The Nobel Prize for Jobs: The artifacts of Duh-oyyyy!

This week three men shared the 2010 Nobel Prize in Economic Science. Here’s the problem they’ve been working on for decades:

The researchers spent decades trying to understand why it takes so long for people to find jobs, even in good economic times, and why so many people can be unemployed even when many jobs are available. (Economists Share Nobel for Studying Job Market, NY Times)

Blind leading the blindThese researchers took the classic, academic “long away around” and still haven’t figured out what simple common sense tells us.

People don’t find jobs. They don’t search for jobs. They post some information about themselves online and then wait like doofusses for jobs to come along.

Employers don’t search for new employees. They post job descriptions (a decade ago they ran classified ads) and teams of HR “recruiters” sit on their duffs in front of computer displays waiting for who comes along.

“Who comes along” usually isn’t worth hiring. So, what are these researchers really studying?

They’re studying the artifacts of Duh-oyyyy! They’re not studying the behavior of markets or the behavior of job hunters and employers. They are distracted and mesmerized by the artifacts of the mechanical process of sorting data.

The failure of job hunters and employers to come together “even when many jobs are available” has nothing to do with economics.

It has to do with the mindless process that promotes random job hunting and random hiring. Where in the Nobel Laureates’ reports is a description or analysis of the machine that grinds up job hunters and employers alike, without spitting out “matches?” Where is their prescription for beating the system to get the job done?

Life is short, for people and for companies. The prescription is simple. Go find the people you really want, and go find the companies you really want to work for. Don’t take what comes along.

These researchers’ explanation addresses the complications that come from searching for jobs and job candidates: it takes time for unemployed workers to be matched with the proper opening, since people are not identical, cookie-cutter units, and neither are jobs.

It takes time? Time is wasted because no one acknowledges that the Employment System we rely on has no clothes. I love the total failure to attribute any responsibility to anyone or anything: “it takes time for unemployed workers to be matched…” Duh-oyyyy! Why is that? Why does it take time and who or what is responsible?

How do you get a Nobel when you fail to answer that basic question?

Gee-whiz. “Neither people nor jobs are cookie cutter units?” Gimme a friggin break. The Employment System treats both exactly as cookie cutter units: records in databases, sequences of keywords, lists of skills, bits of data waiting to be matched at the level of letter combinations.

The scientists working on this problem need to pull out Occam’s Razor and start cutting through the bullshit. They problem they describe is not an economic phenomenon. It’s an artifact of the systemic robbing of employers and job hunters. Employers are systematically deprived of their workers, and job hunters of jobs, while everyone is off blindly roaming the jobs and resume databases.

This is not Nobel science. If you want a job, figure out who does the work you want to do and go hang out with those people. They will quickly help you determine what additional training you need, introduce you to the right people, guide and advise you toward a job.

If you want to find a good worker for your business, go hang out with people who do the work you need to have done. Learn from them who can do the work, ask for recommendations, and then go to the person you want and talk shop with them.

Stop washing your hands with gloves on. Get out of the databases and go talk to the actual people and companies.

The idea that Nobel laureate economists are missing the simple explanation suggests no Prize is warranted. The researchers are blinded by the process business uses to find new hires. Yet they don’t say one word about the fact that today, in the midst of what is arguably the biggest glut of unemployed, talented workers we have ever seen, employers and job hunters alike rely almost exclusively on a system that does not work. The Nobels aren’t seeing or reporting that the emperor has no clothes.

I mean, what are Nobel scientists for, if not to point out The Naked Embarrassment?

This is not an economic phenomenon. It’s a simple racket. Employers are being scammed by the behavior of an HR profession that is content to “interview who comes along,” and by the likes of CareerBuilder, and an Employment Industry which is glad to deliver “what comes along.”

The researchers spent decades trying to understand why it takes so long for people to find jobs…



Why you should offer job applicants more money

In the last post, The Ethics of Juggling Job Offers, we talked about accepting a job offer, then rescinding the acceptance if a better deal comes along shortly thereafter (or even before you start the first job). The discussion was from the candidate side.

It begs the question, What can an employer do to avoid losing a new hire?

A company will sometimes work too hard to keep the salary offer as low as possible, virtually challenging the candidate to accept it. If the candidate gives up on negotiating a better deal and accepts the offer, the company has instantly set itself up for a quick resignation if the candidate can find a better deal elsewhere.

That’s why I advise my corporate clients to do what company presidents like to insist that their employees do for their customers: “Don’t just satisfy the customer. Delight the customer!”

Why not delight the candidate?

What does that mean? Read more

Toilet paper resumes: More feels better?

[Some bloggers cleverly carry a theme from one post to the next. I’m not into that. Honest: I wasn’t looking to flow the theme from Pissing on the applicant into today’s post. Toilet paper just kinda backed up into the system when JaneA posted a comment on Readers’ Forum: HR’s #1 job: Poisoning the well?]

Businesses that are hiring are so intent on gathering as many resumes as possible that they forget “more is not better.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal (that paragon of Job Board Journalism), Mike Michalowicz touts his method for diving into the resume dumpster. When Michalowicz posts a job, he tells applicants to include — word for word — a certain sentence from his ads in their job applications. Then he lets an e-mail filter find the applications that include the magic sentence, and he deletes the rest.

“I only consider applications that contain the sentence, which cuts the number of résumés I have to look at by upwards of 80%.”

Nice trick. He wouldn’t need it if he’d stop solicting thousands of applications by posting job ads.

Employers like Michalowicz have themselves to blame for the “overwhelming response from unqualified applicants.” If you ask to have a dumpster full of resumes delivered to your e-mail bin, you’ll get them. Job boards like, CareerBuilder, TheLadders and even the WSJ’s very own job board are ready to charge you for garbage delivery. You get what you pay for.

Then I noticed that Michalowicz is “the author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. He is an advocate of a business philosophy by the same name.”

I believe it. Toilet paper resumes seem to fit right in. More feels better.

I pose this question to Michalowicz and to every employer (which I believe is the majority of employers) that consider recruiting and hiring a pain in the ass:

If you can ask job applicants anything you like — including asking them to include this sentence in their submissions: “It is with my utmost respect I hereto surrender my curriculum vitae for your consideration.” — why don’t you just ask them to tell you how they’d do the job profitably?

You’d have a lot more fun reading those submissions once your e-mail filters cleaned up the mess you made when you flicked open the sewer valve. Or, you could avoid the resume sewer altogether. And you’d get a free bonus: You won’t have to wipe.


Readers’ Forum: HR’s #1 job: Poisoning the well?

In the August 24, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader says:

After being tested and interviewed by the senior vice president of a local company for a senior executive assistant position, they dropped off the planet and made no contact with me. I sent an e-mail to the VP enquiring why there had been no contact and the HR manager responded to me:  

“Your e-mail below was forwarded to my attention as [VP] is away.

“Please be advised that we had not yet concluded our recruitment effort for this position. I appreciate that waiting can be frustrating and you may have preferred more frequent contact during this process. It is our practice, however, upon completion of the interview process, to contact all applicants either once they are no longer being considered for the position or to make an offer. You had not been contacted yet because you were among those being seriously considered for this position.

“We have made an offer to a candidate today; therefore, this opportunity has now closed. Thank you for your interest in employment with [the employer]. We wish you well in your employment search.

“Thank you,
[HR Manager]”

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

If by employers you mean hiring managers, I think sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But what really matters is that hiring managers relinquish to HR their front-line interface to the professional community they recruit from (that’s you). In other words, hiring managers let HR make them look bad. They let HR make their company look bad.

This dismissive attitude — and this kind of behavior — is just one of the Stupid Hiring Mistakes employers make. Employers take note: How much time would it take an HR manager (or the hiring manager) to return a call from someone who took the time to apply for a job, attend an interview and take a test? Very little. It would have been a good investment for either manager.

It’s a safe guess that, like disgruntled customers who have been treated poorly by your company, this disgruntled job applicant will invest a bit more time — to poison your well by sharing their experience with others in the business. Including your customers.

Good luck with your next applicant, and with your next sales prospect. And good luck to the sucker that accepts your job offer, because bad behavior is pervasive, and Death by Lethal Reputation is slow and agonizing.

And to the reader who submitted this story: If the candidate who received the offer rejects it, and the company calls back to offer you the job, What’s your poison?

The person whose story is featured in today’s Q&A asks a very important question: Do employers know what HR is doing?

In general, I think not. I think the problem is pervasive. Does the board of directors know what HR is doing? Does the Public Relations department? Companies spend enormous sums to create good PR. Meanwhile, on a daily basis HR provokes the professional community from which a company recruits. Today’s Q&A is just one example. Maybe HR should report to PR for a while, until HR learns the impact of its behavior.

You’ve no doubt seen employers thoughtlessly poison their own wells during the recruiting and hiring process. Please share your stories. I think employers just don’t get it. And they need to hear it.



Why HR?

Uh-uh, Bill Taylor.

I just read Why We (Shouldn’t) Hate HR on I wish Bill (one of the brilliant founders of FastCompany magazine) hadn’t questioned the intent and meaning of Keith Hammond’s original 2005 article, Why We Hate HR. If anything, it’s more valid today than it was 5 years ago because today budgets are tighter and employers must hire and manage people with even more care. HR is still the focal point of the problem.

I don’t think pushing the HR problem onto a company’s employees “because they are the human resources” works. I think that’s another issue and another article. Hammond was talking about the Human Resources department, not the employees. Let’s stick to the subject.

Perhaps time prompts us to recast the original question: Do we really hate HR? I don’t think so, but HR bugs us. We’ve seen all the ways that HR as an organization — generally speaking — doesn’t work very well. Some HR departments flourish and represent a return on investment to their companies; but I think the majority of us agree that most don’t. Hence our “hatred” for HR. I think that since you Hammond that big question to us 5 years ago, it seems the more important question today is, Why HR?

I don’t think there’s a good answer that supports the existence of most HR departments. Sure, some good HR departments pay off, but does any company really need an HR department?

Even if we set aside the truly productive HR departments, the problem is all the other HR departments that are unnecessary and counterproductive. Let’s look at what HR does, and how it could be done better by another corporate function:

1. Handle regulatory matters. Most companies have legal departments. The answer seems simple: Let the legal folks grow an implementation and compliance team for human resources matters. Keep the responsibility close to the department that does the work.

2. Employee training and development. Where does this role really belong? At home in each business unit or company department. Create a position that enables managers to decide how to educate, train, and develop their workers. Implement it locally, where bureaucratic nonsense is less likely to interfere. How many questionable “consultling firms” do HR departments hire and foist on business units, without the unit really wanting the service? I can count on two hands and feet the number of pedantic consulting firms I’ve seen hired by HR because they wine and dine and flatter HR execs. Let the business units decide how to invest the funds for a return the business units are accountable for. (When is the last time you saw HR reprimanded for hiring a crummy consultant or trainer?)

3. Organization design. If this is a business science, I’ve never understood why it is a separate discipline. Any business unit’s management team is responsible for structuring its operations, and it should hire the experts it needs to help it do the job. I’ve seen one disastrous organizational design after another created by people who are not expert in the business being designed.

4. Workforce analysis and data management. If ever there were an administrative role in management, this is it. I believe performance and workforce planning problems start when the department (HR) responsible for them is not measured on… workforce performance. Show me a company where HR is measured and judged based on the actual performance of all employees, and I’ll eat this column. This is a perfect role for oversight by the finance department, which also rounds up departmental budgets each year. But make each business unit accountable for its own analysis and planning.

5. Employee relations, social programs, and events. Gimme a break. Companies don’t need den mothers. Rather than pay big bucks for big programs, big mission statements, and big public relations initiatives, spend a few dollars to hire a specialist for each business unit who is responsible for monitoring and coordinating employee programs. Make sure these specialists learn your business first. Retired high school vice principals are good candidates.

6. Compensation and benefits management. Don’t waste that great finance department you have. Those people are really good at numbers. Invest in some further training and develop some specialists to handle competitive compensation and effective benefits programs. Gathering and analyzing competitive market data is not rocket science; get your department managers involved. Why does any company need an entire department — whose performance isn’t (can’t be?) measured — making decisions about competitive compensation practices?

7. Recruiting, processing and hiring. Let’s consider some facts. Last year one of the biggest online job board’s revenues were around $1.3 billion. Your HR department is the source of most of that revenue. But your company made only about 4% of its hires from that job board. Is your board of directors aware that your HR department is shoveling company cash to “recruitment advertising partners” whose services don’t work? Unless you’re one of the handful of lucky companies that has internal recruiters who get out from behind their computer screens and actually go out into the world and seek, find, seduce, cajole, and otherwise steal good workers, your HR department is costing you not only money — but your lifeblood. While critical, profit-producing jobs go undone — and HR’s performance goes unmeasured — your HR execs are telling the world there’s a “talent shortage” while we’re experiencing the greatest glut of unemployed, highly-educated and skilled workers in history. (I wrote my own “Why We Hate HR” column earlier this year: Time for HR to exit the hiring business.)

Bill Taylor says, “The real problem is that too many organizations aren’t as demanding, as rigorous, as creative about the human element in business as they are about finance, marketing, and R&D. If companies and their CEOs aren’t serious about the people side of their organizations, how can we expect HR people in those organizations to play as a serious a role as we (and they) want them to play?”

I don’t agree. I think successful organizations are very rigorous and creative about getting profitable work from their employees, their managers, and their business units. The problem is, those organizations don’t expect as much from HR, hence HR is usually not overseen, not measured, and not judged for its performance. It’s the department no one wants to be responsible for. It’s the department that is not subjected to outcomes analysis. Anything goes. And we know it does. That’s why we hate HR — though we shouldn’t. After all, HR does what the board of directors permits it to do.

The best HR people I know find ways to embed themselves into business units. They become part of a business team. They don’t hide behind “company overhead.” More than anything else, it’s the success of those precious few “HR folks” that makes me ask, Why HR?

I still haven’t heard a good answer.

[I originally wrote this column for, which published it under its Leadership section. It got little notice. Something tells me the Ask The Headhunter audience will have a lot more to say about the topic.]


Readers’ Forum: Spanking HR

Discussion: April 13, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s Q&A: (Well, it’s not a Q&A!) This week I printed comments about the corporate Human Resources function that bear thinking about. A seasoned HR manager says HR should get out of the business of hiring and recruiting and go back to making sure paychecks have the right amount of money in them.

I agree. I think HR has no business handling recruiting and hiring. In fact, I think HR has a conflict of interest.

What do you think? Can companies get by with managers doing their own recruiting and hiring? Would these functions be better served if HR stopped doing them? Is HR actually doing companies a disservice by mucking around in the hiring process of corporate business units?

I’d like to know what you think. (The full article from today’s newsletter is here: Time for HR to exit the hiring business.)


The Monster-ous quality of choice

A recent post, Congress to Employers: You’re not proctologists, drew a comment that reveals the dangerous new cracks in our employment system  — and hints at the problem employers need to address if the quality of hiring is to improve.

In a comment on that post, dated October 19, 2009 at 6:52 am, reader Nic says:

This to me is all about people fuelling their new crackpot ideas for business modelling and human resources; and in my view, it is all lunacy. What does this really mean? The quality of employee has declined drastically over the past 20 years. Does this mean a further dumbing down?

I don’t think the quality of the employee has declined. Rather, the quality of the selection process has declined. It has become so automated that it is now counterproductive.

The personal judgment of managers no longer filters the best job candidates into the final interview process. The first cut of candidates is made thoughtlessly using key word searches and is further dumbed down because the pool itself is limited to people who list themselves in data bases. Gone are the candidates a manager seeks out for their rare and relevant qualities.

The Human Resources Soup Kitchen waters down the quality of the hiring process by ladling resumes out of the huge job-board swill pot — and those are the candidates the hiring manager is permitted to choose from. That’s where the “talent shortage” starts. When your head is stuck in the swill pot, all the world is a mediocre candidate — and you always have an excuse for mediocre hiring: We use the latest technology but today’s candidates just suck!

I was recently on Minnesota Public Radio to discuss trends in job hunting and hiring and to take questions from listeners. Joining me was an executive from

A caller who runs a management consulting firm challenged Monster’s Doug Hardy over the “task matching” — or “keyword” — method of scanning resumes for matches to jobs.

Listen to the question and to Hardy’s response: Read more

Turn down the volume

When I give a presentation, the first thing I tell the audience — whether they’re job hunters or hiring managers — is, “Everything you know about job hunting (or hiring) is wrong.” Shoulders relax. People giggle nervously. They are so relieved to hear they’re not crazy. They know the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Then I tell them that a mistake everyone makes when job hunting or hiring is volume. We are all taught that it’s a numbers game. You have to wake up every morning and get 50 resumes out before breakfast. Apply to as many jobs online as you can. Then you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something before lunchtime! Or if you work in HR, keep your pipeline full of candidates so you’ll have a lot to choose from.


Let me give you a specific counter-example that blows the fallacy of “volume” out of the water.

I had lunch with John, a client, to discuss a position he wanted me to fill. It was a $125,000 marketing job. We spent two hours talking. For the next two weeks, I talked to several people who worked for John, and to others at his company who knew him. John had no idea I was doing this. I learned a lot about what his operation was like and about how his staff worked.

Then I talked to a handful of people around the country — a handful — who are experts in marketing and who work with experts in marketing. I didn’t run any ads. I didn’t solicit any resumes. I conducted no in-person interviews. I called John back and gave him a name and a phone number. I told him to call Joe, the guy who could do the job.

John and Joe talked and scheduled a face-to-face meeting. In the meantime, I put together a very simple resume on Joe using information he had given me and information I gathered from his references. I sent it to John so he’d have some background on Joe, to fill in the blanks.

They met. John offered Joe a job and Joe accepted it.

One job, one meeting, one candidate.

Read more

Readers’ Forum: How do we identify the good guys?

From the September 22, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter (sign up, get your own!):

A manager’s question: How difficult is it to gauge character and personality in the typical job interview? No doubt this accounts for many of the pointless questions that are asked. Of course, the more manipulative a person is, the more likely they are to score the best answers to trick questions that reveal honesty and character. How do managers and job candidates deal with accurately assessing character?

Forum: Managers, how do you check a candidate’s personality? Her honesty? Candidates, what methods have you been exposed to? What do you do in the interview to demonstrate what a fine person you are?


Unfair interviews are best

In the previous post, we’re discussing how to commandeer a job interview so you can actually help an employer see how you’ll do the job. If the employer has a brain, you’ll get the job.

On that thread, readers Bonnie and Janet point out an interesting “policy” that many HR departments have. They don’t want you to do anything out of the ordinary in your interview. HR wants you and the hiring manager to stick to the interview script.


Because that makes the interviews fair for all candidates. Ask the same questions and use numerical scoring to ensure everyone is treated the same. You know — just like you do when you go on a date. Treat everyone the same so they all have an equal chance of getting a marriage proposal from you.

Say what?

This is where HR gets totally idiotic. “People are our most important asset.” My ass. “We celebrate diversity.” My ass. How can a company hire the best people when it treats everyone the same? If you go on a date with a clod, should you invite them on another date — to be fair–, just like you would someone who was absolutely wonderful?

I repeate: This is where HR (and perhaps the law) go goofy.

Five minutes into an interview, I can tell whether a candidate is capable of discussing the work on a much higher plane than other applicants — and you can bet your bootie I’ll take the discussion in that direction. Because the candidate earned it. I’ll ask different questions and I’ll engage more enthusiastically. I will use highly discriminatory judgment. (Remember when “to discriminate” was a good thing? Discriminate: “to make a distinction”, “to use good judgment.” When people ask me, “How can I stand out from my competition?”, I tell them that an employer had better be able to discriminate between high quality and low quality.) I’m celebrating the candidate’s ability to be totally unfair to her competition — because she blows them all away and that’s the candidate I really want to talk to further.

I have no interest in being fair to job applicants once it’s time to judge them. And the purpose of an interview is to judge. I want the best ones and I want to treat them differently. I want them to be totally unfair to their competition by showing me skills, aptitude, attitude and motivation that sets them apart. That makes them stand out.

I’ll change my interview questions as a discussion progresses in an effort to find the very best candidate and in an effort to give that person an edge on getting the job. I think any interviewer who doesn’t is a danged fool running his organization headlong into mediocrity.

I don’t want to recruit or hire fairly. I’m glad to behave differently toward people who demonstrate that they stand out postively from their competition.