Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Life in the Job Market

Yesterday, the stock market rose to new heights, sending ripples of excitement through the financial community.  This morning, however, we've woken to reality, i.e. those positive numbers are about corporate profit, and has little to do with employees and hiring.  In other words, the American company continues to do well with skeleton staffs, so why hire new employees whose pay and benefits will cut into that huge profit?

This is nothing new.  In fact, the slow jobs recovery has more to do with corporate America and little to do with the Obama Administration.  President Obama can talk to CEOs until he's blue in the face, trying to get them to loosen the reins on hiring, and it won't matter.  It also wouldn't matter, frankly, if a Republican president were doing the talking either.  Politics and business are locked in a dance that requires light movements and delicacy.  And right now, business is leading.

I care about this why?  Well, I'm one of millions of workers searching for a job.  I've been searching since June 2009, with one long break last year.  I've sent out hundreds of resumes, used personal connections as well as professional connections, and even researched new businesses who may be hiring and sending them my resume.  I've had several bites, but nothing that resulted in a job for me.  I'm currently looking for a part-time job, 20-25 hours per week, with some flexibility in the work schedule, and at a location that I can access by city bus without transferring 2 or 3 times.  Oh, yeah, and with the same hourly wage I'd get if I worked fulltime.

Last Saturday morning on a local news show, I heard a recruiter talking about the current job market in the metro.  Job seekers are now, finally, complaining loudly about never hearing from companies to which they send their resumes.  I join them.  It's like sending your work life into a Black Hole.  Sometimes, rarely, I've gotten at least a confirmation of receipt form e-mail from the HR Department, but then silence.  It has been a hiring manager market -- companies could pick and choose and behave any way they wanted, set the rules, and thumb their noses at the complaining riff-raff.

Now, however, the candidate pool has shrunk and hiring managers are finding it hard to select good job candidates without looking at all the applications, not just the ones that the computer software program had picked out for them.  Candidates have more choice.  They are now looking for more consideration as well.

My first job searches, when I began my adult work life, occurred before computers took over the HR function.  HR managers sifted through the tall pile of resumes and sent a smaller pile on to the hiring manager.  Each candidate received either a letter or phone call telling them they weren't a candidate or setting up an interview.  I remember the interviews taking several hours for skills testing, then the actual interviews with the HR manager, the hiring manager, and anyone else that I needed to talk with.  There was no dancing around job descriptions.  I remember one hiring manager telling me that the job had just been created and I could write my own job description.  It didn't scare me at all.  I usually had no time to write thank-you notes, either, before the job offer came in a phone call.

What I suspect strongly in today's job market is that computerization makes it easy for HR Departments to discriminate without it being overt.  HR has complete deniability.  If they don't want any candidates over 40, they can put that requirement into the computer that analyzes resumes and it'll sort out anyone who graduated college before a certain year, as surely as typing in keywords culls the resumes.  If they want candidates who are still working or have been out of work six months or less, they program the computer to check for the dates of last employment.  My resume, on that requirement alone, probably causes incredible confusion for the computer and it sorts me out early because I'm still working at several jobs.

Computerization takes the human out of the process, a human who could see in a resume qualities and characteristics she'd want in an employee even if the work experience doesn't match perfectly what she's looking for.  What really chills my bones?  Today's HR professionals have trained with computers and the software, and may not have the skills and intuition to be able to look a resume and just know...this person is exactly who we want.

No comments: