Career Advice

Why Talented People Don’t Get Hired

Employers call me and wail, “So many job candidates, and no one to fill my job.” They say that the recent economic woes haven’t made it much easier for them to hire talent. “We get flooded with applications,” they tell me, “and most of them are dreck.”

Your applications are dreck? That’s a shock. Gee, all you’re doing is asking every single person who would throw his hat in the ring for a job in your company to:

  1. Waste 45 minutes filling out a cumbersome, 1999-vintage online application form;
  2. Recall and convey every hiring date (year AND month) and departure date (ditto) for every job a job-seeker has ever held; AND remember every salary and every supervisor’s name;
  3. Agree to an upfront background check, credit check, and reference check before the applicant has received so much as the courtesy of a return email message; and
  4. Send all this personal information into the void, on the off chance that the employer might stoop to respond with a phone call, an email message or an off-handed auto-responder that says “Don’t call us; we’ll call you – or else we won’t.”

Job application processes are insulting. And employers wonder why they can’t fill jobs?

What self-respecting person is willing to put up with this demeaning routine? If employers can’t show more respect to the talented people applying for work in their companies, why would any job seeker with other options sign up for this galley-slave treatment?

I tell job seekers that applying for jobs online at Monster and CareerBuilder is less reliable, outcome-wise, than playing the lottery. At least the state lottery is legally bound to give someone the prize. Corporations aren’t legally required to give someone the job. They aren’t even legally required to HAVE a job opening, when they run an ad online. They could be fishing to see who’s around and what they’d need to pay to find an Online Marketing Manager, an HRIS Specialist or a Business Analyst, if they should decide to hire one in the future.

There are talented people everywhere. Lots of them are consulting. They experienced one too many ‘three-interviews-gee-this-looks-promising-we’re-about-to-check-references’ scenarios followed by radio silence, the kind where your calls don’t get returned. Have corporate recruiting managers no shame? How do you sit down with a person three or four times, talk with his or her spouse on the phone, share stories and ideas together and then – poof! The door shuts.

I have half a dozen personal friends who are entrepreneurs, doing quite well. I ask them “Would you ever go back to the corporate world?” and they say, “Sure, if the right opportunity arose, and someone called me, and I didn’t have to go through that whole HR rigmarole—- No, I wouldn’t.”

HR people don’t see the problem, although it’s staring them in the face. They’re so used to the filthy water they’re swimming in that they can’t see the candidate-fish choking and dying all around them. In what other adult conversation would we dare to ask a person “What is your greatest weakness?” That’s an insulting, juvenile question on top of being nobody’s business. Yet this and other insulting, archaic artifacts of the 1950’s recruiting process linger on. (A good answer to the question, by the way, is “Chocolate.”)

Every day I hear of new, reprehensible bricks mortared onto the already-imposing wall between most employers and the talent population. “Hey Liz,” writes one reader, “I just saw a job ad that requires candidates to submit a four-page business plan along with their resume. It’s a business plan for the employer’s new product, of course. That’d take me a weekend to complete. You think I should spend a weekend on this unpaid project?” Hell no, was my reply. Why would you waste three seconds on these people, who show so little respect for your time? You’d lob that business plan over the wall, and most likely hear nothing from them – ever. You don’t need to trifle with people like that. Your information, your instincts, and your energy are too valuable. Save ’em for an employer who will value them.

Smart job seekers are locating and contacting those employers who are most attuned to the value of their talents – very often, they’re startup organizations rather than large employers – and avoiding the corporate Black Hole altogether. Who can blame them? The more bricks we put in the wall, the more our Employer Brand will resemble this one:

Come and work with us at Acme Corp! We hire the most docile and doormat-ish employees on the planet. Why, if you can make it through three online personality tests, weeks of no communication, five in-person interviews and an exhaustive background check without getting your most basic questions answered or your phone calls returned, you may be just the right person for us! If you’re a lucky selected candidate, we’ll run you through the interview wringer at great personal inconvenience to you, you’ll hear nothing from us, and eleven weeks later you’ll receive our offer letter (with your name spelled wrong) in the mail! You’d better accept that offer on the spot, too, because if you don’t, there are six other doormats waiting in line behind you!

It’s no secret why employers are wailing and gnashing their teeth over talent shortages. Maybe our schools are failing us, they say. The schools aren’t failing them – they’re failing themselves. If you’re a corporate recruiting manager, you might take this opportunity to ‘staple yourself to a resume’ and imagine the process by which you bring newcomers onto the payroll. If your firm is typical, the waiting time, unreturned calls, increasingly onerous recruiting demands and general disdain for candidates’ time and intelligence will be an eye-opener for you. The ability to recruit talent – not just bodies – is a competitive differentiator. Will your company grab it, and start pulling bricks out of the wall?