Job Hunting, Bah Humbug!

US News

Sure, you can try to convince yourself that trying to find a job won't be so bad: "It's like a treasure hunt." Or, "It's the only game in which you swing and miss 49 out of 50 times and still win."

But the fact is, most job hunters hate the hunt, which too often turns out to be a wild goose chase or grueling marathon. Even if you're a strong candidate who is often asked to interview, you may have to endure three or more rounds, often with a star chamber of interrogators. The employer may even make you pay to fly to your inquisitions or expect you to be charismatic on webcam. So what if you're camera-shy?

And if your qualifications aren't irresistible, you may never get past the phone screener - and that assumes you get to talk with anyone. You might not get closer to a human than a computer screener. All that work to make your cover letter present you as a goddess, and human eyes never saw it.

Too often, you're not even applying for a real job. Employers may post an opening merely to pump applicants for free consulting. Or the job is wired and the employer is interviewing other "candidates" merely to meet a legal requirement.

No surprise, many job seekers give up. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 909,000 job seekers last year admitted they hadn't looked for work (even though that would mean losing unemployment checks) because they had become discouraged. Likely, many more had given up but didn't admit it.

Employers also hate the hiring process. They'd rather be doing their work than screening piles of applications that often are misleading:

--Marquet International reports almost half of résumés contain false information. On top of that, résumés and cover letters may be written not by the candidate but by a professional paid by the candidate who deceives employers into thinking the candidate writes and thinks better than is true. Too often, that buys the paying client an interview over more worthy candidates.

--Then there are the interviews, which can be equally misleading. Weak candidates are more likely to hire a pro to train them to mouth the right words with the right demeanor, starting right when the applicant makes the grand entrance: polite, pleasant but not too enthusiastic attitude, confident stride, toothy smile and firm handshake. The coach teaches the "perfect" answer to standard interview questions, for example, "What's your greatest weakness?" "Oh I tend to work too hard and need to learn to pull back a little but I'm working on it." Right.

--Then there are the references. Weak candidates, of course, are more likely to have bad references and so pull such crap as listing their main squeeze as their former boss. So when the prospective employer calls, the candidate's love bunny says, "Oh yes, Biff was a fabulous employee. We would have loved to keep him but the union made us lay off employees, last-hired, first fired. I strongly recommend hiring him."

It's not surprising that employee turnover is a whopping 3 percent per month - according to the BLS - with The Wynhurst Group reporting that 22 percent of all turnover occurs within the first 45 days of employment.

It's ironic that employers still cling to the standard hiring process when they could use a more valid and less-time consuming approach:

--Applicants wouldn't submit a résumé nor cover letter. Their LinkedIn profile more validly presents what they're really like than does a résumé and cover letter customized to convince an employer that their lifelong ambition is to be a waxing manager for the Western Widget Waxing Works.

--Applicants would be screened with an online test of ability to do the job's difficult tasks. To reduce cheating, applicants would be informed that before hiring, the No. 1 candidate will take a parallel exam under proctored conditions.

--Standard interview questions such as "Tell me about a problem you solved?" or "Why have you been unemployed for nine years?" are both coachable and insufficiently predictive of job performance. Such questions would be replaced by simulations of difficult job-related tasks that could better be assessed in the interview than on the aforementioned test. Examples: leading a few-minute meeting and conducting a difficult employee evaluation.

--To increase the chance of obtaining a valid reference, employers should phone the general number of the candidate's past employer and ask to speak with the person's boss by name. Then say something like, "This is an important hire. I'm really trying to find someone great. Would you strongly recommend (insert name of applicant)?" Even if the boss says that policy allows only saying whether the employee worked there and left voluntarily, listen carefully to his or her tone. It can speak volumes.

--Do a background check. Reference checking firms can inexpensively verify that, in fact, the candidate did graduate from Harvard, got three promotions in three years and wasn't a mass murderer.

--Offer only a trial day or week of employment. You might explain that as in romance, you don't want to move in with someone until you've at least gone away together for the weekend.

Fact is, even though employers often pay a massive price for a bad hire, many employers don't care enough to hire right. They get what they deserve.

And the poor job seeker is stuck with a long, painful, demeaning and often invalid hiring process.

Job hunting? Bah humbug!

Editor's Note: Next in Marty Nemko's Bah, Humbug series: "Employers, Bah Humbug!"

The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach." His latest books are How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. He writes weekly for as well as for More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on

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