The October 29, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is the 500th edition. So rather than answer a reader’s question, I’m celebrating this milestone by making up my own question, and doing my best to answer it.

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WTF is going on with employment in America?

Why have I written and published 500 weekly editions of the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter? Because America’s employment system still doesn’t work.

wtfThe emperor still has no clothes, and that’s why over 25 million Americans are unemployed or under-employed. (According to PBS NewsHour, that’s how many Americans say they want but can’t find a full time job.) Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are about 3.9 million jobs vacant.

HR executives have a special term for this 6:1 market advantage when they’re trying to fill jobs today: They call it a “talent shortage.”

Gimme a break.

Personnel jockeys run around in their corporate offices with their eyes closed, throwing billions of dollars at applicant tracking systems and job boards like Taleo,, and LinkedIn — and they pretend no one can see they are dancing in circles buck naked.

WTF is going on? We’ll talk about a talent shortage when the HR talent shortage abates — and HR executives learn how to match up the 3.9 million with work that needs doing.

Companies don’t hire any more

Employers don’t do their own hiring, and that’s the #1 problem. Employers have outsourced their competitive edge — recruiting and hiring — to third parties whose heads are so far up The Database Butt that this little consortium should be investigated by Congress.

Taleo, Kenexa, LinkedIn,, CareerBuilder, and their diaspora — you know who I’m talking about. Monster and LinkedIn alone sucked almost $2 billion out of the employment system in 2012. These vendors tout fake technologies and cheap string-search routines masquerading as “algorithms” for finding “hidden talent” and “matching people to jobs.”

So, why are almost 4 million jobs vacant?

Because these vendors sell databases, not recruiting, not headhunting, not jobs, not hires, not “matchmaking.”

Somewhere, right now, the chairman of the board of some corporation is pounding the podium at a shareholders’ meeting, exclaiming, “People are our most important asset!”

Meanwhile, HR executives are blowing billions out their asses, mingling their companies’ most important assets in databases shared with all their competitors via a handful of “applicant tracking systems” that can’t get the job done.

Heads-up to boards of directors: Where is your competitive edge any more? Take control of your hiring again — like it matters!

Employers don’t know how to recruit

Here’s how human resources departments across America “recruit.” They put impossible mixes of keywords about jobs into a computer. They press a button and pay billions of dollars for a chance that Prince Charming might materialize on their computer displays. When the prince fails to appear, they pay to play another day. (Last year, companies polled said 1.3% of their hires came from and 1.2% from CareerBuilider. Source: CareerXroads.)

Meanwhile, in the real world, over 25 million people — many of them immensely talented and capable of riding a fast learning curve without falling off — are ready to work.

Employers need to get off their butts, remove the Taleo straps from around their necks, and go outside to actually find, meet, recruit, cajole, seduce, and convince good workers to come work for them.

The employment system vendors are lying

The big job boards and the applicant tracking systems tell employers that sophisticated database technology will find the perfect hire.

  • ”Don’t settle for teaching a good worker anything about doing a job. Hire only the perfect fit!”
  • “We make that possible when you use more keywords for a job!”
  • “The more requirements you specify, the more perfect your hire will be! The database handles it all!”

Except that’s a lie. Job descriptions heavily larded with keywords make it virtually impossible to find good candidates. But every day that an impossible job requisition remains unfilled, the employment system vendors make more money while companies keep advertising for the perfect hires.

WTF? How stupid can anyone be? At the roulette wheel, the house always wins.

3.9 million jobs are vacant, thanks to the empty promises of algorithms. If the U.S. Congress wants a solution, it should launch an investigation into the workings of America’s employment system infrastructure, which is controlled by a handful of companies.

Employers have no business plan

Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli has demonstrated beyond any doubt that the quality of the American worker pool has not diminished. Rather, American companies:

  • Don’t want to pay market value to hire the right workers.
  • Don’t want to train talented workers to do a new job.
  • Don’t have any problem using applicant tracking systems that don’t work.

Cappelli points out that employers believe they save money when they leave jobs vacant, because their accounting systems track the cost of having workers on the payroll — but cannot track the cost of leaving work undone.

Employers run the junk profitability numbers in their sleep:

Fewer Employees=Lower Costs=Higher Profits

Employers that believe this are idiots. They should stop regarding workers as a cost, and start treating them as investments, and ensure that each worker pays off in higher profits. They should get a business plan.

America counts jobs, not profitable work

The federal government tracks the number of people who have jobs and the number of vacant jobs. But that’s no measure of a healthy economy. We all know the weekly employment figures are a fraud. The definitions of jobs and “who is employed” are so manipulated that no one knows WTF is going on.

It’s time to re-think how companies find and pay people to do work that produces profit. A better indicator of economic success would be the measure of how profitable all the work in America actually is — and how much profit is left behind on the table each month when work is left undone.

People must stop begging for jobs

It’s time for people to stop thinking about jobs, and high time to start thinking about how — and where — they can create profit.

If I run a company, I’ll hire you to do work that pays off more than what I pay you to do it. Today, virtually no employer knows whether hiring a person will pay off. That’s why you need to know how to walk into a manager’s office and demonstrate, hands down, how you will contribute profit to the manager’s business. That’s right: Be smarter than the manager about his own business. Stop begging for jobs. Start offering profit.

Because if you can’t do that, you have no business applying for any job, in any company.

Think you can generate lots of profit without working for someone else? Then bet your future on your plan, and start your own business.

WTF is going on

Here’s the simple truth that’s buried in the employment system, which is controlled by a handful of lightweight database jockeys who are funded by HR executives who have no idea how to recruit or hire:

There is no business plan in any applicant tracking system, no profit in a job posting, no future in federal employment metrics, no solution in HR departments, and no answers in databases or algorithms.

WTF is going on is this: American ingenuity starts with the individual who has an idea, blossoms with a plan that will produce profit — for yourself and your boss and your customer — and results in more money for everybody.

WTF is going on is that you must do the hard work of figuring it out yourself, each time, and every time. American business can’t outsource recruiting and hiring, and American workers can’t afford to let someone else find them “a job.”

WTF do you think is going on? Is there a way out of this mess? How do we change the way work is defined, and how people earn money for their work?

: :

  1. Wow! This manifesto documents the short-sightedness of focusing on the next quarter’s profits (less employees), rather than the long-term success of the company (work left undone).

  2. Amen Brother! Its sad but true the formula corporate leaders apply to ensure they make their numbers (and bonuses) is: Fewer Employees=Lower Costs=Higher Profits. As you note this leaves a lot of money on the table thats ripe for an opportunity for some creative type with a plan to make a profit. Thanks for writting this as its so true!

  3. Nick–I think you’re pointing to a more systemic issue here: the financialization of everything. Companies now are more focused on making money with floating their cash flow than they are with making products and providing services. Financial managers have taken over most of the key decision making roles in big companies, and for them it’s a better proposition to make money with money while the cashflow is still there than it is to invest in “human capital” where the return is over too long of a time horizon for it to be rational in today’s capital marketplace.
    Of course this is a deal with the devil, as this strategy surely hollows out the firm’s capacity to produce anything effectively. I offer the airline industry as the prima facie evidence of this–the whole industry has turned into a big cashflow, commodity hedge, and asset play, and the level of service keeps spiraling downward. In the current condition, there’s no way out.
    The Deloitte Center for the Future produced a study a few years back about the trend of the return on net assets of big companies. Since the mid 60’s, the return has declined 75 percent, and is still declining DESPITE rising labor productivity. It’s burning both ends of the candle and points to some kind of cataclysmic collapse.
    Look at the Gallup engagement reports. Historic and accelerating drop offs in the key measures of human capital productive capacity. The result of financialization on the humans in the companies has finally come home to roost. And as Nick points out, comapnies have vaporized their capacity to attract and retain talent. Today they incent for people who thrive in cut-throat, zero sum game environments, making the default corporate culture a shark tank. All the people with fungible skills have pulled up stakes, and almost all entrepreneurial and technical edge has bled out. Again, look at the airlines as the canary in the coalmine.
    Deloite/Edge study:

  4. To the ‘but cannot track the cost of leaving work undone’ I would add ‘until the entire system comes crashing down because necessary work was left undone’

  5. I have a feeling what you’ll hear in reply is a woe-is-us wail of victimhood on the part of HR and corporate powers that be. The really good “talent” in their view is hidden like diamonds in the rough, and only technology can root it out– if they don’t, their competitors will, etc.

    The other unmentioned symptom which those of us who do consulting will notice is an increased reliance on third party “body brokers” to source in project based assistance at discount rates. Management wants no part of the early phases of direct meet and greet and demonstration of know-how or acumen to do a job in the way this column promotes. They will cite overwhelm and understaffing as their defense and get the brokers to winnow the field to those who will work for a song and forgo negotiating. Employers will then settle for the one eyed man to serve the land of the blind on an interim basis as their most thrifty and sensible alternative. The consultant-interim worker will not even meet his prospective boss until the day he arrives to earn lunch money.

    Those of us who refuse to play this game, I fear, will find ourselves on an ever shrinking ice floe as the decade wears on and 45% or more of the work force is relegated to contract help with crazed broken systems of matchmaking that will leave more true talent on the sidelines than you can even imagine now.

  6. Nick,

    I agree with 99% of what you say, but here’s where I disagree: your emphasis on the employee’s profit contribution is excessive.

    Specific jobs exist for many valid reasons and contributing to profits is only one of them.

    Take me, for instance. My last “good” corporate job was as a financial writer for a mutual fund company. The job is much more about maintaining legal / regulatory compliance than it is about increasing sales. In fact, any piece of written communications that is persuasively effective is also illegal.

    This is a real problem in resume writing. There are no measurements of profitability that can actually be attributed to the financial writer.

    Even measures of compliance, such as meeting regulatory deadlines for issuing client reports, are so far beyond the control of the financial writer that it’s a joke.

    An honest resume for a financial writer is a description of features, not measurable benefits.

    This problem demonstrates the value of your approach to the job search. But I’d like to point out that the written resume could support your process more effectively if applicants didn’t feel compelled to twist explanations of what they did into irrelevant or untrue profit measures. Anyway, the manager who hires the financial writer knows better, even if HR doesn’t.


  7. An employer who subjects job prospects to Taleo’s HR system should ask themselves whether anyone would want to work for a company that offers up a user hostile experience with the Taleo online application process.

    Why is it that firms that want to attract top talent out of their way to make a terrible first impression with a broken hiring process and a nightmarish online application web site. My first response when I see Taleo is one word, “run.” I suspect others might do the same.

    I have three criteria for a job (1) interesting work, (2) nice people, (3) a reasonable shot at making a buck. A “no” in the check box on any of these is a “walk away” signal. Taleo hits #2 every time.

  8. I wish this column was sent to every HR department and Board room in the country.

    The hiring system is completely dysfunctional and a broken system produces nothing worthwhile.

  9. AAAAmen Nick! You have hit the nail right on the head. The software business (developing and marketing it) that drives this insanity is a multibillion dollar industry, run by charlatans. I have personal stories i would love to share.

  10. Yep, you are stating the obvious for those of us that have experienced it.
    When filling out one of the Q&A forms in Taleo for a job, the questions were worded in such a way that I could not succeed. For example, “have you ever sold products to XCorp?” My answer had to be “No,” but I had worked at XCorp and knew many of the people that this company was hoping to reach. The answer was a choice of button selections, so there was no opportunity to explain my value, and, being an ethical person, I could not honestly answer “Yes” even though I knew that could at least get a call from them and I could then explain my answer. But, would they then feel I had lied to get the call and then not hire me?
    Regardless, I reached out to my contacts at XCorp, who then contacted the people at the hiring company. I got a call from the hiring manager and he was so excited to find me that he immediately called in their VP to talk to me on the phone.
    The problem was, I already had an offer, which I had informed them of, and they were unable to get their paperwork completed by the time I needed to commit to the other company (where I now work). They easily lost 2 months of my working with them because Taleo asked the wrong questions (which I am sure were created by the hiring company’s HR department).

  11. Nick:

    I would love to argue with you – with any of the points you’ve made – but I can’t.

    You’re right. You’re on target across the board, what you say is precisely correct.

    This really needs to be a Wall Street Journal letter to the editor, or more accurately, a guest editorial. Powerful stuff, the truth.

    I work with a Between Jobs Ministry, trying to help those out of work find work, and this article is going to be the basis of a teaching presentation. I’ve made similar points many times, but I’ve never done it as well (or as pointedly) as you have in this blog. We drive job seekers to sell their ability to contribute to the employer’s profitability, preferably through demonstration of past profitability contributions to previous employers. It’s sound advice and it works but it’s difficult to sail against the wind of the “application” based systems so prevalent today.

    Again, bravo, congratulations on a terrific blog. I can’t say enough about it.

  12. You are always right on, sir, but I especially love your October 29th
    column. Thank you for speaking truth to the morons.

  13. @ Diana–‘Anyway, the manager who hires the financial writer knows better, even if HR doesn’t.’ Unfortunately, many times it’s HR that controls who the hiring manager is allowed to talk to.

    Another issue is that what we are involved in is not a hiring process, it’s an elimination process. HR has a problem (largely of it’s own making) with the sheer volume of applications. They are buried in a crapalanche of boring, junky resumes and focus on getting rid of people not finding them. We tend to get good at those things we do a lot, so HR is really good at eliminating. I can almost hear them say ‘Wow, the ATS eliminated all 600 applicants, must be a talent shortage.’

  14. Every word, so true. Who would have thought the ‘keyword madness’ would worsen in the face of a surfeit of jobs and so many talented job seekers? It has.

    The sad thing is that it makes no sense. I recently found a position I was perfect for me with the State of Texas. The bar was high, but with over 25 years of experience as a writer, I actually met all of the requirements, except one: I don’t have a BA. I do have an AA and another year of college, honor roll all the way.

    I have a contact who talked to me about the job. That person told me ” they (the state) would not even ‘look at me’ because you don’t have the degree.” I met every single job requirement *about the actual work* but they wont talk to me?

    No wonder employers of all kinds, including government, can no longer compete on the world stage.

    Like greedy kids at Christmas, companies continue to make outrageous lists of ‘wants’ for Santa Claus that no one could ever fulfill. And our economy and jobs are paying the price.

  15. @ Diana Ost–Thanks for demonstrating the point: it’s an elimination process not a hiring process.

  16. @Jersey Joe: I think it’s too much focus on short-term financial results. Too much concern with the speculative stockholder at the expense of the true investors in a business. Whether we’re talking product development or headcount, companies are creating “junk profitability” in the short term while shooting themselves in the foot long-term.

  17. Wow, Nick!

    Maybe you should stop being so shy and just tell us how you really feel. :)

  18. Hi Nick,

    Jeeezzz. Now say what you really think.

    May you never tire of spreading wisdom that never gets old.

  19. @Kent Vincent: “The really good “talent” in their view is hidden like diamonds in the rough, and only technology can root it out”

    Yah, HR doesn’t want to don the overalls and go to work in the field. They want to buy applicants. There goes the competitive edge.

    As for the body shops, I think companies use them to avoid fixed overhead. This creates more junk profitability. But look at the results: Workers who are at arm’s length are not so invested in the business.

    I still think the most talented people can do well. The challenge is to get past your lower-cost competitors. Prove your value. That’s not easy.

  20. Nick,
    I enjoyed your read. You use many of my old phrases; WTF and a person must be ready to sell themselves to their employer, ” I add to your profits…”. The major problem with the large number of people in the unemployment lines stems to the simple fact that the companies do not owe you a “job”. People with more than 7 to 10 years experience are in the crosshairs of every employer. They must keep their skills above average and their attitude focused on the bottom line of the company. They must think of new ways to add to the getting the job done or the product out the door. Good attitude keeps you employed. No one owes you a job with benefits.

  21. @Diana Schneidman: I understand your frustration with trying to calculate the profit in the work you do. Try what I did long ago (and this is what gave me the ideas I have about individual profitability): Go talk to your company’s CFO. Ask him or her to discuss how your job contributes to profit, directly or indirectly. I did this once, and learned a great deal. And the CFO did, too. It’s time we all made this assessment.

  22. @dlms: “I wish this column was sent to every HR department and Board room in the country.”

    Thanks :). Do me a favor – send it to a few boards and HR departments… see what happens! And maybe to the editor of your favorite newspaper and business mag! Let’s stoke a battle!

  23. @George: I’m getting lots of inside dope about Taleo and the other main applicant tracking system companies. What’s astonishing: No one really knows how they operate or how personal data is handled. Employers just smile and take what they are given. Big mistake. I think this is a huge bubble that’s going to make a big noise when it pops. I really mean it when I say Congress needs to investigate these vendors — they are the lynchpin in our employment economy.

    • I’d almost bet money, such systems are being used to make conservatives destitute. (Except now for the ones advised by you.)

  24. I’ve always enjoyed reading and benefited from your newsletters. Your 500th newsletter absolutely nails it. It’s timely that the World Series is going on right now, because you hit that one out of the park. One can only hope that at least some employers are listening!

  25. Nick, great article, great comments.

    In keeping with your theme, it seems to me another important aspect of WTF is going on is that these “HR Systems” (hardware, software, and work processes) help A LOT of people avoid accountability for not doing their respective jobs. For example:

    HR: “We get so many resumes. It is impossible for us to review them all manually. These HR systems are absolutely necessary.” Is it possible that part of “the reality” is that HR folks don’t want the responsibility of having to review resumes and then make a decision, a decision for which they could be held ACCOUNTABLE.

    Hiring Manager: “Its HR’s job to send me quality applicants.” (translated “Its not my job.”) Is it possible that just maybe the hiring managers really don’t want to review resumes (for whatever reason, “no time”, “more important or pressing things to do”, etc.) and then make a decision, a decision for which they could be held ACCOUNTABLE.

    Applicant/Job Seeker: These HR Systems make it incredibly easy to “apply” for a position. Is it possible that some applicants are not really applying, but merely submitting a resume so they can “say” they’ve applied for x number of jobs this week? Do the HR Systems actually help some job seekers rationalize their avoidance of the hard work (that you’ve written about so many times) of studying an industry, identifying target companies, identifying the key people within the company, etc., etc., etc.).?

    And the folks in the corner office – when they say “we’re having trouble locating the skilled employees we need, so we’ve redoubled our efforts, investing $XX in our HR Systems”…are they not saying “hey, its not our fault”?

    Bottom line is: “The System” isn’t going to change, at least in the short-term. The good news is, we job seekers don’t have to play by ALL of the HR Industry’ rules. Find a way to get to the hiring manager and show that person how you can help them. Then HR can do their job….helping you fill out the paperwork for the firm’s retirement plan, Health Insurance, etc, etc.

  26. I read about an engineering firm in California that was puzzled why they weren’t getting very many applications through their web site. They submitted what they thought was the perfect resume for one of their open positions. The ATS rejected it, giving it a score of 60 when an 80 was required to move forward. The company is in the market for a new vendor, this time with eyes wide open.

  27. I am a career counselor working in a non-profit career center. I see many, many qualified good people who don’t have jobs because they lack that one non-critical skill or because their network isn’t as strong as the next person’s. It’s too bad that none of these employers in a “talent shortage” are willing to physically come to our center to meet with our members. I guess it’s too hard to get off a chair and really search for the amazing people that exist.

    • I also work for a non profit such as yours… We even offer employers on the job training dollars if they would hire good people that lack a few specific wanted skills. We pay half their wage for up to 6 weeks if they agree to hire and train them in the lacking skills. No employers want to participate.

  28. Nick, You belong in this book which is currently soliciting chapter authors: Transforming U.S. Workforce Development Policies for the 21st Century: A Book for Policy and Practice, edited by Carl Van Horn of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. As you have written today, Congress ought to do something about your concerns. Here’s a chance to be the messenger for getting Congress and other policy makers going. This will take you to a .pdf explaining author submissions wanted,

  29. Only praise, buddy, for being 100 % on target with your WTF column. I am on Linked-in, and almost every day they send me a message that XYZ Co. is interested in someone with my skills. (Of course, this is never followed up by a direct message from the company.) Thanks again

  30. I have been trying to get my career “back on track” after relocating for my husbands job. Also, I took some time off to care for family members, kids and parents. Almost out of desperation, I recently took a seasonal job at a major distribution center for a large retailer. With 2 degrees, I have never had to work in a warehouse, but am finding the job very interesting. I have heard that in the past this company used temp. employment agencies, but had too many problems. Now, their HR dept. does a lot of advertising and hires the employees themselves. They offer all kinds of perks if you bring in friends or relatives and they stay at least 3 months. This company is projecting a lot of growth with their Omnichannel shopping. We have been promised that after the holidays there will be some permanent jobs. Basically, they test out their employees during the busy times and then keep the best most reliable workers. I have already been trained in 2 sections and will soon train in a 3rd. This is the first employer that has treated me with respect since our move. I hope it continues in 2014!

  31. @Nick: I did send one of your columns on this topic to a friend of mine who works in HR. I asked what she thought of it. She agreed with what you wrote but felt she had no power to change the status quo at her company.

    How then can we change the status quo so HR folks understand that what they are doing is extremely counterproductive to the outcome they say they want?

    I am at a loss as how to help change this situation.

  32. Nick,

    Accurate as always sir. The problem with the employers is not the only problem. It’s also in the way job seekers go about the business of finding a job. But it’s not all their fault, they just don’t know any better.

    I know this from my own experience as a volunteer helping people find jobs. Every month, I hear speaker after speaker come in and spew the same garbage about how their way of writing a resume is the best, how to network, how to interview, etc. What a load of crap. Especially since almost none of these “experts” have never hired anyone, or been in a position to.

    If I hear one more HR person explain how to apply for a job online, or another resume expert explain how this months preferred format will help them, I think my head will explode.

    There’s so much crapformation out there no wonder people give up.

    That’s doesn’t excuse the fact that employers have problems and managers are trained in all the wrong ways to hire, if they are trained at all. And if they are, it’s on how to eliminate candidates, not to on how to find the right one.

  33. I recall an interview with Bill Gates of Microsoft many years ago. If I recall correctly, he was asked what gave him the most satisfaction?

    “Hiring good people.”

    It seems that the American hiring, recruitment and training model is inversely proportional to the degree of difficulty of the job. Because we do not ask the person who has arguably the most difficult job in the world, President of the United States, to have any previous experience, specific training or a track record of quantifiable results that he or she is qualified to do the job profitably.

    A great and enlightening post, Nick. You always see things that others miss.

  34. Nick,

    You are always a good read and have an interesting way of sharing your ideas and opinions, but your perpetual railing on HR as the source of all poor hiring practices in all of the universe is getting old and disingenuous. There are too many hiring managers who are real jerks, who refuse to look at candidates, screened or otherwise. With the bureaucracy still imposed by the government, and the volume of openings assigned by companies with too few experienced workers, all you get at best is a bunch of coordinators who have little to no chance to do the job that they would like to do.

  35. I am reminded of the point-by-point explanation of why no church congregation anywhere would ever hire Jesus Christ to be their minister/pastor.

  36. @Chris Walker: Loved your story about the company that tested its own ATS with a perfect resume that got rejected. Peter Cappelli tells about a company that posted a routine engineering position. 26,000 engineers applied. The ATS rejected every single one. Are there any Congressmen out there reading this?? THIS IS A BIG DEAL.

    • It smacks of foreign sabotage of the U.S.. Call me paranoical, but it’d be interesting to look at the top companies responsible and genomically test all their principal people and see if their background stories match their genome-indicated place of origin.

  37. @Veronica: Thanks for the Heldrich suggestion. I’m a Rutgers alumn, and this is the first I’ve heard of the book. I’ll reach out!

  38. @dlms: A lot of HR folks subscribe to the newsletter and share their thoughts with me, right in line with your friend’s. But many won’t post for fear they’re upsetting the applecart. And they feel powerless, too. I know I rap HR pretty hard, but the reason I keep referring to the Employment System is that the problem is much larger than HR alone. The money is huge, and the game is complex. Many good HR folks are locked into a system they cannot control any more. The only way it’s going to change is externally — either government, or industry groups, or boards of directors, or stockholders must step in and blow the lid off this joke. America is unemployed not because of the economy. Our economy is booming! It’s largely because the Employment System keeps people and jobs apart while it milks the corporate coffers.

  39. @Tom Nosal:

    I had lunch today with the founder of a good software company that does unusually good work. He takes hiring very seriously and very personally because it’s how he’s built such a great little company. I asked him what he thinks is the problem with recruiting and hiring in companies in general. He said, “Managers think candidate selection is a crucial function, and it’s something they’d really rather avoid doing themselves.”

    What a contradiction, eh? We both laughed over this, but we both realized just how enormous the problem is. It really does start with lazy, scared managers.

  40. @Phil: I didn’t create HR or put it between job seekers and hiring managers. HR is an enormous profession and interest group. It’s long past time that as a group it faced these problems and started taking action to correct them. You’re right: Hiring managers share a lot of the blame for the problem. But in small companies, where HR does not exist, you don’t find this problem, because managers realize they have to buck up and handle recruiting and hiring. When you take HR out of the equation in such “in vivo” situations, the problem disappears. So, what does that tell you?

  41. I have to agree with Diana Schneidman: There are many positions that I have had over the years that were “hit your marks, say your lines, keep the heat and lights on” type of positions. All necessary, some rewarding, none that could be jammed into the square hole of “how much profit did you bring in?”

    Nick, I’ll go you one beyond “Employers have no business plan”: The average company’s strategic vision extends no further than this coming Friday’s conference call with the analysts and “air talent” at CNBC. No wonder they attempt to hire someone to parachute in and provide instant profit rather than build for the future.

    If they built for the future, HR would be spit in two, with a couple people in “salary and benefits” keeping those necessities working, and the rest would fan out across the country like the scouts for a baseball team, looking far, wide and deep for talent.

    This is the nation that put a chicken in every pot, won WWII, put a man on the moon, and computer within every resident’s reach. Whatever your company needs to have done, there is an available person who can do it.

    You just need a real method of finding that person.

  42. L.T.

    It is intresting to see what some companies like Google and Amazon are betting on in the long term. I do think their recruitment is better having gone through it but I have some issues with it as well.

  43. @L.T.: All I keep thinking about is those 3.9 million vacant jobs. I mean, Mickey D might need an awful lot of burger flippers, but there must be some serious jobs in there… and among 25 million job seekers there’s no good solution?? It rocks my boat.

  44. Aaaaaamen!

    And the problem is even worse when it comes to federal government hiring–much worse. The US government online hiring system is so dysfunctional that a lot of people don’t even bother–despite the obscene benefits and job security that come with government jobs. Guess who the government hires to create and run that system. Monster, among others. The federal government, too, complains about the lack of qualified employees.

    I’d love to see Congress investigating this, but that would also mean taking on the federal civil service bureaucracy (where the decision-makers have presumably already been bought by the hiring-systems industry), as well as resisting the, ah, blandishments of the lobbyists hired to protect the industry in Congress.

    One point I don’t recall seeing fully made: If HR people using hiring systems like Taleo (ATS, applicant tracking systems) really wanted to maximize the number of qualified applicants responding to job postings, they would offer basic guidance for applicants about the format of their submissions (order of information, date formats, character limits, all the other little details), so that the ATS systems can “parse” the applications. (In many cases, a majority of applications are rejected merely because they don’t parse.) They should also tell applicants in advance just what information is wanted, so they can prepare it properly before applying, rather than improvising while filling out an online application. (They should also make sure that the online applications actually work–many don’t, or don’t work if the applicant is using certain widely-used browser/OS combinations. At very least, post the system requirements.)

    I’ve never seen that sort of information provided by HR. I take this as proof that the real purpose of ATS systems, in the mind of HR, is to minimize the number of resumes that HR has to consider, however arbitrary the means of selection. HR’s answer is probably that they would be overwhelmed otherwise. But that answer makes sense only on the assumption that there is a talent surplus, not a talent shortage. Otherwise, they couldn’t afford to blow off qualified applicants.

    In fact, the suckers who write the checks at large corporations are paying for ATS systems that have no purpose but to make HR the mentally undemanding job that it is. (They’re also paying the salaries of a lot of incompetent hiring managers, but that’s a separate problem.)

  45. Nick: Each of those 3.9 vacant positions could likely be filled six times over by people ready, willing and able to do the job.

    The reason why there are 25 million job seekers and 3.9 million person vacant positions is that most of the job seekers also want a wage that would allow them some taste of a lifestyle beyond got to work, come home, sleep, repeat. They want a living wage, whether that is market rate, union scale, dependent on experience or (shudder) ability.

    CxO’s for many companies lie awake at night in an ice-cold sweat that accompanies the fear of paying U.S. market wages. Put another way, when you hear a financial guru talking about “shareholder value” he is speaking code for “destroy the U.S. middle class”.

    Which is why many talented people give up and form their own company doing whatever (coding, project management, coffee shop … the list goes on). If for some reason large corporations needed everyone and needed them now, there would be a real and substantial shortfall as people who own and work for small businesses looked on and thought “fool me once …”

  46. I also wonder if they have automated systems for applications, why can’t they bother to send a form letter rejection? It shows a complete lack of respect for the applicants when they can’t bother to take the 90 seconds to login and send out rejection notices.

  47. WTF is going on?

    Welcome to the welfare state. Wait till the populace runs out of bread and they will kill you for a candy bar.

    Doom and gloom? I suggest you prepare for the worse and I am sincere about that.

    This is how America is transformed. Slowly at first and then it all comes crashing down in an instant.

  48. One very, very short short story that lingers long in my memory was written in the late 1960’s—early 1970’s, and concerns the second coming. He really did come, and, with His angels, He began canvassing earth for His followers.

    None could be found.

    Finally, a great stone was found. Upon turning it over, an inscription read: “We were here—where were you?”

    In my heart of hearts, I truly believe corporate America is heading down the same path. The ‘talent shortage’ will only grow worse. I myself have been frustrated for nearly five years, and will most likely ride out a survival job until retirement. I look at the job descriptions and the pay levels, and have come up with “two levels up, three levels down”. The responsibilities have risen two levels, while the pay has dropped three levels.

    When I lost my job to a buyout, I didn’t stop the meter on my pay scale. I’ve increased it by 5% annually since 2009.

    How I came by this “fair market value” is the topic of another post, but the number rings true.

    I only hope this number will triple in value once the ‘talent shortage’ comes to a head.

    Please permit me to ramble a bit more.

    The people corporate America is messing with are not dumb. One guy several thousand above my pay grade remarked in AARP: “I didn’t grow stupid just because I lost my job.”

    My daughter the lawyer continually remarks: “When stupid people get angry, you have a revolt. When smart people get angry, you have a revolution.”

    Corporate America demands skill-sets, when what they desperately need are mind-sets.

    I lasted 30 years on my last “gig”. Most front-line managers don’t last three years. I now work in an operation that I once directed. I’ve had 3 bosses in two years.
    If Dr. Phil was investigating current corporate behavior, his main question would be, “How’s that workin’ for ya?

    One day, corporate America is going to ask, “Where is the talent we need to create more wealth?”

    The answer will be: We were here—where were you?

  49. Nick –

    Excellent article.

    Three points:

    1) I’m not sure I’d want Congress trying to fix this – the cure might be worse than the disease.

    2) I’m wondering what the statistic means, that < 2% of companies hire from Monster and / or CareerBuilder. Whatever it means, it seems that, at some point, employers will start to notice that statistic, and, one would assume (and would hope) that the market (i.e., the employment market) would make a correction.

    3) It seems that the job seeker who unplugs from this dysfunctional system, and who approaches potential employers in the way you and selected others recommend, primarily through networking and offering true value to targeted organizations, will be successful in finding meaningful and profitable work.

  50. Good read!

    As the CEO of a small recruitment system vendor myself I see this all the time. That HR wants to get rid of one of their most important processes. I even think the term Applicant Tracking System should be retired. What if the sales staff used a Client Tracking System and let the prospective clients apply to do business?

    If you see recruitment as an administrative obstacle that a system should take away from your daily chores. Well then you’re not doing it right. I agree with your point that more companies should prioritize and “insource” these processes.

    There is of course a big difference between what type of talent your after. Supply and demand for different skillsets vary and so does the need for selection in different stages of the process. The computer might be of help here. But…

    We’re not selling a solution as much as a tool. Those vendors stating otherwise wont help you in the long run. To be successful in talent aquisition you need to buckle down, learn the craft and grind. As long as the talent you’re looking for is a human, you must be human yourself.

  51. Nick,

    You have outlined what most do not want to face, facts. You point out what the social media addicted public do not want to see, harsh reality. You are one who has spoken the truth.

    I tested all these sites years ago and swiftly got off them. I saw them for what they were worth. They were a total waste of my time. I have been saying the same for years now.

    In light of this, I feel most of the unemployed, underemployed or even employed and frustrated are largely the same who fell lock, stock and barrel for the social media BS and to this day live for it, which is all tied to related monitoring and social media and database selling. They have no one but themselves to blame.

    They do not get the fact if they would get off this crap and their dead arses and follow what you have been saying for years on end their situations would change. Yet, the system does not want this it would lose them. Hence, why they have been brainwashed to believe they have to be on this, that and the other thing of the moment. This is why we see adults, both women and men, acting like 12-year-old girls pinning pictures, posting ridiculous one-liners that fall out of their mind, and gossiping to strangers online.

    I just wonder if people will ever understand they are being used. This is why social media sites want people to post as much of their information on these systems because it makes them money. In my opinion, I do not see them nailing six-figure jobs out of this social media/career media garbage; it’s a personal waste of time and a personnel waste of time and money.

    I cannot believe how many executives over 45 who have fallen for this ridiculous shite. The minute I see it I cringe.

  52. How articulate, clever and insightful all the responses were. I have nothing to add except that @Nick should be an added author to the Rutgers publication and get this commentary out and observed on an academic level as well as to give this deductive reasoning on a real problem a new level of exposure. The problem is tremendous and continuously mounting.

    It’s refreshing to be amongst minds that get “it”.

  53. @Citizen X : what you wrote is a beautiful save of what’s true and real. It’s almost like a fairy tale that should be read to every aspiring CFO at bedtime, or other important person in corporate America that could affect change for an America that we may not soon recognize.

  54. @Gwen I do not personally know you outside of posting here but I must say to you that I find your comments (excuse me for the cliché) are always right on the money.

    I second your motion regarding @Nick being able to add his voice on these issues to the Rutgers platform, and the facts you so well state regarding a problem that is “tremendous and continuously mounting,” which is (like most everything else these days) in my opinion entirely out of control.

  55. From my experience finding a job online it goes something like this:

    we need an entry level programmer that knows a full web development stack, has experience managing a database, knows five other programming languages at expert level just for fun, can implement Fourier transform algorithms on the spot, likes both dogs and cats, and wants to get paid 30K.

    • And must not have held more than one job in the last 10 years, oh, and this is position involves an at-will working relationship in which you can be terminated at any time for any reason with or without notice.

  56. @Thomas – You are spot on. The scope creep of online job listings is amazing.

  57. @Nic: Thanks so much for your kind words! Your commentary on this blog usually finds me oogling over your insight at times as well. Write all the cliche’s you want, sometimes they still tell exactly what a person needs/wants to say. You are/can/be my friend in my head, albeit through this medium or email. Some people on this blog already are. It’s rare to find intelligent commentary in one spot without neurosis involved. Drop me a note anytime if you have anything you like to jab on about: Life-this crazy world, etc…G huff 389 a t g m ail dot c o m. Hey, we just expanded our network!

  58. Had to relay this experience. A Robert Half headhunter (Eugene OR – where a GED is the highest educational aspiration for the locals) adamantly told me to get a different email address in order to have more success. That was the extent of her expertise apparently cuz had told her to promote them. What the moron didn’t know was this address is to collect spam like hers,as well as, legitimate email while I save my others to keep them “clean”. She had been promoted from accts. rec. within. Go figure?

    Keep up the good work!

  59. @Chris Hogg

    “3) It seems that the job seeker who unplugs from this dysfunctional system, and who approaches potential employers in the way you and selected others recommend, primarily through networking and offering true value to targeted organizations, will be successful in finding meaningful and profitable work.”

    While Nick’s suggestion is spot on (I’ve tried it) it doesn’t necessarily mean one will even grab the gatekeeper’s attention (read: Hiring Manager). We’ve become a country of walls. Even though, in some ways, it’s never been easier to reach out to hiring managers (because of email) it’s also been more difficult (automation makes it easy for employers to IGNORE job seekers — even those whose skills and background match a job description).

    And not everyone has access to strong networks of people in a company that hold the job you’re seeking. I am sick of reading career advice with regard to “networking” within your own network.

    I am in a creative field in which I have few friends, and I’ve already TAPPED those friends for resources. The Assumption that EVERYONE in one’s community can serve as a lead to someone in your field is simply hogwash!!!

    Additionally, part in parcel to this problem is the fact that in the last 30 years employers, for middle class workers, are no longer willing to pay to relocate people. So people, like me, who were once living in a city of their dreams — until my job was eliminated due to mismangement of company funds — may now be living elsewhere because of financial circumstances.

    Hence, it makes it more difficult to get back to living, and working, in a city where I desire to be, that offers more opportunity for my specific career, and discipline.

    As always, Thank you Nick, for being the voice of reason and TRUTH. I wish you would consider running for president in 2016. You’re one of only a few trusted voices in America who understands, and tells the truth, about what’s REALLY happening in America with regard to the economy.

  60. I’m late as usual, but it’s as someone said an interesting & well said read which covers a lot of ground that I feel compelled to weigh in. Books can be written about the whole scenario and it looks like this is one. Sorry for the length

    This struck me as having an overly rich tone of HR Flogging, which begs the issue, which I think is better centered around Nick’s point that Employers have no business plan. While HR as part of a management team shares the problem, they aren’t the problem. The buck stops with Management, and particularly Executive Management. They are supposed to be running the show. As Nick alluded to, I had a saying when you hear an executive say… “People are our most important asset”….run like Hell.

    The irony is that the homily is dead on. People are THE most important part of their business, yet finding the right people, getting them on board, helping them to ramp up to help fuel a profitable venture and keeping them on board gets little attention and particularly priority from Executive Management. They throw that over the wall to HR. Instead they foster, & default to, an unholy alliance of their own managerial laziness, HR “best practices”, the recruiting industry and it’s supply chain of tool providers, government and academia, and the job seekers themselves. Over time this has evolved into a dysfunctional process. The # of people on the street, makes the point.

    All the above players are trying to make something that takes a lot of concentrated and ongoing effort easy for the hiring manager and the job seeker. Management is dumbing down what should be of the highest priority into a numbing routine. But sorry, it’s not easy and it’s not low priority. Acquiring top producers demands quality time and effort. You can weave and dodge, but if you’re a hiring manager, and want great people, you’re going to have to spend a good chunk of your time and attention to recruiting and training. And ditto to the flip side of the job seeker. You are going to have to treat your hunt as top priority, consuming a lion’s share of your time. It’s a full time job. You both need to communicate, and right now the tools, the process, habit and the process is a Gordian Knot of obstacles in the way of that one/one communication. .

    Management needs to put some meat into the homily, by embedding it into the strategic and tactical planning that drives and governs their growth via a HIGH priority hiring plan that emphasizes managerial accountability on plan execution. And when results stink, find out why, and quickly effect corrective action.

    HR (other than their own needs) can’t do the planning, define the need or hire the people. That’s line management’s job. They can help by Marketing the company (lead generation), take ownership of the plan, develop a results oriented recruiting process, including some QA aspects (e.g. no more BS job descriptions) and track results. They can make it their mission in life to drive the process back to the basics of a process that centers around advocating people who get results/doing the job and equitably bring them aboard, instead of proliferating mindless job description checkoff exercises.

    I’m all for degrees when possessed by, and which demonstrate someone developing a professional passion, But a degree is just a clue suggesting potential, it doesn’t equal ability. Ideally both are there but sorry, ability to a high degree exists sans degree. Marketing campaigns that suggest one’s degree is a ticket to success don’t help, because in the real world, they are only a ticket to play and when you get to play you better produce.

    Government programs that support increasing #’s of work visas based on employer pleas that there’s a shortage of skilled labor simply succumb to the siren song that a degree = ability, and shortages of certain degrees then = a shortage. This is appalling in the face of the kind of unemployment we face today.

    To me the essence of Nick’s post was his final shot…”American ingenuity starts with the individual who has an idea, blossoms with a plan that will produce profit — for yourself and your boss and your customer — and results in more money for everybody. “
    This describes the core of a start-up. Start-ups don’t burden themselves with the shoot-myself-in-my-foot labyrinth inside a rut, inside a box of bad habits that established firms have fallen prey to. They don’t have the time, they are in a hurry, they work like fiends and they don’t give a shit about credentials. The only thing that counts is can you do what needs to be done…period. Everything else takes a back seat and they don’t throw body blocks on people who aim to show them that they can do the job. They got “show me” embedded in their hiring process.

    Nor is what Nick is suggesting off the mark or that a pragmatic approach is idealistic. Let me give you an example. I grew up in the Computer Industry, Hi tech so to speak. And I go back a long way. When computers emerged from scientific obscurity toward a commercial proposition, there was a serious gating factor. For computerdom to be a viable industry, it needed programmers. Software people. These were virtually non-existent. Forget academia, no such degrees. Forget a wealth of trained and experienced people. Non existent. So the budding industry simply was forced to look for people with potential, with a “knack” and those people looked for them. They got programmers from musicians, Electrical Engineers, chess players, math wonks, truck drivers, etc etc. And it worked. Then they got picky and as the companies aged, they forgot their roots and played the game that we have now…except for start-ups

    Job seekers are in the same rut, playing by the “rules” seldom challenging the system, seldom preparing themselves to find & take advantage of some hiring maverick who will do much of their own recruiting, communicate, and offer them a chance to show their stuff. They troll for jobs, instead of seeking companies, they train themselves to interview, instead of performing, and they forget the definition of insanity.

    Sorry for the length. To me even if I believed that there is a skills shortage which I don’t, it’s all about the ability to employers to find and cultivate potential. Hire smart people, and that includes street-smart, people smart enough and confident enough to move out of their comfort zones and successfully adapt. Smart people ramp up quickly and are productive as they ramp. Employers need to keep in mind that if the length of your search exceeds ramp up time, you’re doing something seriously wrong and wasteful of time, and money.

    I agree with Nick…give me a break!. The sheer number of unemployed people today means there’s a treasure trove of smart adaptable people out there. You don’t even have to get elegant and do the math. Talent shortage claims are just the whining output of a employers using a poorly integrated employment system comprised of a bunch of bad habits devoid of ingenuity.

    An employer who wants an edge, only needs to differentiate, by getting their start-up mojo back, put some energy back into their hiring, make it top priority and they’ll blow past conforming competition by bringing aboard people who can get things done, and want to get things done with them .

  61. Excellent rant!
    But there is a talent shortage – as long as you define talent as someone who knows all your tools and procedures and can jump in with no training and will work for nothing – kind of like @Thomas said.
    We’ve managed to fill all our extremely specialized openings, and are working on the next batch. I have no idea of what a Taleo is, which might be one of the reasons we can do it.
    American companies these days are extremely profitable, and many are sitting on loads of cash. I don’t buy that they can’t afford training and can’t afford relocation. Tiny startups maybe – but they should be located where the talent is, so they don’t have to pay relocation.
    We have a friend who is a headhunter, and she complains about bringing perfect candidates to client companies only to have the companies make the candidates go through five rounds of interviews spaced over months, apparently absolutely petrified that there might be someone better out there. Then when the candidate takes a job at a sane company they complain about how hard it is to hire. Have you seen this craziness?

  62. Loved your article! You hit the nail on the head. Now if companies would wake up and go back to the old ways of interviewing and forget about the “key words.” I’m wondering how many great applicants were lost because they didn’t have the “key words” in their resume?

  63. @Frustrated American –

    You say, “And not everyone has access to strong networks of people in a company that hold the job you’re seeking. I am sick of reading career advice with regard to “networking” within your own network. I am in a creative field in which I have few friends, and I’ve already TAPPED those friends for resources. The Assumption that EVERYONE in one’s community can serve as a lead to someone in your field is simply hogwash!!! “

    I have to agree with you, because of the way you have defined networking. Effective networking may start with our own network and our own friends, but it quickly moves out and beyond to brand new fields and brand new people. If we confine our efforts to people we already know, you are correct, it quickly degenerates into hogwash.

    If you have not already read them, the books, What Color is Your Parachute? by Bolles, and, Cracking the Hidden Job Market by Asher, might prove helpful.

  64. This article brought a tear to my eye. It seems to hit the nail EXACTLY on the head. I have been looking for > 18 months now and while I occasionally get an interview, NOTHING further happens. Frequently, the recruiter NEVER gets back to me. I have to pester them to get further information.

    My question is. What do we do about it?

  65. The entire problem in my opinion is so multi-layered so riddled in fraud and abuse from top to bottom it is disgusting and entirely out of control. People are so messed up mentally and socially now I often look around and do not know where I am. I often feel as thou I am no longer in America or Europe, but that I have landed on an alien planet.

    The addictions to whatever some people say is the new thing or what you must be doing and today that relates largely to phones, social sites and key word garbage. It is largely the fact that too many firms have hired too many of these simpletons first in HR (which I have found the vast majority of HR people are complete morons programmable idiots looking at key words and playing yes-men (or more often yes-women.)

    Then there are the sad excuses for managers and executives that they hired on the dirt cheap, why? Well, out of greed of course. Why pay someone 500K a year if you can get the basic paper pushed for 90K, business has faltered in the process. This is my experience cheap means lower quality …always, and in all ways.

    I will go out on a limb and state precisely what I see there are too many scared, under-qualified people (so-called degrees or not today that means little when any dope can get through a degree) running firms. Do you see how many once great firms are falling? It is all around from retail to publishing, etc. etc. Do you see what has happened? At the same time of all these changes. All straight down the sewer and just look at the people running the show. Look at the decisions they make it is hard to believe boards of directors allow such fiascoes.

    Networking is a limited game. The issue, as one stated, is clear if your circle is limited, (mine is also) if you are not part of a circle of what is today composed of cheap, low-class idiots only looking to hire their cheap idiotic friends then your network is useless. On the surface, this may appear horrid to some, but to others it will ring true, sorry the truth is often hard to swallow, but it is simply fact.

    The key word social crap appeals to simpleminded people and if you are not in that circle, you scare them, intimidate them you are not going to be called because you are a threat to them.

    The bottom-line to all this is quite simple. It was in my opinion very well stated by a good British friend of mine, he a Princeton graduate said, “The Barbarians are not at the gate old man …they have crashed it.”
    My response, the entire mess is entirely out of control from top to bottom in all sectors.

    It is time to distance oneself from it as much as possible until it all comes crashing down upon them, and it will. Gather like people and resources, and let the rest fail. Until this hideous mess washes out … nothing is going to change. The fact is talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words, what are your actions and reactions to what is being done to you?

  66. You nailed it, Nick!

    What drives me crazy is going to recruiters’ conferences and hearing the presentations and active discussions about 2 things:

    1.) The daily battles in the “The War for Talent!”

    “WAR for talent?” Eh? Just look around!

    2.) The preference for “passive” job seekers (currently employed) vs. “active” job seekers (unemployed).

    What!?! Hire someone who is UNemployed? What a unique concept!


    Hiring managers blame HR and job seekers. HR blames hiring managers and job seekers. Job seekers blame HR and the ATS. The ATS vendors blame the job seekers, HR, and the hiring managers. So, really, it’s nobody’s fault. Or is it…

    WHO IS REALLY AT FAULT? I blame top management at all these employers for not understanding how important good, well-treated employees are to the success of the organizations. I also blame them for not paying attention to this critical management/success issue, for not measuring employee satisfaction and performance, and for not training their managers to be better at hiring, whether using corporate job listings, social media, job boards, or ATS.

    We had a very appropriate term for this in the military, which I won’t use it here, but it starts with “flying circle cluster-” for those who may know the term.

  67. Fifteen months ago I wrote in my blog about a position announcement that required 21 different skills. TWENTY ONE!

    To read the announcement go to WeezerWords:

  68. @Richard: I read the post on your blog. The position description is hilarious. Makes you wonder who runs a company like this and why.

  69. @Susan: I thought that expression came from the tech industry. I suppose the clusters all have something in common :-). Top management is indeed the culprit. The buck stops there. And that’s where the cluster forms.

  70. @nick:

    Thanks for mentioning my Perfect Fit column again! Getting some good mileage from that…



    Going to employment centers and networking groups makes sense… but it’s easier to carp about a shortage.



    At a conference about ten years ago I heard two “suits” discussing offshoring white collar jobs. One told another “I can get two Indians for the same prices as an American” (paraphrased). And then they wonder why nobody in America can afford to buy their products any more.


    Shameless self-promotional plug of my blog essays:

  71. With 25 million un- and under-employed in the USA, we could shut down the H-1B program, yank all the previously issued visas, and I bet American Business would not skip a beat. Oh, there might be less “shareholder value”, but I’ve already defined that term more honestly for you.

  72. @Nic and @Chris Hogg and others-dead on, dead on! Networking is exactly as you put it.

  73. Nick,

    Your comments are so right on the mark!
    I was at the “recruiting” end for 26 years and had my own staffing firm until 2 years ago. I have seen hundreds of truly skilled, intelligent, ethical and all-around wonderful candidates stay unemployed because companies (my clients) were too narrow-minded to hire them. Now I am on the other side of the table. Quite frankly, if I had been my own candidate, I would hire me in an instant! I have also seen candidates have all the right “buzz words” on their résumés, and they were total losers. Yet they got hired – go figure.

    Here I am, 2 years after selling my small business, looking for a full-time job in communications. I have been writing, editing and translating professionally for 16 years. I have been dealing with senior executives, salespeople, suppliers, and people from all walks of life, but somehow, that doesn’t count as “real” experience. I am blessed to have a very nice contract right now, but that too will come to an end soon, and I will joining the rank of job searchers again.

    It is no different here in Canada, sadly…


  74. Nick’s article nailed it. I received the following article from my Alma Mater Via “Linked In”: “Job Seekers are Out of Sync with Hiring Managers”!


  75. @Brett In my opinion, after reading that article, they have that title backwards.

  76. When I read this last week I thought long and hard about ATS systems (proprietary ATS and job boards) and our career coaching field. I’ve talked to HR recruiters by the hundreds, HR directors and from directing the programs at a center for professionals I started over 22 years ago I know the upper range of talent IS out there but are those in need of the talent just buying into the talent shortage way of thinking? It could be if you only think ATS but what about networking, cold calling, temp to perm work… etc.

    A couple of the 68 people responding to Nick’s article agreed that HR recruiters search for candidates somewhere around the 80% qualified number (the more technical the position the higher the “cull rate”), your application may “pull” in the 70% range and you are totally ignored, your résumé is filed away electronically as a bunch of Xs and Os (data bits) never to be seen again because it is “assumed” that when the same position opens again that you are working… in today’s economy that is not true, as you know! All ATS software claim they match well – but they are not perfect and in some cases not even close and the business owner who purchased this system in 1999 can’t understand how it doesn’t work and decides there is no talent out there, so they turn to external specialized recruiters who are using ATS software Hmm!

    The issues with automated matching systems are many, here are just a few items to consider:
    • Is the parsing software up to date
    • are the job announcements/descriptions up to date,
    • company HR recruiters tend to move from job to job about every two years in attempts to advance their careers – so we get either “newbies” or those who are just earning their salary and are not invested in their work and ATS systems aren’t updated as frequently or at all and top management isn’t aware this is a significant problem
    •do the job descriptions contain proprietary terms and phrases that only an insider would know
    •are those seeking employment or HR recuiters for that matter, aware of how the systems parse a résumé and that software designed in the period from 1996 – 2010 doesn’t have all the capabilities of SOME of the current systems
    •has the applicant had any training on TODAY’s résumé design or are they relying on résumé writing software or books that were published 2-5 years and earlier?

    Remember – the oft repeated term “Garbage In — Garbage Out” sometime it just isn’t the software.

    So we came up with Tag Clouding both the résumé and the job duties and matched all of the key words perfectly and our customers still don’t match. The same happens on Job Boards. The top 20% of matched candidates are printed out and much of the time the recruiter sees a document with much of the same information but is full of upside down question marks and numerous pages because the candidate didn’t know to submit a plain résumé or want to take the time to produce one. The reader tries briefly to put the information together and says the heck with it and goes to the next candidate, hoping that they will get a more readable document. And so it goes – like a great meal “presentation” is very important!

    At the soul of success is knowledge! When you are employed and working you don’t need the type of knowledge our coaching system system is based around. But when you are unemployed you need the services of trained professionals in the areas of career management who know it isn’t just for emergencies but it must be in the DNA of the Readily Accessed Memory of every American that reminds them “how do I remain employed and make the moves I want to make as I gain knowledge, skills and expand my abilities”. Until that day arrives when every American thinks that way, my fellow professionals, our jobs are really important to the fabric of America – helping others succeed is our singular goal be they businesses or individuals.
    Nick you hit a nerve and the career coaches twitched but did the employer community?

  77. It is incredible that all of just accept the conclusion (from US Department of Labor statistics)that 3.9 million jobs are being “lost monthly or yearly). This statistic is ‘jobs open at the end of the month” not jobs lost. This figure is an artifact of the system processing time. In August of this year, for example, there were 4.5 million hires and 4.4 separations. If it took on an average of 2-months to process (fill) each opening, there would be about 9 million jobs open at any one time (4.5 million/mo times 2-months) and so what? Instead, the average time to fill a job (for those jobs that were filled) was around 1.15 (4.9/4.5). To be accurate, that number would have to corrected to consider the number of jobs that go unfilled for more than a month, i.e, one really needs to do a job-cohort analysis to get the the best estimate of the average time to fill a typical job but no one is really interested in that number anyway. The point is that, if next month the same statistic had risen to 5.5 million, it would be a good thing not a bad thing. ‘Jobs open at the end of the period is determined by the actual time to process all applicants and fill the job-opening. According to one of the analysts at DOL who answer questions from the public: “We do not directly measure the number of unfilled jobs due to a mismatch in skills.”
    You all ought to be duly embarrassed for opening your mouths about something you no so little about.

  78. So, let me get this straight, sixtiesman. Jobs are opened and filled on an ongoing basis. The market is swamped with talent – 25 million looking for full-time jobs. I agree that time to fill is an important metric. But the hue and cry among employers is that they can’t find people to fill vacant jobs. Anecdotal evidence (from researchers like Cappelli, readers of this blog, and many who comment on other venues) tells us that enormous numbers of highly qualified people are rejected by ATSes. While I agree it’s a good thing when more jobs open up, the mechanisms employers rely on to fill them quickly are failing miserably. I find it interesting that the workings of the infrastructure system used to fill jobs doesn’t even play into your analysis. Do you think it warrants a close look? Amazon can deliver a box in two days, using state of the art tracking technology. American employers can’t fill a job for weeks or months?

  79. I have been consistently sending out resumes to the entire Bay Area as well as LA area. I have had MANY interviews. This is what irritates the crap out of me.

    1. I seriously question just how serious any company really is when they allow HR reps who have NO clue what the job function is to actually do the screening.
    2. After interviewing, even though I am extremely well qualified, I will then see the job reposted on LinkedIn. I think either companys do not have the job to begin with (and are just mass posting to waste our time) or they are really not that serious about snatching up well qualified candidates.

    I get really cranky when I hear companies state “they cannot find good candidates”…that is a load of BS…either FIRE HR or get serious about the hiring process.

  80. I am going to add to my comment:

    3. How about the companies who repeatedly post the SAME job over and over. I have been notified numerous times about a few jobs at Amazon and Lo and Behold! it is the same job I applied to 15 months ago. Which tells me they are really not that serious to begin with.

    • Just a couple weeks ago I went to an oilfield company advertising for a driver. I talked with the manager. He said they didn’t have any openings right now, but I could have an application to fill out and bring back.

      There are a few companies which always stick in memory, who I’ll never consider applying with again. I filled out their life history application, tailored a resume for the position, wrote a cover letter, talked with a manager over the phone. Never heard anything from them. I also don’t bother applying for state government jobs anymore.

  81. Nick, you are so right about this. With so many people still unemployed and underemployed (I’m now in the latter group), you’d think employers would have no problem finding people to fill vacancies. What I’ve found is that they either have unreasonable expectations (expect applicants to be able to do the job perfectly from day one without any training), don’t pay enough (salaries are too low), and rely totally on a computer (ATS) to do the hiring for them. For example, earlier this summer I applied for a job at the community college where I currently work. I’d done a variation of this particular job before, but my students had been online, graduate students, most of whom were mid-career professionals who already held terminal degrees. The open job was advising undergraduates. Granted, some of the duties were different–the advisors don’t run programs (like I did in my previous job), don’t handle admission (ditto), but academic advising is academic advising. You learn about the programs, you learn about the various requirements and regulations and deadlines, you become familiar with the institution and systems, and most importantly, you learn about your students. I had contacted the hiring manager, was pushed to the website and the online application. You know where this goes next…down the rabbit hole, into a black hole, take your pick. I was rejected by the computer, but later I saw one of the academic advisors, and he said that they had a real hard time filling that position (which paid better than my previous job, was full time and had benefits) because they couldn’t find anyone with at least 5 years of academic advising experience. I politely reminded him that I had applied, that I had 8 years of experience (albeit with graduate students), and was used to dealing with non-traditional students. He was surprised, and told me to contact their new boss. It turned out that I got rejected because I wasn’t a perfect match–the computer distinguished between undergraduate and graduate, and rejected me out of hand. Yet the position went unfilled for a long time, and I recently learned from Kamari that the remaining advisors have taken on more students because the college can’t find anyone. My conclusion is that they’re not hurting enough–if/when more advisors leave and the remaining ones can’t keep taking on more and more students (there are over 7500 students enrolled at this college), maybe they’ll stop looking for a computer to make a perfect match.

    Sigh. They’re not alone….I’ve seen other jobs, researched the organization, found out who the hiring manager is, only to be directed to HR and more often and worse, to go to the website and apply online. Then the same jobs will pop up again, and HR and hiring manager will continue to complain, as Nick noted, that there’s a talent shortage.

    @Nick: you’re so right about this–the problem IS systemic, and try as I might, employers are worshiping the ATS god instead of using their common sense. I’d tell employers–kill your ATSes. Go back to reading résumés (if you MUST have a summary of candidates’ experiences) and more importantly, get out and talk to people. There’s far more unemployed and underemployed talented people out there, and you’re relying on a computer. And don’t be dumb; you have to exercise zee leetle grey cells (you think that someone who spent 8 years as an academic advisor to graduate students couldn’t be an academic advisor to undergraduates? Really? Really?!). Pay more. Don’t expect a new hire to know and do the job perfectly from day one. Stop looking for the perfect fit for all 499 criteria; that person is like a unicorn (doesn’t exist, and if he does, don’t expect you can get him for intern wages, i.e., free).

    Last Friday on C-Span, I watched a segment of their “Washington Journal” (runs mornings from 7-10) that discussed this problem. There were a couple of “experts” on the segment, and one of them mentioned the problem of ATS and computers in the job search and hiring process, stated that employers now require new hires to know the job perfectly from day one with no training and no investment on their part, which is making it very hard for job seekers. But neither of the guests nor the moderator followed up, and I don’t recall any of the callers/twitterers following up with this either.

    Nick, I know that you’ve been on PBS, but I think you need to go on C-Span (Washington Journal), CNBC, CNN, 60 Minutes, 20/20 and any other show that is going to get the word out. A mere 15 minute segment isn’t enough, and I’d really like to see someone (maybe Frontline) do an in-depth episode about this problem. There are too many good people out of work and/or underemployed/not employed in their field and too many employers with jobs that go unfilled for too long. As long as employees manage to keep things afloat, management has no reason to change. Only when the vacancies start to affect their bottom line (profits or goals) will they change.

  82. This all sounds good but reality is reality and the way this system isn’t working is what we in the job search market have to work with. I wish it was different but after 3 years of searching, applying, networking, and doing everything short of hiring a search firm (because I know they are a scam) I still have only had 3 phone interviews and 6 replies via email. That is less then 1 contact per quarter over the past 3 years.

    I wish I could get to hiring managers but in my present company nobody can get hired unless they go through HR first. The decision is completely out of the hiring managers hands as HR is screening the first 2 to 3 layers. Because I live and work in China people in HR assume I am not authorized to work in the US, not knowing I am a natural born US citizen who moved to China to get real global experience.

    People are refusing to continue the conversation when they find out I am not in the city the position is in. Even in my present company and 4 years of trying to transfer the best advice I was given was to quit and move then apply in the city with the most offices. Sure, I have narrowed my skills down to project management and lost most of my technical skills but what are people like me, or those who have not worked for 2 years supposed to do?

    I applaud the rage against the machine rants and agree the hiring world needs to be more idealistic but come on, how does that pay the rent, put the kids in clothes for school, and keep the utilities on? I decided to be a professional verses a skilled worker after the military and lucky for me I moved just as the economy tanked. I love working in Asia but I really need to come home. Too bad there are hundreds of openings for project managers I see every week and apply for 30 to 50 per week and get next to nothing or the silence on the phone when they learn I am out of the country. I have to have a job before I move else I really risk putting my family into the hell millions of job seeking drop outs live in today. In the end when this is the way the game is played it is all you can do. You have to play it else what else is there?

  83. @Lisa

    Amazon is a bit quirky in the way they hire. I am not impressed. I have a story… ;-)

  84. I am working a survival job for a company trying to survive. As a former hiring manager, I have to give this company kudos for not being silly interviewers. Not great interviewers, but at least not silly.

    The holdup here is background checks. It’s just a simple warehouse entry level position, so the skill test is quite rudimentary, but it appears that many Americans have not been skillful at staying out of trouble.

    In its defense, as I remember the Walking Dead that ran my operation for nearly two years out of thirty (yes, in real life, the inmates sometimes do run the asylum), I can appreciate a drug-free and violence free work environment.

    But let’s side-step that for a moment, and just let the assumption that what we’re discussing here (fear of not finding the perfect candidate; demanding on qualifications not needed for the position; using the wrong definition of fit [they really should be just like us]) provides the locus of most hiring.

    When I did real hiring, I noticed something quite interesting: when the perfect candidate came on board, he or she quickly became bored, and wandered off, leaving us in the lurch while the “questionable” candidates I hired with the expectation that they might have a 40-60 chance of “meeting and exceeding” work expectations, or surviving basic work rules went on to become top performers and long-timers (14 year average tenure for a front line crew).

    I noticed a similar pattern in the non-profit religious operation that I held a leadership position in for 35 years.

    I call this phenomenon emergence, and have not studied the concept, but hold it dear to my core beliefs.

    I was quick to hire, and slow to fire, which is the environment you need for emergence to happen.

    When employers say that they need someone to “hit the ground running”, I’m reminded of the scene in Parenthood when Jason Robard’s wayward son rolled out of a car onto his lawn. Without seeming overly concerned, he asked “What was that all about?” The son replied, “Oh, just some friends dropping me off!”

    Without batting an eye, the father responded: “Friends stop the car.”

    As our friend Mr. Hunt points out, the perfect fit isn’t, and the talent corporate America needs for its endeavors is hiding in plain sight, not hiding in algorithms that reject rather than capture.

    I still bounce Nick’s recollection of the way thingz were in my head: It used to be that someone with a brain read between the lines of a resume and made an informed guess that this particular applicant might be worth talking to.

    I fell into clinical depression nearly five years ago because I believed that this would never be true again.

    It looks like I just got a head start on the despondency curve. Sometimes it helps to know that twenty million other Americans are going through this; sometimes, not.

  85. @citizen
    The big problem with “perfect” candidates is that their in front of the line voting on who’s perfect. And unmodestly they point out it’s them.
    I agree with your emergence observation. The perfect one’s are HMU’s (High Maintenance Units) who constantly need to be stroked, and who avoid work that mere mortals do. What they define as worthy, is often useless because it’s not needed. I used to say that if you give me a crew of people who you can depend on to simply do their job or a bit above it you’ll rule the world. A viable organization can’t afford to have too many (more than 1) HMU around

  86. Up-front – my apologies for seeming to make this reply a “please check out my essay on…” post, but so many people here are saying what I’ve been saying that I can’t help it. Great minds think alike, or something like that.

    @kathy: Might I shamelessly suggest my essay “Where the Money Is”?

    @B.B: Exactly. As I have been given to understand, ALL ATS software has the capability to give a reply.
    Thanks. Now Buzz Off.

  87. @Citizen X, you nailed it! It’s no such thing as a “perfect hire” and those with grit and steam to work and learn are the ones you want. You’re absolutely, positively, undeniably correct in assessing that the perfect fit to the according to most hirer’s unconscious biases is “one who is just like me”.

    When will people ever learn that diverse thinking amongst unlike individuals with varied skill sets gives your company the edge and allows you to see things in a different light you may not have seen before. Like you said, Emergence. That is a whole blog waiting to happen…

    Great observation @Citizen X- you’re a true intelligent and poignant thinker.

  88. Nick:
    Thank you for once again articulating the open secret of what really is going on: There is no talent shortage in this nation!!!

    Ask the unemployed. Ask the underemployed. Ask the college graduates across the nation. Ask the immigrants with PhDs. Ask those of us employed who seek better opportunities. But please: do ask not the employers.

    The uncertainty in unemployment at the employee level is a wound being inflicted on the part of employers to the standing of the nation as a beacon of hope and freedom. This has nothing to do with regulations or taxes. I believe employers are playing very dangerous games with people’s hopes, aspirations and commitment to contributing their best efforts to the betterment of the nation. I see fake postings (i.e., the same job posted every week, for 2 years). I see job postings describing what formerly were 4 – 5 different jobs, now consolidated. That person does not exist! I see an unwilligness to bring someone with 80% of the quaifications and train them on the other 20%, which is content specific to an opportunity. So, if there is a talent shortage, is because of these games employers are playing. And they ought to be asked to render an account of these practices! And stop them!

    In response to this article, I have contacted both of my Ohio Senators, in an extended communication; I have provided them with a link to this article and requested they challenge the “talent shortfall” myth and launch the investigation you have called for or incentivize individuals to individuals to stop looking for a job and focus on becoming entrepreneurs themselves, the ones creating opportunities that leverage and deploy the talent, not the one that is coming, but already abundant in this great nation of ours.

    Brilliant commentary. Thanks for your voice!

  89. @ Citizen X
    I am one of those people in an entry level warehouse job! I had the dream job out of college, as a staff illustrator at a university. Few of these jobs exist anymore because they can contract out projects to self employed people cheaper than keeping someone on staff with benefits. I got married and have moved 4 times for my husband’s employment. I’m fortunate that I have health benefits from his position, so I have been freelancing for the past 20 years. I have a big art related project now, so I decided to try this warehouse postion on the side to supplement my income. I have found the majority of these down to earth people good to work with. I am meeting people from all over the world. I’ve had two raises in the past 6 weeks. Most of my fellow employees are hard working people just trying to survive! (one young man told me he had been living in his car for 2 months) And speak of HMU’s, in my last two part-time positions, I was actually supervised by college students (I’m now in a small college town). I had to leave the one job, because I just couldn’t take the rude attitudes. Yes, just give people a chance.

  90. @Barb
    Technically, I’m having the time of my life.

    When I first walked into this place just weeks before my unemployment benefits were about to run out, it was dark, dirty, 20 times bigger than the facility I had previously directed, and populated by people with more tattoos than you’d find in a biker bar.

    But the people turned out to be fabulous, and laughing with them (sometimes uncontrollably) has accelerated my recovery from clinical depression.

    The people who frightened me the most when I first started working there became my friends and advocates.

    Glad to hear that you’re enjoying working in a warehouse: it’s been in my blood for nearly forty years.

  91. @Citizen X

    I remember you from a couple/few years ago (you had a different tag), and I’m so glad that you’re recovering and that you’re working. I, too, am in a quasi survival job (because it is only part time and doesn’t pay enough), and while I’m thrilled to be working again, I wish I could find a full time job with benefits and decent pay. The job search is frustrating at best, and I have two colleagues who are also looking for full time work and are frustrated. One of my colleagues was able to step into a full time job that opened up due to internal promotions, but when they posted the job vacancy, they received 87 applications (the search committee reviewed them all–applications were accepted only online, but HR was out of it until TPTB made their decision and the president approved it), of which they were immediately able to weed out 6 because the applicants lacked the necessary degree and experience. Two internal part time employees applied for the job; both were interviewed, along with 4-6 others, and fortunately the job was offered to one of the internal departmental candidates (the right choice too). She’d been out of work for some time after finishing her degree, then was only able to get part time work, 5 hours here, 14 hours there, etc. She told me that in the 3 years since graduating and after all of the jobs she’d applied for, she said that she got a big fat ZERO for responses (for full time jobs). Getting the part time job here (she was interviewed and hired the same day I was) gave her the chance to prove herself, got her foot in the door. The other employee is good too, but unlike the one who got hired, this one really wants to work in a science library, not here. Jobs in science libraries have been rarer than hens’ teeth, and when the head librarian dies/retires, the underling tends to step in. We’re all finding the same thing–employers posting jobs, requiring highly skilled/experienced workers happy to work for slave wages and no benefits.
    @John Lunt: I get your point about venting vs doing something about it. I don’t see it so much as venting but as sharing our experiences. When I was out of my last job and hunting, I felt very alone and that there was something wrong with me–I’d tailored my résumé to the job, followed up, etc. to no avail. Family didn’t help, and it was joining here, getting Nick’s wise advice, and reading comments from others experiencing the same thing–not only am I not alone (the problem is systemic), but Nick has given us excellent tips for getting around these problems. It still isn’t easy (he wrote that it would be hard and time-consuming), but I’ve learned from others’ experiences and am taking that so I hopefully don’t make the same mistakes and so I’m hopefully wiser in how I approach the job search.

    I can’t change how employers are choosing not to hire (while howling about the talent shortage), but I can change how I go about looking for work.

    I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for Congress to address this. They’ll complain about the quality of education, how the lack of skills, etc., but they’re just echoing employers instead of asking employers to change. This Congress can’t agree on the color of an orange, so until some employers decide that it is more costly to let the jobs go unfilled than it is to push more and more to the few remaining employees, to outsource even more work to Indians willing to work for 2 rupees per month in order to pocket even more of the profits, nothing will change. Globalization means that it no longer matters that Americans can’t afford to buy things because the consumer market will just shift elsewhere. It hasn’t gotten to the point where an employer realizes that a job is critical to his business, or even that filling that job would mean even more profits for him (even if it would add costs for wages).

  92. @marybeth Well said, well said. At least your present company hires more logically and ethically. Approval has to go to the President before HR can do anything. I see why you like it there. The energy and corporate character is already leaps ahead of others.

  93. Nick, it’s too bad you haven’t been interviewed by CNN, but then – I think employers know the truth but won’t admit it. As Peter Cappelli reported, there’s no talent shortage. I think it’s the opposite. We have an abundance of talent but employers don’t want to pay. They’re searching for the elusive purple squirrel. It’s clear that HR can’t extract pertinent information from resumes therefore relying on all those silly applicant tracking systems or using employment agencies with a checklist. What drives me crazy is having to create a resume with “key words”. As Diana S. pointed out, not everyone’s career contributions have a direct measurable benefit that can be listed as profit statements on a resume to be slected by Taleo etc.

  94. So this morning the DJIA ran up to over 16,000 a new record.

    This morning 25 Million Americans are still un- or under-employed.

    I guess this means that American businesses LOVE and reward high unemployment numbers?

  95. @ER: Well, you could always ping your favorite CNN talking head (or producer) and suggest it :-)

    @L.T.: Well… investors seem to love high unemployment numbers, anyway! Which is probably a worse state of affairs!

  96. Saw this on linkedin. Yes linkedin. It is right in step with what Nick’s core argument about HR and what they actually “add” to a company finding viable talent and what everyone here knows.

  97. @Gwen: Yes, I do like it where I am–I have a direct boss who is sane and reasonable, the dean of the library who is sane and reasonable and puts her staff and their safety first. My colleagues are good people to work with too. For the first time in many, many years, I haven’t had to pay for a parking permit (parking is free to faculty and staff) just to work there.

    I’ve learned that the hiring process can be a little odd here. For certain jobs on campus, there are two hiring/search committees–one composed solely of people work will be working with the prospective new hire (ie, folks who work in the dept./office/program in which there is the vacancy). These are the ones who know the dept. best, the job best, etc. The second committee is composed of the college President (his approval is required), several members of the faculty (randomly chosen by the President), and people from at least two other non-academic depts (eg academic advising, facilities, campus police, financial aid, athletics, etc.). Apparently the “old” method was to let the folks who would be working most closely with the new hire have the least say–they could “recommend” someone, but if the faculty, staff, and President on the second committee didn’t like the first committee’s choice, they simply overrode the first committee’s decision and hired whomever they liked (even though they never had to live with the consequences). Scuttlebutt has it that after a growing number of “bad” hires, including a high level hire in the library where I now work (one employee was ready to retire, four others quit, I was told that everyone was fired, then when the head realized there was no one to do the work, they were all re-hired as if nothing had happened), the second committee is now deferring to the decision of the first committee as the first committee has the best idea of what the job entails, has a vested interest in getting someone who can do the work and who will be a good fit (the second committee didn’t give it another thought or care because they didn’t have to work with their hires, share space with them, train them, etc.).

    Where I am, if the internal committee was expecting someone to apply and the résumé/application didn’t arrive from HR, then the dean would go into HR’s files and look for it (assuming that the person applied and had gotten weeded out by HR’s ATS). But that’s us/library–there’s no rule or guarantee that the other depts. on campus do the same thing (and many don’t–they prefer to let HR do the screening for them, then wonder why they can’t fill an academic advising job).

    @Nick: I’m going to respond to C-Span’s request to viewers/listeners to recommend a topic and recommend a segment on the systemic problems with the job search (from the hunter’s perspective) and the candidate search (from the employer’s perspective) and that they invite you to show to talk about it.

    @Gwen: re your last comment with the link–that makes a change from the number of articles I’ve seen posted lamenting the “talent shortage” and blasting colleges and universities for not perfectly training future workers so they don’t have to do any training themselves. I see far more of the latter than the former. I didn’t read through all of the comments, but there were a fair number from people defending HR. I’m sure that many of them are working in HR and don’t want to see their jobs vanish. They’d have to compete with the rest of us by applying online, get lost in ATS, and get spat out in less than two seconds because they’re not perfect matches.

    I think HR can have a purpose in a business or agency–I’d limit them to payroll and benefits. Legal issues–most businesses have an attorney or several attorneys to deal with legal matters. Why would you, as a business, put your legal neck on the line by letting HR handle legal matters? Re one of the comments about negotiating with unions, what unions? I read that less than 7% of all employed Americans today belong to a union, a wisp of union membership in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Small businesses (under a certain number of workers) aren’t required to offer health insurance, and ditto for a lot of the other “benefits”. Bigger companies often do offer them, but keeping track of vacation and sick time is often done by payroll (in every job I’ve worked that offered it and if I qualified for it), not HR.

    More articles like that and HR will be looking for things to do in order to justify their existence. There was an article in one of my local newspapers back in February that addressed this issue–the challenges faced by job seekers with the “automated” job searches (how many good people get weeded out, never to get an interview, while the jobs go unfilled for months and months because employers have turned over the hiring to HR, and HR is letting a computer do its thinking for them). One HR employee they interviewed told about how her company requires them to post fake/phantom jobs, for the purpose of collecting résumés. She stated that she would get calls and emails from eager job seekers, and she was forbidden from telling them that the job they saw posted and applied for doesn’t exist. But it keeps her busy, which makes HR look busy to management, and thus justifies their jobs. She, too, stated that she felt powerless to change it.

  98. @Marybeth There were many defending HR but like you noted, many worked in HR. In many psychology studies of predictive behavior, guilty or partially responsible people for a problem or incident yell, “It’s not me/It wasn’t me/Don’t look at me!” first without offering more than that without a logical reason why it isn’t them. Someone who has done ALL they could and doesn’t harbor guilt would respond, “I can assure you this is not me. Even though this is not the way I practice in my HR organization, is there anything I can do to help with this systemic injustice as an HR representative?”

    That’s a little trick we learn in graduate level psychology that is also used as a police technique when they are questioning potential suspects. In other words, the healthy psychological individual won’t be happy you’re attacking their actions, but they want it to be over with and want to probably help you with finding out a solution or in some cases who is responsible. Whether that means giving you more information or whatever, most of the time. There may be outliers but the highest percentage of non guilty parties usually respond offering help or logical proof why they are not guilty to clear them after stating they are not guilty.

    Somewhat similar in summarizing what the “guilty” (for lack of a better word) commenters did in responding to that author’s article. “It’s not me!” Then attacking the author…at least that is what I “heard” in their responses. No objective perspective about the problem. Just touting all the great things they did in HR.

  99. Did you see this? “Employers: ‘Skills gap’ is not our problem to fix” at

    This article generated familiar discussion at the LinkedIn group, International Association of Workforce Professionals. Join and take a look.

  100. How to measure return on investment of job boards. See advice for how HR can do this:


  101. @Veronica: I read the Workforce article about ROI of job boards. I know Gerry Crispin, but I haven’t the foggiest idea what he’s talking about. He seems to suggest that “if” leaving a job vacant reduces sales, then cost of recruiting is “secondary.” But he totally and completely ignores the ROI of job boards. Worse, he ignores the problem of recruiting only who comes along (which is how job boards work). To me, this is just another walk around the block for HR, without any useful outcome except exercise.

  102. Not only are the applicant tracking systems part of the problem, but there are also automated reference checking systems to be aware of. Gone is the human element. This can’t be good for job seekers.

    An internet search of “automated reference checking” reveals:
    …just to name a couple.

    How the hell do you check references without talking to someone? A reference check used to be a brief conversation between the person making the hire and the person giving the reference. With automated systems like these, there is no way to listen to how the candidate’s reference is answering the question (tone of voice, hesitation, etc.), but more importantly, it removes the ability to ask follow-up questions for clarification. It also leaves the door open for a reference to inadvertently disclose information (religion, orientation, married, age, children, etc.) about a candidate that should not be discussed, which can be used against the candidate. The systems also allow anonymous responses.

    Apparently, gone are the days where the hiring manager picked up the phone and called the candidate’s references and engaged them in a conversation. Seems like a back door way to get information about a candidate that the employer is not privy to.

    An interesting article on this subject:

    Best of luck to all those who are searching right now.

  103. Well Nick, what did we expect?

    We live in an era of rampant fraud in WallStreet that goes unpunished, even rewarded, by the state/federal governments. At the helm of this financial debauchery are a select few who manipulate the whole market through a counterfeit operation courtesy of the Fed. With so much criminality going unchecked, resulting in increasing costs and phony profits, who would have the confidence, let alone the integrity, to “invest” in a worker…when they could just sit tight, outsource…and/or follow in Wallstreet’s footsteps?

    As far as the suggestion for a Congressional investigation goes; not that I don’t think the online application-trackers are frauds in themselves, but that’s just the symptom of the main problem: easy money…at your expense.

  104. BTW, good article overall. :)

  105. Great article! There is no such thing as talent shortage. It’s a matter of interpretations, abusive practices and been hijacked by employers, HR and/or Hiring Managers. It’s like a budget. The goal post can be shifting all the time to prevent great employees earning bonus except for top executives who lower the bars for themselves. It’s all self-interest driven.

    Not surprisingly, many employers/HR do not indicate the reasons for rejecting applicants except for generic reason – “does not closely match our ….” or even offer no reply at all. Many reasons for this. High percentage of HR has no idea what they are doing equivelant to “WTF is going on…” Many also feared job security, therefore engaged in convoluted hiring process. Some HR are collecting resumes as a hobby, if you know what I mean. HR background can be easily checked in this internet age – their education level, past employers and even family members. Very high percentage have lower education levels than applicants and pose difficulty in assessments of very high caliber applicants. Including Hiring Manager. Others want to boast they have the largest database and therefore can help employers find the “best” candidates. Some employers are on “espionage” activities seeking “trade secrets, salaries history and competitive edge” to beat the competitors. Yet we accused China of doing this not knowing we exported this trade strategies to China. Some Hiring Managers are comparatively have lower experience and qualifications than the applicants and for obvious reasons will not hire these applicants. One excuse – “talent shortage”. The whole of America?? Whoa, who are you kidding?

  106. And it continues…

    I work for a huge defense contractor and had an open position on my team. A former co-worker that I knew was a good fit for the job applied (after talking to me). It took me a week to “persuade” the hot-shot technical recruiters to even look at his resume, much less pass it to me so I could schedule an interview.

    Of course now management loves him…

    Thanks for continuing to spread the word. The system is still broken but we “in the weeds” hiring managers can make it work every once in a while if job seekers talk to us, like you recommend.

  107. 3.9 million jobs currently unfilled – ha! Given the number of jobs I personally know that are, technically open but there is no budget currently, open but not advertised, or simply using too few employees. By the time I left my last employer, I was back filling 5 open positions. Companies are pushing people too hard, stuff is getting missed, and customers are getting pissed off.

  108. @Anna Mouse: You said it.

  109. @Tom: I wanna cry every time a manager like you tells us what’s going on on the inside: Internal recruiters fighting managers to avoid interviewing good candidates.

  110. How true it is, by the time you apply for a position, along with thousands of others, you are only a “bit in the byte”. If you do not have someone with a connection in the job you are applying for, it’s a waste of time. The worst process I’ve seen so far is applying for a job with a government contractor. They want to know everything possible about you up front, and then you never hear back.

    Lots of talent out here, but companies are too far removed to be able to connect. They are leaving their recruitment efforts in the hands of babes!!

  111. Great article and one that strikes accord with more than a few. I’m going to agree w Rose %100.

    I’m a tech professional w high clearance that has years of top exp and outstanding track record, and I’ve been unemployed and looking aggressively for over 6 mos after leaving my overseas contracting job. I have suspected that my resume is not getting to a person that would even understand it, or that has authorization to hire, or even a human at all.

    I’ve read the article and comments on the theme of, ‘walk into a manager’s office and demonstrate, hands down, how you will contribute profit to the manager’s business’. Umm sorry? Exactly where am I walking and whom talking to? Am I even supposed to be able to reach someone on the phone? No.
    Not sure who has what ideas about how things are, but unless you have an ‘in’, it’s just the giant wall of automated blow-off. This is not monster or careerbuilder, these are the corporation websites.

    There are 100’s of positions I am qualified for, but nothing. What is one to do?

  112. This article could not be more spot on. Excellent read with great statistics that actually sum up corporate America. Nice work!

  113. 1998, the high tech hiring manager coworker said he was looking for “asses in the seats”. Even back then the employers demanded new hires sign a non-compete agreement that they wouldn’t leave for a competitor company.
    It wasn’t about qualifications then and it isn’t about qualification now. It’s about cheap and captive.
    Nick, Nick, Nick. It’s not a database issue, it’s about cheap and captive and the perfect match is visa’d labor. Hitting the visa cap allotment (over 800K H1B in 2015), they bitterly complain, “skills shortage” and advertise, advertise, advertise, “unfilled positions” they say.

    F1 visa/foreign student, restricted where they can work, they end up ultra cheap on campus, billed out for $240 an hour for university research, paid close to min wage. (I’ve not researched what other fiscal perks to colleges like no FICA, unemployment insurance, etc.)
    OPT visa/new grad foreign student, 3 years of no FICA, no federal unemployment insurance tax for the employer, no prevailing wage requirement, in some cases no income tax. (Who do you think is paying for the food stamps, housing assistance, etc. for this ultra low wage worker?)
    H1B/foreign college grad, 3 year visa given to employer. Supposed going industry rate, but usually lower and captive to that employer/rate for at least 3 years. Carrot is “stay and we’ll put you in for a green card”. Visa is renewable once, but annually renewable if visa expired and company applied for a green card for this person.
    In total,
    – F1 – up to 4 years
    – OPT – 3 years
    – H1B – 2 three year visas, up to 6 years
    – H1B awaiting green card – up to 4 years
    for a total of 17 years as a much cheaper worker than any US citizen or permanent legal resident.

    L1 visa – don’t know what the time span is for one but the company gets to pay them the wage rate of their home country.
    There is no way you’re going to educate yourself into the cost advantages of foreign labor. It’s been gamed that way.

    Presidential candidates, both of them, less illegal labor, more visa’d labor. Clinton worse on this than Trump. Currently. But Trump policy is moving.

  114. Great article, Nick! I too am sick and tired of the ATS programs. My last two positions were submitted via a generic H/R email address where an actual human reviewed them. Now, why can’t more H/R departments do something like that? But, maybe they can’t because there are all of these new forms at the end of the ATS programs that ask your gender, race, are you disabled, or are you a protected veteran.

    I had a phone interview for a terrific job last week. Today, the H/R Manager wrote me an email and said the job is on hold and will not be filled in the immediate future. How did they determine that all of a sudden?

    These companies are really missing out. I’m an Executive Assistant and what grinds my gears is these corporations who want me to come in and interview with 5-7 different people. Seriously? I’m not interviewing to be the CEO of the company. I had another company who wanted me to do a 15 minute PowerPoint presentation about myself. Again, seriously? I’m not interviewing to be a sales person.

    It’s even become this bad for temporary positions. I’m in the process of interviewing for a $10/hour admin assistant job to fill in for someone going on a medical leave. It’s for 8 weeks. 8 weeks! But, they have already had me come in person to interview and did a phone interview with me today. For goodness sakes, this isn’t rocket science!

  115. I actually decided to do my own research on this. I hunted down the guys who claimed “skills shortages” and “labor shortages” for both low skilled and high skilled jobs and asked for Amnesty for illegal aliens and H1Bs for legal foreigners. I also tracked down the companies that outsource. That way, you can guess which company might betray you for an illegal, H1B, or ship you job to Mexico:

    Amnesty supporters (Does include supporters both for the Gang of Eight bill and for Obama’s amnesty plan):

    H1B visa pushers:

    Companies outsourcing:

  116. It’s a sad state of affairs. I was as a trade show in Chicago where my Uber driver was laid off 6 months ago. A strong buyer for 16 years for a major food company making 6 figures. Now he’s driving for Uber and driving 1 hour into the city… Holy shit! Can’t get interviews and the one job he was offered started at 35K.

  117. Last year I was assisting my wife find a job in a similar industry to which she had been a sales director. The way jobs listings were written I was convinced they could have saved a lot of text if they had just put Must Have Worked The Same Job For Our Closest Competitor and called it a day. Intangible and transferable skills in communication, trust, listening, and overall building foundational and profitable relationships don’t show up in key words and algorithms that are designed to find that perfect “I was recently fired by your competitor for sucking at my job” candidate.

  118. I love it! Thanks!

  119. Absolutely agree.

    1. The ridiculous ATS system requirements keep resumes of qualified candidates from even being seen. I ran my resume through ATS testers tweaking it repeatedly and couldn’t get a score above around 52%. This is despite being qualified and my resume being packed with relevant keywords, (in context) as recommended. Some of the suggestions of missing keywords were soft-skills terms. According to many articles online, using an objective (that would include soft-skills keywords) is passe. One ATS scanner suggestion listed words in the company’s name as keywords I was missing from my resume; (which contributed to a lower score). What normal resume lists the name of the company you are applying to INSIDE THE RESUME? I added a number of keywords as suggested by one ATS scanner, then my resume was dinged for having more than the standard amount of characters in a resume. So let me get this straight: I don’t have enough keywords (dinged) but sufficient resume length. Then I add some of the suggested keywords and now my resume exceeds recommended characters (dinged). However, I still don’t have all the keywords mentioned by the ATS scanner I need to score higher. Oh and by the way, according to modern advice you shouldn’t stuff your resume with keywords as hiring managers “can tell what you’re trying to do”. The ATS requirements are absolutely ridiculous and even contradictory! ATS systems are not sophisticated enough yet to adequately screen candidates. Don’t forget also the advice that you should tailor each and every resume for each job. You are supposed to have a score of around 80% to get through ATS. Then, you reach out to people on LinkedIn regarding jobs posted and they don’t even reply, or may direct you to their online application system. At this point I’m about to just go the old-school way of printing out hard copies of my resume, and stopping by local business offices with it. It’s maddening when you are qualified, applying to jobs according to the “system”, and those applications never even get seen. Companies are suffering by way of their own ATS because of this. There is one company who has had the same specific jobs posted now for months. I feel like writing them and asking them how hard can hiring a small handful of specific jobs be? There is no reason for numerous jobs advertised to not be filled for MONTHS. Unless their ATS is broken, OR, the job just isn’t available because they are filling it internally: another peril for today’s job searchers.

    2. Then, there’s over-credentialing for middle-skills and even lower-skills jobs. Earlier on Quora I was just reading responses to someone asking what the most ridiculous job description was they’ve read. One of them was a popular fast-food restaurant asking for a BACHELOR’S DEGREE for a CASHIER position. One I saw recently was I believe a part-time position where the employer was asking for a Master’s Degree. Do these employers ACTUALLY think that someone who paid $50K – $100,000K or more for a degree is going to use their expensive degree to work at a minimum-wage or part-time job? Absolutely ridiculous. What alternate universe are these people living in? Also, since ATS dings resumes for not having a degree match, anyone without that qualification will not get through. Good luck getting an ATS match for an entry-level cashier job when requiring a bachelor’s degree. American corporations have become lazy and throw a bachelor’s degree requirement around for almost every position regardless of job skill level. Might I mention a number of the most successful founders of tech companies today have either no degree, or dropped out of college. American corporations seem to not have the foggiest on how to appropriately screen for real skill and ability. I have seen positions online requiring a bachelor’s degree that I have done prior with rave reviews, and could practically do with my eyes closed.

    3. Then there’s the ubiquitous issue of employers who try to get job candidates to accept job positions for dramatically below market rate. I have seen job postings for jobs where the pay offered is almost half of what the market rate is for the role.

    4. Let’s also call attention to employers with ridiculous application submission requests, well beyond a resume and cover letter. One company wanted you to also submit a video, and “be funny”. I think there were more requirements but I bounced before reading much more. Recently I read one online job post where the employer wanted candidates to create an entire outline on a specific topic. Then, wanted you to answer questions, one of which was to include how you would market the article. No, you are not getting marketing work out of me for free. There was (an ethical) employer I worked for years ago. When they were interested in seeing my capability prior to hiring me, they PAID me for the sample project they asked for. I was hired and it was a great professional relationship.

    5. Let’s now talk about the employers who think that people want to work for them in an elusive payment dynamic. “Part-time, may progress into a full-time role eventually.” “Intern to start, but may progress into a paid position.” People have bills to pay, and other responsibilities outside of a job. They need to know what a job’s dynamic is so they can meet financial obligations and adhere to financial plans. No one is interested on knowing definitively about pay down the road someday when the employer decides to figure it out.

    6. Finally, I will point to a recruiting process that does view candidates in a realistic way considering the trajectory and possible events of a human’s life. For example, the old adage is that gaps on a resume are “red-flags”. There are many VALID and COMMON reasons why there are employment gaps on a human’s resume, that have NOTHING to do with a candidate’s ability or dedication. Here are just some: giving birth, raising children to a certain age, an unexpected accident, a medical illness, needing to take care of an aging medically frail parent, a retiree who has grown bored and wants to return to the workforce. Also, another “red-flag” is not having a photo on your LinkedIn profile. (However it’s frowned upon to put one on a resume though. Mind you, these recruiters check your LinkedIn after they see your photo-less resume). There are people who don’t want to post a photo on LinkedIn for valid reasons: being a past or current victim of stalking or domestic violence, creepy romantic advances from professional men who choose to act unprofessionally (a big issue for women on the platform), being a more private person. Not everyone wants their entire work history to be open for view to any stranger who wants to pop on it and read it. Recruiters want to be able to read your LinkedIn profile (or it’s a “red-flag” if they cannot read one on you). Adjusting privacy settings to make the profile viewable for recruiters, but not public to Google still renders your profile able to be viewed by strangers. Why do I have to advertise my entire work history to the world to be considered a valid candidate?

    This was a rant, but I’m truly fed-up with what the job search and employment prospects in America has become. The system is absolutely broken. It needs to be fixed. I think people just need to start their own businesses.

    • Replying to my own comment to note I’m aware of the typos and a grammar error in it. It’s after midnight; and I’m mentally fatigued. You get my points though.