In the May 12, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, I launch a rant about runaway technology in the world of employment. I mean, it’s way past stupid and counter-productive. It’s dangerous!
Or, Why LinkedIn gets paid even when jobs don’t get filled
If you’re going to recruit and hire people for your business, or if you’re going to look for a job, you need to understand why America’s institutionalized employment system doesn’t work. It’s important to know the short history of reductionist recruiting — layers of matchmaking technology designed for speed, distribution, and for handling loads of applicants.
It has nothing to do with enabling employers to meet and hire the most suitable workers.
When somebody invented the newspaper want ad, it was an innocent enough way to find people to do jobs. An employer said what it was looking for, people wrote a letter explaining why they were interested, threw in their resume, and mailed it in.
Because a want ad cost quite a bit of money (thousands of dollars in The New York Times), ads were almost always legit. Applicants had to pay for a stamp, and motivation was high to apply only to the most relevant. What’s not to like? Even when professional resume writers stepped in, and started touting salmon-colored paper to make their clients’ submissions literally stand out, it was still manageable; employers knew immediately which applications to throw out! Meanwhile, the newspapers made out like bandits advertising jobs.
Internet Job Boards
When the Internet came along, somebody thought to put all the ads online — to get better distribution, and more responses from more applicants. The jobs sites quickly realized this made wants ads cheaper, and to make money, they had to sell more ads.
Wink, wink — questionable ads, like multi-level-marketing schemes, were welcome! So were ads for expired jobs, kept there by employers who liked a steady stream of resumes even when they didn’t need them.
This never worked very well at all — and it became a disaster of such epic proportions that somebody named it “The Great Talent Shortage.” (See Systemic Recruitment Fraud: How employers fund America’s jobs crisis.) HR departments got flooded with applications they couldn’t process — so somebody invented keywords.
The Keyword Age
Employers no longer needed to read resumes or applications. Software compared words in job descriptions to words in resumes, and HR could accept or reject applicants without even knowing who they were!
Clever applicants started larding their resumes with keywords — making HR’s job all the harder, and job interviews a waste of time. It was so easy for people to fake their way past the system that HR panicked and drew the blinds. Everyone was rejected.
This experience led employers to agree that, yes, America is in a terrible talent shortage — during the biggest talent gluts in history. Even the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, banged the gong:
“I speak to a lot of business leaders who are trying to hire. They want to hire and the most frequent thing I hear from them is all too many people coming through the door don’t have the skills necessary to do the job I need to do.”
“Too many people”?? Say what?
Reductionist Recruiting: Get paid for $@*#&!
Perez isn’t holding those employers accountable. They use applicant tracking systems (ATSes) to solicit thousands of job applicants to fill just one job — then they complain they’ve got too many of the wrong applicants. The employers themselves are responsible for the problem. (News Flash: HR causes talent shortage!)
Welcome to reductionist recruiting: Jobs don’t matter. People and skills don’t matter. The coin of the realm is what computer scientists call character strings: strings of characters, or letters and numbers, standing in for jobs and people. That’s what’s sold by job boards and bought by employers.
Think that’s far-fetched? Then why don’t employers pay when they actually hire someone from a job board or applicant tracking system?
The product is keywords. The system has nothing to do with filling jobs, or that’s how LinkedIn, Monster.com, Taleo and JobScan would get paid.
They get paid to keep the pipeline full of character strings. Employers and job seekers get scammed every day they play the game. And HR is the culprit, because that’s who signs the purchase orders and the checks to use these systems.
The New Age Of More Reductionist Recruiting
The high-tech-ness of all this (Algorithms! Artificial Intelligence! Intelligent Job Agents!) sent venture investors scurrying to put their money into reductionist recruiting, because HR departments didn’t care whether they hired anyone. Their primary business became the “pipeline” of job postings and processing incoming keywords.
That’s why Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner are getting rich while you can’t get a job.
It’s all stupid now. The head of Monster.com promotes “semantic processing” algorithms that match keywords better than any other job board. LinkedIn (LinkedIn: Just another job board) claims that special keywords — called “endorsements” — add powerful credibility to all the other keywords on people’s online profiles. And “job board aggregators” like Indeed.com collect all the keywords from every job board, grind them up and sort them, and deliver more and better keywords than any other technology.
We know this is all a big load of crap when the next iteration of recruitment start-ups are designed to further distance employers and job seekers from one another.
Reductionist Recruiting 3.0
That’s the point behind a new start-up called JobScan. This new service gives job seekers the same power employers have. For a fee, JobScan “helps you write better resumes.” Cool — we need better ways to help employers make the right hires!
But it turns out JobScan doesn’t do that. It doesn’t help match workers to jobs any more than ATSes do. All it does is help job applicants scam ATSes by using more words that will match the words in employers’ job descriptions. More reductionist recruiting.
James Hu, co-founder and CEO of JobScan, told TechCrunch that, in the past, a real person would review your resume to judge whether you were worth interviewing. “But now you are just a record in the system.”
Duh? And Hu’s service treats you as nothing more. JobScan’s home page shows two text boxes. In one, you post your resume. In the other, you paste the description of the job you want to apply for. You click a button, and it tells you “how well your resume matches the job description.” Now you can add more of the correct keywords to your resume.
In just a couple of entrepreneurial generations, we’ve gone from stupid ATSes that rely on word matches to deliver “too many people…[that] don’t have the skills necessary to do the job,” to a whole new business that enables job seekers to manage the words they dump into those useless ATSes.
(Note to venture investors who missed out on the first rounds of Monster.com, Indeed.com and LinkedIn: This is a new opportunity!)
JobScan’s algorithms tell you which additional keywords you need to add to your application to outsmart the employer’s keyword algorithm.
It’s like your people talking to my people, so you and I don’t have to talk to one another. We can sit by a pool sipping Caipirinhas (my new favorite drink from Brazil), and wait for our respective people to do a deal that will make us all money.
Except there aren’t any people involved. Reductionist recruiting, meet reductionist job hunting: DUMMIES WANTED!
A Short History of Failure: More venture funding wanted!
Entrepreneurial ATS makers game the employment system to make loads of money while employers reject more and more job applicants. Now there’s another layer on this scam — and it was inevitable. Entrepreneurs are getting funded to create ways to help you beat the databases to fool employers into interviewing you, whether you can do the job or not. (I wish thoughtful entrepreneurs like Hu would put their talents to work creating value, not outwitting admittedly silly job application systems.)
Job seekers are taught every day that it doesn’t really matter whether you can do a job profitably. What matters is whether you can game the system to get an interview, just so you can get rejected because, in the end, employers don’t hire words that match jobs. They want people who can do jobs. They just don’t know how to find them. (See Getting in the door for alternative paths to the job you want.)
Of course, any dope can see the real problem: HR isn’t willing to hire key words, even though it pays an awful lot of money for them. And it certainly has no idea where the talent is.
I can’t wait for employers to wake up and smell the coffee: Start paying LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed only when those suckers actually fill a job.
Am I nuts, or has America’s employment system gone completely to hell with plenty of venture funding behind it?
Nick, you totally put the “job quandary” into perspective! I will admit to belonging to LinkedIn, but not as a paying participant. I will not pay anyone to help me get a job, period! After the Bernard Haldane pooh of several years ago, I flat refuse.
The hiring environment has gone completely to “hell in hand-basket”! I have interviewed with one company four times for different roles. After hearing their insane questions and attempting to answer them, I realized they wouldn’t know a decent IT person if it bit them on the rear!
I have been in IT too many years to not know what I am doing. Whether it’s database or system work, I know my way around. Everyone is looking for the perfect person who matches all the “chosen words” they have selected. If you are lucky enough to get an interview, but don’t “match” the words, they dismiss you in short order as “fertilizer”! When you see the people who actually get hired, for the most part, it is a pitiful sight. The ones who know the job, do 98% of the work, while the other 94% who don’t have a clue get the credit. So that means about 6% or less do most of the work.
I see the jobless rates drop and the pundits proclaim their reason(s) for why. I would dare say that people are just tired of playing the game and pitch in the towel.
So, what do you do? You do your best to go through channels (folks you know) who might know of some possibilities. The key is getting to someone who understands what the company is looking for, without having to wade through the manure pile in HR. But, I guess that is check and checkmate! The only thing left to do is keep trying.
One more thought: I was recently in the running for DBA spot with an airline manufacturer. There was an actual person handling the final screening. I have three & 3/4 degrees. I was in my Sr. year in Electrical Engineering when my wife was diagnosed with cancer. Something had to give to relieve some stress. I bailed on school to help my wife. Well, I did NOT get the interview because I did not have a BS in a technical field. (BS… maybe that explains it!) I know they have standards, but one look at my resume and you see that 85% of my IT career has been in engineering environments. I feel I can think technically, but they did not see it that way. I guess I see their point, but that surely stung! Then, we wonder what’s wrong with our hiring system!?!? You don’t have to look far to figure that one out.
Nick, I’ve been reading you for years, and, as usual, you’re spot on.
What you didn’t mention here is that the job description, which everyone is trying SO hard to match, is loaded with garbage because the employers don’t know HOW to write a job description. They write a horrendous, word-dense, page (or more)of gobbledy-gook — full of insider jargon they think is important and adding all the current buzzwords for that profession!
Even a human can’t understand what they really want, and if they could, it wouldn’t matter anyway, because NO ONE meets all the supposed “qualifications” they have jammed in!
The insanity is that this is really just the current HR business “thing,” like many of the business books and trends before them in other professions. I work in Operations and Supply Chain, which has had its own popular programs for many decades: “total quality” “cellular manufacturing” in the 80s . . . now “lean” “six sigma” etc. All these ideas and programs have some value, but there is no silver bullet! The benefactors are those who use the right tool at the right time and do the hard work necessary to build a culture and become successful (Toyota, anyone?).
The big difference, I think, is that in my profession it’s not so noticeable – people just see that some companies are more successful than others, and only those who work in any specific company feel the direct impact – good or bad.
What we’re talking about here – employment practices – affects EVERYONE. It’s just crazy. BUT, the good news is that, while all this nonsense is going on, when a job seeker does the work of researching a company and finding and connecting with the hiring manager – you stand out and have more success!
Nick – keep ’em coming!
Thank you for posting this.
And for the readers who may suddenly realize they are part of the problem and want to break out, I offer three words:
2) Informational Interviewing.
Oh, God….I don’t know what’s better here….the brilliance or the truth of the brilliance! You are absolutely right in that there is no truth left in the hiring system at all. Websites, services and employers are all equally guilty. And this business of not being able to find qualified help is just plain bullsh*t. What we have is a system loaded with discrimination. It starts with keywords, continues through desired years of experience and flourishes with age, race and gender discrimination, which may or may not have already shown up in keywords or desired years of experience. It’s impenetrable. I also long for the days of the newspaper want ad, because they were pretty trustworthy.
My only question now is how long this system continues before it wrecks the economy?
Nick – your closing sentence should be the ten foot tall banner at every HR conference in the nation. Companies are not getting what they want, because they are getting what they are paying for.
Don’t pay for links, clicks and resumes. Because that’s what will be delivered — by the megaton.
When HR departments band together and say they will only pay when a person is hired, then all these keyword delivery services will dry up and go away. Only then will effective placement services be developed.
Great piece. Clever gaming trumps value creation. Same old. Same old.
You’ve done it again.
As one of my friends says to me from time to time: There’s no cure for stupid, and that’s what companies are doing.
People are not just their resumes. You need to actually talk to them to discover why they applied and how they might fit your requirements.
Computers only do what we tell them to do, and not always very well.
Matthew R. Bud
The Financial Executives Networking Group
I came away from reading this essay more depressed than ever about the job hunting world and terrified of what I might face if I have to enter it again (currently employed).
I also read Liz Ryan’s work on Forbes about “human centered” hiring which suggests that you and she are on similar wave lengths.
Here’s my question. Are there any glimmers of hope on the horizon? Are there companies or industries that get it and have stopped all these bad practices?
@Mayor..please think about this carefully.
The time to take the ATH approach to career guidance for you….is NOW.
Having spent 30 years in the corporate world, I can tell you your ‘ currently employed’ status can change tomorrow.
You have to network, plan, and interview quarterly in today’s world. Interview can be a 15 minute cup of coffee with an influencer at a company across town though. You take a vacation day and put on a suit to CLOSE the deal, not get the deal.
For the HR people…spending money for clicks is insane. Here’s one method I use to keep a prospect stream. At our professional society meeting, I pick up the check for dinner for any unemployed or student member who comes.
I have been following your emails and blog for a long time and am a big fan of your line of thinking.
Clearly, everything you say is true. The likes of LinkedIn, Monster etc. dont add (very) much value, either for companies or for candidates. Even a company like JobScan is simply shifting the field of battle but nothing more.
However, playing a bit of devil’s advocate, what is the alternative?
The problem is one of matching and from the company perspective, finding the best fit for the job at the lowest transaction cost. This applies just as much to finding the candidate as to picking a recruiting model (ATS, LI, paid-search). In today’s fast-moving world (venture-driven or not) and despite all the noise around picking the “best people”, companies simply just don’t and can’t treat every job like its the top job or the only job they are trying to fill. More often than not, companies are hiring because they are in the middle of a fire-fight and don’t have the time and patience to screen vast number of applicants or even be able differentiate amongst good and bad candidates properly. The old pastoral world just does not work for today’s world and it’s hard for me to believe that simply adding hurdles on both sides (increasing cost of applying and hiring) produces better outcomes. Wasnt the pre-LinkedIn world equally outrageous, with toll (and resume)-collecting recruiters and a “manual keyword matching” process?
I dont mean to defend the current state of affairs. You get LinkedIn or at best, in-house recruiters with LinkedIn. You get gatekeepers who don’t perfectly understand the industry or the job they’re filling or the candidates’ skill-sets.
But is there a better way to scale? To match up candidates and jobs better? To attempt to ensure that those with best fit, not the best sales skills get the job?
Wow, Nick, you outdid yourself. That was truly a magisterial demolition and a very needed one. More tumbrils, more executions please!
I’m curious, what is the average age of these doofuses inventing these dumb systems?
As a severely biased (and bitter) recovering unemployable, I blame and will continue to blame the “twentysomething twit” syndrome. Firstly, some young kid named Zuckerberg invented Fakebook, so let’s automatically invest in and jump on the bandwagon of anything invented by some twentysomething kid. Secondly, because some young kid named Zuckerberg invented Fakebook, only twentysomething kids are worthy of a job in our organization (I’ve read plenty of articles confirming that if you’re over 30 you won’t get hired anywhere in Silicon Valley).
Ah, yes, the “we will repeatedly make the same mistake only more rapidly and with less intelligence” mantra. Sounds much like repeating the same action expecting the same result, which I do believe is a common definition of insanity.
I do sympathize with both those tasked with finding a good employee and those who cannot seem to breach the ramparts of HR. I am amazed how few HR people/recruiters understand even a bit of the tech field. I recall once explaining how if I use mySQL regularly I could also use other SQL-based databases (not as a DBA mind you, just as a technical writer explaining how to connect to a DB and run basic queries, etc.)
All correct, sadly.
There are two solutions here, really:
1) The six million (or more) unemployed/underemployed, highly skilled people who have been screened out of the job market for six years, should file a class action suit against all the job search sites that you cited in your article, for mass age discrimination.
2) The companies using these sites should indeed only pay if they are able to fill the job. Ditto for agencies and recruiters–they should charge the client if nobody is hired, after XX candidates are referred, or charge by the week. Time to get off the pot!
Grow a spine, people! Everyone is being ripped off in this process, from legitimate employers to legitimate applicants.
For the last several years, I have been telling recruiters who call, that employers need to start training new people, because nobody new has been hired or trained in six years, and now people are retiring. There ARE NO MORE NEW PEOPLE WITH LOTS OF EXPERIENCE TO CHOOSE FROM.
The height of ridiculousness: I have seen ads that request incredibly highly skilled people, with at least one year of FT experience in the previous year, for a few days a month to a few weeks of work. Why would this person go for a new job with so few hours? Makes no sense.
I went through the hoops with a couple of local agencies for good 3 month contract jobs, and they have fiddled around for a month now. One of them was a project I applied for more than a year ago, which was withdrawn, and i applied again! I will call them back this week, and tell them that the work could have been half done by now, if they had hired me. Then I will withdraw my application after another week.
The only thing that will change this, and I will keep carping on this until I drop dead, is that the American people have to grow a spine. The protesting fast food people have it right. Those attempting to organize unions again have it right.
It may take all six million of us to simply quit trying and go on every welfare program out there, and then write full time about our sham economy, to get people off their dime.
And VP of Sales: great that you sponsor people who have hit the wall. I did a lot of that, too. I am the last of my friends who lost jobs in ’08-’09: the rest have gotten jobs, disabled, gotten sick, or died–many lost their life savings and homes along the way. The only piece of my future left, is the 401K money we left in the market, that regained lost value finally. Pathetic that working no longer pays.
Shout this from the rooftops!
Share this on every Facebook and Twitter page. The stuffy, bow-tied economists who write about the job market need to know this because these economists are the people who the executives listen to.
Peter Capelli gained some traction with his
“Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs”
Nick, have you considered publishing/distributing your books through Amazon and other audiences? I wonder if the only people who come to your website to buy them are already the converted…
Change the boardroom and you will change HR.
The HR robots are doing what they are told, really. Keeping out applicants, fobbing everyone off to their pet robots (ATS job systems), and reducing us to keywords.
All in the name of TALENT SHORTAGE!
Great article, I agree 100%.
I’ve developed a presentation I give to job seekers that takes their job hunt down to the basic level – a pad of paper and a pen. That’s all you need to actually talk live to enough people to land you in front of a hiring manager. You have no need to worry about keywords because hiring managers don’t care about them.This method however does require you to close your computer, change out of your pajamas and actually get out and meet people. Oh, the horrors.
Funny how people who follow this strategy find jobs quicker. Those who don’t are still sending out resumes with the push of a button.
Speaking of which, I had a great laugh when LinkedIn came out with their new app for Android, where not only can you search for jobs from your smartphone, you can actually apply for them using your LinkedIn profile. Now you don’t even have to research the company, you can apply for jobs while sitting in a bar.
Any employer who hires someone who applies for a job using their LinkedIn profile deserves what they get.
Insightful article, but not to despair. For the job seeker, he needs to work the system to get the interview and then the job, being careful to only apply for jobs for which he is qualified, otherwise he won’t last long. In the present system, the employer is the one with the problem, not the job seeker.
Another brilliant and sobering piece. I have been reading you since you were in print publications (what are those?), and you never fail to bring a great analysis and perspective to the issue.
Some really great observations, especially by Bob, VP Sales, MC, and Survivor. As I often say, “Oh, you can’t find a [fill in the blank]? I can get you five of them tomorrow.” But they’ll be experienced professionals and you’ll have to pay them. What you really mean is, “I can’t find a [fill in the blank] with just enough experience not to fall on their face who’s willing to work 60-80 hour weeks for 60% of the normal salary for that work.” THAT is one of the reasons “there are no qualified people.” Plus, you’re going about the hiring process in a dysfunctional manner. Oh, yeah, that…
I have started a small business with a partner; it seems like the only solution. It’s a lot more work than joining an established company, but at least I know I won’t get a surprise pink slip next week. I recently hired a Sr. Software Engineer by calling a guy who worked for me four years ago. No messy job boards, no dumb HR department (that would be me anyway), no buzzwords. If only all hiring could be like that.
I’m in agreement with Survivor on the solution. Or, like the 2008 crisis, the house of cards just gets stacked so high and falls over. Although a good shake-up wouldn’t hurt 95% of the HR departments out there.
Thanks again, Nick, and keep ’em coming!
In one of the previous comment sections I posted what I believe to be the only incentive for companies to stop this nonsense, by annoying them at their own game. Forgive the copy/paste here — let’s create an app that submits fake job applicants to company career sites, so when a company posts a fake job, you’d just pull up the app, plug in all the job details directly from the description, and you’ll get a “new” resume with all the perfect keywords to submit to the company’s ATS, including most importantly a fake name and fake contact number. Then when the useless recruiter sees that “perfect” candidate profile who has all 30 bulleted requirements, they call only to get the recording “we’re sorry, this number is not in service.”
I really think the line was crossed a long time ago, getting nasty is the only way to go.
@Bob: No degree? Shame on you. How have you been doing IT jobs without a degree? More important, how are the companies that reject you doing IT work?? :-)
@Bob H: Job descriptions are a problem? Gotcha covered: http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/43/roasting-the-job-description
Recently, Google CEO Eric Schmidt pointed out that Google doesn’t hire to fill jobs. It hires smart people who figure out how to do jobs. Job descriptions are at best snapshots. what job is the same after 6 months, anyway? It’s about whether the person doing it can adapt to the changing work.
@Mary Hansen: “My only question now is how long this system continues before it wrecks the economy?”
It’s already destroying companies from within. They “can’t find” talent. And it’s already destroying the economy. We’re supposedly in an upswing because unemployment claims are down. Yet salaries and wages – metrics of the value of work and our economy – are down. It’s already happening, and I’m convinced it’s thanks to stupid database models of recruiting and hiring.
Imagine what would happen to LinkedIn, Monster and Indeed – if they got paid by employers only when they actually FILLED a job.
@R. Tanenbaum: You caught that last line, eh? :-) That’s really the prescription, and the indictment, and the challenge.
@Matt Bud, my insider friend: Thanks! You and I will always be in business :-)
@Mayor Bongo: Thanks for the compliment, but sorry, Liz Ryan and I are not on the same wavelength. She’s part of the LinkedIn racket, which is a shame. Will she ever call LinkedIn what it is?
“Are there any glimmers of hope on the horizon?” Yes. I think Google is the biggest ray of hope. They’ve dumped job boards and recruit extensively through word of mouth and trusted personal referrals. I’m sure they’ll get crucified for being “exclusive” – but what is smart hiring if not exclusive? You want only the best, and you can’t get the best using a seive in the Atlantic. There are many, many smaller companies that eschew goofy HR practices, where managers do their own hiring. The “secret” is simple, and it’s a secret because the lazy ignore it: http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/crocs41managersjob1.htm
@VP Sales: “Here’s one method I use to keep a prospect stream. At our professional society meeting, I pick up the check for dinner for any unemployed or student member who comes.”
It will take your competitors 100 years to figure that one out – they have no idea why they’re losing their best hires to you. It’s so simple. One of those dinners is worth 5,000 connections on LinkedIn. Cross that out. No number of connections on LinkedIn is worth one of the connections you create when you buy someone dinner. I’ve been trying to bottle this method for years – we could get rich. But it’s not a database, so you can’t charge for it. It’s a way of life. Keep on truckin’ –!
@MC: Let’s try the Socratic method to answer your question. What did employers do before the databases. Did they never hire anyone? What I’m about to do is not directed at you – nothing personal. Your comments and questions are on everyone’s lips.
“The problem is one of matching and from the company perspective”
No, it’s not. It’s a matter of creating sound, strong, productive relationship. The “matching” was invented by the job board and ATS vendors so you’d pay them for something you can “track.” So, where’s the tracking. Name one job board that gives you success metrics. Matching has little to do with it; it’s the artifact of the main task, which is creating relationships.
@Olivier: Tumbrils! I love new words, and this one is one of the greats! I love it! Thank you!
@sighmaster: “I’m curious, what is the average age of these doofuses inventing these dumb systems?”
I don’t think this has anything to do with age. Follow the money. What’s the age of the HR executives who fund these businesses? It’s across the spectrum. Kids writing code are part of our world, and it’s the better for them. But they write code to do stuff that paying customers want. Don’t blame them for that. Show them better perspectives on the problems that need solving. When HR tells you everything is a nail, you keep inventing new kinds of hammers – but they’re all hammers. I think hiring managers, if they were cornered, would define a different kind of problem to solve.
@Doug in Seattle: “I am amazed how few HR people/recruiters understand even a bit of the tech field.”
Ah, that’s the canary in the coal mine. But HR doesn’t use canaries, because HR isn’t the department that’s dropping dead in the coal mine for lack of good hires. HR gets paid to sit in an office on the surface – and to phone it in. Excuse me, key it in. Tap tap tap tap, purchase order.
Like LinkedIn, HR gets paid whether anyone is hired or not.
@Survivor: “The only thing that will change this, and I will keep carping on this until I drop dead, is that the American people have to grow a spine. The protesting fast food people have it right. Those attempting to organize unions again have it right.”
I agree. But people don’t really understand what the problem is. They blame themselves for not using the “system” effectively.
@Tom N: “I had a great laugh when LinkedIn came out with their new app for Android, where not only can you search for jobs from your smartphone, you can actually apply for them using your LinkedIn profile. Now you don’t even have to research the company, you can apply for jobs while sitting in a bar. Any employer who hires someone who applies for a job using their LinkedIn profile deserves what they get.”
Why is it so hard for anyone to understand this???
@Larry B: The sad truth is, the few people who use sound, simple, personal methods have no competition. The sad state of automated affairs actually benefits those who know what they’re doing.
@ALL: Thanks for your very kind words about this column! Glad it resonates!
You hit a grand slam home run with this post, Nick. I think it’s your best post since I began following you. You should email a link to this post to Mr. Perez…ROTFL!!!
Brilliant article! Yet I am pessimistic because the current system allows HR people to hide behind ATS, management to hide behind HR, ‘matching’ and NOT hiring (or outsourcing because of the ‘talent shortage’) with the managers left in the lurch, working 70-80 hour weeks (how ’bout that productivity!) and in fear for their jobs.
I see no easy solutions or revolting that works, because it’s a state of affairs that benefits two important groups. Millennials are now the majority of workers, it doesn’t really matter to them, and they are very comfortable hiding behind a computer or smartphone. And too many of them don’t see anything special about this country or economy anyway.
Great read Nick – and right on the money. Two things I’d like to add.
Over the last six months, we have held focus groups with a total of 116 professionals. This group had an average of 6 jobs each over their careers. One of the questions we ask is how many of their jobs they got through job boards, LinkedIn or other online tools. Among a total of 731 jobs among the whole group there was a grand total of 3 (yes only 3). That is a success rate of 0.004%! No wonder why the job boards are talking success metrics.
Secondly, what ftrquntly gets overlooked in these talks about algorithms and recruiting tech companies founded by twenty somethings who have never hired someone in their life is that hiring is a process of engagement – and people are not engaged by technology itself but rather they engage technology. This is why technology will NEVER replace human contact in the recruiting process.
Mostly negative comments and a lot of hand wringing. Where does it get you? Things are as they are and unless you’re going to change them, learn the system and how to make it work for you instead of being a victim. That’s how successful people function.
VP Sales has a great idea—paying for dinners at professional association meetings for the unemployed and students.
Along the same lines, I suggest that companies post their professional openings on the websites of the appropriate professional associations.
This would benefit the associations because payments for postings would contribute to the treasuries. Also, professionals would join their associations for access to the postings.
Most important, it would improve the quality of individuals applying for jobs. Since only association members would have access to the postings, the process would automatically screen out irrelevant resumes. There would be so few applicants relative to the big job boards that a knowledgeable HR person or hiring manager would have time to screen all resumes.
@Nick – I’m not sure the Socratic question is valid: of course companies hired. But romanticism aside, was the world better off? More efficient? You can ask a equally valid question: did people not gripe about HR/recruiters before Linkedin? We just dont know. What I do see is that we’ve traded one set of recruitment problems for another.
In my book, “matching” is not a dirty word and its definitely not a side-effect. _Productive_ relationships happen when there is an intersection of skills and needs. What recruiters, LI or anyone who is honestly interested in this HR space wants is for that supply/demand of skills is matched up objectively and with results.
With all due respect, hiring someone is often the START of a relationship, not the result of it. (In my science-heavy field, I run into tons of people who are terrible at the relationship-building game but are superstar employees. Are they less deserving of a fitting job?) Most hires happen via internal referrals. From the company perspective, are those the best hires you could be making?
By no means am I defending the New HR Order. Like I said, I believe they’ve traded one set of problems for another. I’m just searching for honest viewpoints as I have been a frustrated candidate (an unemployed one at times), a hiring manager, a entrepreneur employer and I do think: there’s gotta be a better way to reform this process and to do it AT SCALE (without wishing away a world where a job attracts dozens or hundreds of qualified/unqualified candidates). As you wrote in one of your responses referring to Hiring managers but I’m asking the entire recruiting industry: Whats the real problem to solve here?
PS @Larry – re: your 1st comment. too true. We’ve gotten to a point where true growth is difficult, so companies selfishly squeeze the one easy place to squeeze out profits: the bottom-line (wages). But lower wages lead to even more pressure on the top-line and round and round we go.
You ask, “But is there a better way to scale? To match up candidates and jobs better? To attempt to ensure that those with best fit, not the best sales skills get the job?”
Yes, there is (and several commenters above have highlighted that better way):
What Color is Your Parachute? by Bolles
Cracking the Hidden Job Market by Asher
Highly Effective Networking by Pierson
Ask the Headhunter by Corcodilos
Hiring for Attitude by Murphy
Again, three words:
Networking . . . Informational Interviewing.
Absolutely nailed it sir!
You know there are problems when one of the first results from Indeed is the forum section called, “Frustrated Job Seeker’s Rant — Feel Free to Add Your Thoughts.” Apparently, with around 30k posts so far.
The new way of looking for a position seems to be an onerous slog through endless questions, tests, interviews, and so on. So does all this work create a “good fit?” From my experience the answer is a clear “NO!”
I know of several individuals who were hired by long term managers, while at the same time the hiring manager was being forced to “early retire.” Are you crazy? Usually these hires are an absolute nightmare.
Clearly under qualified/mismatched hires, but hey we got them “cheap!”
Experienced candidates getting thrown the “Out” pile during the first pass.
Big Box recruiters pushing ill-fit jobs/candidates. Quantity over quality.
Overall, I think we have entered a period of hyper-frictional unemployment. Where both job seekers and hiring managers seem to be doing an inordinate amount of work to get quite honestly a piss poor result.
@Diana Schneidman: See “Why employers should pay job applicants” http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/7201/why-employers-should-pay-job-applicants
When I first heard about the “talent shortage” and “shortage of skilled workers” in America — and on National Public Radio of all places — I was dumfounded. How many talented, skilled people did I know out of work?? The answer was, and still is, far too many.
What a crock. I wish a reputable journalist could pick up on this story and disprove the shortage, because I’ve never been convinced that there ever was one.
So, the answer seems to be to ask job-seekers to develop a NEW skill: a job-hunting skill via networking, a skill that may be pretty unrelated to success on many job itself (with the exception of sales/client-facing/management roles).
Its practical advice for the job-seeker: its why I like Nick’s blog and I only am commenting on THIS article.
But Nick was talking about the broken system here. Its not a fix for the system and feels like a tautology: cant find a job? its because you dont have good job-hunting skills.
@MC: “So, the answer seems to be to ask job-seekers to develop a NEW skill: a job-hunting skill via networking, a skill that may be pretty unrelated to success on many job itself (with the exception of sales/client-facing/management roles).”
No, networking is an OLD skill that was supplanted by automated online keyword processing systems used for recruiting. And networking is related to success in every job and in every aspect of life. Ask anyone who is successful. The notion that “networking” is useful only in sales jobs is just nonsense. (No offense intended.) It’s not just this column that holds that message. It’s a fundamental tenet of a happy life because we have to work with others.
I feel so dirty.
I admit I had an addiction to job boards, Linkedin especially.
Great article Nick.
I just deleted my Linkedin account to end that sinking feeling.
To Helen Moss: there’s a self taught journalist blogger out there, Bud Meyers, who has been doing a bang-up job writing about all of this. He pulls together government statistics, news stories, video clips, etc. Find him via Google.
@Helen It has been thoroughly debunked (google “Norman Matloff” or “talent shortage debunking”) but there’s no worse deaf man than the man who doesn’t want to listen. To understand why the talent shortage canard won’t die just follow the money (as always).
@Kurt: Agreed. I heard Perez reveal his ignorance on an NPR interview as he spewed the party line. So annoying.
@Nick: Thx for this overview :)
Right as usual. I think the root cause of this problem is not the job board, but that the internet has enabled lazy candidates and employers to think they are doing something useful. VP Sales is a great example of a non-lazy employer.
Even if there was no LinkedIn, someone would be selling email lists to send your resume to. People who do this would have as little success, and then complain about HR not getting back to them. They are the lazy job hunters.
It is not just jobs. When I applied for college we were allowed three applications, so I was careful. Today if a kid has parent with a thick enough checkbook they can cut and paste a dozen or twenty applications. And then they will complain about the low accept rate.
Look at publishing. While e-books are great if you can market them, and if they are good, I know lots of novel writers who publish their books without even proof reading them, let alone getting and listening to feedback from decent editors. Then they complain about only selling a dozen copies.
The name of the game is not throwing something out there, it is connecting with someone on the other side.
Hi Nick & fellow job-seekers! I read all your ‘Ask the Headhunter’ posts very carefully. Last week I got a job. A good one. Here’s how I got it: I stopped stressing about doing stuff on line. I went down to my target place and applied by speaking to someone. We clicked. She asked me back. When I went back I started talking to a very nice woman (turns out she was the owner). We all sat down & talked. When I asked if I got the job the owner said ‘YES I WAS GONNA HIRE YOU TWO MINUTES AFTER I MET YOU’! So – there ya go. Thanks for all the great advice Nick & fellow job seekers. Best of luck to you all!
Paul Krugman has noted many times that if there was a talent shortage than people with rare talent – who have jobs – would be valuable and getting big raises. Not happening.
The shortage is in people who can walk into a job 9 am Monday and be productive by 10 am. If businesses wanted to train people they’d have no problems hiring. Sure the newly trained employees might leave, but if the companies treated them well they wouldn’t. Too tough, I guess.
We are talking about the “system” and not what individuals need to do to get jobs: some people are naturally great at networking. Others arent. Are those that aren’t undeserving of jobs? Or lazy? Or need a personality adjustment?
We aren’t talking about what it takes to be successful in a career long-term. Sure, no one can argue that networking skills and high EQ are critical to long-term success. Incrementally, so is belonging to the same school as the boss, enjoying the same sports and participating in the same community. But I wouldn’t argue that those are core requirements for every job. Perhaps we disagree, but I’d be surprised you do.
As an employer, do you want to hire the guy/gal who can best do the job or do you want to hire the person who can sell you best on how he/she can do the job?
To me, not every employee needs to be the outgoing, networking wizard. In many science/tech fields, the sometimes the best employees are ones that ARENT good at those things. Those that arent good at it arent lazy and undeserving of jobs, they’re just not good at THAT skill. Perhaps it limits THEIR careers but limiting MY hires to only those that are good at it is not my best option.
I would venture, based on my experience, that resumes, interviews, referrals, linkedin profiles/endorsements, school pedigree etc. are all short-cuts to discover demonstrated behaviors/skills — which is really the key to finding good fit for roles. Has this person shown evidence or clearly shows potential for doing the job? (Its what I took away from your writings: that I need to best convey that I can solve the employers problems)
A good system will allow that fit to be found with the least friction. Most recruiters are friction-points. Linkedin that dumps 1000 resumes on my plate is a friction point. The system was not any better before. Its only that the battlefield has changed.
Another great article! It frustrates me to no end hearing about this “talent shortage.” I work with the mythical skilled laborers every day. They are in my office because either no one will call them back or, if they do get an interview, they are not perfect enough. I have identified 3 main groups of overlooked employees that don’t exist:
A) The old generation from before you needed a degree to do the job. They have 20-40 years experience but no degree so they are undesirable.
B) You have my generation (I’m 31) that spent all of our time going to college to get a degree but don’t have experience so we are undesirable.
C) Finally they are the people who have the skills to do the job but, since the job isn’t writing resumes, they can’t get noticed because their resumes are garbage.
A subset of category C are the people who lack people skills because they are not accustomed to doing people-oriented jobs.
It seems like the only people willing to give these skilled laborers the time of day are staffing agencies which only helps so much.
From the employer side I hear that either:
A) No one is applying to their companies or
B) the people they do hire don’t show up for the job.
I feel like I live in the twilight zone.
@MC: “We aren’t talking about what it takes to be successful in a career long-term.”
I am. I don’t think a lot about the short-term.
“As an employer, do you want to hire the guy/gal who can best do the job or do you want to hire the person who can sell you best on how he/she can do the job?”
Honestly – the latter. I have clients who will jump over 10 of the former to hire one of the latter. “Sell” doesn’t mean “con” to me. It demonstrates motivation, which is key to most managers. Skill without motivation is not very useful.
“To me, not every employee needs to be the outgoing, networking wizard.”
I agree. But every employee needs to be able to do those things SOMETIMES. Those who don’t will usually lose to those who do. People are different.
“sometimes the best employees are ones that ARENT good at those things”
I don’t buy that at all.
” The system was not any better before. Its only that the battlefield has changed.”
I pretty much agree with that. Job ads in newsprint were not much better than job postings online, except that they cost a lot more, so employers were less likely to game the system.
MC, I understand that you are talking about the system. I talk about it only to the extent that I try to show people how to go around it. I don’t believe in the employment system, or that one will ever arise that works well. While an idea might be useful, once it’s institutionalized, if often (not always) gets watered down, co-opted purely for profit, bureaucratized, and becomes an impediment to getting things done. It turns into a racket.
Those who aren’t naturally good at networking need to get good at it. It’s like any other skill; you must learn it and practice it to get good at it. Anyone who prefers to avoid it may of course do so.
I don’t keep data (mainly because it wouldn’t be scientific anyway_, but I’ve got over 20 years’ worth of good anecdotal evidence from my readers, clients and candidates that says networking combined with showing how you’ll do a job profitably is far and away the best method for landing a job.
You’re right: Getting the friction out of the system is what’s needed. I try to do that by showing people how to go around the system.
My absolute final two cents on this whole thing: Call me naive, but with a tool like the internet, I see no need whatsoever for a company to publicly post a job opening. The internet alone should be a sufficient enough source for an HR rep to target and find plenty of candidates. Using StinkedIn as an example, a recruiter should be able to do a search of all members using their oh-so-beloved keyword list combined with the “currently seeking opportunities” phrase (StinkedIn could always offer a “currently seeking opportunities” checkbox on your profile accomplishing this), so every qualified unemployed person on StinkedIn would show up in their search results. NO need to “advertise” anything here – we candidates are already advertising ourselves (and our ads are being ignored)! And still plenty of opportunity for that site to make money here…But, of course, this would involve extra *gasp* work by the person hiring. My StinkedIn title has the exact keywords I’d look for in a job description: designer specializing in 3D modeling/video, Cinema 4D expert. There aren’t that many jobs requiring C4D; anyone looking to hire someone with C4D experience could easily find me. But, that would require them truly *wanting* to find me in the first place. Just look at the job boards that exist for the creative field, Behance, Coroflot, etc. All designers can upload their profiles with portfolio. Do any companies bother to peruse these profiles at all? Nope, too much time/effort involved. I think I already mentioned the useless HR jerk who posted a job on one of those sites, I applied and he responded by ordering me to go to their website and complete the ATS (which I had already done!).
Fwiw, up until 2000, I never had a problem finding a job thru the newspaper want ads. Heck, I’d actually develop a network of sorts that way, when a company put out a huge ad with loads of jobs but none that matched my background, I’d still send them a letter “for future consideration,” and more often than not I’d actually get a call from them! Sometimes the rep would move to another company and they’d take my resume/info with them.
Again, I think this internet thing could’ve been great for hiring…*sigh*
A follow-up on Nick’s closing line that if HR people insisted on only paying for actual hires … rather than paying for eyeballs, clicks, and resumes … the system would very quickly reform itself.
There are people who already only get paid when someone gets hired, recruiters. The good recruiters who understand the needs of the hiring manager and deliver quality people will always be worth the price.
They also provide added value to job seekers who may not be so good at self-promoting and networking.
So both employers and job seekers should dump the job boards and connect with a few quality recruiters and everyone will benefit.
I will add that LinkedIn does have an excellent place for networking. Specifically, the group discussion boards that are aligned by profession or by industry are great places to meet like-minded people and to participate in discussions that get you noticed by others in your field as well as by savvy recruiters and HR professionals. It may not work for the working class but it is a great resource for professional, technical and other white collar individuals.
And I close with my biggest pet peeve … worthless LinkedIn endorsements. I never give one and I hate getting them. If I know you I will write a pertinent personal recommendation, and I welcome the same from people who know my work. But people who click on “endorsements” drive me nuts.
@Richard Tomkins: I’m not sure folks around here know how famous you are on Ask The Headhunter, concerning LinkedIn:
If you’ve resigned, then it’s all over for Linked! :-) Thanks for chiming in!
@sighmaster & @R Tanenbaum:
Together you’ve hit the nail on the head.
“with a tool like the internet, I see no need whatsoever for a company to publicly post a job opening. The internet alone should be a sufficient enough source for an HR rep to target and find plenty of candidates. ”
“I will add that LinkedIn does have an excellent place for networking. Specifically, the group discussion boards that are aligned by profession or by industry are great places to meet like-minded people and to participate in discussions that get you noticed by others in your field as well as by savvy recruiters and HR professionals.”
So, why does any employer need to pay LinkedIn to post jobs, or to search profiles?
It’s not cynical of me to say this, because it’s plainly true: The employers that pay LinkedIn (and job boards) to “search” their databases are STUPID and LAZY. If the keywords fit, wear them.
The two of you make the point very clearly. The necessary hires are all there, for free, for those that will open their eyes, do the work, and find them. As I’ve said before, the only talent shortage is in HR. What a waste.
This is the best most concise summary of the current state of recruiting/hiring that I’ve seen. In its short length it embodies all of the frustration and insanity that I’ve experienced from both sides of the hiring experience. And every time I think it can’t get any worse, it does. In spades. And I don’t think we’ve hit bottom yet.
I think you hit the nail on the head. I would also add ageism and other unfair assumptions to “A.”
I also think people get pigeonholed in their careers because of all this…
You state, “To me, not every employee needs to be the outgoing, networking wizard. In many science/tech fields, the sometimes the best employees are ones that ARENT good at those things. Those that arent good at it arent lazy and undeserving of jobs, they’re just not good at THAT skill. Perhaps it limits THEIR careers but limiting MY hires to only those that are good at it is not my best option.”
To paraphrase Richard Bolles (of Parachute? fame), More often than not, the job goes not to the most technically qualified, but to the person who conducts the most effective job search (and I believe Bolles attributes this to John Crystal).
We’re not talking here about a smooth-talking used-car salesman; rather, we’re talking about, as Nick stated above, all of us learning how to network and how to show an employer that we can do the job. The core of an effective job search is networking and informational interviewing, not trying to build a better mousetrap or learning how to beat the ATS. The key to hiring good candidates and to getting good jobs has been available to all of us since at least World War II and probably before that. It might be summed up in a quote provided in John Crystal’s obituary (he died in 1988):
”You can send out all the resumes you want and there’s no guaranteeing the offers you’ll get are the ones you want,” he once told an interviewer. ”Going through channels is nonsense. Personnel departments merely shield the more responsible people from the bands of totally uninformed job-seekers; they merely weed people out.” Instead, he advocated an indirect route: ”Approach the one man or woman – never a ‘personnel’ person – who has the most knowledge of the job you truly want and enough seniority to hire someone for it.”
You are absolutely correct that you should not limit your hires to those who are good at networking . . . but I believe you would be wise to consider those who are both technically competent AND who can network effectively (especially if you are hiring to build or augment teams).
And it appears that you are savvy enough to hire through networking and informational interviewing (yes, it’s a two-way street) and not to depend on job advertisements posted on job boards or your organization’s web site.
It seems as tho networking is perceived by some as some alien skill. IMHO it’s simply about having social skills which have not been very well developed in our culture of late. If u have any doubt, check out just about any other blog & its comments section.
The use of computers to screen every candidate creates more problems than it solves. It is very difficult/impossible to program a computer to solve problems when the answer could logically be: yes, no, or maybe.
Case in point – one time while I was working as a consultant for more than a year and my boss encouraged me to apply for the position full time. So that evening I filled out the online application, then attached my cover letter and resume. The next morning I told my boss I had applied and he checked the system. He couldn’t find my application but we figured the application was still cranking through the system. Long story short, we never were able to find the application. As it turned out, the staff at the Corporate HR location rejected my application before my boss could even review it. This wasted a lot of time for several managers. Anyway, we got everything sorted out and I had an interview with the Corporate HR. Her first question was, “So where are you working now?”
Wonderful article. We have entered an era of hyper frictional unemployment where both employers and candidates are spewing out more and more work with very little to show for it. Candidates are spending countless hours filling out tests, paperwork, applications, personality tests, and so on – instead of creating something of value or learning new skills. As for employers, they are wasting an unbelievable amount of hiring managers time to find candidates.
All this insanity begs the question, well what type of employee is getting through the labyrinth? From many conversations with my colleagues the answer seems to be the worst candidate possible. Many hiring managers these days live in fear of constant layoffs and don’t want hire anyone who can replace them. Furthermore most really don’t seem to like their employers very much and see hiring a complete nightmare employees as a way to “get back” at their employer.
Corporate leadership seems to be too busy to notice or care about the quality of new hires. What this says about the future is – not good.
@Anna Mouse: “As for employers, they are wasting an unbelievable amount of hiring managers time to find candidates.”
That’s the only point you make that I think is incorrect. Today, HR keeps managers isolated from recruiting and thus hiring. Managers wind up interviewing only people HR solicits. Please think about that. That’s the fundamental failure of the system. It’s why companies keep hiring the wrong people.
I think I may be confused as to the main argument of this essay. Please be kind because I am new to this and also a job seeker. So, as I am understanding of your claim, the HR departments take the best “keyworded” submissions and pass these along to the hiring managers. Come interview time, the manager discovers that a prospect is nothing more than a dopey SEO wannabe clown who can’t do the job, and the cycle repeats. My question then is: why can’t someone who can *do the job* (follow me here) just play the same keyword-trickery, get the interview, and then prove to the interviewer her capability? Shouldn’t someone who can deliver quality work in a professional, production environment have enough acuity to at least figure this out? Thank you for your time and patience,
I have a new story about the horrors of ATSs.
Days before Christmas I discovered a “permanent” job at a former high-tech employer of mine which is near Fortune 50. I have also contracted there twice since I was laid-off with 15,000 others 10 years ago. The position was a near perfect match — one of my contracts was doing this exact job for a different business unit in the company. This was a professional exempt role.
For as long I can remember, the company had used the Taleo ATS but this time I found they had switched to the Workday ATS. I found the posting, started to apply, and was stopped at page 2. The page would not render properly regardless of which browser or computer I tried. Clearly the problem was at their end.
I filled out a support request web form and waited a day. Nada. Jumping ahead, I finally heard from them after three weeks and was told a bald-faced lie about the cause of the issue. At least they admitted it was on their end.
I then went to their jobs-specific Twitter account and asked for help via direct message. Nada. I repeated myself daily for three days before someone responded but they were useless as their job was social media, not tech support. Eventually, they got someone who may have been in support — they only identified themselves with their initials and would not communicate with me other than Twitter direct messaging. I had to pull it out of them but they said they were able to reproduce the bug.
I keep on top of this but a week passes and I still could not apply. Fearing the posting would be closed before I could apply, I started asking about alternative methods for applying or at least giving me the name of the recruiter. I got dead air.
Meanwhile, I was pulling out the stops by working my network to see if I could identify the hiring manager or the incumbent but it was the holidays and I was unable to get help. I also called the company’s HR help desk but they would not help me because I was not a current employee. Via LinkedIn, I identified the HR Director of the division. I sent him a carefully crafted email, and never heard a word. I practically begged for help from every person with whom I’d had contact about this problem — none would even respond.
Sure enough, as I had feared, I learned the posting had been closed before the ATS was fixed. For me, this was a big blow as I’ve been underemployed doing only short-term contract work out of my field for two years. I also know as fact that this company posts this type of job on average of just once per year locally and there are few similar opportunities for this work in my mid-sized city.
Losing the rare opportunity to apply for this perfect job is very disappointing however I think I’m equally disappointed in and frustrated with the indifference demonstrated by every person with whom I communicated about this broken application process. I know some were outsourced “contingent” workers; I’ll give then a 10% pass as they likely have no sense of ownership or empowerment to do anything beyond their defined responsibilities.
Regardless, shame on all of them, especially the HR Director!
Nick, you are spot on as usual! I wrote about this on LinkedIn. I never post articles there, but I was so frustrated by the shoddy (and expensive!) services being marketed to me when I had a great system of my own that I just popped off…
WHERE IS THE PERSONAL CONNECTION? It takes a one-to-one dialogue to determine whether someone is a good fit for any position, and so few people get in the door with these ASTes, it’s ridiculous.
Thanks for always talking sense, I hope more companies begin to listen.