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Ask the Headhunter: How did recruiting become so perverted?

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.

This week’s column is an object lesson in how perverted recruiting and hiring have become — and a wake-up call to job seekers, employers and public policymakers.

Employers are so out of it, so detached from recruiting, so isolated from the people they want to hire, that not only are they putting up digital obstacles in front of the people they’re trying to attract — such as online application forms and video interviews — but they are now calling the cops to deter earnest job seekers.

A reader sent me a link to a discussion forum on the big, online job-posting board Indeed:

I recently applied to a job on Indeed and sent a follow up email a few days later. About a week passed with no response, and I sent another email, saying I would come by their office. They quickly sent a response saying they no longer had a position available. Twenty minutes later I got a phone call from the police. They complained that I threatened and harassed them. I denied it, and the cop said to not contact them again. The whole thing is almost unbelievable. I hate applying for jobs.

Does being diligent about applying for a publicly posted job mean you’re harassing the employer? Can you get arrested for showing up in person to apply? I’m not a lawyer, and I won’t attempt to answer those questions, but such conflicted behavior and mixed signals sent by employers reveal just how broken the employment system is.

Applying through the front door

Long ago, I walked into companies I wanted to work for and handed my resume to receptionists. I even asked to talk to hiring managers and waited in lobbies for them. Some managers came out. Others sent personnel clerks to meet me briefly. When no one would come out, I’d leave and write the employer off. On to the next.

I know many people who have taken the time and trouble to go to an employer’s office to demonstrate how serious they were about getting a job.

If employers are afraid of who comes in the front door, why do they recruit? Why are they in business?

While the internet’s anonymity introduces new risks to personal safety, there is really nothing different today than there was 20 years ago about a motivated job seeker responding to a job ad in person. What’s different is employers have so dehumanized the job applicants they’re trying to attract that they no longer know how to welcome them.

Afraid of the applicants

Employers solicit such staggering numbers of people that employers are afraid of them. The only way to process the incoming rush is to dehumanize and render people into database morsels. (See “How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.”)

If you’re a job seeker, an employment system that treats you as a threat suggests that it will throw up daunting obstacles. This cannot be reconciled with the idea that an employer is trying to attract you. When you’re an abstraction in a database — a mess of keywords — the assumption is that you’re to be avoided and feared, either as a waste of time or, in this case, as a physical threat.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: Why you can’t win the keyword resume game

Lest someone suggest it’s inappropriate to show up at a company after submitting a resume, keep in mind that at some point you’ll be invited for an interview at a bricks-and-mortar office that has a front door. If the front door is kept locked, then the job applicant who posted that story would likely just walk away — probably disgruntled. But if the front door is open for business, then it’s no more inappropriate for a job applicant to show up than it is for a sales person to walk in to make a pitch.

Panic-room recruiting

So what does this incident mean? We must assume the job applicant did nothing wrong or threatening. After all, this person was applying for a job. They want to impress the employer — not hurt anyone — hence the visit to the office. (On the flip side, does a job applicant assume a murderous psychopath has invited them to an interview?)

When an employer worries for its safety or fears who’s going to show up, that tells us there’s something fundamentally wrong with popular methods of recruiting. It’s pretty clear that the fear and worry stem from soliciting teeming hordes of applicants that employers don’t really want, and depersonalizing and demonizing them only leads to more distrust — we naturally fear the unknown.

This incident is perhaps the most stunning evidence that the online employment system companies rely on is inherently twisted and warped. (See “Employment In America: WTF is going on?”) This job seeker’s experience reveals a panic room mentality, where employers huddle and hide behind locked doors and impenetrable applicant tracking systems. It highlights one recruiting perversion after another:

  • Advertise a healthy work environment — but reveal your company’s paranoid culture.
  • Proclaim a desire to find great people — but treat applicants like they’re psychopathic marauders.
  • Solicit job applicants — then tell them there’s no job.
  • Open your company to the talent — then call the cops when the talent arrives.
  • Talk about how people are your most important asset — but only let digital profiles and applications in the door.

The problem is not that a company called the cops on a job applicant it attracted. That’s merely a symptom. The problem is that the highly automated employment system our economy depends on can’t deal with people.

Dear Readers: What kinds of contradictory messages have you gotten from employers? What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had when applying for an advertised job?

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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