Ask the Headhunter: Top talent wanted to work cheap? That’s an employer problem

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Nurse writing on medical record in examination room. Photo by Hero Images/Getty Images

Nurse writing on medical record in examination room. Photo by Hero Images/Getty Images

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: As a health care professional, I’m fed up with the “talent shortage.” If there’s a shortage, why do nurses like me also work as waitresses, and make more than we could make nursing, which I’m certified in? I also have a college degree, because I was told it was a necessity to compete today. One interview after another is a waste of time, with HR telling me I look good and to expect a callback that never comes. I got a couple of actual offers and one contract assignment, but I could walk dogs and make more. Hospitals just wait for somebody who will work for peanuts. And they are rude. My dream was to build a good career as a nurse and to get paid. Does anybody want to hire a registered nurse for a living wage?

Does anybody want to hire a registered nurse for a living wage?

Nick Corcodilos: Another reader just sent me the answer to your question. It’s from a pair of articles published by Stateline, a media outlet of the Pew Charitable Trusts, and you’re not going to like the answer. Take a look at “Why Does It Take So Long To Hire A Nurse?” and “Why the ‘Skills Gap’ Doesn’t Explain Slow Hiring.”

Perfect Candidates Only!

A lot of hospitals want to hire a registered nurse with experience and a degree. They just don’t want to pay you for your experience and college degree. Here are some choice quotes from these Pew reports — I suggest you share them with your representatives in Congress:

Hospitals, nursing homes, home care agencies and doctor’s offices, like a lot of employers across the country, have a specific resume in mind. Employers often want new hires to have experience in a specialty such as operating room nursing.

That is, they want the perfect candidate. (See “The Training Gap: How employers lose their competitive edge.”)

The problem is clear: Employers don’t want to invest in training, on-the-job experience and development or in a learning curve. They want someone who’s been doing the exact job for three years already. The question is: Why would someone like that change jobs for the same job?

Where are competitive wages?

Pew offers this suggestion:

A long-term solution for the nursing workforce also would have to resolve critical pay issues, including whether Medicare and Medicaid fee schedules support competitive wages, and figure out how to make sure nurses don’t get burned out and quit.

Employee burnout is the “Duhhh…” moment in this story:

Employers also have a retention problem. Being a nurse is demanding, and new nurses, like new teachers, are particularly likely to leave their jobs: About 20 percent of new nurses quit within a year, according to a 2014 study.

Do you think it has something to do with the fact that you can make more money waiting tables at a good restaurant? (For some tips on how to negotiate a job offer upwards if you manage to get an offer at all, see “Negotiate Even The Worst Job Offers: Say Yes, IF.”)

This is not a problem just in health care. The Pew reports cover all kinds of jobs and industries.

To Steve Hine [the head of Minnesota’s Labor Market Information Office] … the focus on work experience suggested that employers were being too picky. They wanted to hire someone who could be fully productive on day one. But at the same time they weren’t willing or able to pay enough to attract that perfect candidate.

Now we get to it — there’s a shortage of talent only when employers don’t want to pay to get the talent on board. And Pew delivers the proof:

It’s worth noting that employers can’t always diagnose their own problems. Only 22 percent of employers surveyed by Utah’s Department of Workforce Services last year named low wages as a hiring problem, but 68 percent of those employers were offering below average wages.

“We prefer unnecessary college degrees!”

Then there’s the claim employers make that today’s workforce just isn’t well-educated. Or is it possible that employers want more education than jobs require?

“The overwhelming majority of open production jobs across south central Minnesota don’t require a college degree, in fact. Nor do almost two-thirds of openings statewide,” Pew reports.

Yet employers ask for a degree — because they can. It used to be a nurse needed only a certification to get a job in a hospital. It seems now hospitals want education they don’t need — but aren’t willing to pay for. Pew reports:

In New York, for instance, there are more licensed RNs [registered nurses] in the state than there are jobs for them. “So employers are raising the bar, saying, ‘Hey, if I can get a [nurse with a] bachelor’s degree, why not?’” said Jean Moore, director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Albany.

So there you have it. Pew seems to suggest that employers are the problem, not nurses or anyone else. (Those reports should be taped to every legislator’s forehead.) While more training and education can certainly be beneficial to anyone who wants to excel in their line of work, it seems employers think training, education and talent shouldn’t cost much to hire.

It seems employers think training, education and talent shouldn’t cost much to hire.

I wish I could give you an answer to your problem. And I wish the Pew reports covered the other elephant in the room — recruiting tools that make it easier for employers to reject good applicants than to hire them. For more about that, see “Employment In America: WTF is going on?”

Dear Readers: Does your own experience suggest there’s a talent shortage, or a shortage of good pay for good workers? Are modern recruiting systems — job boards, Applicant Tracking Systems, video interviews — part of the solution, or do these just make it easier for employers to reject “imperfect” job applicants who won’t work for peanuts?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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