Cost Cutting Algorithms Are Making Your Job Search a Living Hell
More companies are using automated job screening systems to vet candidates, forcing jobseekers to learn new and absurd tricks to have their résumés seen by a human.
Source: Motherboard | Vice By Nick Keppler
“I’m doing something else while the system is interviewing my candidates,” [a “senior recruiter”] says with a smile. The message is clear: She’s offloaded much of her work to someone else. Ifeoma Ajunwa, an assistant professor of labor and employment law at Cornell University said automated systems will probably continue to amass between jobs and jobseekers. “I think that’s the way it’s going to advance… Companies have come to count on it.” The makers of more advanced applicant tracking systems are acutely aware of the bias problem, but are not certain of a solution. Should job applicants rebel? Should they refuse to take online assessments or to upload video faux interviews or engage the next faceless gatekeeper?
In a recent column (10 reasons your company’s HR can’t fill jobs) we discussed how HR organizations bungle recruiting and hiring — when they have massive resources at their disposal. Reader David posted a comment and some questions that have nagged at me ever since. Why does HR reinvent the wheel every time it needs to fill a job?
HR is paying for an ATS [applicant tracking system] to store/file what’s coming through the pipeline. They are already sitting on a pile of resumes. Why not just turn the spigot off, and contact the people you already have in your pile?
Or worse yet, HR engages so-called third-party recruiters or headhunters who present the same people already in your database. I’ve had stuff like this happen to me before. I apply directly and interview for job X, but don’t get it. Later, a third-party agency comes knocking, asking if I’m interested in applying for the same job at the same company!
In other words, if you fill a position, you likely had people that were runners-up and could have done the job nearly as well as the person you hired. When you have another opening for the same role, why not call those people? Why not give them first crack at the job before you pay money for yet another job advert and waste time (we know that time = money) screening a new batch of people?
I’m not necessarily sticking up for ATS usage here, just so we’re clear.
I don’t read your suggestion as an endorsement of ATSes, resume databases or automated recruiting. You’ve cut to the core of what hiring should be all about: relationships between employers and people (aka, talent). Let’s look at why HR wastes good job candidates it has already met.
Personal contacts are a valuable asset
Whether these candidates arrived through an ATS, a third-party recruiter, or a personal referral, we’re talking about a special set of people: those who were judged worthy by the employer after interviews and assessments. That is, these are all now “personal contacts” — people the company knows, who are pre-screened, vetted, and somehow qualified.
In other words, unlike unknown people, they are already deemed good candidates for jobs at the company. That’s an asset worth a lot of money. After all, virtually every hiring survey ever done tells us that most jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. Every candidate a company meets is a new personal contact that it has already paid for. So your question should rattle every corporate finance executive: Why do companies pay again and again to hook the same fish and throw it back into the water?
What’s a personal contact worth?
I’ll let you in on a little secret about the dollar value of personal contacts. When headhunters find good candidates for their client companies, they stay in touch with those people even if they’re not hired. Having already invested in getting to know them, headhunters know these candidates are incredibly valuable — not just as potential placements at other client companies, but as sources of other good candidates.
When a headhunter gets paid $25,000 to fill a $100,000 job, a good-but-rejected job candidate is likely to be worth at least that much money on another assignment. These are people the headhunter keeps close for years to come. The headhunter will bring other opportunities to them, and even do favors for them when possible, to foster good relationships that are likely to pay off later — whether as placements or as sources of referrals to fill other assignments. One well-cultivated personal contact like this can be worth $25,000, $50,000, or upwards of $100,000 in future fees. (See Good Headhunters: They search for living resumes.)
HR: People are a fungible commodity
I suspect that because HR managers and internal recruiters are not paid like headhunters, for actually filling a position, those personnel jockeys aren’t concerned with maintaining relationships with good candidates. Does HR even know whether a hiring manager judged the person a good candidate before hiring someone else?
Because HR’s recruiting model depends on an automated system that delivers scads of new applicants every day, HR is not so concerned with tracking who it doesn’t hire. HR views job applicants as fungible, or interchangeable — and easily replaced.
While HR might pay a headhunter $20,000 or $30,000 for one hire, HR doesn’t see the potential future value in the other good candidates HR interviewed but didn’t hire. There’s no money to cultivate professional connections, but there’s always money to buy more resumes.
Why recruit again and again?
Over 15 years ago I met with top executives at two different companies — major players in their respective industries. They were independently interested in my suggestion that they make better use of time and money they had already invested to recruit, interview and assess job candidates who were qualified — but whom they could not hire. That is, these were surplus job candidates. They were worthy of serious consideration or worth hiring, but someone else was hired instead.
I pointed out to these executives that, when they have already spent a lot of money to recruit people, they should get the full return on their recruiting investment (ROI) by using smart methods to stay close to such good candidates. I offered to help build ongoing relationships with the best candidates without spending money to recruit them again.
The idea is simple, and it’s basically what you’re suggesting. Rather than reinvent the wheel every time a new job needs to be filled; rather than spend funds soliciting new resume submissions; rather than review thousands of unknown applicants (directly or via third-party recruiters); why not go back to candidates you’ve already interviewed — candidates you know? Why not turn to people you have already assessed as good candidates, but could not hire at the time?
The challenge, of course, is how to track and stay close to good candidates you don’t hire. That’s what I was selling. Neither company understood the value. In a moment, I’ll tell you more about what happened.
I finally gave up trying to explain recruiting ROI to employers after one of my clients hired me to train its internal recruiters (who worked in the HR department) to “do it like a headhunter.” The recruiters understood everything I taught them about getting close to their candidates. But their HR boss — who paid me to do this training — wouldn’t let them practice what they learned. He didn’t want them spending time building relationships. He wanted them to process the newest batch of incoming job applications from the company’s latest job postings.
Of course, some new jobs really do require finding talent you’ve never encountered before; that’s a given. But it’s certainly true that people who impress us are valuable people to stay close to. The excuses employers offer for failing to keep good talent close are astonishing.
That’s not how we recruit.
Our ATS doesn’t support it.
We don’t have time to stay in touch with people.
Resumes have a short lifespan — a few months later, they’re out of date and thus worthless.
A year, or even a month, after being interviewed, a candidate’s employment status could change.
They might not be interested.
They might take another job.
They might have moved or retired or otherwise be unavailable.
HR: Relationships don’t apply!
But the simpler answers to my questions are painfully obvious:
HR is not compensated for cultivating relationships, only for processing applicants.
HR is not compensated for filling jobs, but mainly for interview transactions.
HR has a budget for job boards, but not for staying in touch with good talent.
HR does not fully exploit the single largest channel of good candidates — personal contacts — except with paltry employee-referral programs.
HR metrics do not capture the value of relationships, only the degree of matches between keywords on resumes and job descriptions.
There is no personal “high touch” protocol for developing relationships and personal contacts in the employer’s professional community.
HR relies almost completely on job boards, ATS vendors, and third-party recruiters that make money only when HR keeps paying to search for job candidates again and again.
In a nutshell, HR doesn’t actually recruit, catalog or pursue the best talent. (See HR Managers: Do your job, or get out.) HR pays to churn databases again and again for quick keyword matches.
Talent is not treated as a long-term asset to be held. Instead, people are reduced to job applications and resumes that are traded back and forth on job-board exchanges like commodities, or why would employers pay daily to sort through the same millions of resumes that their competitors repeatedly search?
HR technology vendors control recruiting
The problem is that the dominant hiring model peddled to HR by job-board and ATS providers — and accepted uncritically by HR — is high-volume automated keyword matching. In other words, high-profit, rinse-and-repeat database services. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)
This churn-and-churn-again model of recruiting is controlled by HR technology vendors. And it is perhaps best exemplified by the manager at a Fortune 50 company who complained to me that he couldn’t get a few bucks to take good candidates out to dinner to recruit them. Why not? Because the big job boards and ATS firms wined and dined his company’s executives to ensure the entire recruiting budget was spent on job boards and ATS services.
If the potential future value of an individual job candidate actually mattered to HR, every applicant would receive a nice note after applying. We know that doesn’t happen because, why bother? There are 100 million more in the database where that one came from. Job applicants are fungible. Who cares about staying in touch with them? We can pay to access all of them anytime!
Our HR isn’t set up to operate this way
So, what happened with the two companies that considered my suggestions about protecting their recruiting ROI by fully capitalizing on good candidates they did not hire?
It was Company A’s V.P. of Public Relations that initiated this discussion with me. She believed building solid, long-term relationships with job candidates would be a good way to enhance the company’s “presence” in its professional community, as well as a good public relations story to help it stand out in general. However, the V.P. of HR squashed the idea because “Our HR isn’t set up to operate this way.”
At Company B, it was an innovative HR manager that wanted to implement methods I had suggested to cultivate and track good candidates that managers had interviewed and liked but could not hire. When time came to execute a contract to develop a program, the company’s legal department squashed it because it had no precedent on which to base an agreement. The HR manager gave up. “We don’t do relationships.”
In both cases, one thing was clear: Recruiting and hiring the best talent was not the mission. Adhering to the status quo was paramount.
Why not turn the spigot off?
Reader David asks, “Why not just turn the spigot off, and contact the people you already have in your pile?” It’s a good question, and it shines a bright light on the dizzy dance of musical chairs that HR calls recruiting — if we might mix metaphors.
Every time HR finishes with a job candidate it does not hire, it wastes time, money and talent when it does not cultivate a relationship to keep the talent close. Should an employer look first at all candidates that it paid to recruit last time, before it pays to recruit again? That’s a bit dicier because a company doesn’t assess (or interview) everyone it recruits, so it doesn’t have judgments — or personal knowledge — about all of them.
I’d be happy if employers fully exploited their contacts with people they already know. This includes anyone and everyone they do business with, including current and past employees! Where do you think we headhunters look to find many of the candidates we present to our clients? We don’t turn on a fire hose; we’d drown.
Why keep screening new batches of people?
What does HR learn after interviewing and rejecting loads of people for a job? What company conducts an outcomes analysis after recruiting for a position? Do companies ever catalog and cultivate the best candidates they meet? Echoing reader David, why do employers keep screening new batches of people when they likely have good candidates in their surplus pile? It seems they do it because they can, and because they don’t know better. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)
HR should capitalize on its investment in recruiting, interviewing and assessing people it judges worthy of serious consideration or worth hiring — even if it doesn’t hire them. Paying all over again to search for candidates with every new job opening benefits no one but job-board and ATS vendors who, as we’ve already pointed out, make the most money when employers keep going back to search again and again. That’s what outsourcing recruiting is all about — paying for repeated access to databases and keywords, and avoiding taking people to dinner to forge long-term professional relationships and personal networks that can pay off again and again — for the employer.
Is it smarter for employers to collect and cultivate relationships with the best talent? Or to advertise anew each time they need to fill a job? Are there any employers out there who stay close to good candidates after interviewing them? How do you do it?
A company’s best hope for finding and hiring great workers is its own managers, because they know the work best
HR (Human Resources) may be a close second — when HR actually goes out to look for and recruit workers.
But ZipRecruiter, Indeed, LinkedIn and a league of database companies have succeeded in killing HR’s recruiting role — and the initiative of hiring managers.
Stripped of the function that once gave HR bragging rights for a company’s most competitive advantage — hiring great workers — HR now serves as little more than the fire hose that overwhelms companies with millions of inappropriate incoming job applications, and as the spigot that pours billions of corporate dollars into the pockets of database jockeys who know nothing about matching real people to real jobs.
Killing HR in 30 seconds
This is what the wildly successful marketing campaign to kill HR looks like:
This commercial — and others like it — have literally killed recruiting because they have replaced it in employers’ minds with a substitute that has no nutritional value.
Here’s how an HR vice president with a Fortune 50 company put it to me when the online “recruiting” industry first launched its brainwashing campaign:
“Executives from the online job boards wine and dine our top executives so relentlessly that virtually every dime of our recruiting budget now goes directly to them. I can’t get a few bucks any more to take a candidate to dinner to actually recruit them!”
A massive marketing campaign driven by database jockeys has replaced people — workers, job seekers, the actual talent — with automated streams of keywords and database records. Employers have de-funded real recruiting to the point where the task no longer has anything to do with actively pursuing, seducing, cajoling, convincing the best people to join your company.
A powerful, long-running marketing campaign has successfully sold the idea that “recruiting” no longer requires talent to do it, like other jobs require talent. “Recruiting” is now the automated churning and turning of databases. (See Job boards say they fill most jobs. Employer says “LMAO!”)
How can a 30-second commercial kill an entire profession?
The insecurity of HR
The success of this campaign to automate recruiting and bury HR is due not only to its persistence, but to the acquiescence of the HR profession itself.
With few notable exceptions, HR executives and professional associations across the board have slit HR’s throat and outsourced HR’s key job to database jockeys who have wowed them with “high tech solutions.” The HR profession as a whole was never very secure in the C-suite, and never very bright, so it folded quickly when fast-talking salespeople embarrassed its leaders with big terms like “algorithm” and “database” and “intelligent agents” and “semantic processing” — terms so misapplied and misconstrued in the HR context that they are laughable.
Loathe to admit their ignorance, HR leaders feigned excitement while their “HR consultant” brethren fed them white papers about the newest “best practices” that should be “implemented in software” immediately. (See HR Technology: Terrorizing the candidates.)
So, HR arrived fully brainwashed into a new era and promptly ran the talent ship aground in the shoals of the job boards, taking big parts of the economy down with it.
The brainwashing of HR
TV commercials like the one above from ZipRecruiter pound four dangerous ideas into the heads of corporate leaders, HR executives and hiring managers.
Recruiting and hiring are nasty work nobody wants to do.
Recruiting and hiring are very difficult tasks.
Nobody is good at recruiting and hiring.
ZipRecruiter (and Indeed and LinkedIn and other database companies) will do it for you if you pay them.
The trouble is, none of that is true. Those are some of the most dangerous lies ever created by marketing copy writers.
Count the lies
Recruiting and hiring are mission-critical tasks best done by you and your company — face-to-face, not by diddling a keyboard to pay a middle man who pretends to do it for you. Recruiting and hiring are so critical to your company’s mission that leaving them to firms that have no skin in the game is not only irresponsible — it’s an insane fool’s errand.
So, is it insanity or foolishness that leads employers and their HR departments to buy what the database jockeys sell under the guise of “recruiting?”
Please watch the commercial above. It’s short — 30 seconds. Here’s what the guy says:
“Hiring was always always a huge challenge. Endless hours on job sites with not a lot to show for it. Then, I found ZipRecruiter. They figured out hiring. I post my job. They put it all over the web. And they send me the right people. Because their technology is smart. ZipRecruiter often sends me the right person in 24 hours.”
Count the lies.
1. “Hiring was always always a huge challenge.”
The truth: Hiring is your job; your number-one job. When ZipRecruiter characterizes hiring as something “huge” — something beyond you and your company — Zip disparages you and insults you. It also convinces you that the most important part of your job is a problem you should unload.
2. “Endless hours on job sites with not a lot to show for it.”
The truth: If you’re spending endless hours on job sites, diddling databases, and sorting keywords, then I guarantee you have nothing to show for it — because that’s not where hires come from.
But that’s what ZipRecruiter sells — databases and keywords!
Zip, Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn and countless others of their ilk sell an excuse for not recruiting and hiring.
If you want something to show for your recruiting efforts, invest your time participating actively in your professional community, cultivating and meeting the movers and shakers and opinion makers who know all the best workers. Share valuable experiences with your peers and they will lead you to great people you can hire. No one ever wasted their time talking with peers.
3. “Then, I found ZipRecruiter. They figured out hiring.”
The truth: This is the biggest lie. ZipRecruiter and its ilk have not figured out hiring. They figured out their own business plan: how to make money.
The marketing trick is to convince you they are on your side, helping you do your job. But spend 10 seconds thinking about the business model behind these operations and you will see the blinding flash of the obvious:
These companies make money when you do not fill jobs.
They make money when you keep searching their databases looking for hires.
If ZipRecruiter had figured out hiring, its home page and its marketing would blare out audited metrics about employers’ success rates when they pay Zip for lists of job seekers. But that’s not what Zip has figured out, and it’s not what Zip is selling you or what you’re paying for.
Here’s what ZipRecruiter blares out on its website — this is what your company is paying for:
ZipRecruiter makes money when you keep paying for job applications — not when you fill jobs. I can find no metrics on Zip’s website and no evidence that ZipRecruiter has “figured out hiring.”
If you work in HR and this strikes you as an unreasonable criticism, call me when ZipRecruiter starts charging you only for the applicants you actually hire.
4. “I post my job. They put it all over the web.”
The truth: If you work in HR, or if you’re a hiring manager — you know, one of those people who pays ZipRecruiter to deliver millions of candidate applications — you can put your job posting all over the web yourself. While it’s true Zip does that, too, you don’t need it. The secret sauce of the web is that it’s designed so anyone can find anyone else easily.
Why would any HR manager with a brain want their job opening posted “all over the web?” What you get for that is 49,106,149 candidate applications. Is that what you really want? Because more is not better. Perhaps the single biggest talent problem HR faces today is overload. Having access to every resume on the planet — but no way to find actual people — has resulted in a kind of catatonia that HR executives disingenuously refer to as “the talent shortage.”
5. “And they send me the right people.”
The truth: ZipRecruiter makes no claims about how often it sends employers “the right people.” That’s left to the actor playing the restaurant owner in the commercial.
Let’s do a reality check. Not to pick on ZipRecruiter alone, let’s check another major “online recruiting service,” Jobvite.
In an April 4, 2018 press release Jobvite “announced that it has surpassed one million jobs filled, with 270,000 hires in 2017 alone.” Then it claims, “Nearly 54 million jobseekers [sic] visited a Jobvite-powered hiring website in the past year.”
We’re looking for success metrics. Do the math. 270,000/54 million is 0.5% — a one-half of one percent success rate for job seekers. While one might argue that there cannot possibly be a job for every job seeker, the more evident problem is that a robustly designed system should not indiscriminately snort 53,730,000 job seekers just so it can spit out a fraction of 1% into jobs.
Finding the best people to recruit is not a database problem.
Hiring is not a database problem.
Let’s do another reality check. ZipRecruiter claims it has “over 8 million jobs.” The U.S. Department of Labor reported on June 5, 2018 that there were only 6.7 million jobs available during the month of April. Ask any job seeker — they already know something is very wrong with all those job postings.
Let’s ask the restaurateur, just who are the “right people” for 1.3 million non-existent jobs?
6. “Because their technology is smart.”
The truth: The manager in the commercial closes his laptop after apparently posting a job.
How has ZipRecruiter solved his “huge challenge” of hiring so quickly? How has Zip made it so easy for him to find talent?
It’s frighteningly stupid. Zip has eliminated the very best filters in the hiring process. Zip has cut out all the humans with specialized training in Human Resources, Engineering, Finance, the restaurant business, and a multitude of other professional disciplines — all the humans who are qualified to judge the myriad qualities that make the best candidate special. None of them are needed in this business model. Zip has made it all easier by replacing expert judgment with recruiting technology so trivial it has generated a false talent shortage.
Yep, the truth is, all you folks in HR are superfluous. All your company needs is someone in Accounting to make an automatic payment to ZipRecruiter, Jobvite, and any of the other databases loaded with millions of job seekers. (See HR’s submission to ZipRecruiter.)
Ask any job seeker. They’ll tell you they feel like a drop of water in a fire hose turned on employers — one of the 49,106,149 applicants delivered in the sales pitch Zip makes to employers.
Except when Zip promises just the one right person, delivered the same day.
7. “ZipRecruiter often sends me the right person in 24 hours.”
The truth: ZipRecruiter doesn’t dare tell you just how often the woman in the video — who just waltzed into the restaurant — gets hired. (The marketing magic implies she gets hired instantly, the first time.)
Zip offers no success-rate metrics (audited or otherwise) about hiring or getting hired. The guy in the commercial does that.
ZipRecruiter CEO Ian Siegel has raised tens of millions of dollars in venture funding for his company (see recode), valuing it at close to $1 billion. While he offers no explanation on his website about how he finds jobs for people — or how he fills jobs for employers that pay him to deliver tens of millions of job applications — he says he wakes up every day thinking about it.
I think he wakes up each day counting the HR departments he has laid to rest while their recruiting budgets have been redirected to his coffers. I’d like to introduce him to the former HR executive who told me, “I can’t get a few bucks any more to take a candidate to dinner to actually recruit them!”
If Siegel and his ilk are to be recognized for anything, it’s for a business model that produces profits without results. They have designed marketing campaigns that have killed off HR and what was once known as recruiting.
They don’t make money when jobs are filled. They make money when you don’t fill jobs and don’t get hired. Their business model requires that you keep paying to search their databases.
If HR is going to be brought back to life, it has to remove its recruiting prosthetics, shake off the ZipRecruiters and Indeeds that are sucking its blood, and flex its hiring muscles again. A company’s best hope for finding and hiring great workers is its own managers and a healthy, robust HR department.
I just showed you a TV commercial that I think undermines and insults HR professionals, hiring managers and business owners by trivializing one of the most critical tasks in any business — hiring. But ZipRecruiter is not alone. We’ve discussed the stunning failures of Glassdoor, Indeed, LinkedIn, Monster, CareerBuilder and TheLadders, among others.
Here’s another example of a commercial that kills HR — from Indeed. Can you find the holes in this “#1 job site” and explain to us how the commercial corrupts HR and undermines effective recruiting, hiring and job hunting? Or am I unreasonable and nuts?
Is HR really dead? Is real recruiting a dead art? Are these commercials a marketing plot to undermine the hiring process so database jockeys can profit from the resulting mess? Maybe you think our modern hiring systems are just fine. If you think some other bugaboo makes it unreasonably hard to hire and get hired, please tell us what it is.
Microsoft recently asked me to talk for 20 minutes to thousands of IT (information technology) professionals whose jobs are at risk due to rapid changes in technology and in the economy. What can they do to save their careers? What kind of work should they do next?
I tuned my comments for Microsoft’s 3-day TechNet Virtual Conference (March 1-3, 2016) — but what I told the audience applies to any line of work, and it’s from the core Ask The Headhunter ideas we discuss here every week. This video includes about 20 minutes of me talking about the new economics of work, and 15 more of Q&A we did via Skype afterwards. A big thank-you to Microsoft and Channel9 for sharing this video with the Ask The Headhunter community.
Questions & Answers
This video raises in-your-face questions.
But I also show you how to answer them Yes! (I’ve added links to take you to more resources. Most of these are free, but there’s a link or two to my books.)
They keep failing to reach the top of a mountain of competition.
In the video, I talk about why there is no mountain — no resume to write, no job postings to select or decipher, no job applications to file, no interviews to play to. I’m not kidding. I don’t think any of those “tools” help employers hire or job hunters get hired. I think our economy is bogged down by the detritus of phony, automated recruiting — it doesn’t work!
There’s just fearless job hunting.
You become part of the circle of friends that naturally leads people to jobs — and that leads to hires.
You show up with a clear definition of the problem or challenge that needs to be tackled.
You deliver a viable business plan for the job.
You show how you’ll do the work. And you create a new, profitable outcome the company never contemplated.
You make yourself the job candidate who stands out from all the rest.
Does it matter what kind of work you do?
Virtually every kind of work today is under siege of one kind or another — but for the same reasons. Every industry, every company is increasingly focused on the bottom line. The shift that everyone faces is not just technological. It’s economic — and it’s about accountability. That’s what I talk about in the video. Economic pressures supersede all others — and technology jobs feel the pressure most because that’s where efficiencies that solve economic problems are supposed to come from. But no matter what kind of work you do, the shift must be in your own perspective.
Success is not about chasing hot jobs, because there’s really no such thing. (What’s hot changes by the time you catch it!) It’s about whether you are hot. What makes you hot? You have to make yourself and your work accountable. If you wait for the bean counters to do that, you’ll probably lose your job if you have one.
If you work in IT, the video will get you started on how to advance your career in the face of stunning shifts in technology — changes that probably put your current job at risk.
And if you don’t work in technology, you’ll quickly see how my suggestions will help your career in today’s turbulent economy. As I said, the 20 minutes of this video summarize many of the core ideas we talk about on Ask The Headhunter all the time. Of course, I couldn’t squeeze every Ask The Headhunter method, tip and lesson into a 20 minute video. For more about how to be a fearless job hunter who stands out from the competition by delivering profit, check out the Introduction to Fearless Job Hunting, which also details which of my books address which challenges.
I hope you enjoy the video, and that it inspires you to forget about mountains and obstacles while you plan how to deliver profitable work to a worthy employer — work that’s profitable to you, too.
Many thanks to my good buddies at Microsoft for the opportunity to get in front of the company’s enormous audience — and for their generous hospitality while I was in Seattle and on the Microsoft campuses in Redmond and Bellevue. Mostly, I’m grateful for the freedom to work unscripted — every word in the video is mine. No one told me what to say or what to talk about. (If you’re among the many Ask The Headhunter subscribers who work in IT, don’t miss the other great videos about the future of IT in the TechNet 2016 archive.)
Okay — let’s hear what you liked and didn’t like about what I said in the video. Then hit me with the in-your-face questions — what do you want to know more about?What would you like to see in future Ask The Headhunter videos — because I’m planning to make more. Let’s pound these topics!
In the March 1, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, readers seek wisdom on all manner of things, including how to make big bucks! File under Gimme a break… but we try to cover it all! Is this week’s Q&A tongue-in-cheek? You decide…
I love speaking in public, giving presentations, leading group discussions, and teaching classes. If I were given the challenge of speaking in front of 500 people with 60 minutes notice, I would rub my hands together with glee. Please help me understand how to turn my talents into $100,000 a year.
Nick’s Snappy Reply
Ask The Headhunter: Where your dreams come true! Ask yourself, What company or organization could make a lot of money and profit by having you do those things you love? That’s who to go to about a job. You need to come up with a mini-business plan for each company you target.
What problem or challenge do they face?
How can you tackle it to produce profit?
What’s the best way to explain it to the company?
Who’s the best person to explain it to?
How can you track down people that “best person” knows or works with — people who can introduce you?
You’re not going to get hired to do what you love. You’ll get hired to do what you love if you can show how that will pay off to an employer. That’s your real challenge. You must figure it out and communicate it, because no company is going to figure it out for you. For more about this, see The Basics, then rub your hands with glee!
I worked in San Francisco and Silicon Valley for 25 years recruiting. I have references from great companies. No one seems to be interested in my valuable experience. In fact, I was told no one would hire me in Silicon Valley. I need someone to check my experience out. I would very much appreciate a referral that could help me track these rumors down.
Nick’s Snappy Reply
Ah, let me get out my little black book… You’d need to hire a private detective. I don’t know any. Just because someone told you that you’d never get hired in Silicon Valley doesn’t mean anyone else feels that way. If you’re concerned about your references, you might ask a hiring manager at any company (someone you’re friendly with) to contact them and ask them what they think of you. You might identify the problem that way, assuming you have one. In the future, Take Care Of Your References.
As for the value of your experience, please see my reply to Question 1.
RECRUITER: “I need the last four of your SSN and middle initial to submit you to Company X.”
ME: “Is this absolutely needed at this stage? What is it being used for? Understandably, I’m hesitant to give out that information.”
RECRUITER: “It’s the only way you can be submitted to our client for a job. It’s part of their ATS (Applicant Tracking System) to ensure that candidates are not being double submitted.”
I guess I’m really hoping that you might offer a bit of advice — whether I’m right in thinking this is a red flag, and how I might further respond to her request and comments.
Nick’s Snappy Reply
How to Say It:Up your xiggy with a blowtorch!
Recruiters love applicants who speak the local jargon, so that should go over well. But employers have no legitimate reason to demand your SSN just so you can apply for a job. The recruiter gives away the problem when she admits the employer’s ATS needs your SSN to avoid duplicate submissions of your credentials. They use it as a hash — a unique database key to identify you. That’s how the employer avoids fee battles between recruiters who both claim they submitted you.
Lazy ATS system designers misuse a federal ID number for their own purposes. In the process, the recruiter, the employer and the ATS vendor are intimidating job seekers and putting them at risk of not getting a job over the ATS vendor’s silly database trick. Hence the need for a blowtorch.
Should you play along? That’s up to you. (A related employer trick is demanding your salary history. See Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?) It’s also up to you to hand over any 4 digits you choose, for the time being, to beat the system, and explain later to the employer if the 4 digits don’t match your actual SSN — which will matter only if you’re hired. “Someone obviously made a mistake.”
I don’t like lying. But I also don’t tolerate stupid bureaucratic tricks by employers and ATS vendors — at the expense of job seekers.
What you do is up to you, of course. What I’m suggesting could cause you problems. But what the recruiter and ATS vendor are demanding could cause you problems, too. I’m just telling you what I’d do. Always follow the instructions that come with a blowtorch.
Should I disclose in a job interview that I applied to grad school a few weeks ago, and that if I get in I won’t be taking the job? The job interview is in about two weeks.
Nick’s Snappy Reply
First thing I’d do is buy a lottery ticket and put it in your pocket. Would you tell an employer you have that ticket in your pocket, and that if you win, you won’t need the job?
I see no reason to disclose your graduate school application, unless and until you’re faced with a choice about going to grad school. Make sense?
How would you deal with these four situations? Geez, I am on a roll! Post your comments before I slow down!
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.
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?
It was inevitable: Scammers are stealing job seekers’ identities using over-the-top interview protocols established by employers to gather sensitive personal data. Have employers gone too far demanding too much of job applicants before they even need the information?
Great news! A well-known employer in your area sends you an e-mail saying it wants to interview you by phone — they found your resume online or your profile on LinkedIn. You answer the phone at the appointed time and have a job interview. Perhaps the interviewer makes an offer on the spot — your lucky day! He helps you complete the job application right there on the phone. What’s not to like?
Highmark, a BlueCross BlueShield healthcare company, warns on its website that the interview you think the company just conducted with you was a fraud — and someone stole your private information in the process:
Important Notice Recently, Highmark has received several reports of possible fraudulent online activity in which an individual posing as a Highmark human resources representative contacts job seekers by e-mail or phone/text, conducts interviews and makes employment offers on behalf of the company. In most instances, those contacted have never applied for a position with Highmark. These false job offers are likely made in an attempt to gain access to your private information, such as your social security number.
While fake online job postings are common and used to get you to fill out forms with personal information that can be used to steal your identity, this fraud is bold. Someone posing as a well-known employer actually calls you up and interviews you — and by the time it’s over you’ve got a phony job offer and the scammers have your very real social security number and other private information.
How can this happen?
An alert job seeker might recognize a phony e-mail address behind the official-sounding name of the company and the recruiter. But some won’t. Job seekers are understandably excited to get an e-mail asking for an interview and will quickly follow the “script” we’re all accustomed to — an e-mail expressing interest, a phone interview with a recruiter, and an intimidating demand for highly detailed “job application” information that includes private personal data that no employer really needs — but demands anyway.
Of course, not all victims will believe they just got a job offer on the phone without an in-person interview — but some will. And even if the “recruiter” doesn’t make an offer on the phone, he makes it awfully easy to “complete the application” on the phone while he does all the writing for you. He’ll even write down your social security number and your home address and phone number. What’s not to like?
How employers help scammers steal your SS#
Employers have programmed job seekers to quickly disclose private, confidential information — when there’s no real benefit to doing so, but lots of risk. Long before the employer decides you’re even a serious contender for a job, it demands your home address, your social security number, names and contact information of your references and permission to contact them, your salary history (which you should never disclose) and loads of other information that’s none of their business at this juncture and which they don’t even need. (When you fork over your references, you’re putting them at risk, too — probably not a good idea if you want good references!)
Why do HR departments routinely demand all this information? Simply because they can. You’ve been trained to deliver “the required information” just to apply — while the employer hasn’t even checked your qualifications or indicated the slightest interest in talking with you much less hiring you. (See Does HR Go Too Far When Screening Candidates? — especially comments by HR manager Earl Rice. As you’ll note from the 2003 date on this article, this is not a new employer protocol.)
That’s why you become an easy target for scammers. Scammers exploit the intimidating “script” employers have taught you to follow. That’s how unreasonable, over-the-top job application requirements put you at risk. But it’s even worse.
Where’s your data?
Even a real, live employer that collects your private information puts you at risk. Many employers use third-party applicant tracking systems (ATSes) to log your application information and personal data. It all goes into “the cloud” — and good luck protecting it. When you complete that application, you’re usually asked to sign a waiver that gives the employer and its “agents” (translation: any third parties it deals with but that you don’t know about) permission to do with your data as they please.
You have no idea where your data goes, who has access to it, or how well (if at all) it is secured. Personal job application data is stored in unregulated, central repositories that even employers have no control over. Who controls these enormous databases? Companies like Oracle Taleo, Bullhorn, HRIS, IBM’s Kenexa, iCIMS, JobVite, HireBridge, JobScore, and ADP VirtualEdge among others. (For more about the applicant tracking system racket, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?)
Of course, to apply for a job you must provide basic information. But it’s up to you to be judicious about what you share and at what point in the recruiting process. Do they really need your social security number — when they haven’t even met you or given you any clear indication that they’re going to make a job offer? Most people today have already been brainwashed by the employment system to hand over anything and everything an employer says it “needs” to “process you.”
BAM! It’s that misconception that turns you into a sucker when a phony recruiter calls you and asks for all your data.
It’s time for employers to behave
It’s time for employers to stop demanding information they don’t need to recruit you. Today, HR departments ask for the kitchen sink simply because they have a database for kitchen sinks. “We’ll just get all the person’s data up front, so we don’t have to do it later.” More cynically, “We’ll get all their data before we even decide they’re viable candidates because then we can use a keyword scan to quickly reject people we haven’t even talked to yet.” (Less politely: Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?)
When employers put some of their own skin in the game, then they can ask applicants to do the same. For example, what’s the salary range on the job? How much did you pay the last guy in that job and the one before that? What’s your Employer Identification Number? May I see some references from your customers, vendors and former employees? How about your credit rating? You’re privately held? I still need that information — I’m privately held, too. Are some of those questions over the top? Hmmm…
It’s also time for job seekers to stop being suckers. You are always free to politely but firmly decline to disclose any information you think is too private to share — until you think it’s warranted to process your job offer. Don’t be a sucker for either a legitimate employer who asks for too much — or for a scammer. See Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers for tips about how to stay in control when you’re talking with an employer.