Ask The Headhunter: Unemployment — Made in America by Employers

BY Paul Solman  November 5, 2013 at 11:24 AM EDT

By Nick Corcodilos

Now HiringAmerican employers aren’t doing themselves or the economy any favors by spending on costly online job postings and waiting for the “perfect” candidate. Photo courtesy of Tim Boyle/Getty Images.

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

In this special Making Sense 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.


Last week, I published the 500th edition of my weekly Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, which I started in 2002. (Check the footer of this column if you’d like to subscribe. It’s free.) Why does the newsletter keep going? Because America’s employment system still doesn’t work, and employers are clueless about why.

The emperor still has no clothes, and that’s a big part of why over 25 million Americans are unemployed or under-employed. (According to the Business Desk, that’s how many Americans say they want but can’t find a full-time job.) Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 3.9 million jobs were vacant in September.

HR executives have a special term for this 6:1 market advantage when they’re trying to fill jobs today: They call it a “talent shortage.”

Gimme a break.

Human resources executives run around in their corporate offices with their eyes closed, throwing billions of dollars at applicant tracking systems (ATSes) and job boards like Taleo, Monster.com and LinkedIn, and they pretend no one can see they are dancing in circles buck naked. HR keeps talking about a talent shortage, but the only talent shortage is in the HR offices. HR executives need to learn how to match up the 3.9 million vacancies with some of the 25 million under-employed.

What’s going on? The economy is certainly one factor, but businesses, the media and the federal government continue to ignore the structural problems in our employment system. I’ll tell you what I think the main problems are.

Companies Don’t Hire Anymore

Employers don’t do their own hiring, and that’s the number one problem. They outsource their competitive edge (recruiting and hiring) to third parties like Taleo, Kenexa, LinkedIn, Monster.com and CareerBuilder. Monster and LinkedIn alone sucked almost $2 billion out of the employment system in 2012. These vendors offer little more than trivial technologies and cheap string-search routines masquerading as “algorithms” for finding “hidden talent” and “matching people to jobs.”

HR executives are spending billions on those systems, so why are almost 4 million jobs vacant? Because these vendors sell databases — not recruiting, not headhunting, not jobs, not hires and not matchmaking.

Somewhere, right now, the chairman of the board of some corporation is pounding the podium at a shareholders’ meeting, exclaiming, “People are our most important asset!”

Meanwhile, HR executives are funding programs that mingle their companies’ most important assets in databases shared with all their competitors via a handful of applicant tracking systems that can’t get the job done.

Heads-up to boards of directors: Where is your competitive edge? Take control of your hiring again, like it matters!

Employers Don’t Know How to Recruit

Here’s how human resources departments across America “recruit.” They put impossible mixes of keywords about jobs into a computer. They press a button and pay billions of dollars for a chance that Prince Charming will materialize on their computer displays. When the prince fails to appear, they double their bets and keep gambling. (Last year, companies polled said just 1.3 percent of their hires came from Monster.com and 1.2 percent from CareerBuilder. See “Is LinkedIn Cheating Employers and Job Seekers Alike?”)

Meanwhile, in the real world, over 25 million people, many of them immensely talented and capable of quickly learning how to do new jobs, are ready to work.

Employers need to get away from their desks, remove the ATS straps from around their necks, and go outside to actually find, meet, recruit, cajole, seduce and convince good workers to come work for them.

The Employment System Vendors Are Lying

The big job boards and the ATSes tell employers that sophisticated database technology will find the perfect hire.

  • “Don’t settle for teaching a good worker anything about doing a job. Hire only the perfect fit!”
  • “We make that possible when you use more keywords for a job!”
  • “The database handles it all!”

When matches fail to appear, these vendors blame “the talent shortage” and contend that job seekers lack the specific skills employers need.

Except that’s a lie. Job descriptions heavily larded with keywords make it virtually impossible to find acceptable candidates. Wharton researcher Peter Cappelli tells about an employer that got 25,000 applicants for a routine engineering position. The ATS rejected every single one of them. Every day that an impossible job requisition remains unfilled, the employment system vendors make more money while companies keep advertising for the perfect hires.

Millions of jobs are vacant, thanks to the empty promises of algorithms. Ignoring the role of the systems behind this failure is a costly mistake.

If the U.S. Congress wants answers about the jobs crisis, it should launch an investigation into the workings of America’s employment system infrastructure, which is effectively controlled by a handful of companies.

Employers Have No Business Plan

Employers claim job applicants lack the requisite skills and talents for today’s jobs. But in “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs,” Peter Cappelli reports that they are wrong. The quality of the American worker pool has not diminished. Rather, American companies:

  • Don’t want to pay market value to hire the right workers.
  • Don’t want to train talented workers to do a new job.
  • Are content to keep using ATSes that don’t get the job done.

Cappelli points out that employers believe they save money when they leave jobs vacant because their accounting systems track the cost of having workers on the payroll, but they fail to track the cost of leaving work undone. Employers run the numbers, and they seem to come up with junk profitability: Fewer Employees = Lower Costs = Higher Profits.

Employers who believe this are misguided or downright foolish. They should stop regarding workers as a cost, start treating them as investments and ensure that each worker pays off in higher profits.

Employers should get a business plan and make their employment systems accountable.

America Counts Jobs, Not Profitable Work

The federal government tracks the number of people who have jobs and the number of vacant jobs. But tallying jobs to assess the economy is like counting chickens before they hatch. The federal government has no idea which jobs or which work is actually profitable and contributing to a healthy economy.

It’s no secret that the weekly employment figures are questionable and misleading. The definitions of jobs and “who is employed” are so manipulated that no one knows what is going on.

It’s time to re-think how companies find and pay people to do work that produces profit. A better indicator of economic success would be the measure of how profitable all the work in America actually is — and how much profit is left behind on the table each month when work is left undone.

People Must Stop Begging for Jobs

It’s time for people to stop thinking about jobs, and high time to start thinking about how — and where — they can create profit.

For example, if I run a company, I’ll hire you to do work — if it pays off more than what I pay you to do it. Today, few employers know which jobs actually pay off. That’s why you need to know how to walk into a manager’s office and demonstrate, hands down, how you will contribute profit to the manager’s business. That’s right: Be smarter than the manager about his own business. Stop begging for jobs. Start offering profit.

If you can’t do that, you have no business applying for any job, in any company. In the book “Fearless Job Hunting: The Interview — Be The Profitable Hire” (available in the Ask The Headhunter Bookstore), I explain it like this:

A good employer wants to see what you can do. If he doesn’t ask, help him out and show him. It’ll turn your interview into a working meeting where you both roll up your sleeves, and during which the employer can do a direct assessment of your worth to his business. Here’s how to say it: “Please lay out a live problem you’d want me to handle if you hired me. I’ll do my best to show you how I’d do the work so it will pay off for both of us.”

Think you can generate lots of profit without working for someone else? Then bet your future on your plan, and start your own business.

What Is Going On

Here’s the simple truth: Unemployment is made in America by employers who have given up control over their competitive edge — recruiting and hiring — to a handful of database jockeys who are funded by HR executives, who in turn have no idea how to recruit or hire themselves.

American ingenuity starts with the individual who has an idea, blossoms with a plan that will produce profit — for yourself and your boss and your customer — and results in more money for everybody.

So to be truly competitive, American employers must themselves do the hard work of identifying, attracting, recruiting, hiring and further training workers who can ride a fast learning curve without falling off. Outsourcing these critical tasks dulls a company’s competitive edge.

Business leaders, the media and the government must revisit their assumptions that automated employment systems are the answer and that the problem is with American workers. Until the structural problems with these systems are addressed, those 3.9 million vacant jobs point to the harsh truth that American employers are a leading cause of unemployment.

Readers: What do you think is going on? Should we change how companies and workers find one another?



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,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

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

Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark. This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown — NewsHour’s blog of news and insight.