The Job Market, Finding Qualified Applicants, and HR
by Mike Kimel
I had a few posts noting that not long ago, I took a severance package from my most recent employer. Put another way, I’m now unemployed. Since then I’ve been looking for a new job.
However, in recent weeks I’ve started taking consulting work, and I’m starting to lean more toward consulting. I was a consultant for seven and a half years before taking my most recent job, and I function as easily as a consultant as I do in the corporate world. Put another way – I am not uncomfortable with the feast or famine environment in consulting though, truth to tell, my wife would strongly prefer that I had a “real” job. But I digress.
A big part of the reason I’m starting to lean toward consulting is that while I haven’t cracked the job market, some consulting work has come my way without my having sought it out. Unrequited love v. unsolicited love, or if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with, right? And when I say I haven’t cracked the job market, I have to say, something about the job market seems very wrong to me. I keep hearing that companies are having a hard time finding qualified candidates. A random search of the news spits out several such stories.
I would like to relate my experience in the matter. This morning I went to indeed.com, which has rapidly become my favorite job search site. I entered some appropriate job search parameters, and found a job that I’ve applied to twice in the past three months. It looks a lot like the requirement bullet points come straight from my resume: advanced degree, a fair amount of experience developing analytic tools (e.g., data mining), experience building and leading cross-functional teams, and experience with strategic planning. I can’t find anything on the job req that I don’t have on my resume, except that in each case I have more experience at a higher level than the req specifies. And as I said, I’ve applied for that position. Twice. And it seems it has appeared on the company’s website again. That means the ad wasn’t written as ex post justification for hiring a specific person – the company at least believes it is genuinely looking to fill the spot without an internal candidate already penciled in.
Now, I’m not saying that the company should hire me. Perhaps there is something about the position that isn’t in the req that makes it clear I don’t fit in. And perhaps there are many others that are far more qualified than I am (though I like to think I am very, very good at building statistical tools, and even better at management and strategy). But either way, I would imagine that my resume would have tripped up some sort of a “call this guy and feel him out for five minutes” routine in their “applicant tracking software.” There are other similar positions that I’ve seen crop up several times since I’ve applied, but two of them really bother me as they also include a phrase like “knowledge of Spanish, Portuguese preferred.” Now, I grew up in Brazil and have family in Argentina so I have spent considerable time in South America. I speak Spanish and Portuguese. That’s on my resume, as is the fact that I have international work experience. The companies advertising those positions didn’t call me back either.
On the other hand, I’ve had calls and e-mails from employers looking for someone to a) sell insurance, b) provide financial education to union members and/or Hispanics and/or other groups, c) for entry level positions, and d) for an executive chef. What in my resume screams “executive chef” I have no idea. None whatsoever. Good for a laugh, but not really. It’s a waste of my time, and there are people out there who are qualified to be an executive chef and are searching for that job and aren’t getting a call. My guess is that someone seeking out an executive chef position may be getting calls about upper level management positions in Analytics at a Fortune 500 company.
Which leads to a hypothesis. It may be that there is not so much a mismatch between the skills that the unemployed have vis à vis the needs of companies as there is an inability of companies, and in particular, the Human Resources department of companies, to recognize the needed skills when they see them. I’ve met many HR people over the years, and while many are competent, a frightening number of them are not. I remember, as a hiring manager, learning that I had to bypass my company’s HR department altogether if I wanted to get resumes that had any bearing to my group’s needs. But I could only do that because my boss was very sympathetic. He had found me without using HR too.
I note this recent post on Health Insurance also says something about some of HR’s other functionalities.
PS – Need a consultant with expertise in analytics and forecasting, and who can explain what it means to your business in simple (and actionable) English (or Portuguese or Spanish)? Someone with a Ph.D. in economics and 15 years experience in pricing, risk, demand analysis, and corporate strategy? Perhaps with strong knowledge of some of the big South American markets? Someone with experience in litigation support? Drop me a line at “mike” period “kimel” (one m only!!) at gmail.com. Alternatively, “mike” at analyticecon.com will get to me too.
Also, my wife started cleaning up my old consulting practice website: www.analyticeconomics.com (or www.analyticecon.com). Any suggestions about the website, or about generating new business, are welcome.
Well, Mike, if you read Robert’s proof by contradiction, your problem with a job search through HR is obvious. I suspect the agent is some supervisor with a favorite drinking buddy. So when HR sees applications like yours, the supervisor sees an empty set of choices in S since the hiring offered by HR is seen by the supervisor as “inconsistent with maximizing any utility function at all” since it doesn’t have the utility function preferred by the supervisor, namely, hiring his drinking buddy. Meanwhile, having seen your application the supervisor is revising his input to HR and the drinking buddy is embellishing his resume.
I’ve been a reviewer in the hiring process many times over the years. I hated it when inside candidates were mixed with external candidates. For example, one inside applicant turned each little assignment related to the job description into “I led an effort” even when nothing was led. By the rules, since I had external candidates to compare and didn’t know the truth of the work done, I was ordered to score as though the embellishments from internal candidate were true. Since this candidate was not the internal candidate the supervisor invented the job for, she didn’t get the job. But, even without embellishment she was more qualified than his buddy. External candidates were one and two in the scoring and “behavioral interviews” were used to eliminate them. Oh and, sometimes, when the pre-selected candidate either did not make it through HR or through the scoring, the supervisor would either decide no candidate was optimal or would drop the job slot and renew the process. Either way a new solicitation went out. External candidates do not tend to reapply.
I think some of what you have described is happening. I dealt with that some years ago when I had to hire a bunch of people which is when I learned to bypass HR wherever possible.
But it seems to me that while what you describe has historically been more the issue, this time around things are a bit different. The particular position that led me to write the post was first posted a few weeks before I started to look for a job… and since I saw the writing on the wall, that would be late April or May. (I keep a spreadsheet telling me what I applied to and when.)
Now, I’ve gotten a few e-mails about executive chef, but I actually got one call. Now, think about what has to happen for a company to call me about an executive chef position. (And no, as I recall, I never Megan McArdalized about pink Himalayan salt in anything I’ve ever written.) First, the applicant tracking software has to fail miserably. (BTW… I’m thinking of writing a post about that… having done my share of designing “intelligent” software, I sometimes have a bit of a feel for where it goes wrong. This stuff is awful.) And then someone in HR has to conclude – yup, this resume looks like it belongs to an executive chef, just like the software says.
The same thing is true of the various entry level positions to which I applied. I can understand the incompetence of the applicant tracking software. I can’t understand what someone in HR is thinking making the call. After all, say I came in for an interview for a position that requires two years of experience and pays a quarter of my last salary. How insane would a hiring manager have to be to consider hiring someone in a situation like that, knowing damn well they probably won’t stick around for long enough to recoup the expense of getting them onboard.
Mike, Maybe they were in a “think outside of the box” phase. You know, the last executive was just like all the applicants except this Kimel guy that got tossed out of the screening. Let’s give him a ride. (Just kidding but I have seen strange things done under “outside the box”.
I picked up an application at Wendy’s while waiting for my husband to get an order. They had a series of boxes for education. The first box was Ph.D., area, university, etc. followed by subsequent lesser degrees. The back side was job history and references. And, yes, I would love to see the Wendy’s hiring history to count the number of Ph.D.s with previous salaries over $100K that Wendy’s hires.
The problem is the job market is tough right now. Low Wages, Less Jobs seems to be the way we are heading.
I am surprised at the impact of social media on both HR and consulting (of course I am an old fart).
never underestimate the power of incompetence.
I sit across from my team lead and watch the interviewees come and go. I also hear my boss agonize over whom to hire. I think that the business community is so scared of making the wrong hire that the process has become jammed. Uncertainty has seeped down from the boardroom to the middle maanger’s office.
I’m not as concerned by Social Media as I am by applicant tracking software. Look up Taleo.
And for giggles, apply for a job through a company site.
Thanks for that post. Unfortunately, I’ve found myself feeling more-or-less the same way with my own job search experience, only my situation extends to the actual interview process as well.
As background: I’m currently sill employed, but the writing, as they say, is on the wall, so I’m agressively looking. I’m a high tech product manager looking for jobs primarily at later stage startups. I’ve actually gotten a fair number of phone screens, mostly through recruiters. Most of those were the end of the line for me. In general for the “good” ones (and I use that term loosely) of that batch, it was the end of the line because it’s not just about similar experience any more. But rather, unless you’ve been doing *exactly* the job you’re interviewing for for the last five years, they’re not interested.
Then there were the rest of those phone screens where they’ve passed me over. I distinctly got the impression from both the actual conversations as well as the follow up feedback from the recruiter (after the rejection) that 1) I was being interviewed for a position that had little to no resemblance to the job posting and 2) that the person really wasn’t listening to my answers.
And lastly, in at least two circumstances I’ve been called in for in-person interviews. Both of these, actually, were at companies where I had an “in” with a current or former employee at the company. In the worst one of these, I spent six hours with six different people—all in a single day. Most of the six went well (at least from my perspective)—except the one with the hiring manager, and my would-be boss. This guy spent his entire hour going over with me an “assignment” he had given me prior to the interview. Supposedly, according to him, it was to understand my thought process. I completely understand why this kind of thing is valuable as part of an interview. However as the entire interview, and in the way he conducted the interview, it made no sense to me.
I did not get the job, and it’s entirely reasonable that in his assessment my “though process” was wanting compared to other candidates. And yet I got the impression from the way the “interview” unfolded, that rather than listening to my answers and trying to glean what my thought process actually was, he was expecting me to give the same answer that he had in his head about these things. My field, product management, is not one where there typically is a right or wrong (or even a best) answer. Usually answers are contingent on a whole host variables that are, by necessity, invisible to even the most prepared applicant.
In addition to that, when you hire someone, you’re not hiring a thought process, but a person. And in a field such as mine, so much of what makes someone successful is at least as much about how you are able to manage, work with teams, prioritize, and function under intense pressure as it is about a “thought process.” I don’t think the hiring manager has the slightest clue how I compare on such dimensions compared to any of the other applicants I might have been competing with.
In short, if you ask me, this hiring malady goes far beyond HR. I think that there are lots of people out there who have hiring authority that simply have no skills/talent/experience at how to do it effectively.
If we accept the common wisdom that most hiring is done through contacts, then what you describe is just what we should expect. HR has requirements aimed at hiring according to objective criteria, but we humans are overwhelming in our preference for having personal knowledge. Even if the personal knowledge is second hand, we’d rather have that than a candidate who has a perfect resume. Some of that is probably less than rational, but we’ve all seen liar resumes, and have reason to worry that we’ll hire “objectively” and get skunked. We want to hire subjectively.
I can empathize. I understand that it goes beyond HR, but it had to start somewhere. And one of the places it starts is with HR. The Peter Principle doesn’t exist if the HR department knows what its doing.
I think the 400 resume issue is a big part of the reason for the applicant tracking software from companies like taleo and others. But the software is, at a minimum, buggy. There is nothing on my resume that says chef or even “cook” nor any mention of anything food related given I’ve never done anything in that industry.
I have no idea why or even how…it is out to lunch. Maybe readers might have ideas?
I think in times of economic slowdown HR and recruitment managers tout some positions they have no intention of filling. Mostly they collect the profiles. Some intermediate recruiters (recruitment consultants) use large number of profiles as selling point when pitching to companies.
I personally am not sure about what role HR plays in firms these days save for payroll processing and office parties. (I have tangential thoughts on that but that is for other day).
One reason I’m putting more effort into drumming up consulting and toning down the job search a bit (though I’m still looking, mind you) is that I figure soon I will have to deal with the shelf-life issue. The more time goes on, the more of an issue shelf-life is, and the more I start shifting resources into consulting. Very soon that will mean money. We’re fortunate in that we have a rainy day fund, but my wife and I have been running the numbers to figure out where we’ll be after X amount of time if I have to start putting money into getting the consulting practice up and running.
For what its worth, I am about to start putting serious hours into preparing material that could be used on pitching consulting work. Once that material exists, I have to start spending money getting it out there. At that point, hours spent seeking out a new job as opposed to more consulting work will shrink to insignificance.
There is pretty good evidence that hiring decisions aim at finding the first candidate that is minimally qualified, rather than the best candidate available. This discussion suggests why that might be. We don’t have good tool for telling the difference between somebody who will do well enough and somebody who will change the franchise. We can’t know how long it will be till somebody shows up who is better than the minimally quialified candidate, or as good for less money. Given all that uncertainty, one way out is to save a lot of time and pick the first person who seems likely to manage the job. Another is to hire somebody you know.
Sure… search theory. But (and I note, the data, at least from my perspective, is heavily censored) it doesn’t seem to be the case from where I’m standing. As I said, what prompted this post waas seeing the same ad posted again, after however many months, for a position to which I applied and from what I can tellm I’m qualified. Presumably someone who at a minimum meets each of the bullets you have listed is worth a quick contact. Otherwise, what is the point in posting the ad, much less continuing to repost it? (The company in question is a Fortune 100 company. Presumably they have some idea of what they’re doing.)
In any case, I’m still applying for jobs but the percent of my effort that goes into a job search (as opposed to generating and doing consulting work) is decreasing, and is doing so at an increasing rate. Had I anticipated what the market looked like, I probably would have put all of my effort into generating consulting work from the beginning.
One other thought here – could this F100 company have dumped the candidate search onto another recruiting firm? You mention it was ‘some months’ later so perhaps the first post was during recruiter #1’s cycle and the repost was from recruiter #2?