October 28, 2013

Employment In America: WTF is going on?

Filed under: Heads up, Job Search, Q&A, Readers' Forum, Stuff I worry about

The October 29, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter is the 500th edition. So rather than answer a reader’s question, I’m celebrating this milestone by making up my own question, and doing my best to answer it.

(What? You don’t subscribe to the free, weekly e-mail Ask The Headhunter Newsletter? Don’t miss the next edition! Subscribe now!)

WTF is going on with employment in America?

Why have I written and published 500 weekly editions of the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter? Because America’s employment system still doesn’t work.

wtfThe emperor still has no clothes, and that’s why over 25 million Americans are unemployed or under-employed. (According to PBS NewsHour, that’s how many Americans say they want but can’t find a full time job.) Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are about 3.9 million jobs vacant.

HR executives have a special term for this 6:1 market advantage when they’re trying to fill jobs today: They call it a “talent shortage.”

Gimme a break.

Personnel jockeys run around in their corporate offices with their eyes closed, throwing billions of dollars at applicant tracking systems and job boards like Taleo, Monster.com, and LinkedIn — and they pretend no one can see they are dancing in circles buck naked.

WTF is going on? We’ll talk about a talent shortage when the HR talent shortage abates — and HR executives learn how to match up the 3.9 million with work that needs doing.

Companies don’t hire any more

Employers don’t do their own hiring, and that’s the #1 problem. Employers have outsourced their competitive edge — recruiting and hiring — to third parties whose heads are so far up The Database Butt that this little consortium should be investigated by Congress.

Taleo, Kenexa, LinkedIn, Monster.com, CareerBuilder, and their diaspora — you know who I’m talking about. Monster and LinkedIn alone sucked almost $2 billion out of the employment system in 2012. These vendors tout fake technologies and cheap string-search routines masquerading as “algorithms” for finding “hidden talent” and “matching people to jobs.”

So, why are almost 4 million jobs vacant?

Because these vendors sell databases, not recruiting, not headhunting, not jobs, not hires, not “matchmaking.”

Somewhere, right now, the chairman of the board of some corporation is pounding the podium at a shareholders’ meeting, exclaiming, “People are our most important asset!”

Meanwhile, HR executives are blowing billions out their asses, mingling their companies’ most important assets in databases shared with all their competitors via a handful of “applicant tracking systems” that can’t get the job done.

Heads-up to boards of directors: Where is your competitive edge any more? Take control of your hiring again — like it matters!

Save 50% on Ask The Headhunter books!


I’m also celebrating the 500th edition (No mean feat!) of the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter by offering you a one-time-only special offer on any Ask The Headhunter PDF book: SAVE 50% on your purchase, whether you buy one book, or all of them.

Just use discount code=500 when completing your purchase, and you’ll save 50%! This is a very limited time offer! Use the discount NOW, before it expires! Remember: You must use discount code=500 when you make your purchase.

Also included in this discount offer: Erica Klein’s new Employment Tests: Get The Edge!


Employers don’t know how to recruit

Here’s how human resources departments across America “recruit.” They put impossible mixes of keywords about jobs into a computer. They press a button and pay billions of dollars for a chance that Prince Charming might materialize on their computer displays. When the prince fails to appear, they pay to play another day. (Last year, companies polled said 1.3% of their hires came from Monster.com and 1.2% from CareerBuilider. Source: CareerXroads.)

Meanwhile, in the real world, over 25 million people — many of them immensely talented and capable of riding a fast learning curve without falling off — are ready to work.

Employers need to get off their butts, remove the Taleo straps from around their necks, and go outside to actually find, meet, recruit, cajole, seduce, and convince good workers to come work for them.

The employment system vendors are lying

The big job boards and the applicant tracking systems tell employers that sophisticated database technology will find the perfect hire.

  • ”Don’t settle for teaching a good worker anything about doing a job. Hire only the perfect fit!”
  • “We make that possible when you use more keywords for a job!”
  • “The more requirements you specify, the more perfect your hire will be! The database handles it all!”

Except that’s a lie. Job descriptions heavily larded with keywords make it virtually impossible to find good candidates. But every day that an impossible job requisition remains unfilled, the employment system vendors make more money while companies keep advertising for the perfect hires.

WTF? How stupid can anyone be? At the roulette wheel, the house always wins.

3.9 million jobs are vacant, thanks to the empty promises of algorithms. If the U.S. Congress wants a solution, it should launch an investigation into the workings of America’s employment system infrastructure, which is controlled by a handful of companies.

Employers have no business plan

Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli has demonstrated beyond any doubt that the quality of the American worker pool has not diminished. Rather, American companies:

  • Don’t want to pay market value to hire the right workers.
  • Don’t want to train talented workers to do a new job.
  • Don’t have any problem using applicant tracking systems that don’t work.

Cappelli points out that employers believe they save money when they leave jobs vacant, because their accounting systems track the cost of having workers on the payroll — but cannot track the cost of leaving work undone.

Employers run the junk profitability numbers in their sleep:

Fewer Employees=Lower Costs=Higher Profits

Employers that believe this are idiots. They should stop regarding workers as a cost, and start treating them as investments, and ensure that each worker pays off in higher profits. They should get a business plan.

America counts jobs, not profitable work

The federal government tracks the number of people who have jobs and the number of vacant jobs. But that’s no measure of a healthy economy. We all know the weekly employment figures are a fraud. The definitions of jobs and “who is employed” are so manipulated that no one knows WTF is going on.

It’s time to re-think how companies find and pay people to do work that produces profit. A better indicator of economic success would be the measure of how profitable all the work in America actually is — and how much profit is left behind on the table each month when work is left undone.

People must stop begging for jobs

It’s time for people to stop thinking about jobs, and high time to start thinking about how — and where — they can create profit.

If I run a company, I’ll hire you to do work that pays off more than what I pay you to do it. Today, virtually no employer knows whether hiring a person will pay off. That’s why you need to know how to walk into a manager’s office and demonstrate, hands down, how you will contribute profit to the manager’s business. That’s right: Be smarter than the manager about his own business. Stop begging for jobs. Start offering profit.

Because if you can’t do that, you have no business applying for any job, in any company.

Think you can generate lots of profit without working for someone else? Then bet your future on your plan, and start your own business.

WTF is going on

Here’s the simple truth that’s buried in the employment system, which is controlled by a handful of lightweight database jockeys who are funded by HR executives who have no idea how to recruit or hire:

There is no business plan in any applicant tracking system, no profit in a job posting, no future in federal employment metrics, no solution in HR departments, and no answers in databases or algorithms.

WTF is going on is this: American ingenuity starts with the individual who has an idea, blossoms with a plan that will produce profit — for yourself and your boss and your customer — and results in more money for everybody.

WTF is going on is that you must do the hard work of figuring it out yourself, each time, and every time. American business can’t outsource recruiting and hiring, and American workers can’t afford to let someone else find them “a job.”

WTF do you think is going on? Is there a way out of this mess? How do we change the way work is defined, and how people earn money for their work?

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131 Comments on “Employment In America: WTF is going on?”
By Nick Corcodilos
November 18, 2013 at 5:07 pm

@ER: Well, you could always ping your favorite CNN talking head (or producer) and suggest it :-)

@L.T.: Well… investors seem to love high unemployment numbers, anyway! Which is probably a worse state of affairs!

By Gwen
November 18, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Saw this on linkedin. Yes linkedin. It is right in step with what Nick’s core argument about HR and what they actually “add” to a company finding viable talent and what everyone here knows.


By marybeth
November 18, 2013 at 11:40 pm

@Gwen: Yes, I do like it where I am–I have a direct boss who is sane and reasonable, the dean of the library who is sane and reasonable and puts her staff and their safety first. My colleagues are good people to work with too. For the first time in many, many years, I haven’t had to pay for a parking permit (parking is free to faculty and staff) just to work there.

I’ve learned that the hiring process can be a little odd here. For certain jobs on campus, there are two hiring/search committees–one composed solely of people work will be working with the prospective new hire (ie, folks who work in the dept./office/program in which there is the vacancy). These are the ones who know the dept. best, the job best, etc. The second committee is composed of the college President (his approval is required), several members of the faculty (randomly chosen by the President), and people from at least two other non-academic depts (eg academic advising, facilities, campus police, financial aid, athletics, etc.). Apparently the “old” method was to let the folks who would be working most closely with the new hire have the least say–they could “recommend” someone, but if the faculty, staff, and President on the second committee didn’t like the first committee’s choice, they simply overrode the first committee’s decision and hired whomever they liked (even though they never had to live with the consequences). Scuttlebutt has it that after a growing number of “bad” hires, including a high level hire in the library where I now work (one employee was ready to retire, four others quit, I was told that everyone was fired, then when the head realized there was no one to do the work, they were all re-hired as if nothing had happened), the second committee is now deferring to the decision of the first committee as the first committee has the best idea of what the job entails, has a vested interest in getting someone who can do the work and who will be a good fit (the second committee didn’t give it another thought or care because they didn’t have to work with their hires, share space with them, train them, etc.).

Where I am, if the internal committee was expecting someone to apply and the résumé/application didn’t arrive from HR, then the dean would go into HR’s files and look for it (assuming that the person applied and had gotten weeded out by HR’s ATS). But that’s us/library–there’s no rule or guarantee that the other depts. on campus do the same thing (and many don’t–they prefer to let HR do the screening for them, then wonder why they can’t fill an academic advising job).

@Nick: I’m going to respond to C-Span’s request to viewers/listeners to recommend a topic and recommend a segment on the systemic problems with the job search (from the hunter’s perspective) and the candidate search (from the employer’s perspective) and that they invite you to show to talk about it.

@Gwen: re your last comment with the link–that makes a change from the number of articles I’ve seen posted lamenting the “talent shortage” and blasting colleges and universities for not perfectly training future workers so they don’t have to do any training themselves. I see far more of the latter than the former. I didn’t read through all of the comments, but there were a fair number from people defending HR. I’m sure that many of them are working in HR and don’t want to see their jobs vanish. They’d have to compete with the rest of us by applying online, get lost in ATS, and get spat out in less than two seconds because they’re not perfect matches.

I think HR can have a purpose in a business or agency–I’d limit them to payroll and benefits. Legal issues–most businesses have an attorney or several attorneys to deal with legal matters. Why would you, as a business, put your legal neck on the line by letting HR handle legal matters? Re one of the comments about negotiating with unions, what unions? I read that less than 7% of all employed Americans today belong to a union, a wisp of union membership in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Small businesses (under a certain number of workers) aren’t required to offer health insurance, and ditto for a lot of the other “benefits”. Bigger companies often do offer them, but keeping track of vacation and sick time is often done by payroll (in every job I’ve worked that offered it and if I qualified for it), not HR.

More articles like that and HR will be looking for things to do in order to justify their existence. There was an article in one of my local newspapers back in February that addressed this issue–the challenges faced by job seekers with the “automated” job searches (how many good people get weeded out, never to get an interview, while the jobs go unfilled for months and months because employers have turned over the hiring to HR, and HR is letting a computer do its thinking for them). One HR employee they interviewed told about how her company requires them to post fake/phantom jobs, for the purpose of collecting résumés. She stated that she would get calls and emails from eager job seekers, and she was forbidden from telling them that the job they saw posted and applied for doesn’t exist. But it keeps her busy, which makes HR look busy to management, and thus justifies their jobs. She, too, stated that she felt powerless to change it.

By Gwen
November 20, 2013 at 2:54 pm

@Marybeth There were many defending HR but like you noted, many worked in HR. In many psychology studies of predictive behavior, guilty or partially responsible people for a problem or incident yell, “It’s not me/It wasn’t me/Don’t look at me!” first without offering more than that without a logical reason why it isn’t them. Someone who has done ALL they could and doesn’t harbor guilt would respond, “I can assure you this is not me. Even though this is not the way I practice in my HR organization, is there anything I can do to help with this systemic injustice as an HR representative?”

That’s a little trick we learn in graduate level psychology that is also used as a police technique when they are questioning potential suspects. In other words, the healthy psychological individual won’t be happy you’re attacking their actions, but they want it to be over with and want to probably help you with finding out a solution or in some cases who is responsible. Whether that means giving you more information or whatever, most of the time. There may be outliers but the highest percentage of non guilty parties usually respond offering help or logical proof why they are not guilty to clear them after stating they are not guilty.

Somewhat similar in summarizing what the “guilty” (for lack of a better word) commenters did in responding to that author’s article. “It’s not me!” Then attacking the author…at least that is what I “heard” in their responses. No objective perspective about the problem. Just touting all the great things they did in HR.

By Veronica
November 20, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Did you see this? “Employers: ‘Skills gap’ is not our problem to fix” at http://tinyurl.com/nx4hqjb

This article generated familiar discussion at the LinkedIn group, International Association of Workforce Professionals. Join and take a look.

By Veronica
November 21, 2013 at 1:34 pm

How to measure return on investment of job boards. See advice for how HR can do this: http://www.workforce.com/articles/9232-how-do-we-measure-the-roi-of-job-boards


By Nick Corcodilos
November 22, 2013 at 11:00 am

@Veronica: I read the Workforce article about ROI of job boards. I know Gerry Crispin, but I haven’t the foggiest idea what he’s talking about. He seems to suggest that “if” leaving a job vacant reduces sales, then cost of recruiting is “secondary.” But he totally and completely ignores the ROI of job boards. Worse, he ignores the problem of recruiting only who comes along (which is how job boards work). To me, this is just another walk around the block for HR, without any useful outcome except exercise.

By JC Bertrand
November 26, 2013 at 4:37 am

Not only are the applicant tracking systems part of the problem, but there are also automated reference checking systems to be aware of. Gone is the human element. This can’t be good for job seekers.

An internet search of “automated reference checking” reveals:

…just to name a couple.

How the hell do you check references without talking to someone? A reference check used to be a brief conversation between the person making the hire and the person giving the reference. With automated systems like these, there is no way to listen to how the candidate’s reference is answering the question (tone of voice, hesitation, etc.), but more importantly, it removes the ability to ask follow-up questions for clarification. It also leaves the door open for a reference to inadvertently disclose information (religion, orientation, married, age, children, etc.) about a candidate that should not be discussed, which can be used against the candidate. The systems also allow anonymous responses.

Apparently, gone are the days where the hiring manager picked up the phone and called the candidate’s references and engaged them in a conversation. Seems like a back door way to get information about a candidate that the employer is not privy to.

An interesting article on this subject:

Best of luck to all those who are searching right now.

By Veronica
December 6, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Did y’all see this?

December 14, 2013 at 2:12 am

Well Nick, what did we expect?

We live in an era of rampant fraud in WallStreet that goes unpunished, even rewarded, by the state/federal governments. At the helm of this financial debauchery are a select few who manipulate the whole market through a counterfeit operation courtesy of the Fed. With so much criminality going unchecked, resulting in increasing costs and phony profits, who would have the confidence, let alone the integrity, to “invest” in a worker…when they could just sit tight, outsource…and/or follow in Wallstreet’s footsteps?

As far as the suggestion for a Congressional investigation goes; not that I don’t think the online application-trackers are frauds in themselves, but that’s just the symptom of the main problem: easy money…at your expense.

December 14, 2013 at 2:15 am

BTW, good article overall. :)

By it recruitment « diffidence
December 29, 2013 at 3:54 am

[…] HR executives have a special term for this 6:1 market advantage when they’re trying to fill jobs today: They call it a “talent shortage.” […]

By Terry
June 30, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Great article! There is no such thing as talent shortage. It’s a matter of interpretations, abusive practices and been hijacked by employers, HR and/or Hiring Managers. It’s like a budget. The goal post can be shifting all the time to prevent great employees earning bonus except for top executives who lower the bars for themselves. It’s all self-interest driven.

Not surprisingly, many employers/HR do not indicate the reasons for rejecting applicants except for generic reason – “does not closely match our ….” or even offer no reply at all. Many reasons for this. High percentage of HR has no idea what they are doing equivelant to “WTF is going on…” Many also feared job security, therefore engaged in convoluted hiring process. Some HR are collecting resumes as a hobby, if you know what I mean. HR background can be easily checked in this internet age – their education level, past employers and even family members. Very high percentage have lower education levels than applicants and pose difficulty in assessments of very high caliber applicants. Including Hiring Manager. Others want to boast they have the largest database and therefore can help employers find the “best” candidates. Some employers are on “espionage” activities seeking “trade secrets, salaries history and competitive edge” to beat the competitors. Yet we accused China of doing this not knowing we exported this trade strategies to China. Some Hiring Managers are comparatively have lower experience and qualifications than the applicants and for obvious reasons will not hire these applicants. One excuse – “talent shortage”. The whole of America?? Whoa, who are you kidding?

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Why do recruiters suck so bad?
June 30, 2014 at 10:36 pm

[…] of companies that have been funded, what does it tell us about the state of the business? (See Employment In America: WTF is going on?) As you put it, this is why recruiters suck so […]

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Help! I’m a floundering headhunter!
August 4, 2014 at 10:55 pm

[…] just read your expose on CareerBuilder (Employment In America: WTF is going on?). I have used them over the years with very mixed results, and now they’re eliminating my […]

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – How employers help scammers steal your Social Security number
August 11, 2014 at 8:46 pm

[…] 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?) […]

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – ‘Tis the season to land the right job
December 23, 2014 at 11:39 am

[…] Like Baba Ram Das said in 1976, “Be here now.” A resume doesn’t cut it. An application doesn’t cut it. When you hide behind a form, you’re admitting that you’re not […]

By Tom
January 20, 2015 at 8:03 am

And it continues…

I work for a huge defense contractor and had an open position on my team. A former co-worker that I knew was a good fit for the job applied (after talking to me). It took me a week to “persuade” the hot-shot technical recruiters to even look at his resume, much less pass it to me so I could schedule an interview.

Of course now management loves him…

Thanks for continuing to spread the word. The system is still broken but we “in the weeds” hiring managers can make it work every once in a while if job seekers talk to us, like you recommend.

By Anna Mouse
January 20, 2015 at 7:00 pm

3.9 million jobs currently unfilled – ha! Given the number of jobs I personally know that are, technically open but there is no budget currently, open but not advertised, or simply using too few employees. By the time I left my last employer, I was back filling 5 open positions. Companies are pushing people too hard, stuff is getting missed, and customers are getting pissed off.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 20, 2015 at 8:48 pm

@Anna Mouse: You said it.

By Nick Corcodilos
January 20, 2015 at 8:53 pm

@Tom: I wanna cry every time a manager like you tells us what’s going on on the inside: Internal recruiters fighting managers to avoid interviewing good candidates.

By Your resume is not the problem | careergurusinc
January 28, 2015 at 7:05 am

[…] a human can. For instance, one woman found out that her resume had never been viewed by a human because she didn’t have the “right” experience. What was the right experience? Five years doing academic advising for undergraduates. What was her […]

By Rose Burke
January 30, 2015 at 12:04 pm

How true it is, by the time you apply for a position, along with thousands of others, you are only a “bit in the byte”. If you do not have someone with a connection in the job you are applying for, it’s a waste of time. The worst process I’ve seen so far is applying for a job with a government contractor. They want to know everything possible about you up front, and then you never hear back.

Lots of talent out here, but companies are too far removed to be able to connect. They are leaving their recruitment efforts in the hands of babes!!

By Ronin
February 2, 2015 at 5:40 pm

Great article and one that strikes accord with more than a few. I’m going to agree w Rose %100.

I’m a tech professional w high clearance that has years of top exp and outstanding track record, and I’ve been unemployed and looking aggressively for over 6 mos after leaving my overseas contracting job. I have suspected that my resume is not getting to a person that would even understand it, or that has authorization to hire, or even a human at all.

I’ve read the article and comments on the theme of, ‘walk into a manager’s office and demonstrate, hands down, how you will contribute profit to the manager’s business’. Umm sorry? Exactly where am I walking and whom talking to? Am I even supposed to be able to reach someone on the phone? No.
Not sure who has what ideas about how things are, but unless you have an ‘in’, it’s just the giant wall of automated blow-off. This is not monster or careerbuilder, these are the corporation websites.

There are 100’s of positions I am qualified for, but nothing. What is one to do?

By Ask the Headhunter | CareerPro Inc.
February 6, 2015 at 5:41 pm

[…] Nick Corcodilos: HR won’t like my answer: HR needs to get out of the automated recruiting business and start doing this critical task manually. Get out from behind that computer display, stop diddling the LinkedIn database, and stop relying on dumb applicant tracking systems like Taleo. You’re not looking at candidates! You’re wasting your time with keywords while your competitors are out there, in the real world, meeting and talking to the people they want to hire. ATSes will never get more “people oriented.” Software doesn’t do that. Employers must do it themselves. (See my blog post, Employment In America: WTF is going on?) […]

By Steve Boldt
February 19, 2015 at 1:46 pm

This article could not be more spot on. Excellent read with great statistics that actually sum up corporate America. Nice work!

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants
June 23, 2015 at 5:39 pm

[…] one can make a fool out of you if you don’t let them. (See Employment In America: WTF is going on?) When will HR wise up and realize it’s losing the respect of job seekers every day? When will […]

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Lee Hecht Harrison: A failure of integrity
November 3, 2015 at 3:27 pm

[…] is a company stuck in the dark ages of corporate HR hegemony, that telegraphs a message that personal responsibility can and should be hidden behind […]

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – The Training Gap: How employers lose their competitive edge
November 23, 2015 at 10:18 pm

[…] 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 […]

By Your resume is not the problem | careergurusaditya
December 7, 2015 at 7:13 am

[…] a human can. For instance, one woman found out that her resume had never been viewed by a human because she didn’t have the “right” experience. What was the right experience? Five years doing academic advising for undergraduates. What was her […]

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – What’s the secret to the thank-you note?
February 1, 2016 at 10:45 pm

[…] Ah, you’re living proof that the employment system brainwashes us all and that smart people dumb down when they go job hunting! (See Employment In America: WTF is going on?) […]

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