What’s Wrong with the Job Market?

career-diceWhat’s wrong with the job candidate/hiring equation?  (Hint:  It’s out of whack) 

We talk about how employers have gotten spoiled.  The job market shifted and it’s referred to an “employers’ job market” right now.  Lots of applicants for few positions – on average, 200 applicants for every open position.  A perfect over-supply, limited demand situation in the employers’ favor.  In theory maybe, but this isn’t the whole story.   

What’s really wrong with the hiring equation?  First, let’s acknowledge that we’re making a ton of assumptions about what’s going on behind-the-scenes.  For example, we assume a correlation between not hearing back from potential employers and our qualifications.  We assume hiring managers are hiring the most qualified candidates.  Blah, blah, blah.   

Here are four observations about the candidate/hiring equation and why it’s out of whack:   

#1:  Employers really don’t have their pick of candidates and it’s a skewed job market (as opposed to a highly competitive one).   

What’s that?  I’ve lost my mind and employers DO make the rules and IT IS a competitive job market. I don’t buy it.  Employers do have a certain amount of control, and to most job seekers, it sure feels like it’s a super competitive market.  But just because this assumption has grown into an urban myth of sorts, and is reinforced over and over again through the experience of most job seekers, it’s not truth written in stone.   

Requirements/qualifications do not create a level playing field.  Not all candidates meet the requirements/qualifications in the same way.  Judgment calls are constantly being made that weigh certain experience or qualifications and give favor to one candidate over another.   

You’re not hearing back from potential employers because they found someone more qualified, it’s because they found someone that fit what they were looking for better.  What does this mean?  Sometimes hiring decisions are based on a complex mix of intangibles – which you are never going to figure out.    

Job seekers believe hiring managers have their pick of candidates.  But guess what?  Hiring managers perceive the quality of candidates differently.  Seriously.  They will tell you that the quality of candidates has actually declined in recent years.   

Why?  A few theories:   

  • Performers aren’t actively looking for new jobs. 
  • Online application systems pull in poor quality applicants (fishing with a wide net means you’re going to pull in lots of outliers).
  • Applicant tracking systems screen out good candidates. 
  • Companies have unrealistic job requirements.

I’ve done a lot of research in this area and there is no simple answer.  One place to start is to stop assuming that it’s a level playing field based solely on qualifications.  That’s just stupid.   

#2:  Employers screen applicants on criteria other than the job description.   

And guess what you, Ms./Mr. Jobseeker, are carefully crafting your resume to match?  That’s right.  The job description.  The dirty little secret is that recruiters have secret recruiting criteria (picture it written on glossy paper with a magic wand in the upper right corner) for which they have to wear secret decoder rings to decipher.  Just kidding. 

They don’t really have secret criteria.  Here’s what they do have – a list of ten requirements in the job posting when they’re actually recruiting for 13 requirements.  And as a job seeker, you have no idea what those other magical three requirements are (you have a chance of knowing if you’re done your internal reconnaissance).   Otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try and figure out what the magic formula is.   Learn what you can, market yourself effectively and then put your hands up and step away from the vehicle.   

#3:  The recruiting/hiring process is not linear.   

Position is vacant (or going to be), job is posted, candidates are screened, hiring decision is made, and position is filled.  Things have gotten a little more fluid these days: 

  • Funding for a position is reallocated so hiring is suspended. 
  • The position gets re-written because of internal changes, mid-way through the process. 
  • Decision made to hire an intern rather than a full-time paid position. 
  • An internal candidate gets promoted.  
  • An offer is extended but rejected.  
  • Top candidates accept other jobs. 
  • There’s an internal reorganization and position goes away.   

For jobseekers this translates into stops and starts.  Encouragement followed by disappointment.  You get positive indications that you’re a great candidate and then…. crickets.  No feedback.  No “thanks but no thanks.”  Deep assumptions are made about the mysterious hiring process to help explain its wackiness.  You can’t apply logic here, so stop trying.   

#4:  Employers don’t always know what they’re looking for.   

When the job market is weak, expectations about candidates get more rigid.  Cautiousness creeps into the hiring process.  And sometimes, employers use the hiring process to help them get clear about what and who they need.  There’s a great cartoon that says “No!  I think it’s a great idea to interview four people before deciding what your real hiring requirements are… Said no recruiter, ever.”  

Employers don’t always know, from the outset of the hiring process, exactly what and who they’re looking for. It’s true.  And I’m sorry.  Potential employers are asking candidates to prepare presentations as part of the selection process and while we might question the ethics of this – it is free consulting or a valid way to evaluate candidates – employers have put far more emphasis on the comparison of candidates in their selection process.   

Quit assuming it’s a strong pool of candidates, being equally evaluated based on qualifications, and remember that it isn’t fair nor does it always make sense.  


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