(Guess Posts by by Rebecca Gray) If you happen to be unemployed and have been seeking a position for some time, but have met with little success, you might find yourself confused by recent statistics that indicate a steady decrease in unemployment claims, not to mention the frequently published projections of a rosy employment picture going forward. How can the statistics be so promising, when you can’t manage to land even an interview, despite having highly marketable skills and an impressive work history? The answers might surprise you, and probably won’t encourage you very much.
The employer/applicant divide is just as wide as the partisan divide in politics.
Quite simply, both sides of the equation are focused so narrowly on their own objectives that they can’t (or won’t) even consider what the “other side” has to offer. Ironically, that single-mindedness works against both employers and job seekers, often preventing either from meeting their objectives. Let’s look at how such a narrow focus prevents each from achieving their goals.
The recession might be over, statistically speaking, but it still weighs heavily upon company owners’ minds. Many are afraid to trust the statistics and rosy projections, and are putting off expansion – or even a return to previous production levels – until they’re certain that the economy won’t slip backward. This fear is displayed in a couple of ways:
- Disqualifying applicants who might actually be a good fit. Many employers aren’t willing to risk the cost of hiring someone whose qualifications and experience don’t perfectly mirror the requirements of the position. This broad disqualification process is especially evident in the software many companies use to assess online applicants. The tendency is to pass over any application or resume that doesn’t contain every element on the company’s wish list. It’s a lot like running an Internet search with a bunch of keywords, all of which are enclosed in quotes. By using the Boolean “find all” approach, only those applicants who perfectly match every point will be even considered, much less interviewed or hired. While this approach does eliminate unqualified applicants, it also eliminates many who could well prove to be the kind of assets the company really needs.
- Hedging their future bets by collecting applicants for jobs the company hopes to have at some point. While business owners are worried about another downturn, they’re almost as frightened by the prospect of not being able to keep up, should their sales numbers increase as the economy springs back. And one way to hedge their bets is to have a stable of qualified applicants in their files. Posting a job description for a position that doesn’t exist yet doesn’t cost them anything, and the inflow of applicants offers their company a safety net, should the actual need for personnel occur suddenly. While this practice might seem beneficial to the company, it serves to add to the frustration of the potential labor pool, while at the same time, falsely skewing job market statistics. The resulting shift in job market projections can actually inhibit a region or industry’s employment efforts.
As prospective employees continue to submit application after application, while receiving few if any responses, their level of frustration grows, and as we’ve seen over the past few years, many simply give up on their efforts to find positions for which they are qualified, and either accept menial, lower paying jobs to get by, or abandon their job search altogether. Many decide to go into business for themselves as a last resort. Unfortunately, the high failure rate of startups tends to unfavorably skew job market statistics, which serves to make prospective employers even more hesitant to actually begin hiring. If job seekers are to play a role in improving their own job prospects, they will need to understand their would-be employers’ motivations, and gear their own efforts more closely to those motivations. A couple of areas where they could enhance their job searches are:
- Learn as much about prospective employers as they can. Just reading a posted job description isn’t going to be sufficient any longer. Before applying to a company, job seekers need to educate themselves as to the company’s culture, as well as their operations. Searching for news releases and quarterly reports, and looking at the company’s website, can offer a clearer picture of what the company is about, and what it expects of its employees. Even a familiarity with the company’s officers can give the would-be applicant an advantage over other applicants.
- Be honest, but tailor resumes or applications to the company’s requirements. Prospective applicants need to focus on the qualifications and experience requirements in the job description, and stress their own qualities that match those requirements. They should describe their familiarity with the company’s processes, procedures, and hardware/software applications. It is essential that applicants never overstate their qualifications and experience, but that they clearly document their expertise in a similar, if not identical, environment.
Both employers and employees are keenly aware of the fact that a new hire represents a degree of risk, especially given the experience of the last half-decade. The challenge for both is to not become so risk-averse that each ends up sabotaging their own efforts.
Employers will need to rely less upon exact-match searches of applications and resumes if they hope to attract and hire the people who can make their company productive and profitable. They must also take applicants’ frustration into account, and post only real and near-term needs in their job description postings. And finally, they need to remember that any business’ success is wholly dependent upon consumers who are willing and able to purchase their goods and services, and that the willingness and ability can only exist if those consumers have jobs.
Applicants will need to sharpen their own job search skills, learning about and taking into account the culture and perspective of each company to which they apply. While some might have become so frustrated that they think they have to puff up their resumes in order to be considered, they need to set that frustration aside, and to be entirely honest about their qualifications and history. Trust is a two-way street, and if an applicant wants a business to trust him or her enough to risk hiring, the applicant must also trust the company’s stated intent when a position is posted.
In short, everybody involved is going to have to risk something if the job and business markets are going to continue improving, and to improve at a more acceptable rate. By setting aside – to a degree – some very well-founded fears, and returning to the entrepreneurial spirit that has made the U.S. the most productive country in the world, we can finally and fully emerge from the economic woes that have plagued us for years.