Is “the hot job market” a load of crap?

Is “the hot job market” a load of crap?

Question

Here’s another article, this one from MarketWatch, about how The U.S. Jobs Market Is Scorching Hot. So why can’t I get interviews for a good job, much less a job offer? I’m pretty fresh out of school with desirable technical credentials and all I want is a good job at a good company. I’m not greedy about salary. If employers are so hot to trot and good people are so hard to find, why do they do 6 interviews on 6 different days then tell you it doesn’t seem you are really interested in their product line? Doesn’t the ability to learn quickly and work hard count? How long can a company leave a job vacant? I don’t know who’s measuring what, but the news about the hot job market is a load of crap. The job market stinks. Am I the only one that thinks so?

Nick’s Reply

hot job marketI’m inclined to agree with you. You’re not the only frustrated, befuddled job seeker. I get lots of mail like yours. People with solid credentials and experience — at entry and higher levels — are confused and angry.

What talent shortage?

Today there are around 11 million open jobs and 6 million people unemployed. There are far more open jobs than job seekers. Employers call this a talent shortage. “We can’t fill jobs!”

Here’s the rub. In 2016 I was hired to do a webinar for Kelly Worldwide. It was a conference of HR managers. Their #1 complaint? The talent shortage. But in 2016 around 20 million people were looking for jobs. There were around 5 million jobs open. I upbraided my HR audience for calling a 4:1 hiring advantage a “talent shortage.”

What’s changed? Nothing, really. The condition of the economy doesn’t matter. Employers keep making the same recruiting and hiring mistakes today as they did in 2016. They blame job seekers and they cry “talent shortage!” no matter how many people the Department of Labor says are looking for work!

Hot job market or HR failure?

Google’s former executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, said something back then that still applies today:

“Most companies hire for the position, not the person. So they look for a match on LinkedIn for all of the criteria. They have to have five years of this and 10 years of that — and that’s precisely the wrong way to go about hiring.” (Fortune, 9/4/14)

How could “talent shortage” explain two very different economies and job markets? I think Schmidt says it all. Employers own this problem. They don’t know how to recruit or hire, and they make the same mistakes in any kind of economy. The rest of us suffer for it.

But the question here is, does the job market really stink today?

Hot job market, or stinky load of crap?

I’m not an economist or an oracle. But I think members of this community have information, opinions and insights on today’s inscrutable job market. So this week I’m going to ask readers some questions. I hope the resulting comments will shed some light on what I agree is “a load of crap” about “the hot job market.”

Dear readers:

  1. Is the hot job market really a load of crap?
  2. Are you finding it easier or harder than “normal” (whatever that is!) to get a good job? Please indicate whether you’re just starting out like this reader, or unemployed, or want to make a job move to something better.
  3. What are the main obstacles and challenges that make your job search difficult today? Have they changed?
  4. What should employers do differently to recruit and fill jobs?

Is the reader who submitted this week’s question an anomaly, or is “the hot job market” an illusion? What do you think is going on and what should we do about it? I hope you’ll share your comments on the four questions. Thanks!

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The real jobs shortage

The real jobs shortage

 

Low unemployment isn’t worth much if the jobs barely pay

Source: Brookings Institution

jobs shortage

Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its Employment Situation report (better known as the “jobs report”) to outline the latest state of the nation’s economy. And with it, of late, have been plenty of positive headlines. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Are these jobs any good? How much do they pay? Do workers make enough to live on? Here, the story is less rosy.

In a recent analysis, we found that 53 million workers ages 18 to 64—or 44% of all workers—earn barely enough to live on. Their median earnings are $10.22 per hour, and about $18,000 per year. Other research suggests that there are not enough decent-paying jobs for people without bachelor’s degrees. This matters—workers without bachelor’s degrees make up not just the majority of the low-wage workforce but the majority of the labor force as a whole, so the shortage of such jobs has wide-ranging consequences. Even with sunny job statistics, the nation’s economy is simply not working well for tens of millions of people.

 

Jobs Shortage: Nick’s take

While the feds and the media cheer “the great jobs numbers,” the dirty little secret is wages. Brookings scrapes the lipstick off the pig, and all that’s left is a pig. There’s no talent shortage; there’s a good-paying jobs shortage. Brookings focuses on the 44% of all workers who make barely enough to live on — and that’s troubling enough. What Brookings misses is more highly educated workers who are earning less than they used to.

Which one are you?

What’s your take?

Are you earning as much as you used to? What category in the Brookings report do you fall into? Are there really more good-paying jobs than there is talent to fill them? How many lower-paying jobs would you need to have at once, to earn what you once earned?

See also B.S. on the jobs numbers euphoria.


 

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Does your job match its original job description?

Does your job match its original job description?

In the October 29, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter an executive is concerned about the role of the job description in employee attrition.

Question

job description

I’m president of a $20 million company, privately owned. Due to unusual turnover, I met with my head of HR and the affected managers. They said the “talent pool” isn’t good any more. HR’s exit notes indicated poor performance and lack of skills as the reasons for termination. So why did you hire them, I asked. They were the best candidates, they said. Then I read the job descriptions they used. Lists as long as a 3 iron. Nine or 10 “tasks,” even more “qualifications required,” and then a stack of “we prefer that you haves.” I asked them, is there something wrong with our process? Are we asking for too much and not training new hires enough? What are your thoughts about a problem like this? It’s serious.

Nick’s Reply

Job descriptions? Here’s what I think of job descriptions and people that write them (with apologies to Monty Python):

      Commentary on job descriptions
I feel your pain. But the idea that the “talent pool” has deteriorated is balderdash. Your suspicion that there’s something wrong with the process is correct. The conventional interview and assessment process assumes that in six months a new hire will be doing what was defined in the original job description.

That’s almost never the case. I believe that’s a big reason why new hires fail. So, how can you hire for the changing nature of the work?

The job description

When a manager needs work done, HR uses a process that starts with the manager describing the requirements of the job. This conventionally includes the tasks, a list of necessary qualifications, and some flowery promises about the company environment.

HR adds whatever it believes will attract the best and most applicants. Too often, HR’s largesse exceeds the limits of reality. For example, a job for a programmer will require “at least 5 years’ experience” with a scripting language that was invented only two years ago. HR always figures more is better — but doesn’t bother to check with the manager. Or, a go-fer job in the marketing department is characterized as “Senior Marketing Staff,” because it should attract really talented go-fers.

What happens after the job description

Even if the job description is truthful and accurate, almost every job runs head-long into a wall. Six months into it, the new hire is not doing what they were hired to do, but different work and usually more work. That’s because most jobs evolve to fill the ever-changing needs of a business.

The problem is, employers don’t hire for changing needs. HR takes a blurry (and wishful) snapshot of “a job,” fixed in time and in someone’s imagination, larding it with enough “requirements” to make a purple squirrel gag. (There are other ways HR goes off the rails with its hiring methods. See Why does HR waste time, money and the best job candidates?)

Deliverables

Can a “job description” ever be a useful tool in recruiting and hiring? As a headhunter, I’ve always read job descriptions once, then tossed them aside. I call the manager and find out what kind of evolving work the manager really needs done over the next year or two.

Here’s what I ask about:

What’s the problem? What do you want your new hire to make, fix or improve?

What’s the deliverable? What should the new hire deliver to the person working downstream from them? For example, a design engineer needs to deliver a certain part of a subsystem design to the system designer or project manager. What does that part of the subsystem look like and what must it do?

What’s the schedule? What do you need the new hire to deliver or accomplish in the first week, month, three months, six and 12 months on the job? Be specific. The deliverables must be defined in objective terms everyone agrees on. They must be measurable in amount, degree and quality — what are the metrics?

How does the work fit? Finally, and perhaps most important, how will the new hire fit into the larger work flow and objectives of the team, the department and the entire company? This is key, because it suggests what else the new hire must be able to do or learn to do.

Please note that your HR people are in no position to ask these questions and to discuss the details that underpin them. Your managers must do it. While a good headhunter can help them, you don’t need a headhunter if you get on top of this yourself.

Are you doing what you were hired for?

There’s a thing I do when I speak to seasoned managers in executive MBA programs at Wharton, UCLA, Northwestern and other business schools. I ask for a show of hands:

“Who has a job where what you were doing six months into it matched the job description you interviewed for?”

Of course, I get a lot of hoots and LMAOs. No one has ever asserted they were doing what they were hired for to start with.

What to ask job applicants

I suggest you direct your managers to answer the questions above about every job they think they need to fill. My guess is they will find that some jobs have no justification or value. I think they will find that the work that needs to be done is best defined in terms of deliverables that continue to change.

Three good questions for job applicants might be:

  1. Can you please show us how you would deliver X, Y and Z in three months, six months and 12 months?
  2. How would you help these 3 other teams deliver their objectives?
  3. How would you help the company achieve goals A, B and C?

I won’t even get into discussing your company’s plans for new projects, products or services — but your managers need to assess whether job candidates can shift gears quickly to meet the company’s changing needs. One good way to do this is to have applicants spend time with your teams before you hire them, so everyone can see how everyone else thinks and works. (But don’t go here: I think they expect me to work for free.) Of course, it’s your responsibility (and your managers’) to show applicants how you teach employees to do new kinds of work.

Please forget about filling jobs. Think about hiring people who can do changing work and deliver specific outcomes, and who can intelligently discuss how they might contribute to your company’s specific objectives.

There’s not a job description in this mix.

Does the work you do today match the job description you were hired for? How should employers assess job applicants to maximize success for everyone? What’s the most effective way you’ve assessed or been assessed for a job?

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More Money: What to ask for in a talent shortage

In the November 14, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an employer makes a lousy job offer and a job seeker misses the point: Ask for more money.

Question

more moneyAfter three interviews that included a lengthy presentation on how I would do the job, I was made an offer for a director-level position in a major city. I expected the salary to be upwards of $70,000. My current salary is $63,000. I also get good health benefits that cost me nothing out of pocket.

I was stunned when the offer came at $45,000, and I’d have to pay for health insurance. I literally cried. I am 33, 11 years out of college, and my resume rocks. Do they think I’m stupid? Are employers really so clueless? In this booming metro area, new grads get $45,000 for entry-level jobs. What they offered seems like a joke!

Should I even try to negotiate for an additional $20,000 to $30,000?

Part of me wants to tell them to screw off. The problem is that this director-level job sounds really great. But I would lose my apartment because average rents in the area are $1,800 a month. I couldn’t afford it, and I wouldn’t have enough for gas or  food. Maybe they think I live with my parents?

Where do they get off offering entry-level pay for a director role to someone with 11 years experience? Any advice? My family, my friends and I are in shock. Help!

Nick’s Reply

Employers complain there’s a talent and skills shortage, and that good workers are hard to find. But wages are not going up enough to reflect such claims.

Greedy employers and the talent shortage

I think it’s clear employers are doing three things:

For more about cheapskate employers, see Wanted: Top talent to work for dog food.
  1. They’re bargain hunting.
  2. They’re keeping more of their profits while productivity is increasing.
  3. They’re avoiding sharing profits in the form of higher pay for hard-to-find employees.

What does this tell us? If you’re a talented, hard-to-find worker talking to a company that’s facing a talent shortage, you should ask for more money because you can.

In July 2017, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported that “CEOs of America’s 350 largest firms made an average of… 271 times more than a typical worker in 2016.” (In 1965, the compensation difference was 20X.)

If you don’t think there’s any error in the offer you received, then consider that it may be how the company operates. It’s greedy. So ask for a higher job offer.

Don’t contribute to the problem

Now I’ll reprimand you. I imagine you did not ask the salary range on the job before you invested your time inteviewing. That’s a huge mistake. Make sure you and the employer are on the same page from the start. When job applicants fail to test a salary range before interviewing, their wishful thinking contributes to wasting time. On the other hand, if you tried to assess the salary range and the employer declined to tell you what it is, see The employer is hiding the salary.

I give you a lot of credit for using the interviews to demonstrate how you’d do the job. (See The Basics.) That’s how to interview, and I’m guessing that’s why they chose you! But the salary offer is another issue.

Don’t rationalize

I’m concerned that you are already rationalizing taking a job for half what you think it’s worth because “this director-level job sounds really great.”

Really? Many employers try to substitute impressive job titles for fair salaries. They count on candidates talking themselves into an undesirable deal.

The problem now is that you may be confusing monetary compensation with the lure of a fancy job title. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume this really is a director-level role. Please be careful not to sell yourself short during a talent shortage. A title is not compensation for doing a job.

Accept the job and ask for more money

Learn from those highly paid CEOs. The EPI report notes that: “CEO compensation has grown far faster than that of other very high earners in the top 0.1 percent…” Why? EPI concludes it’s because of

“the power of CEOs to extract concessions.”

Pay attention! CEOs make big demands because companies perceive that there’s a shortage of great CEOs. You can play this game, too, if you have the nerve.

If you are ready to walk away from that job offer, then you have power because you have nothing to lose. So do not say “No” to the employer. Drive them nuts instead. (They deserve to have their cage rattled for playing salary games with you.) Treat them like desirable CEO candidates treat them. Accept the job, but extract concessions on the pay.

That’s right: If you still really want the job, why not try to get it on your terms? I’d accept the job, but I’d change the terms. You’re allowed to change anything you want in their offer before you accept it completely. Then it’s up to them to decide whether to agree.

How to Say It:
“I showed you I could do the job profitably for you, and I’m glad you were impressed enough to want to hire me. I want the job and I’d love to work with you! So I accept the job. But I cannot accept the terms you have offered. I’m ready to start work [tomorrow, or whatever day you choose] at $72,000. I will leave it up to you.”

Let the employer decide

Do not say anything more. (This is difficult, but keep your mouth closed past this point until they answer.) They already know all the reasons they want to hire you. Now let them consider whether they are willing to pay to get what they need, or whether they’re willing to lose you. (It can be a very long way to the next great candidate in a talent shorage!)

They will probably say no. But when they realize you’re really ready to walk away, it’s now on them to make a decision. They may come back with a better offer.

If they don’t, and you really are looking for a $70,000 job, politely tell them the following.

How to Say It:
“I am worth upwards of $70,000 in today’s market, where employers are complaining about a talent and skills shortage. I’ve found that your competitors are determined to hire hard-to-find talent and to pay what I’m worth. I wish you the best – it was wonderful to meet you and to learn all about your company.”

You don’t owe them any explanations at this point, so don’t let them drag you into a debate. Remember: They’ve already settled the main question: They want you. Now they must decide whether to accept your terms. If they press back, decide in advance whether you’re comfortable saying the following — then say it and stick to it:

How to Say It:
“I’m ready to take this job because I want to work with you. But my salary terms are not negotiable.”

Note that you have not rejected ther offer. In fact, you made a commitment when you accepted the job. Now let the employer decide whether it accepts your terms.

“I want more money.”

If you think you’re worth it, let an employer know you want more — and say how much. Just keep in mind that if they accept your revised salary, it’s not appropriate to negotiate anything else. You already said you’ll take the job if they meet your terms. If there are other things you want to negotiate, do that before you take a stand on the compensation.

For every employer that pays its CEO more than 200X what it pays the lowest-level employee, there needs to be a job candidate who is smart enough to insist on sharing that kind of wealth and success. The CEO is just another employee.

When they need you, extract concessions

You ask how such employers “get off offering entry-level pay for a director role to someone with 11 years experience.” Don’t over-think this. They do it because they think they can get away with it. That’s also why CEO candidates demand more money.

When is the last time you accepted “Because I said so” as the justification for why someone wanted to take advantage of you?

For more on this topic, please read “How can I go back and ask for more money?”
I’m not suggesting that you should be greedy and expect more salary than a job is worth. But if you’ve come to a reasonable conclusion that this employer is being greedy, and you think you can get a good job that pays $70,000 or more, you should not waste your time considering an unsatisfactory deal. Do not waste time negotiating. Instead, extract concessions or move on.

Look – if you need to pay the bills, and you need a paycheck of any size, I’m the last person to criticize you for talking yourself into a lower salary. Do what you must to live. But if you feel as strongly as you suggest you do, don’t fall victim to a greedy company that’s bargain hunting.

On to the next!

Do you know when to ask for more money? When you know you’re going to walk away anyway, don’t say “No” to a low job offer. Say “Yes, if you’ll pay me what I want.” Have you ever drawn a line like this?

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WANTED: Top talent to work for dog food

In the February 28, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, the talent (a nurse) would rather walk dogs than work for kibbles and bits.

talent foodQuestion

There’s no skills shortage, no matter what anybody says. If there’s a shortage why am I working as a waitress making more than I could nursing, which I’m certified in? I have a college degree, because I was told it was necessary in today’s market to compete. One interview after another is a waste of time. HR tells me I “look good” and to expect a call. And the permanent and contract offers I’ve gotten — I could walk dogs and make more. There’s so much talent that hospitals just wait for somebody who will work for peanuts. And they are rude. Does anybody want to hire an experienced RN for a living wage?

Nick’s Reply

Two reports from the Pew Charitable Trusts issued late last year tell us a lot about the problems you’re describing — but you’re not going to like what they say:

Imperfect candidates need not apply

A lot of healthcare facilities need experienced RNs (registered nurses) and require degrees. But they don’t want to pay for your degree and experience. I suggest you send a few quotes from Pew to your legislators.

“Hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies and doctor’s offices, like a lot of employers across the country, have a specific resume in mind. Employers often want new hires to have experience in a specialty such as operating room nursing.”

They’re looking for perfect candidates. (See The Training Gap: How employers lose their competitive edge.) The problem is clear: Employers don’t want to invest in training, on-the-job experience and development, or in a learning curve. They want someone who’s been doing the exact job for three years already. The question is, why would someone like that change jobs just to get the exact same job?

Where are competitive wages?

Pew offers a suggestion that healthcare administrators should be spanked for pretending not to understand:

“A long-term solution for the nursing workforce also would have to resolve critical pay issues, including whether Medicare and Medicaid fee schedules support competitive wages, and figure out how to make sure nurses don’t get burned out and quit.”

Pew also addresses another common problem:.

“Employers also have a retention problem. Being a nurse is demanding, and new nurses, like new teachers, are particularly likely to leave their jobs: About 20 percent of new nurses quit within a year, according to a 2014 study.”

Duhhh… Do you think it has something to do with the fact that you can make more money waiting tables at a good restaurant? (For tips about negotiating a job offer upwards if you manage to get an offer at all, see Negotiate Even The Worst Job Offers: Say Yes, IF.)

Meatball management

This is not a problem just in healthcare. The Pew reports cover all kinds of jobs, and reveal that employers across industries are eyeing talent they want but refuse to pay for it.

“To [the head of Minnesota’s Labor Market Information Office] … the focus on work experience suggested that employers were being too picky. They wanted to hire someone who could be fully productive on day one. But at the same time they weren’t willing or able to pay enough to attract that perfect candidate.”

There’s that problem again: Cheapskate employers.

An accounting manager told me last week that his company — whose business and profits are “growing like gangbusters” — has a customer support staff of seven. “We really need 15 just to support the customers we already have,” he complained. “But it’s impossible to find qualified people.” I asked what the job pays. “$7.50 an hour,” he answered. “Our turnover is over 20%. It’s terrible.”

No kidding.

Pew suggests businesses’ eyes are bigger than their budgets. But it seems the real problem is a kind of cognitive deficit in the ranks of management.

“It’s worth noting that employers can’t always diagnose their own problems. Only 22 percent of employers surveyed by Utah’s Department of Workforce Services last year named low wages as a hiring problem, but 68 percent of those employers were offering below average wages.”

Someone is thinking steak, while budgeting for meatballs.

“We want college degrees we don’t need!”

Then there’s the claim employers make that today’s workforce just isn’t well-educated. Or, is it possible that employers want more education than jobs require?

Pew hits the nail on the head again:

“The overwhelming majority of open production jobs across south central Minnesota don’t require a college degree, in fact. Nor do almost two-thirds of openings statewide.”

Yet employers ask for a degree — just because they can. It used to be a nurse needed only a certification to get a job in a hospital. It seems now hospitals want education they don’t need — but aren’t willing to pay for.

Reports Pew:

“In New York, for instance, there are more licensed RNs in the state than there are jobs for them. So employers are raising the bar, saying, ‘Hey, if I can get a [nurse with a] bachelor’s degree, why not?’ said Jean Moore, director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Albany.”

WANTED: Top Talent Cheap!

So there you have it. The Pew Charitable Trusts suggest employers are the problem, not nurses, or anyone else. While more training and education can certainly be beneficial to anyone who wants to excel in their line of work, it seems employers think training, education, and talent shouldn’t cost much to hire.

I wish I could give you an answer to your problem. And I wish the Pew reports covered the other elephant in the room — recruiting tools used by employers that make it easier to reject good applicants than to hire them. For more about that, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?

Meanwhile, what are we going to do about cheap employers?

Is there a talent shortage, or a shortage of good pay for good workers? Are modern, automated recruiting systems the solution, or do they just make it easier for employers to reject imperfect job applicants who won’t work for peanuts?

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Stupid Recruiter Story #1

In the October 4, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a guy minding his own business meets a dog from another city.

Would you be a stupid recruiter? Let’s see how you perform. Try this exercise.

I’m going to give you $50 and tell you to buy and bring me a dog within 60 minutes — any kind of dog, and you can obtain it anywhere you like. (But you can’t keep the change. recruiter-dogIf there’s any change, we donate it to an animal shelter.) The sooner you appear with a dog, the bigger the bonus you’ll earn — up to $1,000.

You can start from one of two locations, and I’ll take you to either place you choose, but you have to make your own way back to me with the dog. One location is Grand Central Station in New York City. The other is an animal shelter in Princeton, New Jersey.

I’ll be waiting for you at the train station in Princeton. Ready? This will reveal what kind of recruiter you’d be.

Stupid recruiter?

According to the federal government, to news media, to human resources experts and employers, there’s a massive skills and talent shortage. That’s why companies can’t fill jobs. It’s akin to the startling shortage of dogs in Grand Central Station. So armies of recruiters are being deployed daily to find the right talent. Most of them are stupid.

What kind of recruiter would you be? (Hey, that could be a new interview question.) Would you chose to start looking for a dog at an animal shelter? Every day, platoons of stupid recruiters look for dogs in Grand Central Station and the Grand Canyon, by waving a “dog wanted” sign on the New Jersey Turnpike, and in dark caves.

Reader Stephen Liss sent in this e-mail exchange he had with a stupid recruiter who solicited him for a job. Liss didn’t even have a question for me. He was just tired of being mistaken for a dog.

From a recruiter

We noticed your information on the job boards or in our database and thought you may have an interest in an opportunity with a large F500 client in the Rochester,  NY area. Here are the details:

We are looking for a Technical Writer in Rochester, NY to work with one of our major clients. Please go over the details and let me know your interest.

Technical Writer with PM Skills in Rochester,  NY
6+ Months
Pay Rate: $36/hr on W2 / $40/hr on C2C
Key Skills: Technical Writing, Some Project Management Background/Skills

[truncated… I mean, who wants to read the rest?]

Stephen Liss replies

You want me to relocate from the west coast for $36/hr? Please take me off your list.

The recruiter’s response

We get these opportunities everywhere. Unfortunately our software doesn’t work by location only by skill set.

First of all, these recruiters “notice” you “everywhere” — on job boards, in databases, by sniffing telephone poles… Sheesh. Does this dog even hunt or does it just snap at whatever comes along?

The recruiter’s software organizes jobs and people by skill set only. Not by location. It doesn’t matter where the dogs are. Or where the dog has to be shipped, or how much shipping costs. The software will shout into the Grand Canyon, then move on to the Turnpike. So will most recruiters. They’re like Energizer bunnies — they will bump into anything, turn, and keep going until they find a dog.

And they will pay only $36.

Got that?

tom-perez-catThe U. S. Department of Labor

In an interview about the “talent shortage,” Tom Perez, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, tried to explain why employers can’t find the people they need to fill jobs:

“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 too many people coming through the door don’t have the skills necessary to do the job I need to do.”

Did you get that? The business leaders Perez talks to are counting people “coming through the door.” Thomas Perez thinks he’s hanging around with business leaders?

Hey, schmuck! Nobody walks up and hands you what you want. You have to go look for the people you need where they hang out! Be the leader of your pack! Figure it out! Stop hanging around Grand Central Station peeing on poles to attract talent. Go hunt, because a pooch isn’t going to walk up with a perfect resume in its mouth. Woof.

(Many thanks to Stephen Liss for sharing that roadkill of a recruiter solicitation.)

What proportion of recruiter requests match you and the work you do? How many are just dogs? I’m looking for Stupid Recruiter Story #2.

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What does HireVue tell us about employers?

Sighmaster — an Ask The Headhunter regular — tells this story about an encounter with an employer that tried to schedule a HireVue video interview prior to any other discussions with the job applicant. (From the comments section of HireVue Video Interviews: HR insults talent in a talent shortage.)

Sighmaster’s Story

hirevueBack in July I applied for a design job with Connections Education. I got an email from their HR rep:

“Thank you so much for applying with Connections Education!  I am sending you a first round, preliminary digital interview request in a separate email through our vendor, HireVue, for the position with Connections Education. [Note the redundancy in mentioning the company name twice, was this email sent by an algorithm?] This process allows you to record yourself answering questions that will be watched by the hiring team, who will then set up second round, in-person interviews.”

I replied as follows:

“To quote the letter writer in this ATH article (HR Pornography: Interview videos), I find this request creepy, impersonal, presumptuous, Orwellian, exploitative, voyeuristic, unprofessional, and perhaps even unethical. It is also insulting. A hiring manager that won’t ‘waste’ their time interviewing candidates is certainly not worthy of my time. I am withdrawing my application.”

Her response:

“I am sorry that you feel that way and it is certainly not meant to be any of those items listed. If you would prefer to do a phone interview instead, we can arrange that. The reason we use HireVue as the first step in our process is because of the high volume of positions we have open, it would be impossible to screen the amount of applicants we are able to using a tool like HireVue. You can also opt to turn the video part off and just do audio id desired. I hope you’ll reconsider this position and agree to a phone interview.” [sic]

So, there ya go, I refused the HireVue and got a phone interview with the hiring mgrs.

The call consisted of a man who was the creative mgr and a woman who was director of marketing. The woman seemed nice, but the man had the personality of an uncooked potato. How’s that for ironic? I certainly would like to have seen this guy perform on a video camera to see if it would have been worth my time to talk to him (it wasn’t!).

Needless to say, the “interview” went nowhere — when you talk and talk and talk but the hiring mgr has nothing much to say other than “do you prefer mac or pc” (and you get sentenced to hell if you answer pc!) the outcome is inevitable.

I got their rejection email a few days later, to my relief. Of course, I’m still unemployed, but hey at least I stood my ground…*sigh*

Nick’s Reply

What does their use of HireVue video interviews tell us about employers?

This is just one data point, but it’s worth noting two outcomes of Sighmaster’s response — bold as it was. First, even though Sighmaster withdrew from the process, the employer still pursued this applicant. Saying no emphatically doesn’t necessarily kill the employer’s interest in a good candidate.

Second — perhaps more telling –, it seems the company’s choice to use video interviews to begin with may have signaled what kinds of managers Sighmaster would meet during a phone call, and what the experience would be like.

If you’ve been subjected to video interviews, did you find any correlation between that practice and the rest of your experience with the employer?

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New Grads: Send a robo-dog to job interviews!

In the July 19, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader bemoans the effect of “stupid” technology on hiring. He doesn’t realize he needs to get a dog.

Question

robo-dogI saw a disturbing story on Bloomberg: Goldman Scraps On-Campus Interviews for Robo-Recruiting. It’s about how fewer companies are doing on-campus interviews because of the lack of jobs. Rather, some companies are having a machine do the interview. I cannot tell you how stupid I think this is. I am sure you will agree.

As an electrical engineer, I have to say that this is a misuse of technology — people like me might make such technology possible. I’m tired of hearing about “disruptive technology.” If this is the future, I want no part of it. What is happening here?

Nick’s Reply

Employers have given new grads no choice but to send robo-dogs to their job interviews to woof it up with the employers’ robots.

At the same time companies like Goldman Sachs complain there’s a skills shortage, they demonstrate a complete lack of recruiting acumen.

CNN reports there’s a surplus of talent (College job hunt gets tougher as campus interviews fade):

About 12.6% of college grads are underemployed, meaning they don’t work enough hours.

Then CNN quotes a recruiter:

There is a real skills gap. [Many college grads] don’t know where their education and skills fit in the workforce.

It seems this “Wall Street titan” can’t figure out what to do with skills and education, either.

How does this smell?

CNN says “the U.S. economy has a record number of job openings.” The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms there are 5.6 million open jobs.

NewsHour’s Paul Solman calculates that around 19.5 million Americans are either unemployed, under-employed, or looking for a job even though they’re no longer counted as unemployed or as part of the work force.

That’s a ratio of 3.5 job seekers to every vacant job. While not all job seekers are qualified, there’s hardly a talent shortage. But employers like Goldman Sachs claim there is — so, what do they do to pick the right candidates?

Edith Cooper, Goldman’s global head of human capital management, says she’s got a really novel way to recruit and entice the elusive qualified new grad. She has stopped sending humans to interview them:

We’re trying to take out an individual’s assessment of talent.

CNN elucidates this new strategy:

The Wall Street titan announced last week it will ditch on-campus interviews starting next year for undergraduates in favor of an automated interview recorded by HireVue, a Utah-based company that creates software for recruitment.

The aforementioned recruiter explains this supply-and-demand rationale:

A generation ago…the employer came to the candidate. Now the candidate has to find the employer.

If the head of Goldman’s HR isn’t getting it, here’s an analogy the head of sales might understand. There are millions of investors hungry for good investments, so Goldman’s stock brokers should stop selling — and wait for investors to beg for a Goldman account.

Beg to work for us!

In a job-seeker’s market, new grads must subject themselves to machine interviews, invest their time filling out online applications, and wait like starving dogs to be fed. Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs HR managers get paid to wait for bots to do their hiring. Disintermediation, anyone?

dog-bot-2It seems not to occur to the Goldman Sachs of the world that they can’t find talent because they’re not looking for talent. It’s the proverbial story of washing your hands with rubber gloves on. It’s surrogate interviewing. Outsourced hiring. To use another metaphor, rather than going out to meet the talent, Goldman Sachs is sending a robo-dog named HireVue with a note in its mouth. Machine interviewing.

I’ve written about the likes of HireVue before: HR Pornography: Interview videos, WTF! Inflatable Interviewer Dolls? This is not disruptive technology. This is outsourced corporate irresponsibility.

In the midst of the claimed “talent and skills shortage,” CNN says the percentage of big-name employers that go to college campuses to recruit has dropped from 89% in 2007 to 76% today. They’re so desperate to find and hire talent that they’ve stopped recruiting! Worse, in a job-seeker’s market, Goldman tells job seekers to do tricks to get jobs.

Automated Personal Service

Recruiting requires selling — something a stock brokerage company should know a lot about. It requires personal contact, persuasion and, yes, a soft touch. Especially during a talent shortage.

Let’s go back to that analogy. In an effort to boost sales, Goldman Sachs tells its stock brokers to stop selling. Instead, the company publishes advertisements notifying investors that if they want to do business with Goldman, they must log-on to a third-party website and record their request for help with their investments. The selection algorithms are waiting! If you qualify, Goldman may do business with you.

Better yet, imagine this. You make it past the HireVue machine and Goldman invites you for a real interview. You respond with a link to your website and invite Goldman to record answers to questions that your own software will analyze to determine whether Goldman qualifies as a place you’d like to work.

Now, that’s automated personal service only a bank can appreciate!

Send in your dog

Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said to CNN:

Recent college graduates are having a hard time finding a job — finding a good job has become much more difficult.

robo-dog-3I’ve got an idea to make it easier on graduates.

Goldman schedules an interview where a personnel jockey will conduct a screening interview before you are permitted to meet the hiring manager. (Remember: There’s a talent shortage and Goldman is really desperate to impress and entice good applicants.)

Here’s the good part. You hire your own dog. You send a surrogate to the interview, so you won’t waste your time. (Perhaps you rent the dog from HireVue.) If anyone asks how you dare to send a dog with a note in its mouth, you cite the CNN article:

Goldman says it’s trying to weed out any biases between job candidates and interviewers, such as mutual friends, interests in the same sports or same schools.

You’re just trying to make sure the interview is fair and unbiased.

Do robots dream of job offers?

Is Goldman Sachs really suffering from a talent shortage and skills gap? While new college grads are dreaming of job offers, are industry titans working hard to find, recruit and hire those rare applicants they really need?

HireVue CEO Mark Newman is laughing all the way to the bank. I’m laughing at Goldman Sachs’ HR managers, who are deploying auto-mutts to bark at college grads. Woof!

If you’re the talent, and you know how difficult you are to find, I refer you back to last week’s column — with apologies for yet another metaphor: Tell HR you don’t talk to the hand. (For some solutions, see HR Managers: Do your job, or get out.)

What do you think? Are new grads just not ready for real jobs? Or are employers not ready to hire anyone? Maybe you should throw the employer’s bot a digital bone.

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HR Managers: Do your job, or get out

In the June 28, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, several readers raise questions about HR that we can’t keep ignoring.

Questions

this-way-outReader 1: Back in the 20th century, employers actually reviewed resumes by reading them rather than scanning them into a computerized ranking system. Keywords have turned hiring into a pass-the-buck game, with HR complaining it can’t find talent! Well, HR isn’t looking for talent. HR isn’t looking for anything. Phony algorithms are keeping the talent unemployed while HR gets paid to do something else! The question is, what is HR doing?

Reader 2: Two weeks after receiving a written offer from this company — and after I quit my old job and moved — HR sends me an e-mail saying there’s no job. That’s right: They hired me and fired me before I started! What am I supposed to do now? I can’t go back to my old job — I quit. The HR person who gave me the offer still has her job. Shouldn’t she be fired?

Reader 3: I was selected for a new, better job paying more money after rounds of interviews. I was all set to start when my HR department called me in to say the job was withdrawn due to budget problems. This was for a promotion at my own company! How did they have the budget a month ago when they posted the job and gave it to me, but not now? What can I do?

Reader 4: My friend attended a business roundtable where multiple employers complained they couldn’t find people. She stood up and said she was a member of several large job-search networking groups, with an aggregate membership of thousands in the Boston area. She offered to put them in touch, help them post positions, and contacted them multiple times afterwards to help facilitate this. Nobody has taken her up on it. Talent shortage my…!

Nick’s Reply

This edition of Ask The Headhunter is dedicated to good Human Resources (HR) managers who work hard to ensure their companies behave with integrity and in a businesslike manner toward job applicants — and who actually recruit.

This is also a challenge to the rest. Do the readers’ complaints above mystify or offend you? You cannot pretend to manage “human resources” while allowing your companies — and your profession — to run amuck in the recruiting and hiring process.

The problems described above are on you — on HR. It’s your job to fix them. Either raise your HR departments’ standards of behavior, or quit your jobs and eliminate the HR role altogether at your companies.

Here are some simple suggestions about very obvious problems in HR:

Stop rescinding offers.

oopsBudget problems may impact hiring and internal promotions, but it’s HR’s job to make sure all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed before HR makes offers that impact people’s lives. Don’t make job offers if you don’t have the authority to follow through. If your company doesn’t give you that authority, then quit your job because you look like an idiot for having a job you’re not allowed to do. What happens to every job applicant is on you. (See Pop Quiz: Can an employer take back a job offer?)

Stop recruiting people then ignoring them.

In other words, stop soliciting people you have no intention of interviewing or hiring. More is not better. If it’s impossible to handle all job applicants personally and respectfully, then you’re recruiting the wrong people and too many of them. Either treat every applicant with the respect you expect them to show you and your company, or stop recruiting — until you have put a system in place that’s accurate and respectful. Having control over people’s careers isn’t a license to waste anyone’s time. Your company’s rudeness in hiring starts with you. (See How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.)

Stop recruiting stupidly.

stupidThe job of recruiting is about identifying and enticing the right candidates for jobs at your company. It’s not about soliciting everyone who has an e-mail address, and then complaining your applicants are unqualified or unskilled. You can’t fish with a bucket.

You say you use the same services everyone else uses to recruit? Where’s the edge in that? Paying Indeed or LinkedIn or Monster.com so you can search for needles in their haystacks is not recruiting. It’s stupid. Soliciting too many people who are not good candidates means you’re not doing your job. If you don’t know how to recruit intelligently, get another job. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.)

Stop demanding salary history.

It’s. None. Of. Your. Business. And it makes you look silly.

tell-meI have a standing challenge to anyone in HR: Give me one good reason why you need to know how much money a job applicant is making. No HR worker has ever been able to explain it rationally.

It’s private information. It’s personal. It’s private. It’s shameful to ask for it. Do you tell job applicants how much you make, or how much the manager makes, or how much the last person in the job was paid? If you need to know what another employer paid someone in order to judge what your company should pay them, then you’re worthless in the hiring process. You don’t know how to judge value. HR is all about judging the value of workers. You don’t belong in HR. (See Should I disclose my salary history?)


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Stop avoiding hiring decisions.

In a market as competitive as today’s, if it takes you weeks to make a hiring decision after interviewing candidates, then either you’re not managing human resources properly, or you’re not managing the hiring managers in your company. Qualified job applicants deserve answers. Taking too long to make a choice means you have no skin in the game, and that makes you a dangerous business person. After you waste too many applicants’ time, your reputation — and your company’s — is sealed. With a rep like that, good luck trying to get hired yourself.

Stop complaining there’s a talent or skills shortage.

There’s not. With 19.5 million people unemployed, under-employed, and looking for work (even if they’re no longer counted as cry-babypart of the workforce), there’s plenty of talent out there to fill the 5.6 million vacant jobs in America. (See News Flash! HR causes talent shortage!) Recruit is a verb. Get out there and find the talent!

If your idea of recruiting is to sit on your duff and wait for Mr. or Ms. Perfect to come along on your “Applicant Tracking System,” then quit your job. If your idea of recruiting is to pay a headhunter $20,000 to fill an $80,000 job, then you are the talent shortage. Your company should fire you.

“Human Resources Management” doesn’t mean waiting for perfect hires to come along. Ask your HR ancestors: They used to do training and development to improve the skills and talent of their hires — as a way of creating competitive value for their companies.

The good HR professionals know who they are. The rest behave like they don’t know what they’re doing and like they don’t care. We’re giving you a wake-up call. Do your job, or get out.

My challenge to HR professionals: If you aren’t managing the standard of conduct toward job applicants at your company, if you aren’t really recruiting, if you’re not creating a competitive edge for your company by developing and training your hires, then you should quit your own job. If you aren’t promoting high business standards within the HR profession, then there’s no reason for HR to exist. Your company can run amuck without you.

To everyone else: How do these problems in HR affect you?

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The Training Gap: How employers lose their competitive edge

In the November 24, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader questions the lunacy of the training gap.

Question

I am responding to your question asking whether or not we, your readers, agree with employers that there is a “skills gap.” I am not sure I can really answer your question, though I will tell you that I have my doubts that there is a skills gap.

I think what there may be is a training gap.

What I can tell you is this. Back in 1986 I was hired by an insurance company as a computer programmer after having completed four years of college (linguistics major), followed by a six-month program in data processing. While I did have training going into the job, the company provided me and my co-workers with a lot of on-the-job training. They had an education department, and we all went through hours, and hours, and hours of paid on-the-job training in computer programming.

My understanding about the reason the company did this was because they wanted to train us to do things the way loser2they wanted them done.

My question to you is, do you find that kind of thing to be true anymore? Are companies willing to invest in training their employees after they have been hired? Or are companies no longer willing to do that?

Nick’s Reply

You’re hitting on one of the key issues behind the so-called “talent and skills shortage.” Who is actually responsible for brewing talent and skills? Job seekers? Schools? Employers themselves?

It seems clear in today’s economy that most employers believe they should be able to acquire skills ready-made. Despite the fact that the nature of a job depends a lot on a particular company’s business — jobs are not one-size-fits-all-companies, after all — businesses expect that the exact constellation of skills they need is going to walk in the door just because they advertised for it.

The training gap is real

Consider the embarrassing contradiction: Any company will tell you that it is the most competitive one in its industry, that its products are uniquely the best, that what they deliver isn’t available anywhere else.

So, why is it they expect the unique talent they want to hire already exists, as if it comes in a can to be purchased on a job board — or that it already exists at a competing company? They might as well admit that their products are the same as everyone else’s.

If you admit you can get your new hires wholly-made from another employer — your competitor — then you might as well tell your customers to buy what they need there, too. If a company wants the skills and talents it needs to be unique and competitive, it had better take responsibility for creating them.

I don’t believe there’s any talent or skills gap. At least in the United States, talent abounds. There’s arguably more talent on the street, looking for work, than ever in history. But to make a worker an element of its unique, competitive edge, the company must make that worker in its own image. It must cast the worker as unique as its products or services. It takes the same kind of investment to brew talent as to brew a competitive product.

We know for a fact that employers have indeed cut back enormously on training. It’s been confirmed by Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli. He’s shown that, adjusting for time, technology, and other factors, American workers are no less skilled or educated than they’ve ever been. However, employers have all but stopped training employees. Employers own the problem – they created it. (See Employment in America: WTF is going on? and Why Companies Aren’t Getting the Employees They Need.)

Cappelli writes in the Wall Street Journal:

“Unfortunately, American companies don’t seem to do training anymore. Data are hard to come by, but we know that apprenticeship programs have largely disappeared, along with management-training programs. And the amount of training that the average new hire gets in the first year or so could be measured in hours and counted on the fingers of one hand.”

Bye-bye, competitive edge!

Your 1986 story confirms Cappelli’s finding that, not very long ago, employers considered training important. Today, it’s pathetic. It’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. HR departments think they can buy off-the-self workers who don’t need or deserve training or skills development, while their marketing departments claim the company’s products are unique, state-of-the-art and without equal. This training gap is the pinnacle of corporate hypocrisy.

Then there’s the industry that aids and abets it. LinkedIn and other job boards successfully market the fraudulent notion that “we have the perfect candidate in our database – just keep looking!” (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired — Or, Why LinkedIn gets paid even when jobs don’t get filled.) Employers buy that bunk sandwich in bulk, and stuff it into their recruiting strategies and hiring policies. They behave as if they can hire “just in time” the “perfect candidate” who has been doing the same job for five years already — at a lower salary.

What job seeker wants either of those two “qualities” in a new job?

loserWhen companies fail to educate, train and develop their new hires and existing employees, I think they say goodbye to any competitive edge. Their customers get cookie-cutter products and services. What this state of affairs tells us is that there’s a talent shortage in corporate leadership. (See Talent Shortage, Or Poor Management?)

As long as employers treat people — that “human resource,” that “human asset” — as a fungible commodity or interchangeable parts to be bought and sold as-is, their products and services will be no better than interchangeable parts sold at the lowest possible price.

Take a look at another article by Peter Cappelli, where he slaps management hard upside the head with this apt analogy:

“Imagine a car manufacturer that decided to buy a key engine component for its cars rather than make them. The requirements for that component change every year, and if you can’t get one that fits, the car won’t run. What would we say about that manufacturer if it just assumed the market would deliver the new component with the specifications it needed when it needed it and at the price it needed? It would certainly flunk risk management. Yet that’s what these…companies are doing.”

I think Cappelli answers your question, and I don’t think there’s any debate: Most companies no longer invest in shaping and developing their employees. Their talent-challenged finance executives preach that cost reduction is a better path to profitability than investment. This exacts an enormous price on our economy because it’s relegating those companies to the scrap heap of “me-too enterprises,” and it’s failing our workforce as a whole.

I also think you highlight the solution: “…the reason the company [provided extensive education and development]… was because they wanted to train us to do things the way they wanted them done.” That’s what gave your employer an edge. No investment in training means no edge.

Drive by and keep your edge

My advice: Keep on truckin’ right past employers that provide no education, training or development to new hires and employees. These are companies that don’t invest in their future success — or yours.

Go find their able competitors. There are some good ones out there. They’re not easy to find, just like talent isn’t easy to develop. (That’s why you should pursue the best companies — not jobs.) The mark of a truly competitive product is the unique skills and talents a company developed to produce it.

The next time you interview a company, ask to see their employee training and development plan. If they don’t have a good one, tell them your career plan is to avoid working in a stagnant environment. Flip them a quarter and tell them to call their next candidate, because they probably still have a pay phone in the lunch room.

thanksgivingDoes your employer provide training and development to give you (and itself) a competitive advantage? When you’re job hunting, do you ask about employee education? If you’re an employer, what kind of training to you do?

All the best to you and yours for a Happy Thanksgiving!

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