I read Laura Bassett’s recent post on The Huffington Post with great interest. It was only a few days ago that I advised someone who is in a period of extended unemployment to relax: there’s plenty of company in that boat, and employers are generally pragmatic. My bigger concern would be getting a fair shake during salary negotiations, when the assumption is that a lowball salary offer is better than none.
However, it appears that some employers are unabashedly posting warnings on their job board postings that they will not—or their client will not—consider candidates not currently working. I’m going to skip over the part where I would otherwise say that this isn’t necessarily true: “Do Not Believe Everything You Read on a Job Board” is begging to be blogged. And I’m going straight to the real reasons for the apparently short-sighted and heartless warning.
- The search firm that is usually behind the “anonymous client” doesn’t look very helpful if all they can come up with are unemployed candidates that are already in the client’s database. Search firms profess to have access to special candidates who are not in the market. Producing those gets them paid; producing slates full of unemployed people doesn’t. I’ll go further. While big companies can usually put spider technology to work ferreting out the qualified from all the others, smaller search firms and placement firms are less likely to have such sophisticated and expensive tools. So they just tell you to keep your material to yourself.
- The search firm—or HR department—may not be able to deliver candidates who are actively in the job market. The length of time it takes a company to get from one end of an assignment (approval of the position) to the other (new incumbent start date) is, at times, too long to sustain the average unemployed candidate who wants to work NOW. The end client is the actual department where the job gets done, and neither the search recruiter nor the HR staff likes to look ineffective, as they do when the top candidate evaporates in mid-stream. Ergo, a preference for the passive job seeker, which is what everyone who isn’t unemployed can be called.
- Unemployed job applicants hit the send button a lot. Often, they know little or nothing about the company, business unit, market, brand, profession, or job. This doesn’t make them insincere or any less capable, but it sometimes makes them seem less prepared. I’ve been unemployed and I’ve been that candidate. Unlike the candidate for whom the advertised job is a carefully contemplated career move, the job for me (after a few months of pavement-pounding) was more of a commodity, a lifeline, or a two-year gig in which I might wait out the economy. I wasted a lot of HR folks’ time before I wised up.
In short, it’s not a matter of candidate qualifications, as usual. It’s a matter of job-seeking behavior—the politics of the process, amplified and placed front and center. When you lob your resume over the transom, which is what job board recruiting encourages and what you should not do, you lose control of your image, your brand, and your fate. That’s why you feel bad, when you read in the Huff Post that these meanies don’t want you, just because you don’t have a job.
In Bassett’s article she quotes various HR folks who maintain that it’s a skill set issue, that it takes a lot of time and HR-power to sort through the files, and yada yada. That’s HR speak for “we do it because we can and because we want to.” And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, unless, as Bassett hints at, the employer is perpetuating illegal discrimination. I don’t think it’s good HR policy, but that’s just my opinion.
Here’s the rest of what I think: if you are unemployed (or even if you are employed, actually), you shouldn’t be blindly throwing your resume (your surrogate self, if you spent any time at all crafting it) at lines and names on a job board, anyway. You should be spending your time cultivating contacts at the companies and in the communities where you want to work. Your resume is not even relevant to your friends and contacts until you are asked to supply it specifically to someone who can get you into a conversation with a decision-maker. If you read on a job board that there is an opening you want, go looking for someone who can help you pursue it.
The purpose of a posting on a job board is multifold—but no one should regard it as an invitation to apply. It is first and foremost an artifact of an administrative system which serves the HR department or equivalent, an announcement that a position is open, a listing of job requirements so that all employees and all others can see what the incumbent will do or be expected to do, and finally, evidence that a company can rely on that shows it notified everyone who might have interest that it intended to fill that job. An invitation would be more . . . inviting.