Category Archives: job hunting

The Question I Can’t Ask

As a conscientious employer, mindful of the law, I know that I’m not to ask a female candidate for employment if she plans to have children.  (Indeed, I’m not to even recognize whether the candidate is male or female!)  I also am not to ask a candidate, of whatever gender, what his or her plans are five years hence, for various reasons, one of which is that it may be construed as a roundabout way of asking the forbidden question about children.

That’s the law, and I accept it.

But it has consequences, some of them unpleasant.

For some jobs, the employee already has 90% of the skills necessary to do the work when hired.  After some briefing, the employee can be immediately productive, and then can learn the other 10% through a few days’ experience.  For a job like that, the question of whether the employee plans to have children is thoroughly irrelevant.

But some jobs turn on skills and knowledge that aren’t common in the population. A company could hire someone out of college, and invest the time and money to develop his or her talent, including the cost of occasional do-overs occasioned by rookie mistakes.  But it’s senseless to make such an investment without having some sense that the employee is going to stay around long enough for the effort to pay off.

Which brings us back to the forbidden question about having children.  We’re not allowed to say this, but there are some inconvenient truths:

  • Women have babies, and men don’t.
  • As a consequence of having babies, women often leave the labor force, at least for a time.
  • It isn’t fair to hold a new mother to a commitment she made before she experienced the emergency of parenthood.

If employers were able to consider these factors openly, some women would likely not get hired for jobs they were qualified to do, because their potential employers would assess that they might not stay around long enough to make the effort worthwhile.

Since that’s an unacceptable outcome, the law forbids employers from considering whether female candidates might have children.  But the rules, more broadly, prevent employers from assessing the likelihood of a candidate remaining on the job for, say, two years (or whatever duration is relevant to the employer).

This represents a new risk foisted onto employers.  But the employers will not simply accept the risk.  They will adapt their procedures and processes to compensate.  And that’s where the consequences come in.

A big company can invest in ‘process:’ your job is not defined as whatever it takes to accomplish the mission, but what is contained in the four corners of the job specification.  And if you’re qualified under the specification, you’re qualified to do the job.  And anything you know that isn’t in the specification isn’t part of the job, even if you know that it’s been part of the job for eons.  The effect is to devalue experience over a very low minimum, and make employees replaceable.

But that can backfire: in too much of my work, I find myself dealing with the same people I dealt with 20-25 years ago, and we’re both doing the same things we did back then.  The older hands from another time end up doing the bits and pieces not contained in the four corners of the specification, but still needed to accomplish the mission.

A small company can foreswear the general employment market, and hire only people the owner knows, or perhaps a ‘friend of a friend.’  That addresses the owner’s immediate problem, but doesn’t do very much for the employment situation overall.  Or maybe the owner doesn’t hire anyone new at all, makes do with what staff he has, and toughs it out through the busy parts.

Do I mean, from all of this, that the woes in the job market are solely due to an inability of employers to ask a question that, in most cases, shouldn’t be asked?  Hardly.  But it’s one among a thousand rules that, while possibly well-intentioned, end up making life and the job market difficult for everyone.

Another great couple of job quests…

I actually had 3 interviews lined up for last Wednesday.

Interview 1 was for a nationally owned company but with one of their local offices.

I maybe should have seen where it was at with them when I called their telephone number after I spotted their job ad. There was no voicemail and no website either.

I got ahold of them the day after they rant he ad and they told me to send my resume.

I heard from them last Tuesday; the interview was set up for next day, a Wednesday.

I spent maybe 15 minutes with him. Very friendly, very upbeat; he even asked me what salary I was looking for and asked for references — I sent those to him the next day.

He told me that the start date for the new employee would be in 2 weeks and when I asked if I could call him to see if I got the job, he said yes.

None of my references were contacted. This is already bad news — and I am pissed because wow, this information is CONFIDENTIAL! I do not think my references would like their names and numbers “indiscriminently” disclosed, would you?

The second interview took place right after I left there; a new and local company right here in town was holding an open house.

The jobs offered were creative ones, like copywriter, stylist and so forth. I have more than a creative bent and I have experience I gained at other jobs; I’m just the thing they need.

I opened the door and went in — this was about 11:15….

And there were 40 people on line, with ONE interviewer!

And each person got 5 minutes of fame!

Perhaps when I saw this, I should have turned around and went the heck home — by the time I was interviewed it was 20 of 3.

Some people were sent to see another HR rep; some were sent home. The majority of the resumes went into a big cardboard box with a blue sticky note affixed to their resume.

I’d say that every 4th person was sent on to see an HR rep on the inside.

When I left there, there were 50 people behind me.

Now it’s quarter of 3. I had to rush to get to my house to call the third person since I didn’t have his telephone number on me…

I went to open my email to get the guy’s number…. whoops; here’s an email from him, sent to me at 10 of 11 while I was at Interview #1….

I open that email: he cancelled! said the job was filled.

I called him anyway. For the hell of it.

“Didn’t you get my email…” I lied and said no. “We filled that job last night.” So why didn’t ya tell me last night, then??? You’d have saved me the time and trouble of rushing home from that job fair; the telephone interview was between 1 and 3 and the guy told me to call him.

I don’t think so; when he set up the telephone interview, he asked me how much of a salary I was looking at; I think he cancelled because they had no intentions of paying “that” kind of money.

I have heard nothing from Interview #1 or Interview #2. Today at about 4pm, I called the first company. I asked for the gent who spoke to me — I had only his first name. He did not introduce himself to me at the interview using both names.

Guy wants to know “Is that Jim Brown, Jim Green or Jim White or Jim Blue?” Wow…give your last name when you speak to a job interviewee!

I said “It was the Jim who is doing the interviewing for the job…” “What’s your name?” “Dude Where’s My job.” Pause, then, “That job was already filled.”

I said thanks and hung up.

Now here is where I take umbrage. Not only did you NOT call me to tell me I didn’t get the job — and I’ve gotten rejection landlines before so ya can’t say it was that — but wow, why are you asking me for references when you know full well you will not be calling those people?

And what was all this exuberant nicey nicey stuff: an act too???

When I retain my voice — I am sick with the flu and I have a bad case of laryngitis as a result — I fully plan on going out there and saying a few things.

And tomorrow, I am taking a ride down to the open house company and asking them what’s what with the jobs we applied for.

They do not have a local telephone listing; evidently this is a new thing to do; the toll free number — the only one listed for the company on their website — is for the office in San Francisco.

I still can’t believe how dopey that is: ONE person for wow, what is going to be how many people on line??? Each one of us got 5 minutes; the open house was scheduled from 8am until 8 pm. 12 times 5 times 12 is what??? That’s 720 PEOPLE at the minimum! There was no way you could have at least 3 people doing the interviewing?

And next to the job apps — they insisted you complete the app, along with your resume — gee, is that a credit check request form that I saw??? I did NOT complete that page. Nobody did — and this is sad, too: one of the jobs open was for warehouse people. YOu can bet that the littlest of warehouse workers is going to have debt, thanks to the fact that they are making at best perhaps $10 or $12 an hour, tops.

This is more of wasted time. And I am nervous because of everything that is happening here. How in hell’s bells did it come down to this, for all of us? HOW?

Getting Gigged

Yesterday, I came across…

Fiverr.com

It’s a marketplace where people offer services for a base price of $5.  Of the $5 the client pays, the Web site keeps a buck, and the seller gets $4.   At first, I thought it was rather cool: it’s a way for someone to go into business and tap a worldwide market without upfront costs.

The site included a link to an article from a Wired blog about ‘the Gig Economy’ and how it is the wave of the future:

Slowly but surely, a revolution is taking shape –– an entirely different kind of economy. The labor force of new entrepreneurs, which we call the Gig Economy, is growing rapidly around the world and could soon represent as much as 50 percent of the U.S. workforce.

It almost sounds like fun.  But what sort of work can one get done for $5?  Flipping through the site, some samples…

  • I will make your PDF into a flash flipbook for $5
  • I will do a book cover or a movie poster for you for $5
  • I will record your voice over message in the awesome voice of Sean Connery for $5 [presumably a close approximation….]
  • I will write a high quality, 300 word article in 24hours for $5
  • I will type up to 2000 words/6 to 7 pages or audio transcript any video max 10 mins for $5
  • I will translate 1000 words from English to Spanish for $5

Ouch.  At the Federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour, $5 buys a little over 40 minutes of effort.  The $1.60 Federal minimum wage of the 1960s, adjusted for inflation, is about $10 in today’s dollars: $5 would buy a half-hour.  But Fiverr keeps a dollar for itself, so one would get less time: a little over a half-hour at $7.25/hour, or 24 minutes at $10/hour.

Most of the services described on Fiverr would seem to require between 15-30 minutes to complete, given someone with the expertise and the necessary tools.  So $4 for a task works out to an hourly rate of $8-16 hour… if one has a steady stream of tasks.

But then again, there are some parts of the world where $8-16/hour is actually pretty good.  And global labor arbitrage is clearly at work: while a plurality of the sellers on Fiverr identify themselves as being in the US, there are many sellers from elsewhere.

So this is what the Gig Economy means: the chance to compete with hungry people from all around the world, doing dreary tasks that barely pay enough to keep the lights on.  (And any task becomes dreary if you have to do it over and over again to survive.)  Unlike normal employment, where your boss is responsible for assigning you tasks, and accepting that you might still be on the clock even if you don’t have a task (and even if you have to go to the bathroom!), in the Gig Economy, if you don’t have a task, the meter stops immediately.

Heaven help us….

Overly Elaborate Hiring Processes

Some of the other correspondents on this site have complained about small business hiring processes that seem overly elaborate and don’t work.  But small businesses are not alone.

I read a item the other day that to get a job at Apple, one had to face a total of 13 interviews.  Nosing around further, I read a post by a guy who wanted to get a job in a local Apple store.  He had four interviews, and didn’t get the job.  But at least they did have the courtesy to tell him when he was no longer in the running.

And that was for a job working retail: I can readily imagine that a management gig could require thirteen interviews.

I can imagine small business owners reading about best practices from firms like Apple and setting up similar processes.  But for a small business, if you’re spending time and money on such efforts, you’re not spending it on actually producing anything.

But why?

  • Fear of lawsuits: one of the quickest ways to go out of business is a lawsuit from an unhappy ex-employee.  So perhaps companies try to do more rigorous screening to avoid hiring someone who might later turn to litigation.
  • Specific company priorities:  part of Apple’s success turns on developing new products and releasing them to the public on its terms, rather than when the juicy details leak out.  So a company like Apple wants to make sure that its employees know to keep mum.  (But that doesn’t apply to most small businesses.)
  • The sense that individuals cannot be held responsible for hiring decisions and that it should be a group decision.  I went to an event years ago that demonstrated the concept: an event was staged for the participants, and then we were asked to answer questions about it.  After we did that, we were asked to meet in small groups and discuss our answers.  The intent was to show that the collective answer was more accurate than the individual answer.  But beyond that, education for the last 50 years has been aimed at teaching the young not to trust the judgement of their own minds.

If a large company like Apple has an overly elaborate hiring process, it’s entirely their privilege: they have a right to protect their interests, and they’re paying the costs.  But a small business generally doesn’t have the same concerns.  Are they afraid of being sued?  Are they afraid of making a decision?

Damned if I know….

We Have Less Privacy than We Think

There is a system called P2C (Police to Citizen) that is in use in a variety of towns across the country.  You look up your local police department’s website and see whether or not they offer it or a similar system.  I was wondering whether there was a police report on an event that I had been told had occurred, and I didn’t believe the person who told me.  P2C offers an interesting service to people: you can search their database to see whether people have gotten certain kinds of traffic tickets, like DUI, or are under investigation for a crime. There wasn’t a police report on the incident that I was told had occurred, but I learned that the person who told me about the alleged incident was under investigation for fraud.  I also learned that someone who I was considering hiring to trim the trees in my yard had been convicted of domestic violence.

There are over 3800 entries on the “wanted” list in my town, and the vast majority are for people who failed to appear in court or failed to pay their fines.  Suppose that half of the entries belong to people with more than one nonpayment or failure to appear for traffic tickets, loitering, theft, or other misdemeanors. There’s still about 2000 people who have issues wth the police.  This is about 2% of the population, and probably about 4% of the adult population.

I have mixed feelings about this system.  In some ways, it is just an electronic verson of the police blotter, but if you have a common name, it’s easy to make a mistake and think that someone is in trouble with the law who isn’t. One thing that helps is that the entries have the person’s age and other descriptors, so you can tell John Jones who is white and 25 from John Jones who is black and 50 years old.

I Hate Interviews!

I don’t think anyone likes them but I have gone on more than most people. I once heard that is usually takes an average of 5-6 interviews before a job but I bypassed that many years ago. I have probably been on easily 100 interviews or more just in the last few years.

I think what bothers me about interviews is how often my skills take a backseat to my “fit” in a company. I don’t get this idea because my last job went strictly on skills not fit. In hindsight if any job wasn’t a fit it was that one because I was completely different from most of my coworkers. Most of those who were there when I started were older, white, male, and high school graduates at best. Later on a few were around my age, but still white, male and high school graduates except the higher lever trainers who all had masters.

But anyway, enough about my former job, but my point is the whole thing about fit is another way of saying “you are too old, too fat, etc” for our department. I get the idea of for example only wanting people with masters degrees in communications, I don’t get the idea of only wanting thing, young white males in a department (or whatever the desired demographic is). I am 41, decent looking, not fat, young looking and very up with latest trends. Going by my skills I should have been hired by one of these jobs, but always get rejected. It doesn’t matter whether I am too good or underskilled both choices result in my rejection. I can only assume my “fit”. Maybe it’s because I am more of an introvert? I try to hide this by appearing outgoing.

I just hope and pray  get this job because I am so tired of this. I am tired of hearing “your skills are impressive but we will hire someone else” and want to hear “you are the chosen one”. Oddly I think I have a better chance of winning the lottery than I do a decent job.

Just another day in job hunting….

It’s just another day in the job hunting world.

Yes, I’m still at it.

Last week was pretty interesting; the company that had the open position turned out to be a one office hole, operating out of a newish McMansion home — the office was in the corner of a basement; it did not look like there were tenants in the home.

The company touted themselves as a “trader for the high tech industry.”  Turns out that translated into “we sell computer parts to our home country.”

The company didn’t even have a website. How do you figure that? Everybody’s got a website now, if they’re a business — and if not a website, at the very least, a webpage. Corner bars and neighborhood delis and the tiniest of businesses have websites and webpages; this “company” couldn’t even manage that much.

To be a somewhat credible company, you must have a website.  The moral to the story here: if there is no website attached to the company, move on. Don’t apply for their “job.” To me, this is not a company at all, if no website exists.

Is this what job seekers have to look forward to: jobs being offered by  nonentity self-appointed and self-proclamed “companies” that are not even companies at all?