Who Broke The Job Market?

During my most recent stint as a job seeker, I found myself curious about how such a crucial element of business has come to be so fervently despised by professionals everywhere.

Years ago, something initiated a perpetuating cycle that drove our job market to the current loathsome state we have today. I realized something though— it comes down to the proverbial “chicken or the egg” dilemma.

Which came first? Did the talent acquisition industry begin looking for an innovative way to handle candidate profiles, thereby shaping job seeker behavior and creating the hyper-data focused job market of today? Or instead, did our overzealous habit of carpet bombing resumes for each open role, eventually overburdened recruiters with literal stacks of applications, inevitably forcing their hand into building the algorithms to manage the workload?

With these questions in mind, I took a deeper dive into the system we’ve created…

Long before online job applications, a candidate only had two options — hand deliver their resume or mail it in. It was intentional when you applied for a job. Hours were spent going down to the local Xerox store and paying to have copies of your resume and cover letter made. While you were there, you would likely need to grab a box of legal sized envelopes and a roll of stamps, ensuring that when you got home you had everything you needed to package up each application before sending them out.

The idea of hopping online, finding a hundred job postings, and rifling off an application for every role that remotely fit your qualifications was unimaginable. The system moved slow and opportunities were limited.

Today’s job market is drastically different though. Candidates (myself included) have dozens of different versions of their resume, constantly revising them to reflect the “key words” for the next posting that they come across. Copies of cover letters inundate our desktops, our inbox is filled with emails subject lines saying, “Thank you for applying at XYZ Company”, and job boards refresh daily, alerting us to another list of opportunities that match our experience. Applying has been made to be as simple as hitting a button. With two clicks of a mouse, your inEasyApply is on its way to the recruiter for review. Once we’ve finished one application, it’s on to the next — and with another <click> <click> the process continues.

Inevitably, we find ourselves frustrated from the lack of response we receive from the hundreds of applications we submit. Time and time again, our efforts either go unanswered or we open automated rejection emails, always curious if someone even took the time to look at what we sent in. Somehow when we do make it through the first layer of filtration, buzzing with excitement about the prospect of a 15 minute “get to know you” phone call, our frustration only grows when the recruiter calls us 10 minutes late, and to our dismay, hasn’t reviewed any of our information.

Like the professionals we know ourselves to be, we persevere.

A week or two later, the much anticipated push notification pops up on our phone, alerting us about another automated rejection email that we’ve become so accustomed to — this time with the consolation of knowing a human was behind it.

Consequently, we blame recruiters. We continue with the status quo, holding our breath for change that will never come. Yet, all it takes is a moment of compassion, to realize the workload this has placed on recruiters…

For every application we submit, “something” must review it. In the days before the ATS (a.k.a Applicant Tracking System), that something was a someone. Now take a moment and imagine what a recruiter’s day would be like today if they didn’t have an ATS.

A recruiter can receive hundreds, if not thousands, of applications for an open headcount. The volume alone, quickly becomes overwhelming. Extrapolating this out over an additional 10 to 15 open postings, and you begin to appreciate the average workload for a recruiter.

With this in mind, it’s not a farfetched idea to assume that they’ve come to loathe the current state of the job market, as well. Through our behavior as candidates, we’ve effectively inundated recruiters with raw data, forcing them to become analysts instead of curators of human talent. In response, job descriptions grow. Turning into long lists of unrealistic expectations, that ineffectively represent the true qualifications of an acceptable hire.

These posting have effectively become proxies for an organization’s ideal candidate. Focusing only on the quantifiable characteristics, instead of the holistic contributions of each applicant. All of this in the attempt to filter the amassed pool of candidates, into something actionable.

The unfortunate reality is that recruiting is now like every other high throughput role in corporate America, process oriented and devoid of the intrinsically human aspect of the function. Without the systems that the industry has put in place, recruiters wouldn’t ever move beyond the discovery phase of the talent acquisition process.

With all of this understood, I realized that it doesn’t matter what came first. In a certain sense, what’s done is done and current the system is here to stay. We’re now left with a choice — continue with our current modes of failure as job seekers or change the game.

Our expectations as a candidate, is to have an opportunity to personally express our abilities. Hoping to highlight all of the nuances we couldn’t fit into a resume/cover letter. For recruiters, they want to be sure they hire the right person. This means finding the right fit technically, but more importantly finding the right fit culturally. We know these two simple truths to be self-evident, so how do we go about breaking this cycle?

The Power of a Great Recruiter

Last September, I began exploring the thought of moving beyond my current organization. Leading up to this moment, I had been doing my preliminary research. Keeping an ear to the Denver tech scene, I learned about various organizations. Listening, in the hopes of identifying a short list of teams that matched my values and would make a strong fit for my personal/professional aspirations.

Xactly Corp, among a few other tech startups in Denver, was one company that had checked all of the boxes. They showed consistent, year over year growth in a rapidly expanding market, all the while maintaining a high level of internal satisfaction among their employees. Success meets culture.

Instead of blindly applying to any open roles that they had available, I chose a different strategy. I searched LinkedIn for employees in their sales channel and leveraged a current connection I had, to start the conversation with their team. A conversation at a time, I networked with a wide array of current employees, learning where I could apply my background to effectively enter the organization. As luck would have it, I eventually landed myself in front of the recruiter who managed these roles.

Enter Grace Bohl. Grace is the Team Lead for Sales Recruiting at Xactly Corp, and a shining example of what corporate recruiting should be. Our professional relationship started with a simple LinkedIn message:

Hi Grace,

I recently spoke with Danielle D******* and John K******* about Xactly. They told me that you would be an excellent person for me to speak with, in regards to my interest in pursuing an Account Executive role within the organization. I look forward to connecting with you.

Best,

Bryan

She set aside 30 minutes to chat with me about my interests. In our conversation, she established that my skills would be best suited for a Solutions Consultant role and worked with me to formulate a plan for us to stay in contact until one of these roles opened up. Part of this plan included, an introduction to the hiring manager for the role and then monthly check-ins about headcount forecasts for the upcoming month.

We followed through on our plans, connecting monthly, even when there wasn’t any news to discuss.

Finally, the day arrived. The role I had been waiting for, opened. She reached out, confirmed my interests in pursuing the position for the final time, and just like that, placed me directly into the interview pipeline.

My resume wasn’t perfect. I didn’t write a cover letter. My background wasn’t in tech. I certainly didn’t check all the boxes listed on the job description. Yet, there I was. None of those “things” mattered, because of the genuine interest I had shown with the role, the team, and the organization as a whole— it exuded something I couldn’t put into words on a piece of paper.

One interview after another, I made my way through the hiring process. After each set of conversations, I could rely on Grace to follow up. It was a small courtesy but made a huge impact on my time as a candidate. She always let me know how the team felt and what the expectations were moving forward. In many ways, she alleviated the stress and ambiguity of the whole process.

I had been through interviews with other organizations, each with varying success. Although these functions are inherent to the recruiting process, Grace’s efforts somehow felt personal.

Ultimately, I didn’t get the job. The open head counts were put on hold and my candidacy came to a halt. As unfortunate as this was, this time I didn’t walk away with the usual feeling of defeat. Instead of disheartened, I felt empowered. Through my own initiative, I created the interactions I required to no longer become a number in a system. I realized the power of creating a genuine connection with a recruiter. For the first time, I felt as though the person on the other side was personally invested in my success. Humanity had been restored to the process.

The story isn’t over though. After the interviews ended, Grace personally followed up and let me know that this opportunity wasn’t over. She extended herself, personally offering a referral for any future roles within Xactly Corp, as well as, to any connections within her network. We’ve stayed in contact since this series of interviews, and I feel as though I have an ally in my search for the next step in my career.

Candor — Transparency — Empathy

Grace embodies each of these characteristics. She extended professional courtesy, her own gesture of goodwill for my efforts to become a member of her organization.

What to Take Away…

  1. The systems broken, but we have the power to fix it — If we want change as a job seeker, we need to create it for ourselves. It certainly won’t be easy, but most good things in life generally aren’t…
  2. Create intention when you apply — Make 100 attempts with one company, instead of one attempt with 100 companies. Learn about organizations and what they do. Investigate who you want to work for and why, then exploit this as a strength when applying.
  3. Be genuine — Own who you are and what you bring to the table. Companies will always want people who can technically perform within a role. What’s even more critical to them when hiring externally, is finding someone who they can trust and enjoy being around, day in and day out.
  4. Go find a Grace — It’s people like her, who are the solution to the problem we’re facing. Reach out, create connections, and develop candor with people like this in your network. Their stamp of approval means far more than any grade on an ATS…

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Life in your 20s and beyond. A Medium publication focused on Work, Freelancing, Money and Life Advice.

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Bryan Karr

Bryan Karr

Solutions Consultant | MBA | Career Coach

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