Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Managing Up? Speaking Up? Here's Your Chance to Listen Up

Want to learn more about what it means to successfully manage up? How about the benefits of speaking up?

Well, today's your lucky day!

Click here and here to listen in on two informative and lively conversations between Tim Muma of the Employment Notebook (a program of and an industry expert for whom I can personally vouch as being of the highest caliber. 

(Okay, fine. I'm talking about myself. But still!)

Happy listening!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Condé Nast Makes an Announcement, and Another Unpaid Internship Program Bites the Dust

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that publisher Condé Nast will be eliminating its internship program.

Condé Nast is being sued by two former interns who claim the publisher violated wage and hour law when it failed to pay the interns less than minimum wage. The interns are hoping the suit will qualify for class action status.  

Reading the press coverage and reader comments, it quickly becomes apparent that there are three kinds of people in this world:

  • Those who believe government has no business regulating commerce for any reason whatsoever
  • Those who’ve personally benefited from unpaid internships and look back on their experiences with fondness, while (sometimes) wondering out loud how any intern could be so ungrateful as to want money in exchange for such a great gig
  • Those who view unpaid internships as exploitation

Well, I’m definitely closer to those last folks than not. As I’ve written in the past, I’m not down with free labor, unless it’s given to benefit a charitable endeavor.  

“Hours paid for hours worked,” that’s the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) mantra. Everything else is an exemption. And to qualify for that exemption, employers need to meet certain standards. Fox Searchlight failed to meet that standard, and it looks like Condé Nast also may have failed.  

And yet, many in the public are mad at the interns, calling them “entitled,” and “greedy,” and “unwilling to pay their dues,” and all that junk. But it seems to me that any employer who wants labor in exchange for air is the party with the entitlement problem.  

Then there are those who characterize the interns as lawyer pawns.  

Hell yeah, if you’re an unpaid/underpaid intern, suing your sponsor/employer has become downright fashionable. 

Since the aforementioned Fox Searchlight case, Warner Music Group, Atlantic Recording, Gawker Media, Fox Entertainment Group, NBC Universal, Viacom, Sony, Universal Music Group, Bad Boy Entertainment, and Donna Karan have all been sued.  

But I’ll say it again. If these internship programs were providing the training the law required, these plaintiff/interns wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.  

I don’t get it.  

Just because an employment practice has become common doesn’t mean it’s right. These employers had their fun, now it’s time to pony up.

Pay for your labor. Invest in training for entry-level staff. Get your own damn coffee.

I can’t agree with those who say that working at these companies is a huge privilege that many would gladly pay to receive.  

Instead, I’m convinced that many students accept unpaid internships because they’re advised by people in power they must, or they won’t get ahead.  

So let’s see. To get a “good” job, first these kids are told they have to get a college degree (the cost of which has increased more than a 1000% in the last 30 years). Then they’re told they must work for free to gain “experience.”

Come on. When will it end? With the cost of living skyrocketing as it has, I don’t think this generation (or their parents) can bear it much longer. And, when it comes to many of these unpaid internships, it’s immoral and illegal.  

You can disagree with the law, I suppose, and hope that it changes one day. But in the meantime, I support the interns. By challenging these companies, they’re taking a huge risk, even if they are lawyered up.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

McDonald’s Worker Tells CEO She Can’t Feed Her Kids

I consider myself something of a bleeding heart. I like to root for the underdog, and I’m sensitive to those who might be having a harder time of things than some others. Truly.

But I’ve been struggling for the past few days about a story reported on AOL Jobs: Fast Food Worker To McDonald's CEO: I Can't Feed My Kids.

Nancy Salgado, a McDonald’s employee of 10 years, publicly confronted McDonald CEO Jeff Stratton while he was giving a keynote speech at the Union League Club of Chicago.

Salgado told Stratton, “I'm a single mother of two. It's really hard for me to feed my two kids and struggle day to day. Do you think this is fair that I have to be making $8.25 when I've been working at McDonald's for 10 years?”

And I’ve been stuck on the word “fair” ever since. How does one answer that question? How does a CEO decide what portion of profits he’s obligated to share with his workers? And considering that Illinois is an at-will state, and no one is forcing Salgado to work at McDonald’s for $8.25 per hour, is her question about fairness, “fair?” I’m not so sure.

When questioned by, Salgado offered $15.00 an hour as a fair wage for what she does.

Now, that number has been thrown around quite a bit lately by those who advocate for a living wage versus a minimum wage, so I find it kind of suspicious that Salgado quoted it, because it seems to me that Salgado has no idea what her skills should be worth. Instead, she’s regurgitating a number she’s heard. And I think that before a worker starts asking for a raise, she ought to have some idea what her skills are actually worth in the marketplace.

Later in that same interview with, Salgado said there are times she can’t buy milk for her kids. Well, then I really got upset. Remember, Salgado has been at McDonald’s for 10 years.

Listen sister. If ever you’re in a position where you can’t buy milk for your kids, then I think it’s safe to say your current work situation sucks, and it’s time to pursue a new one. I know the economy is weak, but still.

This is going to sound harsh, and I’m sorry. But if you’ve been with the same company for a decade and haven’t yet learned enough to qualify for a new job that pays you what's needed to consistently put milk on the table, then you’re a damn fool. Why haven’t you moved on yet?

And the answer can’t be, well, I like it here. I don’t want to leave, so management should pay me more. No. Management isn’t obligated to pay you more than your skills are worth because you won’t explore other career options.

The other day we went out for dinner, and Thomas, my 9-year-old, didn’t like his meal so he didn’t eat it. Irritating, but I don’t believe in shoving food down kids’ throats, so okay.

On the way home, I decide I want an ice-cream cone, and since we’re approaching McDonalds we stop there. Thomas asks, “Can I have a chicken sandwich?” Fine, Thomas.

My husband orders the sandwich, and it’s $1.00.

I understand volume sales and all that jazz, but $1.00? What kind of chicken sandwich costs $1.00? I’d be scared to eat it. 

So my husband and I go back and forth whether Thomas should eat it. I stick by my position—no way is actual chicken in this thing. Ed says, “Nah, McDonald’s sells a gazillion, that’s how they can charge so little.”  

I give in and Thomas eats the sandwich. (Okay fine—Thomas had already starting eating the sandwich while Ed and I were talking.)  

And Thomas loves it. The next day he wants another. I tell him, “Heck no, kid. You’re not getting another one of those ever.” It’s a fact. A $1.00 chicken sandwich should taste like poop. A $1.00 chicken sandwich that actually tastes good has got to have something in it that can kill you.  

But here’s my point. I’d gladly pay more than $1.00 for a sandwich so that someone else could have a better living.  

And I’d definitely pay more than $1.00 for somebody to get access to an educational or training program that would qualify her for a job that allows her to buy a gallon of milk for her children. Or a career counseling program that would open a world of possibilities to someone with enough hutzpah to confront her company’s CEO in public.  

By the way, I’m not saying I’m opposed to raising the minimum wage, per se.  

But at some point we have to help ourselves so that others can help us. And by help, I don’t mean asking questions like “is it fair that I have to be making …” as though you’re an indentured servant or something.

If I’m being a meanie, somebody, please let me know. But this I just don’t get. Ten years. No, something’s not right.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

EEOC Harshly Criticized for Suing Employer Over Dreadlock Ban

Photo courtesy of
The EEOC has filed suit against Catastrophe Management Solutions, a catastrophic insurance claims company in Mobile, Alabama. 

The reason? The agency claims Catastrophe engaged in race discrimination and violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) by rescinding a job offer to an African American woman, Chastity Jones, after Jones refused to cut her dreadlocks (locs).

According to the EEOC’s suit, Jones had been interviewed and offered a job as a customer service representative while her hair was pinned in curlocks that initially appeared to Catastrophe employees as neat curls. 

However, later that day during a meeting to review Jones’ schedule, a manager noticed that Jones’ curled hair was, in fact, curled locs. At that point, Jones was told that company policy forbad “excessive hairstyles” and that Jones would have to cut her hair to work at Catastrophe. Jones refused, and Catastrophe rescinded the job offer. Jones later filed suit.

Where to begin?

I don’t know what’s more outrageous—Catastrophe’s categorization of locs as “extreme,” or the fact that said categorization occurred after Jones had been interviewed by God knows how many people and offered a job.  

See, I’m of the opinion that an “extreme” hairstyle is one that provokes a “WTF?” reaction as soon as you lay eyes on it—not something you view for hours before deeming it as such.
I’m also shocked as all get out that any employer would consider it reasonable to request that a woman cut her hair to get a job. I can think of only one scenario where this might be acceptable, and it involves Hollywood, a major career-altering role, and tons of cash. (And if memory serves me correctly, Sigourney Weaver voluntarily cut her locks to play Ripley in the movie Alien and then negotiated a clause in her contract that would guarantee a $40,000 bonus if she was asked to cut it again. Clever girl.)
A few weeks after I delivered Thomas, my hair went a little wonky and become so tangled I had to cut a big clump out. I’m not exaggerating when I say I cried liked a baby while I did it. Adam (then just eleven years old) had to console me, I was so beside myself.  

This is a woman’s crowning glory we’re talking about here! How in the world did Jones’ employer-for-all-of-a-hot-minute expect that she’d agree to cut it?
I dare the folks at Catastrophe to tell some chick with hair flowing down to her behind à la Crystal Gayle that it’s “extreme” and must be cut before she can work for them.
Does the company have the right to enforce lawful grooming standards? Of course. Did this standard cross the line into the unlawful? I sure hope the court thinks so (that's if they get to court). The fact that Jones was offered the job while employer representatives were starring her in the face is more than a little telling. Again, how extreme could the style have appeared? If I were Jones, I’d had told those people “no thanks” as well.
I wonder how “extreme” Catastrophe might find my current style, which is a medium, (well to black folks it’s medium; others would no doubt call it short) curly fro. I’m overdue for a trim, it’s true, but I use styling products every day to keep it neat and more curly than bushy. Still, a fro of any sort would be considered “extreme” by some, I’m sure.  

So, I can’t agree with those who are criticizing the EEOC for going too far. Let their damn daughters be refused a job for wearing their hair in a style consistent with its natural texture and then see what they say.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Stick a Fork in You Voice Mail, You're Just About Done

A few days ago, I missed an important call and so undertook the horrendous task of setting up my home voice mail and checking all my messages.

Wait. Let me back up a bit.

In a fit of irritation, I’d unplugged my landline phone and thrown it into a box somewhere. It seemed like the right thing to do. Only annoying people (i.e., telemarketers) called, and I absolutely hated the sound of the ring.

Recently however, I decided to plug the phone in again and use it as my office phone, since it does give better reception than the $10 cell phone my oldest son bought me (another story for another day) … except I couldn’t actually find the phone. So, I bought a new phone and plugged that in.  

And shoot. I missed the phone call, and I could see that I had messages, but I had no idea how to access the messages. I hit every button on the phone and read every line of instruction in the package insert, but no luck. Finally, I did a Google search and learned that I needed to set up my voice mail with my phone provider. Sigh.  

I got it all straightened out, and then I began to listen to my voice mail messages. All 150 of them, with the oldest going back three years.  

I have never been so bored in all my days. Of those 150 messages, I ended up saving one—a cute message from my oldest son to my youngest about some video game battle they’d entered into.  

There was a message from Adam’s high school history teacher about a test rescheduling (Adam is now a Junior in college).  

There was a message from a friend who said she’d go ahead and try me on my cell (good move, Michele!).

There were the obligatory sales messages.

And there were several messages from a somewhat seductive sounding Red Cross employee named Willetta who is apparently quite desperate to get her hands on my husband’s platelets. (Ed, would you please give Willetta your cell phone number??)

And oh, the important call I missed? That caller didn’t leave a message.

It took me nearly an hour to listen to all the messages, even after I learned that I could hit 77 and delete the speaker’s voice mid-sentence. Thank you, Lord.

I think of all this and am reminded of that New York Times article by Nick Bilton, in which he declared those who leave voice mail messages as “impolite” wasters of his time.

Bilton was criticized heavily for his stance (well, he did brag that he and his mother now communicate only via Twitter), but I agree (at least in part). The process for accessing voice mail just sucks. So many prompts. So little interest in following said prompts.

Consider me an official voice mail hater.

In "Is it Time to Hang Up on Voice Mail?" Jack Santos, a research vice president with Gartner, an information technology research and advisory firm, is quoted as saying:

“There used to be a time when we would know that a voice mail message would get picked up and people would respond to it right away. You just don't know any more. It could be days before anyone checks their voice mail.”

So true, Jack. And if the call was made to someone’s landline (you know, the landline you keep specifically for bothersome sales people and others to whom you don’t want to give your real number, even as you convince yourself that hey, at least you didn’t lie and make up a number), who knows when you’ll get a call back? In my case, at least three years.

Texting is still too casual a method for formal work situations, and it is not okay to text a client, a recruiter, or a prospective employer. However, I suspect that in time this will change, unless of course by then some other new and wonderful technology takes the place of texting, which is entirely possible.

And by the way, none of this means I don't leave voice mail messages. 

Although come to think of it, no one actually calls me back...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Not the Worst by a Long Shot

I think it’s safe to say that most folks have had about enough of this government shutdown as well as the tug of war around the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

As this thing drags on, the polls are showing that people are just disgusted. Heck, Americans claim to have a higher opinion of jury duty, hipsters, zombies, and dog poop than Congress.

From my corner of the universe, I can tell folks are getting antsy because I’m getting more pushback on my piece about Why the ACA Isn't As Unpopular As Some Would Like.

Hey, I’m just trying to give you some insight, here, thinking maybe it’ll help. If you don’t want insight, I get it. But that’s my way. I seek to understand and to be understood.

And in that spirit, here’s something that occurred to me when one reader expressed his incredulity that anyone could support such a bad, bad law as the ACA.

Now, this is going to sound a little odd to some folks. It’s going to sound a little ridiculous. A little irrational. Maybe even downright stupid.

But I’d be lying if I denied what I’m about to tell you, and I don’t want to do that.

So here goes.

For me, as a person of African descent living in these here United States (a country I love, by the way), I can’t help feeling a little incredulous myself when someone wants to preach to me about a bad law.

Because it brings to mind all the other bad laws that were created for no other reason than to:

Keep me illiterate
Keep me ignorant
Keep me “in my place”
Keep me invisible
Keep me away
Keep me from exercising my right to vote
Keep me enslaved


And I think, “Hmmm… as bad laws go, Obamacare doesn’t sound that bad.”

I’m not saying two wrongs make a right. I’m not saying it’s completely logical. I’m saying it is what it is. And if you find yourself dumfounded about what is, well, consider the history of what was.

Like I said, you may not “get it.”

And yes, the ACA is deeply flawed, I’ll give you that.

But I believe (and go ahead and call me a fool if you wish), that the intent of the law is good—to provide health coverage for those who have none. To provide something for someone who has nothing. Something we all want that recognizes the intrinsic worth of each of us. Basic flippin’ healthcare. To quote a friend “Is it so terrible to propose that if we all give a little we can give something to someone who has nothing?”

I don’t think it’s terrible. I think it’s what civil societies do. I think it’s what communities do.

And this is not purely a charitable endeavor. We know that the cost of care for uninsured individuals affects the entire healthcare industry.

I’m not happy about the current state of affairs, you can believe that. And at this point, I want it resolved as much as the next person.

But I can’t get on board with those who want to rant and rave about how terrible Obamacare is—that it’s the worst piece of legislation ever.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why the ACA Isn't As Unpopular As Some Would Like

In February, I purchased a high-deductible, individual policy for myself and my two dependent children, since the family coverage provided by my husband’s company would literally cost us his entire paycheck. Our high-deductible plan cost $447.73 monthly, and I was glad to get it.

Last week, I used the insurance for the first time. Thomas, my youngest son, was due (okay a tiny bit overdue) for his annual physical, and I was concerned that he’d failed a recent hearing exam at school. Another concern is that he’s been blinking more frequently, as though his eyes are dry or irritated.

The entire office visit took approximately 90 minutes, which wasn’t terrible but wasn’t great either, seeing as most of our time was spent with the medical assistant, a medical student, and Thomas and I staring at each other waiting for the doctor. We’ve been coming to this hospital for more than 20 years, since my oldest son was an infant, so we know these folks and consider ourselves satisfied customers.

The doctor examined my son, and afterwards I told the doctor my concerns. Thankfully, my son’s hearing test was fine, but since the inside of his ear looked a little “dull,” the doctor prescribed an antibiotic and for his eyes, eye drops.

So, I go to the Target pharmacy near the hospital and drop off the prescriptions. When I go to pick them up, I remember that my HD plan will require me to pay for the prescriptions in full, and I wonder what the medicines are going to cost. I’m not terribly worried, because the last time I had to purchase an antibiotic for someone’s ear troubles it was all of $10, and how much could eye drops cost?

My bill was $154.20.

The way this is supposed to work, plan holders pay a discounted rate (the rate negotiated by the insurance provider and the prescription provider) so that even if I’m paying out of pocket, I’m paying less than would someone with no insurance at all. And indeed, my receipt lists the “retail” value of these prescriptions as $227.98.


Cue to the part where I ask the clerk, “Excuse me? Could you repeat that? Could I see those receipts?”

But, because the medicines were for my son, and because I had no idea whether Target’s price was above market, at market, or below market, and because I had funds in a health savings account (HSA) I paid what I was told to pay.

(When Thomas heard the price he said, “What?! How big is the bottle?” It’s 2.5 mL, that’s how big.)

As for the antibiotic, it turns out not to be the pink, thick liquid I’m used to, but a powder that needs to be mixed with water to activate. (Seriously?? $25.75 and I have to mix this myself?)

Here’s my point, and I’m making it because I truly believe that those who oppose Obamacare just don’t understand.

Something in our healthcare system has to change, and ordinary working people know this very well.

And in my rational mind, I know that the ACA is, at the moment, creating as many problems as it is resolving.

But in my emotional mind, I’m simply tired of all the out-of-control costs associated with healthcare. (And don’t think I’m not aware for a second that my situation could be a lot worse. A lot worse.)

Ridiculously high premiums, doctors with too many patients, ineffective means to comparison shop goods and services, and expensive prescriptions that may or may not be effective (did I mix it correctly? Let’s hope so) are just the tip of the iceberg.

Something has to give. Someone has to do something.

So while the ACA is far from perfect, at least it’s a start. And we need a start.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

When They're Just Not That Into You

The Reverend Al Sharpton has a new book coming out, The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path to American Leadership, which he told WSJ’s Lee Hawkins is about how “rejected people can embrace themselves” by learning from the life experiences of other “rejects” like President Obama, Jay-Z, and of course, Sharpton himself.

Sharpton says that “... people [need to] understand all of us have been rejected for some reason… because we’re gay, because we’re poor, because we’re the oddball at home… [But] if you learn lessons in how to accept yourself, you can make it.”

While this idea is not exactly revolutionary, it kind of is.

How many of us have truly accepted who we are? How many of us are comfortable enough with our foibles, eccentricities, peculiarities, neuroses, vulnerabilities, and sensitivities such that if someone rejects us because of it, we’re okay with that? My guess is not many.

I once had a friend share with me her surprise at another’s friend’s proclamation that when it came to her social calendar, she would only keep time with people she liked.

Well, I wasn’t surprised. Outside of work and family obligations, is there any reason to spend precious free time with people you don’t like?

And by the same token, is there any reason to spend time with people who don’t like you?

Hanging around with people who don’t like you is such a downer. It’s a real drain on your energy, and it keeps you on the defense, constantly apologizing for who you are, what you believe, and what you want.

What’s the point?

I’m reminded of an episode from the television comedy series Mad About You, starring Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt. The show, which ran from
1992-1999, focused on the relationship challenges of newlyweds Paul and Jaime. I haven’t watched it since 1999, but I still find myself looking back on certain episodes with fondness.

One is where Jaime shows Paul how to change the toilet paper roll (you know how you husbands are) and another is when Jaime makes herself crazy trying to get the new neighbors across the hall to like her. She’s inviting them to this, that, and the other thing and making a real effort to place herself in their good graces, and none of it’s working.

Finally, they just tell her in a very matter-of-fact manner—we don’t like you. And she can’t believe it. Who doesn’t like her? Everybody likes her! Later, Paul lovingly disagrees.

Whatever you have to offer the world—whether it’s your unique way of viewing things, your sense of humor, your sense of style, your principles—no matter. Whatever it is, someone will reject it. Someone will reject you.

But it’s okay, because someone else will accept it and you.

So repeat after me.

"From now on, I'm only hanging with people who like me."

At the job, do your job. But don't spend any energy and definitely don't spend any time beating yourself up about the haters or those with whom you simply have nothing in common.

When it comes to your friends, don't get roped into activities with people who make you feel terrible about you. Graciously bow out instead.

If you're a creator of any kind, understand that whatever you create has a specific audience and leave it at that. For example, if you don't like my blog (and the opinions I express on it) then you aren't my audience.

'Nuff said.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Oh, You Republicans: Stop Talking Already!

Yesterday Sean Hannity had members of his studio audience discuss the government shutdown. Participants hailed from both sides of the debate, meaning some members support Obamacare and some don’t. I was relieved, because I’d gotten very weary of the endless parade of House Republicans justifying their mulish foolishness with cries that they’re “standing up for the American people.”

And I’ll tell you what else I’m weary of, in a minute. But first, here’s a disclaimer.

  • I’m taking a “wait and see” attitude toward Obamacare. While I don’t view healthcare as a right, I do believe a civil society will find ways to provide basic healthcare for its most vulnerable members.
  • My family does not qualify for the exchanges.
  • I’m not a huge fan of President Obama.

Having said all that, I’m thoroughly tired of all the right-wing sound bites. Such as:

The President lied when he said ‘If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.’
Let’s fight fair, okay? Whatever the President meant, I think it’s more than safe to say that his statement was NOT a guarantee that employers would forever and a day maintain their current offerings. If an employer decides he’d rather send his employees to the exchanges than continue offering health insurance, that’s his choice. If the employer wants to offer an Aetna plan today and an Amerihealth plan tomorrow, that’s also his choice. You can’t blame the ACA for that. No matter how strongly you may believe employers have been provoked into making whatever changes, they’re still exercising choice. And isn’t employer choice what you Republicans are all about?

“Congress shouldn’t be exempt from Obamacare.”

Yeah, that sounds good. If Congress passed a law, they should be subject to the law, right? But consider this. Members of Congress and their staff will have to choose a plan from the exchange. So what’s all the fuss?

Well, unlike all other employees, Congress will be allowed to apply their employer contribution toward the cost of care.

And you know what? That makes sense, because the ACA was put in place to provide health insurance to individuals who don’t have it, primarily because their employers don’t provide it. Does that sound like Congress to you? 

On the contrary, Congress’ employer provides mighty darn good insurance. So why should members of Congress lose their benefits—and effectively incur a pay cut—for no other reason than to make them eligible for the exchanges? Congress is being sent to the exchanges to experience it and support it. Significantly reducing their compensation wasn’t the goal and shouldn't be an acceptable unintended consequence. (And no, I don’t have any relatives in Congress, and I don’t even particularly like Congress right now, but fair is fair.)

“We’ve tried to negotiate. We’ve agreed to fund X, Y, and Z.”

Sure you have. You’ve agreed to fund everything you never had issue with in the first place. Come on. The rest of us aren’t that dumb.

“We didn’t cause the government to shut down.”
Yes you did.
You passed the law. Now you’re trying to “unpass it” by eliminating the funding to implement it. This is soooo not the way to operate in good faith, and you all look like a bunch of vindictive sore losers as a result. Yeah, I’ve heard the other side of this argument—that President Obama has unilaterally changed the law over the months and so Obamacare really isn’t the law of the land, but I’m not buying that.

Last night on The O’Reilly Factor, Charles Krauthammer, who’s said repeatedly what a terrible law Obamacare is, also said that the Republicans have gone about this thing the wrong way. He told O’Reilly, “If you believe as I do, and as the GOP does, that it’s an impossible monstrosity, then why not let it go into affect, and the country would utterly reject it.”
Yes, why not? Oh I get it. You’re all a bunch of principled conscientious objectors. Give me a break, please.

Bob Beckel, resident Democrat on The Five, said he wanted to thank the Republicans for the “great gift they’ve given us, by closing down this government.”

See, Beckel, Krauthammer, and O’Reilly all get it, even if the House Republicans don’t.

But I imagine they’ll figure it out after the next election.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Elephant in the Room: Recruiters and the Skills Gap

Anywhere that people are talking about talent, someone is bound to mention the skills gap.

What is the skills gap? Simply put, the skills gap is the difference between the qualities needed to do a job and the qualities applicants possess. There may be plenty of unemployed people who want to work, the theory goes, but there simply aren’t enough qualified people to do the work that needs doing.

There are lots of opinions about how dire—or not—the situation truly is, with some arguing that if there were a skills gap, employers would be raising wages and spending more on training, two things we’re definitely not seeing in the marketplace.

For my part, however, I agree there’s a skills gap, alright. And if recruiters would look themselves in the mirror, they’d see it in action. Right there. That’s you I’m talking about, recruiter.

Can you honestly say you know what the hell you’re doing? I’m not so sure you do.  

Let me tell you why I believe this. (And like Don Lemon said, if this doesn’t apply to you, then I’m not talking to you.)

You Ask Dumb Questions That Have Nothing to Do with Whether an Applicant Can Do a Job
What is your current salary? (What??) When can you start? (Start what? We just began talking three minutes ago, and I know darn well this isn’t a job offer, so what’s your hurry??) Why do you want this job? (Seriously? Am I supposed to manufacture a “right” answer about a job I know next to nothing about?)

Which brings me to…

You’re Determined to Keep Things One Sided, and It’s Counterproductive and Annoying As All Get Out
All I have is a job title—not who’s hiring, why they’re hiring, or the rate of pay, and you want to know all kinds of things about me so that you can decide whether I’m a “good fit” for the job of your imagination? Why don’t you give me some information so I can help you out? I get it. You’re (a) concerned I’ll learn enough about the job to contact the company directly and cut you out of the picture (by the way, don’t you mean you and the other three recruiters working on this job?) or (b) doing what you can to avoid embarrassing yourself or your company by presenting a completely unsuitable candidate. Understand, however, that if you’re competent I’m happy to have you be the go between and also I have no desire to waste my time interviewing for a job when I don’t qualify for it. We’re on the same page, I promise you. We may have different underlying reasons, but trust me—I don’t want to make a mistake any more than you do. It would be nice if you acted like you knew that.

You Don’t Work Hard Enough to Determine Whether an Applicant Could Do the Job
Last year, Harvard Business Review reported that recruiters spend just six seconds on each resume. In that six seconds, recruiters look at applicant name, current title and company, current position start and end dates, previous title and company, previous position start and end dates, and education. That’s it.

I know that you may receive hundreds of resumes, but this six-second deal is a bit scary. Not all job titles are created equal, you know, and just because someone has done a job doesn’t mean he’s done it well. Also, whatever happened to the concept of transferrable skills? Nope, we’re not interested in those anymore? Okay.

You’re a Poseur
Listen, I mean this for your own good. You’ve got some power, that’s for sure, but stop pretending that it is what it isn’t. You get the resume, you think it looks good, you forward it to the hiring manager, she says, “No way,” and you show her another resume. End of story.

Yes, you’ve got a role to play. Yes, you are the gatekeeper. More than that, you’re a fellow human being trying to make a living. I’m not mad at you. Until you start acting superior, that is, and then I can’t stand you.

Here’s my bottom line.

For most people—those who rely on wages for a living and aren’t terribly jazzed to play a bunch of dopey mind games, looking for a job these days is darn near torture. It would be better—way better—for all concerned (job seeker, recruiter, and employer) if the process were a little smarter, a little more honest, and a lot more humane. For God’s sake, recruiter, give it a try. Approaching your job as though you’re one part psychic, one part psychologist, and one part egomaniac (did you mean to reveal that last bit, by the way?) is, as the kids say, not helping. It almost feels like you’re setting up candidates to fail. And while it’s not your job to help the candidate per se, you still do need good candidates, right? Am I missing something here?

Ask about skills. Ask how candidates do what they do. Ask for detailed information about experience. Be willing to reveal a salary range, instead of asking 101 questions trying to figure out whether the candidate will take the job and bolt the minute someone offers more money.

Be a partner. Tell the truth. (Nicely, if it’s a harsh truth). Be as transparent as you can and still maintain confidences.

I know, that all takes skill. Hmmm …