Rude recruiters the norm as job candidates dissed

Job seekers are accustomed to applying for jobs and never hearing back from employers, even if the candidate is well qualified for the job.  Since the Great Recession, however, recruiters and hiring managers are now not even bothering to let interviewed job candidates know they hired someone else.

After laboring through more than 20 interviews in the past two years, I’m firmly convinced that the job selection process has little to do with finding the most qualified candidate, but more to do with finding the most accessible candidate who has ties to the organization.  Many recruiters are only filling their allotted number of interviewees to say they considered a certain number of candidates, when they never seriously considered the “outside” candidates.  Most recruiters and hiring managers already have an idea of who they want for the position before the interviews begin.

Still, this process does not excuse recruiters from their unscrupulous attitudes toward job candidates they “string along” with time-consuming interviews, “job fit assessments,” reference checks, and online profile tests.  They give the external job candidate the impression they are seriously in the running when they are not; provide barriers that internal candidates are not subjected to; and provide no feedback about how the candidate did in the interviews or the dubious online exams.  Nowadays, a job candidate can expect to spend more than 12 hours in online applications, interviews and testing with one company without ever hearing from them again (and that’s excluding the time spent researching the company).  Often, a candidate can spend several hours taking online assessment tests and personality profiles without even interacting with a real person.

I’ll give one recent example.  In April, the hiring manager of a large healthcare organization in Louisiana contacted me about my resume and told me to apply for a Director of Communications position online. After filling out the extensive application, her assistant called me to set up a 45-minute interview.  The interview went well, and the hiring manager told me it would take about three weeks for Human Resources to finish the rest of the selection process, indicating that I should be called for a personal interview in Louisiana after that time.

The next four weeks involved some time-intensive tests, phone interviews, and an impersonal “virtual interview” with a machine.  Here’s  detailed listing of the convoluted and frequently impersonal hiring process:

  1. The first step involved completing a “career battery assessment” that took one hour to finish.  Although several questions applied to patient care and not to marketing/communications, I thought I did well on the test.
  2. The second step entailed a detailed reference checking process to be completed within 24 hours.  “An important part of the hiring process is reference checking. You will be receiving an email with a link to enter in your references: 5 total of which 2 must be current or past managers/supervisors.”  I contacted my references and let them know what to expect so they would watch for the web link in their email boxes.  One of my references took time out of his busy schedule as CEO of a hospital to complete this reference survey.
  3.  I then received a call from Human Resources to schedule a time to speak with the lead recruiter.  The recruiter told me I needed to complete an online leadership survey. She told me I would receive another email from a company called “Skill Survey” that supposedly measured various leadership competencies. This test asked some hypothetical questions for managers and supervisors and took another hour to complete.  Again, I thought I did well on this test, although no written test can adequately reflect how a supervisor will perform or motivate his or her employees.
  4.  The Leadership Recruiter from HR then sent me several documents to review about the organization’s benefits, incentive plan, and salary bonus plan. She even told me when I would be paid! By the tone of the email, I thought I was not only in the running as one of the finalists, but was on track for that personal interview the hiring manager told me I would receive.
  5.  At this point, I thought I would get a call to interview in person at the facility’s main office in New Orleans.  Instead, I received an invitation to take part in a “virtual interview” via a webcam.  The HR coordinator said they recently purchased this software from a company called Interview Stream to save money in travel costs. Since I was asked to use a webcam, I asked if I could interview with live people via Skype or Windows Live Messenger, but she said the organization was not set up to use either of those popular programs (I found this explanation very strange because if they had a webcam, any individual HR employee could sign up for a Skype account). She even admitted that I was the first –and perhaps only job candidate up to this point — who was asked to perform this “virtual interview.” (You’re our guinea pig,” she said). Not a true interview at all, Interview Stream asked the interviewee a set of predefined questions and gave the subject just five seconds to answer each question. At several times during the automated question, I wanted to stop and clarify the questions, only to realize that I couldn’t do so because I wasn’t talking to a live person.  Despite my training in television news, I felt I could have performed better in this 50-minute video interview.
  6.  The recruiter followed up with another request for a real interview with a live person (via the telephone).  Initially she asked me to interview with this senior leader on a Saturday, but then changed her request to a Friday. The interview was not difficult, but I did find it strange that most of the questions dealt with how I would deal with a “hypothetical” employee who had been sexually harassed by a coworker.  After the third or fourth question about this topic, I wondered if sexual harassment was a big problem at this organization.
  7.  The recruiter then emailed me on May 18 to notify that “all interviews have been completed and the hiring manager along with her team are discussing feedback from your interview. Someone from Human Resources will be in touch with you by early next week regarding feedback and next steps.”  The next day, she changed her mind and asked me to interview with another senior leader tomorrow.  My phone interview with him lasted more than an hour, which went very well.

This was the last personal correspondence I had with anyone at the organization. After 15 days of not hearing anything, I emailed the recruiter a request for the status and received this response on June 2:

“I apologize for the delay in contacting you. The interview process was extended longer than expected. The leadership recruiter has informed that she will reach out to you shortly, via email, with additional feedback.”

It’s been more than six weeks since this email. Needless to say, this recruiter has never contacted me with any “additional feedback.”  I assume I didn’t get the job, and that they hired a local candidate, but will never know for sure.  Why was I never called in for a personal interview on site?  If I didn’t do well on the online tests, why did they email me leadership benefits and continue the phone interviews?  Why did they pretend they were seriously considering my candidacy, only to use me as a “guinea pig” for their new video software?  After sending me numerous emails, telephoning me, and coordinating my interviews, why didn’t they have the courtesy to at least pick up the phone and let me know the result?

Throughout the whole process, I felt the HR gatekeepers were placing additional barriers in my path that gave them justification for not calling me in for a personal interview where I could actually meet and talk personally with leaders at the organization. I didn’t mind spending several hours preparing for interviews and taking online tests if the process led to a face-to-face interview.  What was even more exasperating was that I had to waste the time of my former supervisors who had to fill out detailed reference surveys for naught.

In the end, I am glad I was not offered a job with this organization, whose leaders showed they do not share my values of respect, dignity, and courteousness. If I had one piece of advice for other individuals seeking a professional mangement position, I would suggest avoiding organizations that overly stress written assessments over personal interviews as their barometer of finding the “right candidate.”  If the people in that company are so impersonal, then it’s not the right fit for someone in communications.

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How to save money while unemployed

Top 10 ways to save money on reduced income

This week, 37,000 long-term unemployed in North Carolina will stop getting unemployment checks. Because the state’s unemployment dipped just below 10 percent, it doesn’t qualify for the extended benefits program to help the long-term (more than 79 weeks) of unemployed.  I am one of those individuals.

Many previously middle-class families will be facing tough choices about keeping their homes and even feeding their children because of the end of this program. I received the maximum weekly benefit – about $460 – for almost two years.  There’s no question that the loss of this benefit will hurt my family, but because of decisions we’ve made since I lost my job, it won’t devastate us.  I wanted to share suggestions and advice to those unemployed about how the loss of this income doesn’t mean you have to go into financial ruin.  Here are some tips on how to cut expenses that led us to save money during the last two years.

  1. Cut the cable cord.  When our one-year special deal with Time Warner ended, we cut cable and are saving about $60-80 a month. We bought a digital antenna and watch about 30 channels over the air, and stream Netflix videos, music, news & weather channels, and other movie channels through our previously-purchased Roku box (which cost less than $100).
  2. Cut the cell phone habit.  What irritates me is seeing people at the unemployment office checking their email on their 4Gs, Droids, and Blackberries.  This is one of the biggest expenses we cut after I lost my job. By ditching my smartphone, we saved another $70 a month by purchasing a cheap TracFone where you can buy prepaid minutes. When I want to check email I do it the old-fashioned way: I check my computer. Now that unemployment benefits ran out, I may just get rid of the cell phone entirely.
  3. Cancel all subscriptions to newspapers, magazines and mail-order services.  When I lost my job, I immediately canceled a 90-day supply of vitamins that cost more than $200.  While I kept the weekend newspaper subscription, I read most of the news online now. If you can, cancel all recurring monthly subscriptions for music services as well. You don’t need the iPod.
  4. Get rid of your trash hauler. Seriously.  We saved more than $200 a year by canceling our contract for our curbside removal.  Since we don’t generate a lot of household waste anyway (about a tall kitchen garbage bag’s worth), we dump the bag at our church dumpster or another nearby dumpster.
  5. Stop shopping at the higher-end grocery stores. We get most of our groceries at Wal-Mart, Aldie’s, Sam’s (when we purchase items in bulk), or Bottom Dollar Foods, which all have fresh foods.  Use coupons each time you shop for groceries along with your discount card. You can save about $200 a month by shopping at the discount grocery stores.
  6. Grow your own food.  Even better than the discount groceries: plant your own garden.  Some of the best veggies we’ve ever eaten have come from our own backyard: squash, zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce, and broccoli are some of the veggies we’ve grown.  Not only does a home garden cut down on your food bill, it’s better for you.
  7. Don’t fly. The only time I purchased an airline ticket this year was a flight to Texas to see my parents, and since I had a job interview there, the amount was tax deductible.  (I never heard back from the company but I got to see my parents).
  8. Postpone large purchases until you’re out of debt and can afford them.  We would love to buy a lawnmower for our yard, but have found a neighbor that gives us a discount to cut our yard twice a week.
  9. Don’t buy expensive health insurance plans. This is a tough one. I’ve been without health insurance for myself since my COBRA benefits expired eight months ago, but haven’t needed to go the doctor in that time. Our son is covered by a supplemental school health insurance policy and my wife gets her health insurance for free through the VA.  Another option for those who qualify: state high-risk pools or free health insurance programs for children are available for those families whose income is equal to or less than 200% of the federal income limits (still available until the Republicans cut them).

10.  Save money.  I was fortunate that I was able to save more than half of my severance pay in a CD. When it matured we paid off all our credit card debts.  Getting out of debt is the most important thing you can do to get control of your finances and take charge of what you spend. Because our credit scores were excellent, we were able to refinance the mortgage for our house and save another $260 a month in mortgage payments, and at a lower interest rate.

I read that in 2010, nearly one in eight families now include an unemployed person, the highest proportion since the Labor Department began keeping track in 1994. All these families have to deal with rising food and gas prices, sporadic income from part-time jobs, and keeping their children happy.  It can be done through some discipline, persistence, and new-found frugality in the way you spend, and the way you live.

Recruiters and HR directors don’t get you jobs

After spending nearly two years unemployed, I may join the ranks of those long-term unemployed individuals who ‘give up’ on their job search.  After this long struggle, I now understand why qualified professionals reach the end of their ropes.  I may be at that point.

In this blog, I’ve highlighted some of my frustrations with the way employers treat prospective candidates.  I’m lucky. I get calls back. I get interviews.  I’ve networked with colleagues, friends and associates. I’ve filled out hundreds of applicaitons and sent more than 600 tailored resumes. For a long time, I felt it was something I did or said in those interviews that was the reason I did not get an offer.  The reality is that employers already have someone in mind for these jobs, and there’s nothing the candidate can do to overcome that mindset.

Let me give two examples.  Late last year, I had a recruiter call me back about a management job in Colorado. During our conversation, she said I was a “perfect match” for this job and she would be in touch after looking at other candidates for the employer.  She called back and conducted a long interview.  We emailed each other several times and she indicated to me that I was a top candidate.  Finally, she said the employer would select the top four canddiates to fly them in for an interview. 

A few days later, I receive this curt email that job seekers are all too familiar with:

     “Thank you for your interest in the XXXX position at XXXX.  Your resume and accomplishments are impressive, and have made the selection of our initial candidate pool a difficult choice.  At this stage, only a limited number of candidates for the position will be moved forward in our process.   The client is focusing on candidates who are in Colorado or have a connection to the area.  Should that change, I will be in touch to discuss next steps. I have enjoyed our conversations and hope that you have found them productive as well. I look forward to working with you again in the future.”

Of course, I felt like responding: “No, I did not feel our conversations were productive, and why did you waste my time?  Why didn’t you know that your client only wanted local candidates?  Is it because you’re paid to select a certain number of candidates to present to your client?

A few weeks later, I receive a call from an HR director of a local company (in a nearby county). She schedules a phone interview with me and conducts a very detailed, extensive interview.  She calls me back and wants me to interview with the hiring manager.  Excited, I research the company, prepare my portfoilo, and arrive at the facility, where the HR director conducts another interview with me. She tells me the pay scale and gives me the company’s benefit summary for managers and directors. Now, all I have to do is seal the deal with the hiring manager.

When I meet the hiring VP, I discover she hasn’t even bothered to look at my application in depth. Instead, she spends the first few minutes asking me to wait until she looks over “my file.” She takes two phone calls during the interview. She focuses more on why I was let go of my last job  (I was downsized in a corporate restructuring effort that included the CEO, COO, and CFO), so I try to discuss my achievements and successes and what I can bring to the table. I know my chances are lost when she says ‘Well, we were really looking for someone who does not have experience in this field because we want this candidate to think out of the box.”  Uhh?  She wants someone who is NOT qualified?  Clearly, she already has someone in mind for this position.

All job searchers read about “expert” advice from headhunters and recruiters designed to get you in the door; to get noticed by the employer.  But the rules of the job market since the recession have changed. It doesn’t matter if you get your foot in the door, because in this economy the hiring manager has someone else in mind for the position.  I had one recruiter conduct an extensive background check on me; interview my references at length; interview me twice, and pump me up about my candidacy, only to fail to get me “in the door” to interview with the hiring manager.  What’s worse, she wouldn’t even let me see the results of the reference checks so I could use them for future job searches: she said that was “proprietary” and not releasable (I later had a reference fax me the sheet she said was “confidential”). Why do recruiters go through this exhaustive process of background checks and reference interviews if they fail to land you the real job interview?

I understand why people are giving up their job search in this market.  To read what it feels like for older, experienced workers to be ignored by hiring managers, see this poignant letter in the Dallas Morning News:

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/localvoices/stories/DN-stanfield_15edi.ART.State.Edition1.14be30f.html

Unemployed to Congress: Don’t use me as bargaining chip

WHERE IS THE BAILOUT FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS?

 I refuse to be a bargaining chip for Republican congressmen wanting to help the rich.

As everyone knows, some two million Americans face the end of unemployment checks this holiday season. Republican congressmen say the country can’t afford adding an estimated $65 billion to the deficit. Yet these same congressmen want to add an estimated $700 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Now, Washington rumor has it that a deal is in the offing, with Republicans willing to give an unemployment extension to the long-term jobless if they can get their tax cuts for the wealthy.  They’ve made it clear they don’t care about the 97 percent of Americans making below $250,000 a year; their priority is getting the tax cuts for their rich friends (particularly the millionaires and billionaires who helped spark the Great Recession).

This proposal is not only immoral, but it is madness.  To link tax cuts for the rich to the unemployment checks for the jobless shows how insensitive, brazen, and indifferent our political leaders are to the plight of the jobless. One Republican representative from Arizona – John Shadegg – says he thinks unemployed workers hold off spending their checks! (“The truth is,” he said, “the unemployed will spend as little of that money as they possibly can”).  What? The truth is that the unemployed, having no other source of income, will spend that money immediately on food, gas, and other necessities.  Economists have found that $1 in unemployment benefits generates $1.61 in economic activity.  A dollar in tax cuts—not just to the rich, but to everyone—generates about 32 cents.  The rich in this country are getting richer at the expense of the working class, and few seem to care.

I am tired of reading comments from the right-wing labeling the unemployed “lazy” who want to live off the government.   We’re not. We want a job. Unemployment insurance is not an entitlement program or government handout; it is insurance employers and employees pay into to provide minimal assistance to the unemployed who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. We search diligently for jobs every day: we network, write letters, fill out long applications asking for our social security numbers, driver’s licenses, high school addresses, and credit history; send resumes to numerous recruiters in our field; register for countless job sites that send us daily spam;  scan countless job boards and send out emails only to hear nothing back from jobs we are well qualified for. Our job is to look for jobs that are not there, or jobs that go to someone’s nephew or other internal employee.

When I was laid off in early 2009, I thought it would take about four to six months to find a job, even in this economy.  I’m luckier than some of my unemployed friends – I have managed to land several interviews – but each time the position is put on hold, offered to an internal candidate, or to someone with less experience.  I’ve applied for more than 500 jobs in 21 months, with few job interviews locally.  Ninety-nine weeks may seem like a long time to find a job, but, as news reports bear out, jobs that vanished in the Great Recession have not returned. The private sector added about 159,000 jobs in October – half as many as needed to reduce the unemployment rate of 9.6 percent, which is expected to hover around 9 percent for all of next year.

When my unemployment check ends at the end of this year, I may have no choice but to work at a car dealership and apply for food stamps, while trying to hang on to our home.  Meanwhile, the crooks on Wall Street who caused the recession are now making more money than they did before the bailout, and they want more tax breaks. Where is the bailout for the middle class?

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99ers featured on 60 Minutes

   If you didn’t see the story on 60 Minutes October 24, be sure to read or view the story online at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/10/21/60minutes/main6978943.shtml?tag=contentMain;contentBody

   60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley traveled to California’s Silicon Valley to find unemployed professionals whose unemployment benefits will end this fall.   At the end of November, more than 1.5 million unemployed workers will cease getting about $350 per month in average unemployment income.  The U.S. unemployment rate is officially at 9.5 percent, but Pelley noted that the real unemployment figure is closer to 17 percent.  That figure will be even higher once the “99ers” — those who have exhausted their 99 weeks maximum unemployment benefits — will not be counted among the unemployed.

    One 54-year-old financial analyst was laid off from a real estate firm. She  she spent her savings, lost her home and finally found herself sitting in a truck with her dog and all of her belongings.  Another over-50 engineering manager out of work for two years says he finally got a job offer — with Target as a floor sales worker paying  9.25 an hour.  “He’s taking the job at Target and he’s glad to get it,” Pelley said.

   If you look at the unemployed professionals Pelley featured in the story, they all shared one thing in common besides being unemployed — they were all over 45 years old. As Pelley said, they are too young to retire and “maybe too old to rehire.”  Did I hear that right? “Too old to rehire?”  How do you spell AGE DISCRIMINATION?  Most of these out-of-work professionals were not laid off because they couldn’t perform, they were let go because they were too expensive and the employer needed to save money on compensation and medical insurance.  In fact, a new survey shows that there is a direct link between age and the amount of time someone is unemployed (http://www.prweb.com/releases/prweb2010/09/prweb4515234.htm ).

Many of these older workers who lost their jobs registered their comments on the 60 Minutes website. Here are four of them:

    Has the 60 minutes team or anyone addressed the issue re: those whose jobs were eliminated – are they over 40? Seems like most of the folks in Scott’s story were over 40. The large company I worked for has been eliminating a LOT of positions over the past couple of years and it just so happens everyone so far is over the age of 40. Even w/ corporate legal documentation, age discrimination has got to be a factor in this equation. It reminds me of something discussed in the movie “the Rainmaker” – the insurance companies keep denying medical benefits and know that most of those insured just choose not to fight back because they believe it’s a losing battle and give up. Same applies for those over 40 – severance packages, while enticing, do pressure employees to take the package because they can’t afford legal action.

* I agree 100%. I worked for the same company for almost 15 years and was let go despite glowing reviews and accolades from co-workers in all those 15 years. NEVER any problems. I contacted the VP who just happens to be the owners son and my former supervisor. I took a pay cut and took a lesser position with the same company for a while until I learned that they were hiring younger people to do the jobs I could have done (I even went through the interviewing process for one but didn’t get it.) I’m convinced my age was a factor. Tenure and experience is no longer valued and as far as I am concerned, although age is part of the EOE schpeel, proving age discrimination is next to impossible.

* What I think needs to happen is for the government to setup ‘sting’ operations on corporations. They are blatantly violating the age discrimination laws, and it needs to stop. Hire out-of-work Americans over 40 and if necessary, have the government subsidize the company at least partially for medical benefits and any OJT retraining to allow them to become current again!

    *Many of the people in this story are probably victims of illegal age discrimination. Why wasn’t this angle included? Is CBS trying to defend the employers who keep excluding them?

As these comments show, there is a deeper issue behind the layoffs during the past three years. Despite job recruiters continuing to insist that age has nothing to do with why people don’t get hired, it is a major issue in the job market today. Now if only 60 Minutes could do a story about THAT!

Unemployment extension to run out

   This Sunday evening, 60 Minutes will run a segment about the “99ers” – unemployed Americans whose unemployment extensions will run out at the end of next month. From all reports, Congress will not renew the extension, despite the fact that millions who have diligently sought work in their fields are about to lose their main source, if not their sole source, of income.  I look forward to seeing the piece because it is an issue most of the mainstream media ignores, and because the segment will focus on unemployed professionals with advanced degrees who have been unable to find decent work. 

   Earlier this summer, all Republican senators and representatives voted against a small extension to unemployment benefits.  I wrote my congressman – Republican Howard Coble — about my disappointment over his vote.  Here is an excerpt from my letter:

Dear Rep. Coble:

I was appalled and shocked about your comments today on the floor of the House arguing that the long-term unemployed should not receive extended benefits from the federal government because “it is not paid for.” As one of those 2.5 million Americans, I am mortified that I am being used as a political pawn in the fight between the Republican and Democratic parties.  I have been battling every day to find a full-time job since being laid off from my previous employer last year.  I don’t want a handout, I want a job.  Even though I was a director, I have resorted to applying for jobs that pay less than half of what I was making. I’ve tried networking, social media, recruiters — everything.  I got laid off through no fault of my own and this unemployment insurance has been a lifeline to support my family and keep our house (we’ve already lost our health insurance because we can’t afford it). Without it, we would probably lose our home.  Now I hear you say we don’t deserve this insurance like it’s some sort of government handout. Listening to part of this debate today, I see a real disconnect between congress people like you and real people who are trying to support their families.  Both Republicans and Democrats think these benefits go to just the “truck drivers” and “janitors” who lost their jobs. Well, here’s a news flash, this Great Recession has affected everyone, including long-term professionals like myself who have 20 years of experience in their field. I’ve applied for more than 500 jobs in the last year without success. Many times I hear the position has been closed or they picked an internal candidate or some other excuse.  Each time I pick myself up and try the job search grind again. So listening to you get up there on your high horse and talk about “when the Democrats did this” and “when the Democrats did that” when I’m trying to save my house and support my family, shows to me you care more about political posturing and the blame game than you do about your constituents. 

   Congressman Coble wrote me back and I wanted to share that in this post.  It’s an example of how political and ideological in-fighting has paralyzed Washington from actually serving anything but big business:

 August 30, 2010

    Thank you for contacting our office to request information on recent legislation signed into law extending federal unemployment insurance.  We appreciate hearing from you. 

 President Obama signed the Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2010 (H.R. 4213) into law on July 22, 2010.  The bill extends unemployment benefits through the end of November.  We are acutely aware that the recession has hit Sixth District residents especially hard and that persistent unemployment is making it difficult for many families to make ends meet.  Despite our concern for unemployed workers, we voted against this bill for several reasons. 

 First, Congress has recently focused all its attention on extending unemployment insurance.  We voted for several extensions while the economy was in danger of a complete collapse, but Democratic leaders in Congress have simply extended unemployment insurance instead of enacting policies that will create jobs.  We firmly believe the economic stimulus bill, the new health care law and financial reforms will actually prevent job creation.  When businesses are saddled with new regulations and new costs, they simply will not hire new employees. 

Second, H.R. 4213 added an additional $34 billion to the deficit.  Republicans in the Senate offered an amendment that would have offset this cost by using unspent stimulus funds.  Despite Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s insistence that unemployment payments were a form of stimulus, Democratic leaders refused to allow a vote on this amendment.  The White House recently stated that the deficit for Fiscal Year 2010 will reach $1.47 trillion.  Increasing the annual deficit and the long-term debt is no small matter.  For every dollar the federal government spends, it must take one dollar out of the private economy.  These are dollars that businesses would normally use to hire new employees.  The federal government cannot create long-term job growth.  By sucking resources out of the private economy, they will merely extend the misery of persistent unemployment.  In fact, White House officials have projected unemployment to remain above nine percent for several more years. 

 Again, thank you for taking the time to share your views.  Please feel free to contact our office if we may be of assistance to you in the future. 

     Sincerely,

     HOWARD COBLE

     Member of Congress