The Way We Get Jobs is Wack

by Matt Gwin, Vocatio Editor & Community Manager

The internet and smartphones have revolutionized the way we go about much of our lives — how we date, how we get places, how we interact with friends, how we record memories, how we manage our money, and how we order food.But the way get jobs or find careers hasn’t really changed. If anything, online listings and applications have made it harder for the most talented, most interested candidates to stand out, as companies are inundated with mediocre applications from all over the country. We’re overdue for an overhaul.

HOW IT WORKS NOW AND WHAT’S WRONG WITH IT

DISCOVERING JOBS

As job searchers, especially ones coming straight out of school, we have imperfect market knowledge. We only know so many careers.

When we’re little kids, we all typically aspire to be one of just a few jobs. It’s usually the ones that you see either in everyday life or on TV: Firefighter, doctor, veterinarian, detective, basketball player, movie star, the President. (For a time when I was a kid, I wanted to be a FritoLay delivery truck driver, because I always saw the one who delivered to my parents’ business and I thought it seemed great — you got to drive a cool truck and give chips to people all day.)

As we grow older, our understanding of the realm of job possibilities grows, but doesn’t even approach a decent idea of what’s out there. Modern TV shows or movies will occasionally show us a few of the more mundane behind-the-scenes roles, but we still don’t get a good look at what it’s really like to perform in those roles.

You can’t make an informed decision on what you’d like to do with your life when you only know a sliver of the careers that exist, and if even for those, you don’t know what it’s actually like on the job.

Furthermore, most people don’t even realize that their lack of knowledge could be a problem until they’re out in the real world and it is a problem. There’s a very strong and pervasive narrative on how the education-to-real life track works, and everyone is supposed to go along with it.

You just keep getting shuffled along in the dark. You’re told that you need to do a series of things and then you’ll end up with a great career — Take the right high school classes, get good grades, do some extracurriculars, apply to schools, go to college, do well in college, graduate on time, and then you’ll get a good job. Trust in the system and you don’t need to worry.

But as a student today you can’t help but at least be skeptical of this narrative. Sure, it worked for our parents’ generation. But heck, they could flip burgers for a summer and pay for a year’s worth of college. They could get a good factory job and support a whole family.

Things aren’t the same anymore. We see the percentage of recent graduates who are unemployed or underemployed (~8% and ~15% in 2015 for college grads, not counting the 46% working in jobs that don’t require a degree). We see college graduates moving back home and “figuring things out” (more 18–34 year olds live with their parents than with a spouse/partner, for the first time since 1880). This wasn’t supposed to be part of the narrative. We see countless articles discussing the “quarter-life crisis” — the moment in early adulthood when you decide you don’t know what you want to do with your life but you know it isn’t what you’re currently doing. On top of being overqualified and unfulfilled, thousands are swamped with student debt — college costs much more, and entry level jobs pay less, than when our parents went through this.

Maybe we need to put in a little more intentional thought into our future earlier, and not trust the old people telling us to do things the way they did it 30 years ago.

FINDING AND APPLYING TO JOBS

When it comes time to get a job, most people turn to the internet, where sites like Monster and Indeed promise millions of jobs listings to choose from.But the internet and these sites have merely replaced old functions in the job search process, they haven’t really added anything. You’re still seeing a static job description written in vague, boring HR-speak, and you don’t get a great sense of what it’s like to do the job, and whether you would be a good fit.

The listing will have a laundry list of required and preferred traits and qualifications, many of which probably have no bearing on the actual job.You’ll apply, attaching a resume, writing up a cover letter, trying to make it sound like this vague job you don’t yet understand is the job of your dreams. Then you’ll press submit, you’ll get a nice little form letter in your inbox confirming your submission, and you’ll wait. Then you won’t hear anything for a really long time. You have no indication of whether you ever will.You hope that by doing this enough times, you’ll eventually get the call for one or two of them. Meanwhile, in the background you can hear the clocking ticking away on the repayment schedule for your (on average) $30,000 of student debt.

EMPLOYERS HAVE IT ROUGH, TOO

Meanwhile, on the other end, the employer is sifting through hundreds of applications from all over the country, from people with wildly different backgrounds and skill sets. Just to get it to a manageable number will require substantial filtering. A computer will do the first round of this — buzzsawing a wide swath of resumes before they ever make it in front of human eyes. This may be done based on key words in your resume, years of work experience, or educational background.

And even then, they won’t have reliable indicators of what would make some candidates better than others. They can’t really get a good sense of a person from just a resume and cover letter, so they fall back to what they know, and interview people based on recommendations of current employees. This gives them one differentiating data point — that a candidate has been vouched for by someone the hiring manager trusts. It’s estimated that as much as 85% of job openings are filled through networking rather than from job boards.This results in competent candidates — after all, they have someone vouching for them — but it’s not ideal, as it stifles diversity and ignores everyone without second-degree connections to someone at or related to the company. The resulting hires will likely have the same demographics and backgrounds as those who referred them, which can perpetuate underrepresentation of minorities.

WHAT AN IDEAL SYSTEM WOULD LOOK LIKE

Let’s try to imagine what a perfect system would look like.

A college degree’s standing in the hiring process would be entirely based on, and evaluated by, the learning it delivers and the skills that it instills.

Candidates for jobs would be evaluated based on their talent and skills, particularly those that are immediately relevant to the job at hand. To do this, employers would have extensive data on applicants, so that they could sort and filter candidates based on skills and traits actually relevant, and not have to rely on pieces of paper as proxies/indicators in order to narrow down the applicant pool.

Employers would have access to potential interested candidates as early as high school, and could attempt to engage, evaluate, and develop them through camps, internships, and summer jobs, rather than having to wait to see what “the system” spit out.

Students would gain access to realistic and complete information in high school about the job market and how their talents fit in, so they could make informed decisions on what to do post-graduation to get them on the quickest, cheapest, most fulfilling path to great careers.

This is our goal behind Vocatio. We want to make the entire system fairer and more efficient. We want to improve the information to both sides, so both employers and jobseekers can make the best decisions for themselves. We want it to be easier for people to find and get the best jobs for them, and for employers to find and hire the best candidates.

On Vocatio, students can take tests to uncover insights about themselves and their work styles. They can explore careers and employers to learn about new opportunities that they might not have otherwise thought of. They can watch and read compelling content about those careers and about people who are a couple years further along into the job world. Then they can use all this information to intentionally and intelligently map out their education and training plans, and to connect, interact with, and learn from real companies.

Doing this will effectively build a database of talented and qualified young people. Employers will be able to use that to find and cultivate talent earlier than ever before. This can revolutionize hiring. In the way that college basketball coaches now begin scouting prospects in middle school, we can provide that level of early scouting and searching of “prospects” for particular job roles.

As the platform builds, employers will be able to create specific tasks, writing prompts and work assignments to allow them to evaluate and compare candidates apples-to-apples on real-life scenarios. As more and more candidates’ data is accumulated on the platform over time, we can continue to build and refine our data sets around the types of people who enjoy and thrive in certain job roles. Abundant data and machine learning capabilities will allow us to eventually provide personalization of career recommendations similar to the way Pandora, Spotify, or Netflix provide personalized music and video content.

There’s no reason why we should be limited to the sliver of jobs we already know about, for the companies where we have connections, and only after biding our time in ‘the system’ for 8 years. In a world where you can text an emoji and have a pizza show up 20 minutes later,you should also be able to discover, explore, and secure great, fulfilling jobs with the same ease you find new movies and music.

This post was originally published on Vocatio on December 6, 2016. Head to vocatio.com to join the Vocatio movement!

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