Do you Seek a New Job or Need to Hire? If so, you Must Read this to Understand the new Cold, Impersonal, Heartless Job Market

By Jack J. Kelly

Are you searching for a new job?  Are you a hiring manager seeking to replace an employee who recently left your firm?  When was the last time you were involved in searching for a job or hiring someone?  If it has been longer than one year ago, you must read this article right now.  The job market has substantially and radically changed during the last six to nine months.  Unfortunately, these changes are not for the better.

To put this into some long-term perspective, over the last twenty years I have been an Executive Recruiter, partner at a search firm, and started and have run a recruiting firm. During this time period I have witnessed numerous violent upswings and precipitous drops in the job market.  Certain times such as after 9/11 and during the epicenter of the financial crisis were horrendous for the job market.  Some periods of time such as later years coming out of the great recession were fantastic for the job market.

In this current market, the overarching theme to me appears to be the complete and utter lack of civility, politeness, empathy, and breakdown of good old-fashioned manners and civility.  It is currently characterized as a cold and non-caring environment.  I know, I know, this sounds whiney and a little angry.  It seemed that way to me too, as I was proofreading and rewriting the article.  Stick with me, that’s not my intention.

Most people mask what is really happening, to make themselves look good to others.  Think of the guy you strike-up a conversation with while watching your kids play soccer.  “How is everything?”, you politely ask him.  The guy responds back, “Wonderful, my company just acquired another firm, I’m flying out to Singapore to close a big deal, my eldest daughter just got into Harvard…”, he endlessly brags.  As you walk away from the conversation, a little jealous and feeling down on yourself, the mother of one of your kid’s friends comes up to you.  “Hey, I saw you talking with James, isn’t it terrible that he just lost his job and is going through a divorce?”  Maybe it is mean to do, but you break into a big smile.  The morale of the story is that a good majority of people are full of it.  They are always great, their kids are always wonderful, their spouse is perfect, the job is ridiculously well paying, their favorite sports team just won again, and their stock investments always go up.  It’s not real.  It’s fake life.  They just feel the need to show the world that everything is great for them. Fortunately, I don’t suffer from this affliction.  I’d rather be honest and transparent, even if the news is somewhat dour and pessimistic, rather than put on a plastic, pretend happy face.

If you read my back catalog of articles, you will notice that there have been plenty of times I wrote about how hot the market was for the area I specialize in, recruiting.  Now that things are different, I feel it is only fair to keep you apprised of that as well.

Here are just some of the examples of how the job market has changed and what is currently happening.

  • Job descriptions now read like an exhaustive shopping list of very specific and unattainable requirements.

The job description may look like the company is hiring someone for a Director level job paying in excess of two hundred thousand dollars plus bonus due to the absurdly high level of requirements.  Meanwhile, the reality is that the firm wants to hire an associate vice president person, at about seventy five thousand dollars.

This is the equivalent of my wife giving me a shopping list to find these items at the 7-11:

$34 emu eggs, $93 truffles, blueberry pancake-flavored pork sausage at $5.99 per pound, four stalks of asparagus in a jar of water for $5.99, a whole Opah fish at $22.95 per pound, $10 a pint Kale Pear and mango gelato, $23.99 for Almond Butter, $25.00 Kale guacamole – grown is a small town in Peru, Carpaccio of Maldivian long line caught yellow fin tuna, Roasted fillet of Australian Kobe beef, and a six pack of  Vermont Mountain Lakes Shade-Grown Double-Hopped Not Quite Pale Ale.

It’s simply not going to happen, and silly to expect that these items can be found at my local 7-11.

  • There is a substantial disconnect between the expectations of firms hiring, and the reality of the existing candidate pool of people.

In the past, when there was a significant gap between the bid and ask of the job, the hiring managers would recognize it, and to correct the imbalance, the company either adds to their budget to pay more, or expect less from the prospective employee.

Now, the companies continue looking for months on end, believing that this gem of a person is out there somewhere.  The corporation will post the job on LinkedIn, and several job boards. When this does not yield the appropriate candidate at the under-market price, they will turn to a recruiter.  When the recruiter fails to find this purple squirrel, clearly it is her fault, and they seek the services of another search firm.  This new shop is unable to find a person at the requested salary range with the applicable skill sets and experience.  He is viewed as a bum, and the company moves onto five other recruiting firms.  They also repost the job to even more sites.  Still nothing happens.  This is one of the reasons why you see job postings that are so old, and why prospective candidates are called by numerous recruiters over six months about the same job.

  • Phone interviews have replaced the in-person interview, especially for the first interview.

To be fair, it could be a reasonable time management tool to have a quick call first.  It is kind of like speed dating.  You don’t have to waste a lot of time and energy on a person if you could swiftly find out that they are not a good fit in one call.  The reality and problem is that a phone call interview is thought of as less important.  Statistically, a significant percentage of times, the hiring manager or human resource person does not make the call at the designated time.  There always turns out to be a scheduling conflict, they lost track of time, they forget, they didn’t come into the office that day, someone else called at the same time, an annoying coworker barged in right before the phone call and distracted the hiring manager, or their dog ate their phone.

In my opinion, the phone call devalues the candidate and the job itself.  If the job is mission critical to the company, and the firm values the candidate, they should have the courtesy to set-up an in-person meeting.  The call becomes too convenient and easy to cast aside.  Also, if the job and candidate are important, why couldn’t they, at the very least, engage in a video call?  It does not need to be sophisticated.  The hiring manger or human resource professional could use Skype, FaceTime or Google video chat.  They are very easy to use and the quality is pretty good.

Additionally, candidates seem to have their own issues with telephone interviews.  Most importantly, companies tend to frown upon their employees engaging in phone interviews while sitting in their cubicles.

Often times applicants can’t find a suitably quiet space with clear reception, and the  calls are like a parody of the old bad television commercials for cell phones, “Can you hear me know?”, followed by static and lots of “What, I can’t hear you.  Is this better now.  I still can’t hear you”.

From firsthand experience, when I speak on the phone with job seekers, it is difficult for them to commandeer a conference room to talk in private.  It is also time consuming for people to quickly grab an elevator, take it to the ground floor, bolt out of the office building, and attempt in vain to find a place where car horns are not honking, or people are not shouting; as well as trying to mute all the extraneous noises and sounds of the city.  It is also hard to politely excuse themselves from an impromptu meeting with their boss.  She would not be too pleased with the “I’m sorry, I need to leave this important conversation to find a conference room and get prepared for a phone interview” story.  When there is an in-person meeting, it is ironically easier to come up with doctor appointments and other life threatening ailments which get you out of the office.

  • Ghosting is now a thing.

According to the Urban Dictionary, not to be confused with the stuffier Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term “Ghosting” is defined as:

The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone the subject is dating, but no longer wishes to date.  This is done in hopes that the ghostee will just “get the hint” and leave the subject alone, as opposed to the subject simply telling them he/she is no longer interested.

This practice also applies to social media when all of a sudden, after a long period of robust online conversations, one party abruptly stops the dialogue and rudely disappears.  The person who was abandoned will assert that the jerk Ghosted her.

Having kids helps keep up with these important trends.  Here is a helpful tip, it unbelievably annoys teenagers when adults appropriate their lingo.  As a parent, it is so much fun to use terms such as “woke”, “lit”, “Fam”, “Shade”, “Savage”, and “low key” in a sentence and watch them cringe.

I would like to add Ghosting into the adult lexicon, especially as it relates to the job market.  We have noticed a growing trend of hiring managers, human resource professionals, recruiters and candidates, all Ghosting each other.

Maybe this makes me old, but when I first started recruiting, telephone conversations and in-person meetings were actually a thing.  As technology kicked-in, human interactions still occurred, but lessened with the usage of emails and texts.  Social media platforms such as LinkedIn, corporate resume portals, and the growth of job aggregators have also cut into live conversations, as it became much more convenient to communicate via various tech platforms.

It looks like we are at a new paradigm.  Instead of providing feedback, discussing jobs, and sharing vital information in person or over the phone, now if one party loses interest they just vanish.  No calls, no emails, no goodbyes; just a Ghost.  Now, that is savage.

I’m not throwing shade at anyone.  It is easy to see why this happens.  Rather than share bad news that you did not get the job, or explain that the interviewer did not select you because you smelled and wore out of style clothes, it is so easy to just Ghost.  Why bother having a difficult conversation, when you can just check out without the inconvenience of actually talking with the other person?

While I am being cavalier about this matter, it does bring up some deeper concerns.  As you know, there is a concerted effort to embed technology wherever possible within corporations, in order to replace human workers.  We have seen this from traders on Wall Street being displaced by artificial intelligence, bank tellers shoved out of the branch in favor of ATMs, and the emergence of self-driving cars which could drive thousands of truck drivers out of a job.

The future for human interactions at the workplace may slowly wither away and disappear.  We could be left with robots doing all the work, while we stand helplessly on the sidelines.

Our only hope is that the robots will start Ghosting one another, the system will break down, and companies will come running back to their employees, whom they previously Ghosted.

  • No or sparse unhelpful feedback is the norm. A common lament we hear from interviewees is that they don’t receive any feedback after their interviews.

It used to be, in the not so distant past, when a person interviewed, the hiring manager, interviewer, or human resource professionals would contact the applicant directly or through their recruiter and offer feedback about the interview.  The feedback would consist of some positive aspects, and at times, critiques of the candidate with respect to their skills, background, and performance.  The candidate could constructively implement this vital information and constructive criticism.

This information is important in conducting a self-assessment, to ensure you are presenting yourself in the best possible, positive manner.  It is similar to a batting coach in baseball, who helps you improve your swing.  His advice may not always be positive, but the goal is to make you a better ball player.

Unfortunately, in the current job market, feedback is offered sporadically, if at all.

In addition to the absence of feedback, if you’re not accepted to proceed in an interview process, it’s rare to get a rejection letter or receive meaningful input and advice from the firm as to why you were unceremoniously dropped.

In the past, it was common to hear a constructive critique of why you didn’t get the job. Those days are gone, and all the niceties are out the window.  You will now only hear from human resources if they want to move forward with you, otherwise you get silence.

There are a number of reasons why this happens.

  1. Too much Data. It is so easy for people to send resumes through job websites like LinkedIn, Monster, CareerBuilder, Ladders, eFinancialCareers, Indeed, Simplyhired, GlassDoor and company job boards that Human Resources professionals get overloaded with resumes to the degree they literally could not offer feedback regarding resume submittals. This is why candidates feel that their resume disappeared into the “black hole” of human resources.
  2. Fear of Lawsuits. Companies are concerned about giving negative feedback to candidates for fear that it might be misinterpreted as discrimination, (age, gender, religion, disability). In today’s litigious society, companies are deathly afraid of costly, time-consuming lawsuits. Also, they are worried about the possible negative social media backlash, accusing them of some sort of discriminatory practices. They perceive not giving any feedback as a safer option.
  3. Stalling. The corporate world of late, believes that there is an abundance of qualified candidates and that simply by waiting longer, they will eventually find the perfect person suited for the role. Therefore, the company doesn’t give you a critique because you’re technically still in the running but secretly holding out for a better candidate.  This is also a big part of why some interview processes tend to take so long.
  4. Downsized HR departments. The financial crisis wreaked havoc on all corporate departments, especially non-revenue-producing ones like human resources. So now there are usually less HR employees, dealing with considerably more work.  They simply don’t have the time to respond to you and provide critique.
  5. New Expectations. Many experienced internal recruiters were downsized by the recession. Their younger (and cheaper) replacements only know the new environment of no feedback and perpetuate the status quo.
  6. Third Party Outsourcing. It has become a trend for companies to outsource their recruiting function to third party vendors, who are placed on the premises of many different clients and have no vested interested in providing feedback to candidates. They probably won’t be on any particular assignment for very long, so they have no loyalty to any one company, as they are constantly shuffled to new companies.
  7. Rudeness. You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but we are living in a time period in which people are not that nice to one another.
  8. Technology. With the phenomenal growth of social media and technology, we are losing the personal touch. Picking-up the phone to have a real and honest conversation is becoming a thing of the past.

All of this adds up to a very frustrating climate for interviewees seeking feedback.

  • Companies will interview dozens of candidates to get a feel for the market, but then give the job to an internal candidate that they had in their back pocket the whole time.

There is a significant disconnect between what the company seeks in terms of experience and skills, what they will pay for the role, and the available candidate pool.  In other businesses, if there is a wide gap, market forces will close the difference.  For instance, if you are selling your home and asking one million dollars for it, when comparable houses in your town were recently sold for six hundred thousand dollars; it is obvious after a time that you won’t find a buyer.  Real estate agents will not bring their clients to see the home and potential buyers going to an open house will walk away feeling that the home owner is crazy and priced the home way too high.  If the seller is intent on selling, they will reduce the price, to be more in line with the market, in order to get it sold.

This is not currently the case in the job market.  Positions will be left open for up to one year. I am not exaggerating.  Instead of relenting on their demands, companies will keep the job open until they find the needle in the haystack.

Sometimes the motives are more suspect.  After conducting an exhaustive search over the course of an extremely long period of time, a firm will end up hiring an internal employee that they had in their back pocket the whole time.  In hindsight, it looks like they already knew who they wanted for the job, but engaged in a window shopping expedition to see if there was a better bargain to be had.  Not finding a cheaper person, they move the in-house employee into the new role.  Usually when this happens, the internal candidate does not get a raise, (or perhaps she gets a very slight, inconsequential bump-up in pay), with the internal move.  Someone from the outside will receive a ten to twenty percent increase in base pay, as an incentive to take the job.  Therefore, the candidate from outside the company will cost more money.

Speaking of money, to cite the cliché, ‘time is money’.  Maintaining an open search that ends with an internal hire, takes hours of company employees conducting interviews, candidates leaving their office to interview, and recruiters spinning their wheels to find people.  It would not be a big deal if the companies were forthright and honest about their intentions, so that everyone would then go into the situation with their eyes open.  A certain percentage may opt out and not waste their time.  Others would still take the chance.  For instance, I will almost always accept an assignment when a company advises me that they have an internal candidate, but would like to see the market.  I make a business calculation that if we beat the benchmark set by the internal employee, we could earn a placement.

I don’t want to depress you too much more, so here are some brief additional changes.

  • Salaries offered are relatively low, and bonuses are not guaranteed.
  • Candidates, meanwhile, seek a high premium based upon the risk of taking a new job in an uncertain marketplace.
  • The duration of the interview phase lasts three to six months, with plenty of dead patches in-between.
  • A candidate will be required to meet with six to one dozen people in the interview process.
  • Counter offers are common.
  • Background checks are taking an inordinate amount of time.
  • Artificial intelligence and computer technology is replacing human being workers.
  • Jobs are moving to lower cost cities at an alarming pace. These jobs substitute well paid, experienced professionals for more junior post-college kids.
  • Worries over Brexit, delay hiring decisions by companies with a presence in the UK. They are uncertain whether jobs will stay in England, or move to other countries in the EU.
  • People involved in the process don’t seem too happy.

Notwithstanding the above, there are still plenty of jobs out there.  Unemployment is very low, the stock market is hitting new highs, and the economy is strong and solid.  This is most likely a short term blip, which will change in due time.

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