Software

Perception and reality in today's job market

When you can't find a job, it's easy to believe there are sinister forces at work. But, as veteran IT recruiter Tim Heard explains, things are not always the way you perceive them to be.

Tim Heard, a veteran IT recruiter, is guest-posting this week to address some job-hunter frustrations and the reality behind them.

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As an IT recruiter, I hear a lot of frustration from his clients in today's economy. Here are a few emails I have received recently:

  • "Look just because I am over 55 and have gray hair. It does not mean, I am brain dead or I can no longer troubleshoot an ‘IT' issue or that I can do ‘IT' work at all. And I could prove this if, someone would give me the chance at a JOB! Come on, try me out at minimum wage for 90 days." (This was a comment on a personal blog from a frustrated job seeker.)
  • "I curse my father for bringing me to this country. Hopefully I will be able to find a good job overseas." (This comment was in an email I received from a US permanent resident, who has good solid experience and pretty marketable skills.)
  • "Employers always want to seek PERFECT candidates. They want candidates who can, 'Hit the ground running. They don't want to train. They want experts all the time, candidates with no supervision." (Online post from an unhappy job seeker.)
  • Tim, Corporate Shared Service Job #5388 Sr. SAN Engineer has been withdrawn. Additional comments: This requisition is being withdrawn.  We apologize for the inconvenience. (Email from a client.  19 withdrawn positions from this client in the past 7 or 8 months.)
  • "Tim, my nephew just graduated with a degree in Information Systems. He's a really bright kid. He's having trouble getting any interviews though. Do you think you could help him find something?" (I made this one up, but have gotten countless emails like it.)
  • "I'm embarrassed to say how long I've been unemployed but I have figured out why. Our government is so corrupt..." (Another frustrated job seeker.)
  • Hi Tim, Can you call me regarding XXXXXXXXX? I can be reached at XXX-XXX-XXXX. Thanks so much. (The ensuing conversation was about a recruiter with whom I had worked: A bright lady with a very contagious personality, who had taken her life.  I have subsequently heard of at least one other recruiter taking his life in the past year.)
  • "Hi Tim, Busy studying for my certification this week. How are things with your business and XXXXXXXX? Touching base just to let you know I am still beating the pavement, hitting the bricks, shaking the trees...etc." (From a candidate who I submitted to a client about two months ago. To date, they indicate they are still interested, but uncertain now whether there will be a need.)

Making sense of events in life

It doesn't take much to see that there are a lot of frustrated job seekers in the market right now.  That frustration is summed up by the comments of the job seeker who vented that employers are only seeking "perfect candidates."

Lacking additional information to help us understand what is taking place, we try to fill in the gaps ourselves. So depending on our circumstances, we might assume that we didn't get the job because we're too old, too inexperienced, foreign-born, because the recruiter lied, or because the system is somehow rigged.

This tendency to try and explain situations by attributing negative characteristics to people or organizations is called the fundamental attribution error. David Creelman describes the fundamental attribution error in a recent article.

The fundamental attribution error, is assuming behavior is driven by personality rather than by the situation. If you see a sales representative arguing with an accounting clerk, it's natural to assume it's because one of them isn't being nice - we attribute the behavior to the personality of the people involved. If you are in a nice profession like religious studies, you assume that this sort of thing simply won't happen because everyone will work hard to be good. In fact, human behavior is frequently driven by the situation rather than personality. If a sale representative feels they need to entertain clients, while the accounting clerk has been told to be strict on allowing entertaining expenses, then conflict is bound to arise. Conflict usually arises because of the situation, not the personalities.

The second damaging assumption is that rules and structure are just annoying bureaucratic practices we are better off without. This assumption occurs because we notice when things go wrong, not when they go right. We scarcely notice when our computer operating system is working correctly, but when something goes wrong we are quick to curse it. The same thing happens in organizations: the rules, the structures, the hierarchies, all come to our attention when they get in our way. Nice people think they can get rid of these troublesome traditional features of organizations.

This gets played out in a variety of different ways as frustrated job seekers seek to understand why they are unable to land positions for which they believe they are qualified. It doesn't necessarily help things, but I think that maybe it helps emotionally to be able to blame some of our circumstances on a person or entity who is "bad." So the hiring manager didn't select me because I'm old, or because she's a racist, or simply because he has unrealistic expectations. Or the recruiter wasn't able to place me because he's dishonest.  (There probably never was a position to begin with.)

We all seem to be stretched so tightly from the stress of life that we're ready to light into just about anyone who rubs us the wrong way, whether that person really did anything to deserve it or not.

Examples of supply and demand

I had a rather lengthy conversation by email with the person who was frustrated that employers always seek to hire "perfect" candidates. I noted that in any situation they want to get the best value possible. Before we look in detail and how this plays out in the job market, let's look a couple of other examples.

Video games

Let's pretend that you're a parent of a teenage boy. Some event is coming up which warrants giving him a gift. You know he loves playing video games, but currently does not own a game system. For the sake of discussion, let's assume that these are your options:

  1. An old Pong game you dug out of your attic.
  2. Xbox360
  3. PlayStation 3
  4. PlayStation 2
  5. Wii

Just for the sake of discussion, let's assume that the PlayStation 3 is the system he really wants. One could argue that the Wii and Xbox360 are equally good game systems. However, they aren't what he wants.  His friends don't have those systems, and so if you purchase another system for him, it wouldn't meet his needs. Let's further assume that both the Pong game and the PlayStation 2 can be upgraded with proper conversion kits so they can be used to play PlayStation 3 games. Let's assume that it takes about three months to upgrade the PlayStation 2 and six months to a year to upgrade the Pong game.

In this case, assuming that you don't go with "none of the above" and buy him a skateboard or football, or maybe stock in some startup company, then the "right" gift to get him would be one of the options that would allow him to play PlayStation 3 games. Your decision would be based on a combination of your budget and how long the two of you are willing to wait before he can play the games.

Let's say that your budget only allows for the purchase of a PlayStation 2 and the conversion kit. You're on eBay about to make the purchase when you hear in the news that there has been a huge overproduction of PlayStation 3 games. Analysts are predicting that the price of these games will drop considerably within the week.  Sure enough. you wait and find that PlayStation 3 games are now selling for less than what the PlayStation 2 would have cost you a week ago. When you go to the store to buy the game, do you demand to pay more than the asking price, or are you just thankful that you got such a sweet deal?  (Keep in mind that even though we're talking about game systems, there are real people who work to produce and sell those systems and lots of people are either making less or losing their jobs because of the drop in price.)

Cash for clunkers

Setting aside the issue of whether the Cash for Clunkers program was a good policy, there were lots and lots of people who took advantage of the opportunity to turn in their rusting gas-guzzlers for down payments on cars that were already selling at rock-bottom prices. I don't know of anyone who was indignant at how low the car prices had fallen and who demanded to pay full price for the cars in order to help save someone's job.

Macro and micro analysis

I want to be clear that I'm not trying to imply that there's no moral component to any of this. Just about anything we do, whether it be at an individual or corporate level, has a moral component. For example, we like to drink cheap soft drinks here in the United States. We also like to eat lots of grain-fed beef. Add to those Federal and state requirements that we start using more ethanol for fuel and the net result was rioting around the world. People were starving because there wasn't enough grain to go around. My penchant for flame-broiled Whoppers and a super-sized cola that I eat while I'm filling my SUV with ethanol makes life difficult for some kid in Bangladesh.

Does discrimination happen? Undoubtedly. Are employers unrealistic when establishing hiring criteria for their openings? Sure, sometimes. Does this explain why you're unemployed or in a job you hate? Probably not.

Mostly what's happening is that hiring managers who really need five or six people are being told that they can hire one or two people.  And typically they've been assigned projects with unrealistically short timelines.  These men and women are stretched really thin. (I have a couple of clients who regularly exchange emails with me past midnight.) Because of the mix of supply and demand, for the past couple of years, employers have been able to buy "PlayStation 3s" at "PlayStation 2" prices.  This is happening at all levels up and down the food chain. Big companies are telling suppliers that they have to reduce their fees. Federal and state governments are doing the same to prime vendors. Consumers in turn have less money to spend, and the cycle continues.

Thankfully, I think the job market is returning to the point at which a hiring manager at least has to pay full price for PlayStation 3 if that's what he or she really needs. I'm seeing and hearing about more instances in which candidates are fielding multiple job offers. Also I've seen several instances just in the past couple of months in which candidates have accepted offers because other potential employers were too slow to act.  I think we will begin to see managers who are open to considering a broader range of skills and experience when trying to fill openings than they might have just a year ago. Additionally, I think we will continue to gradually see a slight loosening of the purse strings with respect to approvals of new positions, which should allow for even more flexibility when it comes to position requirements. Gradually at a macro level, if these things continue to happen at a micro level, the cycle will reverse.

Okay, but what can we do in the meantime?

If you look on LinkedIn and elsewhere you'll notice that it has been an explosion in recent years of people who call themselves life coaches or career coaches. You might read about tapping into "hidden job markets," or steps that you can take to guarantee career success.

First, there are no guarantees. Things happen that sometimes are completely out of our control. Second, there's no hidden job market. There's not a secret web site where recruiters can go and magically learn about open positions that nobody else knows about. We learn about open positions by spending time developing relationships with hiring managers. It is true that not all jobs have posted on job boards, and especially in the case of smaller companies, some positions may not be posted at all.

Rather than fork out whatever the going rate is right now for a life coach, or paying $19.95 for a copy of How to find your next job, inner peace, and your lost car keys, in 10 easy steps, most of the job search advice you need can be found free online in articles like this: http://www.quintcareers.com/job-search_refresher.html.

In addition, consider the following suggestions:

  1. Stop being so snarky online; especially in your blogs and other public forums. Making it personal or making someone out to be the bad guy isn't productive. Even if you are 100% certain that you are not being selected because the hiring manager can somehow tell from your resume that you're a left-handed Lithuanian gypsy, why complain adamantly about how unfair it is online?  It boggles my mind how job seekers can sabotage themselves by publicly insulting huge segments of the population.  I know of an unemployed person who was a staunch Democrat, which was fine, except that just about everything he posted in public essentially was to say that all Republicans were morons.  (I privately reminded him that many hiring managers might be Republicans, and might not take kindly to the implication.)  I know a person who regularly blogs about Christian "fascists."  I have hinted to him that the Christians who *aren't* fascists, who spend a lot of their time and money trying to help others in need, might not quite understand that he doesn't mean them.  (Or maybe he does...)  One of the individuals who I referenced in the beginning quotes sent me several "letters to the editor" he has written, all which can be found online. The general theme of the letters is how terrible America is and how uncaring American companies are. All of these are the equivalent, from a hiring manager's perspective, of the college student who posts photos of himself unconscious on the beach wearing nothing but sunscreen. They are the equivalent of the report card the teacher sends home with a child that says, "Does not play well with others."
  2. DO post a resume online.  Post a copy on your personal home page, as well as one on at least one major job board.  Refresh the one on the job board at least every couple of weeks. The recruiters who don't post jobs, but do use resume databases look first at resumes that have been posted recently.
  3. DO create a LinkedIn profile. Use it. Network with people.  Get some meaningful online references.  There are many recruiters today who utilize LinkedIn as much or more as a recruiting tool than any job board. Also join some discussion groups. See if maybe there are career options that you could tap into that you haven't previously considered.
  4. Thankfully, life is not quite so black and white as to allow us to be classified as simply as Pong games, PS3s, and Wiis.  We all have valuable skills that we can offer the right employer.  We just have to stay persistent as we look for those jobs. I know how deflating it can be to be unemployed, and I really do know how hard it has been the past few years. Seriously.  Hang in there. It's getting better.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

24 comments
entnow
entnow

No really! Lie if you have to,..been doing it for 20yrs,have been very aggressive last 4 yrs and have had even more success,recruiters and employers are the enemy treat them as such.

Englebert
Englebert

Much as I would like to agree with the recruiter, it doesn't seem to click in my thinking and experiences. It's a jungle out there. Kill or be killed, eat or be eaten. Sleep around or be xxxked. Have made too many mistakes trying to be ethical and honest, only to see others less inclined grab the opportunities.

paul.doherty
paul.doherty

All the positive thinking in the world won't overcome the fact that many companies have made it clear to recruiters that they don't even want to interview unemployed people. That's right; they don't even want to entertain the idea of giving a job to a person who actually needs it, preferring instead to seek people already employed that they can steal away from other employers.

mjstelly
mjstelly

I've learned, and usually forget, that my perception regularly wreaks havoc on my reality. In this case, Tim voice actually rose above the din of my negativity toward every recruiter everywhere who ever lived. :D I agree with almost all the points here. I especially like the game machine analogy because it helps me to see opposing perspectives. Nonetheless, my reality is no less valid - I have to scrounge for piecemeal contract work because I live in an area that has little need for my skills on a full-time basis. And there is very little empathy shown to those who "pound the pavement" every day. If the "pounding" continues too long, say more than a month or so, people start to question and/or blame us! We become pariah. So, Tim, maybe that will provide you some insight into why some of "us" are so angry at "them". One final point: Let's be fair. At the risk of appearing insensitive, it's a tragedy when anyone chooses to end their own life for any reason. No job is worth killing yourself over. However, using that example seemed a maudlin attempt to show how tough a recruiters job can be. So cry me a river. You have a job. The correct response would have been - quit, right? But then, the recruiter would have been in the camp of the unemployed. Remember, unemployed = pariah. Maybe that example reveals more about how callously the unemployed are treated in this country and less about how difficult it can be to be a recruiter. To extend this metaphor to its tragic end, some people would rather die than be unemployed.

adamspivey
adamspivey

I always hate the fact that I have to waste my time with recruiters in the first place. You always have to several interviews with them before you can actually talk to the manager who knows the actual position you are applying for and is qualified to do the interview. Recruiters are a waste a time for the potential employees and a waste a time for the employers. The application process should involve me emailing my resume to the manager who is doing the hiring. From there, if the manager thinks I'm qualified then they should call me in for an interview, testing, etc. There is no reason for it to be more complicated than that.

reisen55
reisen55

are universally thought by management to be toooo expensive, particularly when compared to a cheap call center in Bangalore. Which is what American management perceives IT to just BE ... call centers, provide help and assistance and that's bloody IT as far as they can see. So our industry has been decimated and I have no advice for any college wannabee to go anywhere near it. Experience counts for very little, salary counts for everything and in India it is dirt cheap.

www.indigotea.com
www.indigotea.com

...and the boss turned out to be ME! I can't begin to count all the interviews, recruiters' e-mails and hoop-jumping, and the out-and-out bad manners I've run into on so many occasions. The infamous "black hole of communication" after a series of interviews with the same client, no response from the recruiter, not even a "sorry, they cancelled their req", or "they didn't feel you were the right fit for the position". I'm not talking about blind-submitting a resume; I mean after being approached by recruiters, several hours and/or days going through the interview process, online testing, the works. I know I'm not alone in this; I've heard far too many other reports from fellow job-seekers who say the same thing. I'm one of the lucky ones; I have a great family, and wonderful friends who have seen me through the worst of it, and helped me get to the day when I realized that I still had value and worth in my chosen career field. I finally stopped trying to figure out why this trend was becoming so prevalent in the large-company arena, and turned my sights toward establishing my own small business services firm. It was the very best decision I've made in a long time; I'm busy, my business is growing, and I have wonderful clients who really need and appreciate the skills I bring to the table. I'm even starting to hire part-time help in order to maintain a quality level of customer service for my clients, as my business continues to pick up. To the original poster; I know you're in a tough industry, and often caught between a rock and a hard place. Just remember; the candidate you're handling today may be the employer you're trying to win two years from now.

anandydr
anandydr

Thanks Ms Toni Bowers, The artical has been an uplifting one... at least morally. As an unemployed I would have to accept that a change in prespective and an onlilne resume are basic requirements even to gain an interview opportunity. Warm regards, Anand Kumar

zdnet
zdnet

Well, as a consultant, my business seems to be headed into a boom. All these little and/or highly specialized jobs do need to get done and businesses don't have the staff on hand with enough time to go through a learning curve, and they are not wanting to hire somebody on as an employee (for example) to do database admin type stuff if they don't absolutely have to do so. This is extremely anecdotal, of course! I read an article some time back -- 10 years? -- that left an impression. It said that the workforce of the future would be people taking on small jobs for one or more employers and getting paid per job as opposed to hourly or salary. (Sounds a lot like 1099/consulting to me). Perhaps that day is now? Just a thought,. Mike Access Database Developer http://miketurco.com

Jaqui
Jaqui

Remember 2 years ago, AJAX just really hit the market and started getting in demand by employers. yet there were positions open for people iwth "5 / 10 / 15 years experience with AJAX" for a lot of these type of things, it's directly the fault of the HR department of the company. They are following procedures and using requirements that are impossible to be filled, because THEY don't know anything about the technology itself. This hurts everyone. The company can't get someone, the job seeker can't get a job, the "head hunter" can't fill the position. [ and the head hunters are often doing exactly the same thing as the HR department of the corporation, adding unmeetable requirements ]

jkameleon
jkameleon

The situation: Talent glut & race to the bottom on a global scale. If you are forced to work for a living (in IT, or any other field for that matter), you are pretty much fucked. The game is rigged against you. So, DO extricate out of this situation if you can. How? I have no idea, I'm afraid.

bboyd
bboyd

You will definitely find a segment of the population is reached by your metaphor.

QAonCall
QAonCall

I like the analogies. I personally get hit up constantly on linked in. (A fair amount of spamming is happening on linked in too, but it comes with the territory) Additionally, my suggestion would be a simple one, (I am dating myself) search the companies in your area, and search their websites for positing about jobs, as well as sending a cold call letter to a CTO, et al. I am amazed when I get on site with a client and review their postings and find they have 50-100 postings?? I know every job is not perfect, but sometimes you have to step back, to move forward, and I think this gets lost in the frustration! Good luck to everyone!

mjstelly
mjstelly

"Gaming the system" is one strategy, but not one that I would recommend. If it works for you, great! Lying to get a job may be an effective short-term strategy. However, the hiring process is a huge expense. If it were my company, and I learned that I passed on someone with matching skills because the new employee could lie better than the other candidates... well, let's just say that I can see why you think employers are the enemy. I'd be pissed and you'd be fired or worse. In the US, if you sign anything that supports that lie, it's a crime.

Tim Heard
Tim Heard

Everyone's circumstance is different. I know some of the personal details about the life of the person who took her life, and don't know anything about the other person. However, even if I did, it wouldn't be appropriate to comment in such a way as to reflect their identities and potentially cause more pain for their loved ones. It is definitely very difficult both financially and emotionally to be unemployed. If you Google my name, you can find other articles here and on my personal blog which address that issue. There are plenty of roles though in which you can technically be employed, but earning nothing, and also ineligible for unemployment. I learned this the hard way when I began my business, but had no clients lined up. Small business owners fall into this category, as do the various professions which are commission-based. Your point is certainly valid regarding the anger that's out there though. I personally don't buy into the unemployed=pariah theory. I have recruited and placed a lot of unemployed people over the years. Having said that, it certainly does become harder to find work the longer you are out of work and it simultaneously becomes increasingly stressful as you watch everything you have saved for over the years go away. Again, the point was not to minimize anyone's pain or frustration. Rather, just to shine some light on our tendency to personalize it and to feel the need to make someone a villian.

gmichaels
gmichaels

Your story is an inspiration for me to "get going" and return to independent consulting. In over 20 years of working in the IT field, I have never seen times like these -- I could leave one job on Friday and start another one Monday, and did. From 1986 through 2001 I worked for five employers (in 1999 I worked for two at once) and never had one unemployed day. That is not the case now, even with certifications that are in demand.

teeeceee
teeeceee

In example, just look at some of the Govt IT job postings at USAJobs, the requirements (KSAs) on most of them are unreal. No wonder they cannot find qualified applicants.

rbogar
rbogar

There is now a law firm offering companies advice on gaming the H1B system. One method is to first post the job with impossible requirements to make it look like they tried to hire from onshore first.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

And then voodoo economics came... And you're right. It is a game. Just not in a fun xbox "red ring o' death" way - nor, until today, did I think that the red ring issue would be looked at as a positive comparison... Labor isn't rewarded. Good labor certainly isn't. "Good enough is good enough". Though we all know it isn't good at all.

mjstelly
mjstelly

After all is said and done, I think that your last comment is the most telling. It is too emotionally painful to accept that the situation, not a person, is the "culprit" depriving us of our livelihoods. And let me preface that comment. My sentiment is a predominantly American male construct. We are trained from birth to tightly weave our identities into our careers. American women of my era are not. So, we heap the rage against the trap of our enculturation upon whatever obstacle appears to stand in our way. We can't get a job. Oh, it must be the recruiters fault. Not fair, but a logical reaction given our upbringing.

www.indigotea.com
www.indigotea.com

I had that same sort of continuous-employment during that timeframe (the latter part, at least); one of my motivators now is looking back, and remembering that part of my success was being willing to work without the benefit of the corporate net when required. I'm still early on in building my company, but it beats being downhearted, and listening to the litany of "Doomed! We're all DOOOOMED!" that seems to be the incessant economic cry these days. It's been said that small business is the key to our country's economic recovery; I'm willing to prove that theory!

santeewelding
santeewelding

I would go out in the backyard and eat bugs.

jkameleon
jkameleon

... the world who's-gonna-work-for-less championship.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

I'm an American, I'm lazy. Just liasten to Kyl, Bunning, DeLay, and others. Indeed, web search "Americans are lazy" followed by the surname of your choice. I'll start your quest: http://www.google.com/search?q=Americans+are+lazy+DeLay (And don't forget, look up which of them helped offshore jobs and give tax credits to corporations that did...) Actually, I'm an American - I'm astute to politics and contrived economic situations. You can keep the bugs.