Is It Hard To Get A Job?
In this article, Joel Winter, an employment management professional, discusses some of the challenges in job search these days.
Oh, man—what a great question. What a GREAT question!
I’m a professional “hire-er.” I’ve dedicated over twenty years of my life to recruiting, to interviewing, and to making hiring decisions for and with companies.
And I, myself, am currently looking for a job—so I think I have some context to answer this question with!
To start with, it’s really not that HARD to get a job. Compared to working as a farmer, or in a foundry (I assume!), or ship-breaking, applications and interviews are pretty easy things to do. Sure, it takes time—but the physical effort is actually not that significant.
So, why doesn’t everyone get the first job they apply for? (Maybe that’s a clearer questions that gets to the heart of what you’re asking?)
One reason is that hiring is broken. It’s largely a guessing game. The resume is an imperfect tool to demonstrate the critical skills and experience that many jobs require; the interview doesn’t measure those actual skills—it just asks you to talk about them; and hiring managers aren’t experts in hiring—they’re usually experts in their field of choice.
Managers don’t think critically about what they really need in an employee (really need), and HR departments don’t do good jobs of helping them define (and publicize) those skills and needs. That means that you, as an applicant, read a list of titles and job requirements, and have to guess if you’re a fit or not. (So, you hedge your bets, and apply to a bunch of jobs that you’re not a fit for—or that you just WANT to be a fit for).
You develop a resume that consists of a bunch of words that you’ve carefully selected and positioned in a way that you think will be interesting to the person reading it—and it might—or might not. And you never really find out how it worked (unless you get an interview).
Interviewers ask a bunch of questions that are meaningless, or don’t help them assess whether you’d be a good employee or not. They ask stupid questions that either you have a canned answer to—or they ask questions that they should in no way trust your answer to. Interviewers have “pet” questions that they believe divine “true” answers—but they’re really just trick questions that the interviewer interprets through their own biases and experience.
Interviews rarely give a candidate an opportunity to actually demonstrate their expertise or facility in the skills they’ll be using on the job. The interview is an artificial environment—and is a scenario almost no-one will ever recreate when actually doing their job. Candidates won’t be talking about what they do—they’ll be doing it. Interviews hire good story-tellers.
There’s a weird power imbalance in hiring, too. Companies seem to want to keep the actual qualifications for the job a secret. (This might be because they’re so poorly defined, and because of threats of legal actions for some of the real reasons. Often the critical skills for office jobs are work ethic, passion, drive, tact, self-motivation, independence, political savvy, etc.—how do you interview someone for those things?) Most people who interview get rejected for quite minor reasons. “Cultural fit” is a biggie (what does that really mean?!) Sometimes a question is answered in a slightly oblique way—but the hiring team puts massive importance on anything odd, and they tend to blow things way out of proportion. Entire candidates are rejected because of a hiring manager’s simple suspicion about a given answer! A suspicion!
Candidates don’t usually have enough information (or power) to ask meaningful questions, in return. They have the company’s website, Glassdoor, and maybe a friend or two to ask about what the job really entails, or what it’s really like to work there—and then if they get an offer, they just take it.
Oddly, hiring managers almost always tell us that they don’t want to take the first candidate that they interview. Even when that person is a great fit! They want to compare them to someone else! Now—that’s probably quite understandable, in some ways—but I’d guess that hiring would be “easier” for about 15% of the vacancies if the hiring manager did hire that great-fit first candidate without meeting anyone else. 15%!
Finally, some jobs really are complex. They really do require what we call a “purple squirrel.” They might be two jobs mushed into one, and might require some odd mix of odd skills. Every company is different at any one point in its history, and making a match between their current situation and the people doing its work can be a delicate thing to match up. The team you’d be joining is also full of unique people with their own abilities, flaws, political leanings, and finding the right match to complement/battle/enhance those people is a tricky thing.
There are entire books written about these challenges—but few take the solutions offered. Solutions can be time-consuming, expensive—and may even add significant complexity to a process you already consider “hard.” Perhaps some day you’ll be a hiring manager or in charge of recruiting, and you can join me in trying to make things.
Joel Winter has over 20 years experience in hiring, employment and recruiting management.”