Tech & Work

Dispelling a few myths about the hiring process

There's an international conspiracy against IT workers. You're entitled to a certain pay rate. The human resources department runs the whole show. Learn the truth behind these and other employment myths.


As a technical recruiter, I’m all too familiar with how uncertain employment has become for many IT workers. Every day, loyal clients tell me that they aren’t hiring at all, or that they’re hiring but are unable to work with recruiters.

Whether you’re sending out resumes or calling on clients, repeatedly having people tell you that they don’t need your services can be painful and demoralizing. With IT jobs difficult to come by, some people find themselves struggling to make ends meet and piling up huge debts as they try to weather the storm. For those of you in circumstances like these, I’d like to clarify some assumptions about hiring in the hope that those who feel that the world has turned against them will be able to set those fears aside and focus on more relevant issues in their search for work.

Myth #1: Employers don’t value IT professionals
This is no truer now than it was four years ago when we were experiencing an economic boom. What has changed is that the demand for people with your skills has dropped dramatically and the supply has remained constant or even increased. Just like when you buy a car, every hiring manager wants to get the absolutely best buy he or she can for the money. Who wouldn’t buy a Lexus for the price of a used Yugo?

Balancing the desire to keep salaries down is the need to keep salaries high enough to discourage talented people from leaving and working for the competition. So equilibrium is found.

Companies that don’t pay their people enough lose all their best and brightest people, and eventually die a long, slow death. Companies that pay their people too much are at a competitive disadvantage when pricing their products, and eventually must correct their actions or go out of business.

One company, for example, was known among recruiters to pay whatever it took to get the people it wanted in the door. This was one of several factors that led to massive layoffs and the failure of the company.

Myth #2: You are entitled to a certain pay rate
Nobody is entitled to anything. If people got paid what they really deserved, social workers and prison guards would be making considerably more than they do. We all must strike the best deals we can with our employers and live within our means.

If circumstances change, we also must adjust our expectations.

Take, for example, the COBOL programmers who were so highly paid in 1999. How much do you think they’re being paid now, if they can even find work? Those people didn’t become less valuable in 2001. The demand for their skills just declined dramatically.

Myth #3: An HR manager or recruiter decides who gets hired
The fact is that HR managers and recruiters generally don’t even decide who gets interviewed. This is especially true for skilled positions. They may offer some input into the hiring process, and will hold a manager’s feet to the fire to make sure that no discrimination is going on and that the offers are in line with the company’s pay scales, but they don’t make the hiring decisions.

However, HR managers often are the first ones to screen the resumes on behalf of the hiring manager, reducing the number of resumes from 100 to maybe 20 to 30 for the manager to review. This fact alone makes it extremely important for you to be as clear as possible when developing your resume, and makes it imperative that you create a document that not only communicates your skills, but also looks good.

This also means that if you’re applying for a specific position, you should craft a resume specifically for that job. It certainly doesn’t hurt to attach a cover letter or explain in the e-mail exactly why it is that you’re qualified for the position. Remember that your first point of contact (the recruiter) may not be exceptionally technical, so it helps to spell things out.

A summary of your technical skills (preferably near the top of the page) is a must. Don’t expect the recruiter to read between the lines. If you have created an online resume, consider including a keyword section at the bottom, which includes every word imaginable that might describe you. You never know what words the recruiter might be using to narrow the field of candidates. Remember, an HR department is likely just as understaffed as every other department, so a recruiter probably isn’t going to have a lot of time to spend on difficult-to-read resumes. With applicants in plentiful supply, they’ll just pass those over and move on.

Myth #4: Managers should hire as many people as they think they need
Here’s the reality: Companies that survive and flourish do so because they have good financial officers who keep them out of the red. It’s the CFO, not the VP of human resources, who ultimately decides what a department’s budget is, and therefore how many people it will be able to hire.

The current economic climate has made CFOs hesitant to allow large capital projects when it isn’t certain that there will be sufficient funds in the near future to help pay for them. Also, companies are almost universally experiencing long hiring freezes, and often aren’t being allowed to replace departing staff. The result is that the “lucky” ones who have jobs are asked to do more with less help.

Finally, the good news
The good news is that our economy runs on the backs of information systems. While some IT projects can be put off indefinitely, many can’t. Eventually the pent-up demand will force the approval of some projects, which should create more jobs, and once we see the economy returning to a healthy state, CFOs will become less anxious and start approving increased headcounts again.

Believe it or not, the system that you all loved a few years ago when demand was providing you with what some considered unjustifiably high salaries is the same one we have today. In many ways, there is a lot of injustice in our present system: We have hard-working people who have to work two jobs just to keep food on the table. We have folks who can’t afford to take their sick kids to the doctor because their companies don’t provide health insurance, or the premiums are too high. The list goes on and on.

Still, I think that overall, even considering present circumstances, we don’t have it so bad. I hope that the majority of you see things the same way.

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