turned real recruiting into a bullshit enterprise that has nothing to do with filling jobs. The con is enormous. I believe it’s the source of “the talent shortage.”

After creating this fat pipe of resume sewage, employers complain they can’t possibly handle all the crud it delivers to them every day. “We received a million resumes yesterday! We can’t find good hires! And there’s no time to respond personally to everyone who applied!” Of course not. If you had to dive into a dumpster of garbage to find a fresh carton of milk, you’d complain, too. The trouble is, it’s HR departments themselves that are paying job boards to gather, store, and sell that drek back to HR. It’s incredibly stupid, but when’s the last time you saw the HR profession do anything smart in recruiting?

A billion dollars worth of nothing

Where does the jobs crisis come from? Why can’t good people get jobs? Consider, the world’s biggest job board. In the last four quarters, the world spent dumpster-empty$1.05 billion to fill and then dive for resumes and jobs in this dumpster. Yet year after year since 2002 employers have reported that Monster was their “source of hires” no more than about 4% of the time. Is there anything to call this but a conspiracy between HR departments and the job boards? Is it anything but a racket? Is it fraud?

When a company publishes a job solicitation that’s intended only to stock a database, that’s deceptive. When employers publish jobs on a website that they know doesn’t fill many jobs, I call that systemic recruitment fraud.

The most stunning outcome is that recruitment advertising is choking the very employers that pay to prop it up. You’ve nailed the problem: Job ads — no matter what their form — are often deceptive. They’re not used to fill jobs. They’re used to build deep databases of old resumes. That’s what the jobs crisis floats on.

Billion of dollars spent on databases to find and fill jobs — while employers cry “talent shortage” and record numbers of talented people can’t get hired.

Yet another rant about job boards and HR practices? Yep. Is there a board of directors out there that realizes it’s funding the jobs crisis with its investors’ money? Contribute your stories and comments below. Nothing will change until the purveyors of this sludge get their noses rubbed in it.

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  1. There is an employer here in MA who has advertised for over a year and their tag line is “we have 200 jobs open”. Same tag line for over a year!

  2. I have seen this happening but didn’t realize just what was happening.

    I was laid off LAST February and posted my resume ONCE on 3 sites (Dice, Monster, CyberCoders. I have gotten NUMEROUS emails from various people, most of them with names that lead me to believe that they’re NOT from the US. I frequently get NO RESPONSE from these folks.

    While I was working, I’d continually get emails about jobs even though I had not posted a resume for 2 years. Again, in responding, I frequently received NO response.

  3. “fat pipe of resume sewage”

    Best metaphor ever.

  4. We have jobs that remain open for months while “recruiting” occurs. We’ve had more mismatches between jobs and those hired to fill those jobs. My company uses Careerbuilder and key word searches to find new employees. More often than not, this leads to the wrong person for the job. So many people have come and go, I can’t keep track anymore.

  5. timely article for Wall St Journal that hits into this discussion

  6. I’m a recently graduated nuclear engineer with a MS from a top 20 university, and a BS from another top 20 university. Yes, one of those “elusive” STEM people that you’d hear our nation’s great corporate, military, and political leaders complain the country needs and can’t find. Yet somehow my classmates who graduated with me have extremely hard times finding a job in any of the engineering and scientific fields. A majority of them have left the field completely and went into “business consulting”, (but at least they have jobs). The worst I’ve heard is someone who spent a year out of school trying to find a job.

    It took me approximately 4 months to land a job, and it was a good thing I got started before graduating. I’ve probably applied to over 100 “job openings”, before getting 3 offers from small engineering firms, and all of which were from employers who found me instead of vice versa.

    Of course this was before I saw Nick’s piece on PBS. Now I realized that most of my resumes, be it with government agencies, large corporations, or any other employer probably ended up on some database that no one will ever read before it becomes deleted when they will probably change to a new system. So, if I ever hear another Admiral or CEO go on NPR complaining about how we need more “STEMs”, I think I’m going to apply for one of those “business consulting” jobs as well!

  7. Some companies, like Google and Lockheed, are completely up front that you are creating a resume (really a profile) that is going to be filed and then then searched.

  8. @dlms: Thanks for revealing what’s going on inside your company. It’s frankly insane. Employers complain they can’t find good hires while they continue to plough billions into the job boards that can’t deliver hires. Then they hire someone and fire them because there wasn’t a fit. The level of desperation in HR is palpable — but no one holds them accountable. I’d love 10 minutes with your company’s board of directors.

  9. @don: What’s mystifying to me is that anyone would feel wronged when a company hires someone it knows, rather than a blind applicant that came in through an ad. The challenge is to be the “known” candidate yourself! And not to waste time with blind applications.

    In this context, of course, your point is dead on: Companies that post ads when they’ve already got their hire should be tarred and feathered for fraud. HR’s complaint that they are somehow “required” to post the job anyway is nothing but crocodile tears, and further proof that HR as a profession is bereft of any integrity. There’s a “policy” excuse for every one of HR’s stupid behaviors. “Not our fault.”

    Gimme a break.

  10. “There’s a ‘policy’ excuse for every one of HR’s stupid behaviors. ‘It’s not our fault.’ ”

    Exactly! That’s the truth and it will continue to be that way as long as senior management sanctions or requires these stupid policies that don’t work well for employer or employee.

  11. @nick.
    I should have noted that I worked for years in companies that evolved structured job posting practices. They always start well-intended and there’s some sense to it. And they start with an internal view. Internal favoritism is more obvious than external to internal interplay. A job opens up, and the manager effects a transfer of someone he/she has already picked…other interested parties resent what they feel is a lost opportunity. So HR creates an internal posting system. All reqs get posted, the req has to be there a week before you can close etc. So you post, wait a week, maybe interview..and voila! you see the light and your allready selected favorite wins the prize….but not always.
    I feel that in the job hunting and hiring dance people forget they are doing 2 things in parallel. 1 is the obvious, looking for a job, or looking to hire someone, but the 2nd is networking. You may not get the prize in #1, but you can win in #2 and ideal both 1&2.
    But in most cases it’s just a pro-forma step as I described..and if in the process you stumble across another 1 or 2 viable candidates, you store that away for your next need, a networking win. Gut and the grapevine usually tell internal candidates if a job is “wired” and they don’t bother. The smart ones network and find out what’s going on, and either just have a chat with the manager..or apply to have a chat and gain a networking win. Internal candidates have one burden external candidates don’t have…the politics and sensitivities related to their current manager, who may be butt enough to body block advancement outside their fiefdom. So the internal networking can get touchy.
    As you can imagine & the article points out ditto for external candidates. The downside is the deal is wired…The upside is the application & interview at the least is a networking win. For managers with an inclination to interview, they just gained a step inside a company and to a manager possibly denied to them. And perverse as it may sound, even if the manager is just doing a pro-forma interview, both get a networking connection you may not have gained without the ad. It’s all what you make of it. If they connect well…then both have a connection to a future opportunity, particularly if the manager will in turn connect you to a peer..where you are “wired’ into the deal.
    Life’s just not simple in the job hunting and hiring game. The shortest distance isn’t always a straight line to a job, and the big win may come later. Things happen, things change.

  12. Nick, great blog subject. I absolutely agree with your opinion on this. An offshoot of this issue is the scam, or “bait & switch” job ads, where there is no job and never will be, but the reality is that the “hiring” company is looking for suckers for their very-expensive career services. They bait the market by posting multiple, generic, executive level jobs on a job board. When you submit your resume, the high pressure sales effort begins. There is one company that has even changed their name several times, but continue to post the exact same ads. They now go by Execujobs and advertise numerous CEO/COO/CFO/CIO positions (in varying locations) on Careerbuilder every day. Careerbuilder has a “REPORT THIS JOB” function when the display a job posting on their website. I have submitted reports many times on Execujobs and nothing is done by Careerbuilder, obviously because those postings are a good source of revenue for them. Shame on them.

  13. Ray,
    I also have a couple of these STEM degrees in the physical sciences from prestigious universities and I completely agree with all you have written. I am so sick of hearing that we need more H1-B visas when there are loads of unemployed scientists and engineers in the USA who are perfectly capable and qualified. It is as if simply being born in India or China automatically makes one more intelligent or employable even when people here achieve the exact same things. Another issue is pay and benefits. I am just amazed at how companies want to pay a STEM grad with a MS or PhD less than someone with a BA who works in accounting, HR, or marketing. This is why they are “business consultants!” Call yourself that and your pay magically doubles. Another disturbing trend is that of permanent benefit-less “temps.” Oh joy! The reward for 6-8 yrs at university studying the most demanding curricula is to be without health insurance. No wonder STEM grads are leaving the profession. If any senior exec who hires STEM grads is reading this, I want them to understand that pay must increase and benefits must be generous. On the off-chance that any legislators are reading this, REDUCE H1-B visas and require companies to fulfill the mandates of supply and demand here at home. PAY MORE and all kinds of scientists and engineers who now work as “business consultants” will come out of the woodwork.

  14. Here is an article which is related:
    Home Depot Syndrome, The Purple Squirrel and America’s Job Hunt Rabbit Hole:

  15. @KLC: We’ve covered the bait-and-switch “career services” you refer to before:

    Some of them post “jobs” and prey on desperate people. In early 2012 I worked with CBC TV in Toronto on an expose:

  16. @Lucille: Thanks for posting that link to the article about Peter Cappelli. Here’s another, to a NewsHour segment he and I did last September on the same subject:

    You can actually see Peter talk about the problem!

  17. Hi Nick

    All the replies above are great. One thing that struck me was the statement:

    Yet year after year since 2002 employers have reported that Monster was their “source of hires” no more than about 4% of the time…

    I gotta wonder what’s happening the other 96% of the time. Surely they can’t be smart enough to network and shake the Kevin Bacon tree in order to get candidates.

    What else are they doing? Posting “jobs” on their own websites? Hiring from (ugh) their Job Fairs?

    I’m curious not because I’m trying to find a job one of those crazy ways, but because I like to keep up on the ways companies stumble…so I can help them improve. :)

  18. Good points, Nick. I recall a previous post I made about the false “talent shortage” in a previous thread of yours. As far as I’m concerned, there are three legs of this chair regarding the unemployment situation, each of them connected with the other.

    1) Rampant fraud, as you rightfully point out, is crippling the ability of labor sellers/renters to find each other. It is also permeating throughout the education establishment. All this is no thanks to an ineffective state apparatus, which often enables the fraud to begin with.

    2) Costs of production, resume fraud, and legal barriers to industry are rising fast (not all at the fault of employers, at least most anyway), but neither the MSM nor the big industry players consider this honesty to be politically correct. You see, telling this truth doesn’t just invite attacks from culpable politicians, but it also disturbs the American consumer whom all industries cater to. Even though the truth is vitally important to a genuine recovery, everyone is crazy-scared about the painful (but necessary) consequences.

    3) Additionally, since Americans are largely ignorant of economic fundamentals (thanks to the education establishment), they are easily bamboozled…which means industry players can profit more from a lie than the truth itself by (you guessed it) allying themselves with the same elements that hinder the economy.

    So, in a nutshell, we have a situation where the rule of law (not arbitrary law, mind you. That’s going strong) is being shattered. All the aforementioned spheres are just a manifestation of this fact.

  19. Haven’t you noticed that it’s really certain college/university professors who are lamenting the lack of STEM people? (“Professor keep thy classroom full and thee shall never want.”) The politicians are just parroting them.

  20. As for STEM, I suspect the problem is that companies these days don’t want to train anyone, but want someone with exactly the right qualifications for the job. They don’t want to train someone who’ll leave to go elsewhere. And that comes from them destroying loyalty by laying off people at the first sign of trouble.

    As for the main topic, I’ve never worked for a company that did this, but I have been responsible for ads for candidates with H1Bs, where you need to advertise the position even though you have someone for it. At times we would have been happy to find someone with the same qualifications – we’d hire him or her also – but it mostly adds to clutter. I don’t know about today, but back when I was doing it you could tell these ads because they had insanely detailed requirements.

  21. Nick–I wish you could spend 10 mintues with our board of directors. I think the scales would fall from their eyes.

    We had two internal job openings, both of which I applied for. I talked with the hiring manager for one of the jobs to gain clarification about what was expected, told him I outlined a plan about how I would approach the work, use my skills in project management and business analysis to bring about the goals and objectives outlined in the job descrption, in addition to my years of experience with the company.

    I just received the “thanks but no thanks” reply and understand they are going to interview outside the company. This is a common practice where I work and then they scratch their heads wondering why their seasoned employees leave for greener pastures.

    Also, I’ve heard through our grapevine that HR “directs” the hiring manager to the internal applicants they think should be interviewed instead of letting the hiring manager decide who she or he wants to interview. This bias against internal candidates leads to a revolving door where I work, even in this economy.

  22. @Bryan: Depending on what study you look at, 40%-70% of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. Employers fill jobs in spite of the ridiculous “recruiting methods” they spend most of their money on. (It’s roughly the old 80:20 rule in action.) Certainly, some jobs are filled through employers’ own websites, but so many of these are outsourced to Monster and other job boards that it’s hard to track.

    In any case, no one in HR stops to consider the ROI from actively applying “personal contacts” to the other 30%-60% of hires they need to make. They just plough the bucks into job boards.

    The point is, use methods that makes sense to you to find a job. Don’t worry about how stupidly employers are behaving. Well, maybe you should worry about it a bit — who wants to work for a company that dumps its entire recruiting budget into a method that barely works?

  23. Excellent post as usual. I suspected all that was written, but now I have a confirmation.

    So how do we mobilize people to eductate the board of directors out there to realize it’s funding the jobs crisis with its investors’ money? Maybe it’s also about finding a way of going after the investors’ to make them understand the waste of money to the company. Social media???

    Unfortunately, at least from my experience, most employed individuals I encounter don’t give a hoot about people who have been unemployed for the short or long term. They are mostly only concerned about themselves and keeping their own job. So while networking is the way to a job, not too many folks are really open to real networking. There’s a conversation in one of the group’s on LinkedIn concerning the issue of one’s Elevator Speech. It’s an eye opener to read the responses of some people. Heck, you almost want to remember their name in case you ever run into them — so you can run.

  24. @DW: “since Americans are largely ignorant of economic fundamentals (thanks to the education establishment), they are easily bamboozled…”

    That’s worth quoting.

  25. @dlms: What does all this tell you about your employer?

  26. @Scott: “I suspect the problem is that companies these days don’t want to train anyone, but want someone with exactly the right qualifications for the job”

    That’s precisely the problem Peter Cappelli (Wharton) talks about. Search his name on this blog to learn more. Why would anyone take a job that she’s done before and for which she’s an exact fit? Isn’t one big reason for job change to do something new and different?

    We’re talking about a case of employers and HR managers walking around with their heads up their asses, looking for yet another white paper about “best practices in recruiting.” Pardon me. I used a bad word.

  27. Thank you very much for your site. I always wanted to ask, why this is happening to me.I was laid off for budget cut on the 31st of May 2012 and since then I receive emails and calls from companies who make me fill tons of personal information and fax things to them and it costs me money to fax them. I take tons of tests, which I pass. However i never get the job and they give me strange reasons. When they had contacted me in the first place, they made it sound that I will get the job for sure, and then every time I got sad and frustrated. This had affected my well being in a very negative way. I know people who know someone at those companies and they were taken in spite of not being very qualified. However, I am not part of any group. I became very hopeless. Please, does someone has an answer to this situation and what is going one, since I don’t understand what is the problem. Thanks in anticipation.

  28. Nick,
    I’ve seen it in the context of CIOs saying that universities are not doing their job because they don’t graduate students expert in the packages they need right now – with the implication that when they change packages, they’ll fire all the current experts and hire new ones. But I can answer your question – the kind of person who does not want to move outside of their comfort zone and learn anything new. I guess that is the person these HR types are looking for.
    It is scary to switch to something you don’t have experience with – I’ve done it. You can more easily fail – I’ve done that also. But when you make it you bring something that those who have always done it don’t bring.

  29. @Nick: It tells me I work for a stupid company described in this newsletter.

  30. Excellent article! The more clearly the causes of these problems are described and sorted out, the more chance that glimmers of light will descend upon management.

    There’s one other factor which I strongly suspect is at work to generate job ads with no jobs behind them: “equal opportunity” regulations and lawsuit fears. In order to protect themselves from charges of discrimination, employers may want to be able to show that they’ve “considered” a certain number of applicants of various racial/ethnic groups. In some fields–including STEM–it could take a while to gather enough resumes from the desired categories.

  31. Like many others, I have applied to countless job board and corporate job postings with little to no response from the hiring companies. The few contacts I’ve had with HR people have left me wondering how in the world these fools get hired. They lie as they breathe – it’s mindboggling.
    I’ve finally found a way to work in rewarding roles, get paid well, and develop new skills…all without having a single contact with the worthless HR machine – contracting.
    I’m in the Seattle area where, likely due to the tech industry, contracting is widely used to bring on talent for short term (three to 24 months) assignments. I landed in a role in which my initial “good-fit” skill set quickly evolved to be a great fit, thanks to the vision of the awesome manager who hired me. An HR person would NEVER have put me on their short list if this had been an FTE hire position. My skills would not have fit into their lazy algorithms or met every single requirement of a job description.
    Although I don’t get the volume of perks that full-timers at my client company receive, my agency provides my computer, pays for health insurance and holidays; additional time off is, and has been, paid at the discretion of my client. The higher pay of my contractor salary will more than cover me when I take off for three weeks’ vacation later this spring.
    Although contracting comes with the ambiguity of the role being project based, and potentially falling to a budget cut, it has given me the opportunity to prove my worth and build important connections. My network now includes strong relationships with at least five potential hiring managers, and many more fellow contractors and FTE peers. I strongly recommend this path to others who have had their fill of job boards and corporate HR.

  32. @cindy: In the end, the best solution for those who can do it is self-employment or starting one’s own business. Contracting is next on the ladder. As for “ambiguity,” consider that in a FTE gig, there’s uncertainty. You could get laid off tomorrow. Nothing is perfectly safe today, so if you get a lot of what you want, and the terms are acceptable, you’re ahead of the game no matter what the deal is called.

    Frankly, I think contract jobs are safer than FTE jobs because being limited, I think contracts are more well thought out by companies. They plan them more carefully. So I think you may be less at risk on a contract.

  33. Hi, Nick –

    Thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed reply and for launching this discussion. I concur with everything you’ve outlined.

    Just a few follow-up thoughts of my own:

    1. Companies that post online advertisements simply for the purpose of soliciting resumes to keep their talent banks updated are no different (in my humble opinion) than retailers that use the old “bait and switch” approach to advertising when they list a discontinued product just to get customers in the door. Once customers show up, they tell them that “that model has been discontinued, but we do have this one over here for just a few dollars more…” It’s the kind of thing that at one time got companies that practiced it a quick letter to the Better Business Bureau and some difficult publicity, but maybe times have changed.

    2. I have seen a growing practice over the last few years of consulting firms listing descriptions with “contingency position” in the wording. I confess I find this a fair approach to letting prospective applicants know in advance that they may not be applying for an actual job, but these are still far more often the exception than the norm.

    3. My beef – to continue with the food analogies (stale bread, half burgers, etc.) here – is not so much with the big job search sites (CareerBuilder, Monster, etc.) but with companies that list jobs on their actual Web sites and then make no move to change them during a hiring freeze or after a position is filled or discontinued because they simply want to keep getting resumes. To cite just one example from my own experience, I applied to a firm in 2010 that was advertising for a job almost identical to my previous one. I went through two phone screens and a face-to-face interview only to be told at the end that they would not be filling the position after all due to budget cuts. That was rough enough, but they left the description online for more than a year because they wanted to keep getting fresh applications in case they ever DID decide to resurrect the job. When you stop to consider how many hundreds (if not thousands) of potential candidates probably chased that position – among what I’m sure were many others on that company’s Web site – it makes one wonder.

    On the positive side, one thing that I’ve tried to point out to employers in seminars I’ve taught is that this practice is not only highly unethical – and fraudulent – but it is also increasingly risky in the era of social media. Candidates who get burned in this manner by companies are not without recourse. Many of them can (and will) take to job research sites and vent their frustrations to an online audience. And while a few disgruntled crackpots might be easily dismissed, a pattern of deception and shoddy treatment will, at some point, start to impede a company’s ability to attract and retain key talent if its online reputation says that they mistreat their candidates and / or deceive them. As more Millennials enter the workforce – these would be the kids who have grown up in social media and know the online social world better than their interviewers – this shift is going to affect hiring practices significantly. In that respect, there will be a “talent shortage,” but it will be a direct result of companies’ practices rather than something to be blamed on poorly qualified candidates or misguided education system.

    Just my two cents!

  34. I lost my job of 30 years early in 2009. It was tough, of course, and I had survived a brutal takeover for several months before offered my walking papers. I had successfully looked for work midway through my career, and even had a job offer that I turned down. I had every confidence that I would have similar success in finding work now that I was released into the wild.

    However, I made two mistakes I would like to steer people clear of today: (1) paying attention to the news, and (2) believing that I would never get a job again because on-line mania had circumvented what once was a human process.

    It only took me three weeks to fall into deep clinical depression. Six months of meds and therapy later, I did find work, which I lost, but found again without becoming more deeply depressed.

    I have now been happily underemployed in a deficit survival job (meaning my funds drain more slowly than they would if I was totally unemployed), and am beginning to have hope that I will one day find work closer to my abilities. But I am spending less and less time with job boards, and will soon drop them completely.

    At thirty and twenty years ago, the process for work search was the same: update everything, answer ads in the paper, work with a recruiter or two. In both cases, I landed the position within a dozen interviews. Far cry from today’s environment in which the phone will never ring (which is the title of the longer version of this story).

    While that’s not entirely true, it did take nearly four years to get one phone call (just a few weeks ago) for a position even worse than the one I hold now. I’m not a math whiz, but if I get only one phone call every four years, and it takes four or five calls to generate one interview, and it takes a dozen interviews to get one job, I’m pretty sure that if Dr. McCoy stumbles over me, he’ll look up and say, “He’s dead, Jim!”.

    In the next ten years, the joke will be on corporate America for squandering the lives of millions of talented people because key words cannot capture the essence of their true and necessary talents. Entrenched prejudices will complete their failure to hire the people they so desperately need to continue their enterprises.

    To get back to my two points: Nick has always said, ignore the statistics unless you want to become one. A study in 2010 (Manpower) demonstrated that the jobs available in 2009 were actually less than zero, and yet I found a job that year working with a recruiter.

    And for those of you who think online job boards may aid you in your time of greatest need (when your unemployment benefits are about to or have run out), remember: In cyberspace, no one can hear you scream.

  35. Thank you very much for answering my questions. I felt the same. Companies have been closing all doors in my face and I feel that I will never get a job again, so I am worrying about what I will do with my life. I believe that the person in the company who is misleading people and making them get depressed should be punished and anyone hiring people only because he or she knows them or for personal advantages, should be punished. It is not fair to other people, like us. This should be stopped in all companies. To whom should one complain?

  36. The attitude of companies reminds me of spoiled children, who lie down on the floor and scream:

    “But we want the perfect candidates! You are studpid! The world is stupid if we cannot get the perfect candidates!!!”

    Daddy needs to tell those companies that they cannot get all they want. The world just isnt’t full of 25 year olds with master degrees and 20 years experience in that particular, narrow field.

  37. @Scott

    “As for STEM, I suspect the problem is that companies these days don’t want to train anyone, but want someone with exactly the right qualifications for the job. They don’t want to train someone who’ll leave to go elsewhere. And that comes from them destroying loyalty by laying off people at the first sign of trouble.”

    It goes even farther than laying people off at the first sign of trouble…

    Companies do little to nothing to keep people from leaving. For example, “you worked hard and met and/or exceeded expectations. Here’s your 2% raise.” Or they are hostile to promotions/moving to another department after a long tenure.

    There are 100’s of valid reasons people leave where the employer could have made it less likely.

  38. @Nick

    “Why would anyone take a job that she’s done before and for which she’s an exact fit? Isn’t one big reason for job change to do something new and different?”

    This is the crux of the matter, and what I think the biggest problem/hurdle many job seekers face.

    Many people that are worth hiring love learning new things and love new challenges. They want to move onto new, more interesting things. They also want to move up the salary ladder.

    I don’t want a job that I’m well qualified for, I want a job that I am barely qualified (i.e. don’t have everything on their “lists” but have the smarts to figure it out) for, and grow into it.

  39. Regarding my last comment (hit submit to quick)..

    For all the recruiters/HR types out there – How is one supposed to get paid full time experience if you will not hire/consider people without paid full time experience in exactly what you’re looking for?

    It’s the chicken and egg paradox. Yet, we still hear the same complaints over and over – that good people are hard to find. To me, many recruiters/HR loose all credibility because they do nothing to solve the problem.

    This is why many have a strong distaste for recruiting.

  40. @John Franklin: Thanks for chiming in. I don’t think HR departments realize the damage that they do to their PR and Marketing departments’ branding efforts. Those dissed job applicants are all potential (or existing) customers… and their comments are amplified via social media. It’s pretty stunning how siloed HR and PR and Marketing are.


  41. Miriam (and everyone else who is in a similar boat)- I once heard from a former Cancer Survivor that being laid off was far harder than dealing with his diagnosis. The “new” work world is unfortunately broken but there is no good feedback mechanism for it, especially in this economy, so it remains that way. You can try to fight it and get emotionally invested in every interview or you can find a better way (which is what ATH is all about) and grind it out.

    You will be back and be better. At 35 I’ve been laid off 3 times in my career. I’m a STEM with a top 30 MBA to boot (that I’ve made peace with whereas before I thought something was owed to me). One time I was promoted and given a raise and then 2 weeks later I got a call and was out the door. When “life happened” and I had to fight get back, a couple of times, I can tell you, you will be BETTER. Wiser. The game for you right now is to find something to keep the lights on while also looking for the ideal gig.

    Hang in there.

  42. @CitizenX: I wish you’d submit that to some big-name publications. The rest of the world needs to read what you wrote. I mean, billions :-) may read this blog, but trillions need to read your words.

  43. @Miriam: Why fool around? Complain to the chairman of the board at the company. A nice letter that informs rather than complains might actually raise some important eyebrows.

  44. @Dave: “How is one supposed to get paid full time experience if you will not hire/consider people without paid full time experience”

    I get what you’re saying, but I think there’s a bigger problem. (Besides, employers don’t care what you need or want.) If we just make this about them and their objectives, WHY DON’T THEY TRAIN TALENTED PEOPLE to do a new job? Thinking purely in economic terms, that means they can hire less costly workers who are willing to take part of their “pay” in training and experience. This is the approach that gives employers an edge and new hires new skills.

    Answer: Employers are too stuck in “just in time everything” to think straight. It’s really stupid. Meanwhile, the federal government is dumping enormous grants into “helping job hunters learn to suck up to the idiocy that employers practice” in order to get hired. Give us all a break. These grant programs don’t just fail job hunters; they waste tax dollars.

  45. @Nick:

    “Meanwhile, the federal government is dumping enormous grants into “helping job hunters learn to suck up to the idiocy that employers practice” in order to get hired. Give us all a break. These grant programs don’t just fail job hunters; they waste tax dollars.”

    Don’t you think grants/tax breaks/etc. would be better spent giving them to companies to hire and train talented people? Maybe some sort of internship or temp-to-hire program to get people back to work?

  46. JIT everything is exactly what Employers have bought into (not all, but alot). The thought is, the extension of the Supply Chain can now be applied to people! Employees are variable inputs that can be turned on/off as needed. I’ll just grab a Employee off the CareerBuilder/Monster shelf and insert them into the assembly line. Easy Button it! And my HR department stands ready to handle all this with keywords and a big fat instance of Oracle Database!

    Does it work? McDonald’s, JiffyLube, sure. A Fortune 500 company’s Sales Manager servicing millions of dollars worth of a company’s potential customers? Good Luck. But gosh, think if we could get there – wouldn’t that be HEAVEN! And when it doesn’t let’s trot out the Talent Shortage vomit.

    I think the trick is two-fold; recognize and REJECT organizations that are chasing this JIT fantasy. The second is that you, Mr/Ms employee, HAVE to be adding value in excess of the costs you incur for being on the payroll…constantly.

  47. @Dave, Dave, Dave: “Don’t you think grants/tax breaks/etc. would be better spent giving them to companies to hire and train talented people?”

    You’re thinking like a taxpayer and a businessman. Federal funding is for programs, not for actual jobs.

    That said, I think a few federal bucks could go a long way toward teaching people how to go around the system and show employers how they’d contribute to the bottom line.

  48. @Dave

    “Don’t you think grants/tax breaks/etc. would be better spent giving them to companies to hire and train talented people? Maybe some sort of internship or temp-to-hire program to get people back to work?”

    You have to ask yourself a serious question before considering this option (among other questions later): “Why don’t these companies already have the resources to hire/train in the first place?”

    If they don’t, it’s because they’re inefficient with resources and unrewarding to the consumer’s desires (at least, at certain price points). Being the opposite is how a business stays profitable, so why reward backward economic behavior by giving them free money at the expense of other, more productive parties?

    If they already do…then why bother at all?

    Concerning tax breaks, ideally everyone should be getting one equally across the board anyway to prevent an uneven playing field of taxation taking place between companies. However, politicians will never let this happen. There’s simply too much political power for interest groups to ignore, to not game the system for a competitive advantage. As long as tax-breaks are discriminate, the effect of net-tax benefits will be the same.

    In short, less meddling and more enforcement of property rights.

  49. @SoundAdvice: “the Supply Chain can now be applied to people”

    Brings to mind a classic old movie: Soylent Green. If you know the last line in the flick, you understand the reference. “Soylent Green is people!”

  50. Thank you very much Sound Advise for answering my question and for your advice. That is really true, one should find a source of joy in life to forget all this pain. This problem has to be addressed, since it is very unfair to people searching for work. Every day I hear back from places, after filling tons of documents and spending money on that and then they tell me strange excuses. I believe they don’t care about others’ pain.

  51. Nick- Soylent green..awesome!

    Miriam- It’s unfair for sure and while there’s an explanation for it, it’s only worth understanding enough to find a way around it.

  52. Nick, thank you for such a wonderfully detailed letter and response this week. This whole practice is the new normal and I don’t know what it will take for businesses and agencies to wake up. I think it is a number of things that have created this perfect storm: a dismal economy, a large number of people who are unemployed/underemployed/employed but not working in their field, new technology that has excised all human interaction in initial hiring process (a computer makes the selections and if not one of the 10 million people who submitted applications through the online system are a perfect match, the company starts over rather than looking for someone with 8 or 9 of the 10 criteria and training the new hire), an unwillingness on the part of employers to train people (I read an article last week in which an employer was quoted as saying that he can’t find talented, good workers who are 100% effective in the job from hour 1, day–that is, no training needed) and low wages/salaries.

    Right now it is an employer’s market but at some time that will (hopefully) even out sooner rather than later. I’m with Nick–employers are being more than stupid, they’re hurting the company in the long run if essential positions remain unfilled because of HR territorial pissing contests and because hiring managers are too reliant on computers doing hiring for them. Hiring is a crapshoot–even the best candidate can leave–maybe his/her spouse gets a good job and they move, maybe there’s an illness/death in the family, maybe it’s due to health or personal reasons, maybe the new hire got lured away by another company offering better pay/better hours/better benefits/no commute…pick your favorite. You could hire the best candidate and he could get run over by a bus, hit by lightning, and then you’re back to square one. In my parents’ generation, people often stayed with an employer for years and years, many times for their entire working lives. They worked hard, were loyal, and the company was loyal back. That is no longer the case–companies don’t want lifers, and many are not good to their employees.

    I think HR should be limited to payroll and benefits and leaving the hiring to the actual person who knows what he needs and the ins and outs of the vacancy best. Sure, HR can help when it comes to the vetting (for those who require background checks for security purposes), but I feel less and less sorry for hiring managers who have ceded their authority to HR, then whine that there’s a talent shortage.

    The talent shortage appears to be in HR and with company management (for letting HR get away with it). Computers and technology are wonderful and can make our lives easier in many ways, but I don’t think they’re a substitution for actually reading (carefully) resumes and good interviewing. Years ago, when you went to the library you looked up books and materials in the card catalog. The benefit to using a physical card catalog is that you flipped through the cards (entries) and often you’d find something that you hadn’t even considered but still decided to check out. Or if you weren’t sure how to spell the author’s last name McCleod, flipping through the card catalog would have all of the authors with the last name McCleod interfiled–both MacCleod and McCleod. Now, with the system online, the computer is very particular–you have to get it exactly right–if the author you’re looking for is McCullough and you type in Maccullough, you won’t find what you’re looking for. The online system has blinders on. I feel the same thing is happening with hiring practices due to the shift to the exclusive use of online applications and screenings. Computers are dumb–they don’t know that the person who meets 9 of the 10 criteria could be the best candidate for the job, an excellent cultural fit, and a good worker. The computer will exclude him and delete his application without a flag or a thought. Only when human beings start doing the hard work of hiring and thinking again–9 out of 10 criteria met, the one he doesn’t have is something we could train him to do–will things change.

    It is common sense, but sense isn’t common. Nick, if you ever get your management/leadership/boards in a room, I hope that you smack them silly and knock some sense into their heads. There’s lots of good people looking for work, jobs going unfilled, and companies are letting it happen because of computer systems with blinders.

  53. I’m not sure it’s even legal to store, use and distribute somebody’s resume without their explicit permission… I had my resume and contact information sold/distributed around by contingency recruiters who’d collected my resume and then disappeared. I get somebody contacting me, saying I talked with them earlier, but I have records for the past few years, and I know that I never talked with this person. Then I investigate and they just got my resume from somebody else. One recruiter even took it from the company HR he used to work for. I got replies “to your resume on Dice” long after I removed my resume from Dice, like there is some stripping script running there. How am I supposed to submit my resume and contacts if they get stolen so easily?

  54. @Julia –

    Here’s the thing I’ve seen done in my experience:

    I’ve seen several “recruiting” companies get spun off and change names. This is quite frequent in my area.

    I’ve also seen my resumes in some random recruiters database, only to be called years later about an unrelated job. You may have talked to the company years ago.

    Regarding Dice… I seriously think many recruiters troll the job boards for interesting people. It takes it years to vet them all though.

  55. I am also having and had that problem. Recruiters call me and tell me that definitely they will get the contract and make it sound like I will be hired in a month or two months and with contingent letters or upon award of the contract. Then they disappear and I don’t hear back from them. Some of them also make me fill plenty of documents and ask for photocopies of my social security card and my passport. They also ask for my personal information, which I give and then they disappear. Please, can someone tell me, what should one do when they ask for all these personal information. I really don’t trust any longer companies and recruiters. They are playing with job seekers’ emotions.

  56. The best thing would probably be to insist that the recruiters confirm, in writing, that they are assigned to fill a specific position at the specific company, and that they can give you contact information to a relevant manager at that company, who can confirm. If not – just pass them by.

  57. Thank you very much Karsten for answering my question. I hope that they become aware that job hunters are now aware of their tricks and in consequence they stop doing that to them.

  58. How does this process perpetuates itself? or does it? A headhunter gets paid a fee for sucessfully placing a qualified candidate with a client, a win-win-win situation. But these fraudulent placement schemes are just parasites on the system draining out resources and producing no value. What is the process of bringing value to the agency, client and candidate?

  59. 1) I understand the Feds COUNT these job postings as real jobs, thus feeding a myth that the economy is recovering, when one is counting the empty storefronts on Park and Lexington Avenues in midtown Manhattan after a failed holiday season.
    2) Nothing said here about about job boards ‘meshing’ each other to boost SEO. These job boards set up others (feeders) to ‘rebroadcast’ their postings. Ladders has a whole bunch of feeder sites etc. Most of these jobs are either fake or gone.

  60. “the Feds COUNT these job postings”.
    If that is the case, Is it perjury?, then it is a FEDERAL CRIME defrauding the government. Seeing how many firms are traffacking in misinformation, possibly RICO (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization)? and would the A.G. be also be investigating this? When will we see HR executives lead away in orange jumpsuits and handcuffs by US Marshalls?

  61. There appears to be a trend on this blog: anyone and everyone who has ever been offended, cheated, wronged or simply do not like HR. Rather than try to argue with every whiny complaint I’ve read, I would simply like to know some statistics. While I agree that there are bad HR departments out there, there as many bad hiring managers, CEOs, employees, headhunters, etc. And, in some cases, it’s the nature of a particular industry.

    How about sharing some statistics on the number of companies that “fund America’s jobs crisis
    “. Or, how many companies are “filling their filing cabinets with resumes”. Or, is your assumption that almost all HR departments suck and that the percenatge of good ones is about .000001%?

    From my perspective, I’ve never met a headhunter that didn’t lie directly to my face (well, there was that one headhunter in 1999 that seemed honest). But, I don’t dedicate an entire blog to it so that other “professionals” can jump on the bandwagon and bash all headhunters.

    Grow up.

  62. @Kevin: Based on anecdotal evidence gathered over a few decades, about 95% of HR workers aren’t worth spit. Coincidentally, about 95% of “headhunters” aren’t worth spit, either. (I welcome hard evidence to the contrary. In the meantime, I trust my estimates.)

    The former profession seems to attract lazy bureaucrats who hide behind policy manuals and white papers issued by expensive consultants who once upon a time were useless personnel jockeys themselves. The latter clearly attracts a lot of fast-buck artists who don’t care about their reputations, but love dialing for dollars.

    There are a lot of very good HR folks and headhunters out there, but they are far outnumbered by the cranks. The good ones could end the jobs crisis, but it’s hard to do a good job recruiting and hiring when you are assigned to diddle the CareerBuilder and databases all day long…

    There is no hard data that I’ve ever found to answer your question. But indirect evidence comes from a very few surveys that have been done over the years about where HR and “headhunters” turn for help recruiting “talent.” Last year they spent literally billions of dollars on job boards. E.g.,, $1.03 billion. Monster was cited as the “source of hires” by those same personnel jockeys about 3% of the time. CareerBuilder and others are no better. You know a fool by who he does business with.

    By extrapolation, about 95% (maybe 97%) of personnel jockeys don’t deserve the salaries they’re paid. The “headhunters” that “find” all the drek resumes that they send along to HR – on the same job boards – deserve the lousy reputation they create for their entire profession.

    Looks like there’s a common thread here, doesn’t it? Follow the money. Then follow the personnel jockeys and the “headhunters.” The ones that drink from the job-board swill trough are creating a fake “jobs crisis” that corporate America still does not recognize as an enormous racket bleeding its coffers dry.

    Can 12 million unemployed Americans (not counting under-employed and those who have given up) all be wrong? Ask them what they think of HR and headhunters.

  63. So, anecdotal evidence, but no real experience working IN an HR department. All evidence is working WITH an HR department. I would suggest that, until you are in the trenches fighting the same fights as those people, stop lobbing grenades. What you see from outside the foxhole is not the same as what is actually happening in the foxhole.

    As you can tell, sweeping generalizations like yours (apparently on a regular basis and without much merit other than “anecdotal”) don’t sit well with me.

  64. @Kevin: So I have to be a doctor, too, before I can talk about doctors? Do you work in HR?

    (What fights are “these people” fighting?)

    I don’t see many HR folks commenting on, or explaining, the HR behavior that job applicants complain about. Is it possible everyone is making this stuff up? That nameless corporate bureaucrats are behaving badly toward job applicants, but HR has nothing to do with it?

    Do I need to work in a supermarket to debate poor service in the supermarket?

    If you look around, quite a number of HR folks actually do comment on this blog. And many share “anecdotal” information that paints a pretty grim picture of HR. Not all HR workers do the things job hunters complain about — but enough do that it’s a problem. Ignoring it because we have no scientific data doesn’t fix it.

  65. Using the “poor service” example as a basis, it is also true that people are far more likely to complain about poor service than they are about good service. That is human nature. But simply because you only hear the complaints does make the whole system bad.

    And, yes, I do work in HR. I’ve worked with some exceptional HR professionals and I’ve worked with some real boneheads. Many of the policies you accuse us of hiding behind are driven by federal, state and local laws, or the company’s legal department trying to keep the company from getting sued because a manager or employee does something stupid.

    That does NOT excuse the black hole that many candidates find themselves in. I do not tolerate a lack of responsiveness form my team, but I am well aware that is not universal. As I said earlier, until you’ve been in the foxhole, don’t throw grenades. HR and Recruiting get their directives, budget, requisitions, etc. from senior management. HR gets pegged as the PITA roadblock, and people like you perpetuate the myth.

    Get a job in HR and try it out. You may hate it, but at least you will have a better perspective.

  66. @Kevin: Like any other profession, HR has associations and lobby groups. I don’t see HR as a profession working very hard to change laws, policies, and directives that are counter-productive. If anything, HR associations seem to rationalize and point fingers. You’re doing it yourself: “It’s no our fault.”

    I started headhunting in 1979. I’ve known a lot of HR people and departments. Some of the people are/were outstanding at their work. Fewer departments are. The business is incredibly bureaucratic. I’ve seen precious little initiative from HR to push change through the system — and I’ve seen too much bureaucratic head nodding, going along, rationalizing.

    I don’t want a job in HR. I’ve had offers. But I’m not interested in the culture. I don’t want to be a doctor, either. That doesn’t mean I can’t discuss what I see and push for change from the outside. But I think the bigger solution is to dismantle HR as we know it. HR should not be involved in recruiting and hiring, for example. I’ve posted columns about that.

    I welcome you to discuss initiatives you’ve led to make things better. Tell us about what makes the system work more effectively for everyone — and how you’ve done it. Tell us about the postive side of HR. I mean that — I’m not being sarcastic at all. I get pretty specific when I criticize. I welcome you to get specific, too.

  67. At no time did I say it was or was not “our” fault. What I am saying, however, is that you seem to want to pin all of the blame on one organization. To me, that demonstrates your ignorance of what HR can do (and in many cases actually does).

    If I really thought there was any value in sharing with you the innovative and collaborative initiatives we’re working on, I would. I find it unfathomable that you know a lot of great people in HR, and yet cannot say one positive thing about HR. You are a lost soul if you do not see the lobbying that HR associations are doing on behalf of the profession, employers and employees. There are countless HR professionals in the trenches every day trying to improve the impact and value that HR adds. I can’t make you see what you choose not to see.

    I understand you’re a headhunter, and it is in your best interest to make a case for removing the recruiting function from HR. All the better for you. You’re probably pissed because HR gets in the way of you gaining direct access to hiring managers. More stupid rules, I know. But to dismantle the HR organization is absurd.

    You know, though, those pesky folks in purchasing are always getting in my way, telling me what I can and cannot buy with company money, which vendors I can and cannot use. And it takes weeks to get a PO approved. Just give me a blank check and let me go at it. And the legal department, with all their silly rules about not stealing trade secrets, requiring sensitivity training, making everyone sign contracts….what a pain. We should dismantle that department because they just get in the way. And don’t get me started on IT! Really?! I have to change my password every 30 days? Is it my problem that some foreign government is trying to hack into the servers? Get out of my way, IT….you just slow me down.

    You and I are not going to agree on any of this, and that’s OK. The only point I have been trying to make to you is that you cannot apply a broad brush to an entire profession. Technically, you can, but that would also be absurd. I get it, I really do. You’ve been a headhunter all your life, always on the outside of HR looking in. You want to push for change from the outside, rather than stepping up and attempting to facilitate change from the inside. It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and make snarky comments about someone else’s job.

    And, let’s be honest, for many HR professionals, HR is their career. They went to college, chose HRM as a field of study and joined the workforce. They go to work every day trying to improve the way their company hires, trains, motivates and retains their employees. Then, one day, someone from the outside says: “Hey, your profession is a piece of crap and we should work to systematically dismantle your entire function”. Nice.

    I’m actually surprised by the source of this blog. Headhunting, as a profession, has a poorer reputation than HR. Some call headhunters sleazy snakeoil salesmen. I don’t, but some do. That’s just the nature of the beast. At the end of the day, it’s all about glass houses.

  68. I was so pleased to read this article dated Jan. 2013. The problem has NOT corrected itself and the mantra continues by employers ‘there is no talent pool, so we need to outsource overseas.’ This is bunk. It is easier to tweak the online application system for hard to find skills via keywords than to actually take a pile of possibly viable resumes and READ THEM.
    Perhaps, a presentation to a local Chamber of Commerce given by quality long term unemployed or a quality potential permanent employee who has been doing nearly 10 years of contract assignments might help get the message to employers big and small – get your heads out the sand the talent is there, you just are avoiding them.