The population of the United States is more than 300 million. The available workforce is about half that and the official unemployment is about 9 percent of that. But some estimates put the actual unemployed at closer 20 percent.
These are the numbers behind the headlines, which also say things are opening up. The electronics industry has surged in the last year; executives I talked to this week said hiring is definitely picking up to match internal demand.
But you and I know many engineers who are still looking for work, two years after the Great Recession. So what’s the problem? Why aren’t engineers getting hired? We explored these and other questions on a panel this week at the IEEE APEC (Applied Power Electronics Conference) event in Ft. Worth, Texas.
“If companies say their No. 1 business concern is finding, attracting and retaining the right talent in their organizations, then why does it seem more difficult to get hired these days?” asked our moderator, Kevin Parmenter of Exar.
Parmenter teed everything up for our panel (view from podium before the panel, pictured below) with an amusing but edgy slam of any corporate hiring site run by Taleo, a software company based in the Bay Area. These sites, he argued, ask for a resume and then require the user to fill out page after page of information that essentially mirrors the resume. Once you’re done, the resume vanishes into a black hole and the odds of getting a call based on that submission are virtually nil.
My take is that we’ve become a tool- and analytics-obsessed culture at a point where we’re just beginning to know how to use the tool and understand (and leverage) analytics. Still, hiring managers can defend recruitment campaigns by showing raw numbers of applications, status, message threads and so on.
In any event, the platforms are required for legal reasons. “We have to have a trail of information ready when you sue us,” Houston quipped.
The notion of nurture
We agreed that the age-old guidelines of nurture your network and stay nimble hold steady today. “You must be a continual learner,” Houston said.
Glover, who wrote a fine book titled “More than a Pay Check,” which I will review in a future post, noted that more than 60 percent of new hires come from referrals. This was reflected in the reaction we got when I asked the audience how many people had never used a recruiter in their careers but instead had relied on their networks for jobs. A majority of hands shot into the air.
We want to build this panel into a series of webinars on the topic. I’d love your insights and stories about recruiting (both third party and corporate) to help us craft an excellent series.
What do you think? What were your best experiences? What were your worst experiences? And why do we know so many colleagues who have had a hard time finding a job?
I'll follow up with related posts from this panel in the coming days.
Age discrimination and reliance on keyword matching by hiring personnel with no comprehension of what the the job actually requires. There was a time when hiring managers were technical, but not any more.
Another problem is advice on providing one page resumes, or other resume formats which effectively abbreviate experience and substitute buzz words or action verbs which supposedly attract the company recruiters.
I advocate putting all relevant experience down, and using personal contacts to get the resume in front of an appropriate hiring manager...the one who is going to have that employee on their headcount roster.
After reading articles and speaking with recruiters and "resume experts" in the recent past, a few things become obvious; there is no consensus about the best format for a resume, everyone does things differently so advice you receive from one will likely not apply to another, and each person thinks they are right and everyone else is wrong.
Recruiters for companies that receive large numbers of resumes for an open position use data analysis tools to select keywords that are provided by the requesting manager as a first cut so if your resume does not contain those keywords it will never be seen. One common thread in most of these recruiters is they are typically young and likely see the tools as very 'efficient' without realizing how 'ineffective' they can be in finding the "best overall candidate". If the manager determines they found a good person for the position, they conclude the tool works. If the manager is not happy with the choices they conclude the quality of the respondents was poor and repost the ad to receive more resumes for the "software analysis". Rarely do they blame the ineffectiveness of the methods they use.
I decided to leave the salaryman world after I had dinner with a very high-level HR executive with HP a couple of decades ago. I have confirmed much of what she said with CEOs and lawyers over the years since.
My friend told me that the job of Human Resources is not to hire people. The job is to keep the company from getting sued because of the hiring and firing processes. If you go to an HR rep to report harassment of dangerous working conditions, the HR rep is not trying to protect you, but the company. They are about as friendly to employees as Internal Affairs is to police officers.
The forms you fill out and the resumes you submit are not searched for qualifications, but for potential litigious minefields. With all the various lawsuits, discrimination laws and safety regulations in place, it is virtually impossible, even 20 years ago, to find a job candidate that could fit into the narrow confines of a safe employee. If you are the best qualified person for a job, you can be sure that HR paid absolutely no attention to that qualification, except to put it in the file of people with similar and lesser qualifications for the very same job.
That's why being seriously involved in social media is absolutely required for any job candidate and the ability to network through those channels. Two out of three hires, as pointed out in the panel, get the job because someone pushed them through the HR department without stopping for a chat.
To KD Boyce and Phoenix Dave... one of the things that emerged from the panel is the average resume gets a recruiter's attention for a maximum of five seconds.
To me, that suggests resumes intended for onlinre distribution have to be crafted in a completely different manner.
I think Phoenix Dave is probably right that there's no consensus, but doesn't that surprise you? We've come up with consensus on how to present digital content in other areas (videos, news stories, email newsletters), you'd think there'd be some consensus around resumes.
Brian, the basic premise of your article is that there are engineering jobs out there but unemployed people somehow do not manage to properly apply for them...if that was the case the problem would be tactical, basically how to make process of finding right engineers more efficient...but I think the problem is more fundamental, there are simply no engineering jobs in North America, they are all in Asia now! Kris
Kris, thanks for your comment. I think it's a complex issue. Surely you are right that many jobs are being created overseas, but I have to think that the relentless surge of electronics creation expands the overall pie.
But, that said, more experienced engineers I think become victims of ageism in that they command high salaries and, north of 50 years old, are expensive on a company's health care plan. CFOs want their companies to compete with lower-salaried companies in Asia, hence "no jobs."
I mentioned this on the panel and we didn't burrow down that trail too much. But it needs to be studied.
The unemployed do not get hired because they are not "safe" choices. All the electronic filtering and hr screening is about finding safe choices, not about making good choices. A safe choice is one that can be quickly justified to someone who doesn't know the particulars of the situation. Being unemployed at any time, regardless of the economy, means that some will think "maybe there is something wrong with this person". Not safe.
Referrals work because someone trusted is taking some of the responsibility for the decision.
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