Can’t find a job? It’s not all your fault!

by K B , updated on May 7, 2010

Many people come to me frustrated when they can’t find a job. They take it very personally. And so they should in many cases. It may mean their resume needs work, they annoy people on the phone, or they have put little thought into why someone should hire them.

Often, though, someone’s difficulty in finding a job is not about them. The recruitment systems many organisations have set up can actually make the odds stacked against job seekers. They make it hard to find out why someone should apply for a role, what the role is about and then put in a decent application.  What is ironic in this scenario, is that many recruitment consultants and HR professionals will often complain about the poor quality of applications and resumes, without realising how hard their systems make it for people.

What I’m about to say is typical of what happens in a large corporation. OK it’s the worst case scenario. But all or some of what I say does happen. This is what goes on before an advertisement hits an online job board or a career site.

A job is born when someone leaves, someone gets promoted, there’s a restructure or the business grows. A line manager then gets approval to hire someone, and off they go. If they are new, they cast around for what to do. So they look up the intranet click on recruitment and call their HR or recruitment contact.

Typically HR/ recruitment are set up two ways. They may be “partnered up” with the business and offer coaching and consulting services, and help the line manager with their people issues. Or they may be an internal service provider of recruitment services. So they handle it all, just passing a person over, for the final interview. The internal specialist recruiter may be an employee of the organisation, or a specialist from an agency who works for the organisation within the organisation.

If the business is large the line manager may have never met their HR/internal recruitment consultant.  They could be in another office, another state, or in some cases, not even in the country.

This all might sound fine. Many things can be done over email, skype, IM or over the phone.  But face to face contact means something. It means that the HR /internal recruitment consultant can truly understand the business they support. They can get a feel for the “vibe” of the place. They can build up a better relationship with a line manager perhaps challenge them even, about what the manager requires.

But that may never happen. Everyone’s too busy. There’s not enough time or people for such personal contact. Instead the HR/ internal recruitment consultant gives the line manager a list of competencies that form the position description.  HR’s put a lot of work into these. They’ve hired their own consultants, run a few “climate” or feedback surveys. They’ve worked hard to understand the culture of the organisation, the skills they need now, and the skills that will take the organisation into the future. They ask the business to hire around these, in fact, they often give a line manager very little choice.

The HR/internal recruitment consultant instructs the line manager to write an advertisement including all the competencies. You’ve probably seen these sorts of words: “supporting strategic direction,” “developing productive working relationships,” “demonstrating integrity and alignment with values.” These competencies sound pretty desirable, sexy even. But the problem is that the line manager doesn’t really understand how these competencies relate to the job at hand. If the HR/internal recruitment consultant hasn’t spent any time in the business they support, they have limited idea what’s really needed, only that this fits nicely into an HR culture agenda – recruit with the right values, and the rest of people management is so much easier.

The line manager writes the advertisement, including all the competencies they think they should. HR tweaks it, unchallenged and lists it on an online job board or their own site. Just for good measure, if they suspect it will be hard to fill, they farm it out to an agency or two. Typically if the organisation is large enough, they will have a preferred supplier panel. This is industry jargon for a select group of recruitment consultants who service the organisation.

Within the recruitment industry, these preferred supplier panel agreements are really not that popular. Often an agency is asked to compete on price. The lowest bid for the business often wins. The successful agencies on the panel may have sent their best sales people out to secure the organisation as a client, but after that, for many reasons, may have not actually visited the organisation again. The organisation may not even want the agency to visit. So the agency consultant is detached. But an agreement is an agreement the agency get to work and advertise the role under their banner. They put a junior consultant on the case as there is not that much money to be made. The big billers and sales people who may have secured the contract, who know what they are doing, are out securing clients, to make the real money.

This is where you come in. A job pops up on your email job alert. It kind of looks like a match to what you want to do, but there’s a long list of competencies, which you have no idea about how to address. You can’t relate them to the role. So you call the HR consultant, or recruitment agency, if there is a contact number, that is. Sometimes there is a very clear message, don’t call us, we’ll call you. If you are lucky and you get to speak to the consultant you contact, it is likely from this scenario that they don’t know much about the client, or the job at hand. So they refer you back to the website to apply for the role.

So what happens from here?  You can’t speak with anyone who knows anything to find out whether you should apply for the role. The message from what was a poorly put together job description in the first place, is further distorted. So you can’t put in a decent application. You’re three steps away from the line manager who could tell you what the job is about, but you have no idea who he or she is. It’s all very hands off.You send off your application, and receive an automated reply saying thank you, we’ll be in touch if you’re successful. And then you wait, and wait, and wait.

Sound familiar? I think so. This is the story I hear from my clients time and time again. This is why your struggle to find a job is not personal. The system means you can’t get to the heart of what’s required, and the organisation can’t see the heart in you.

If you are struggling to find a job, there are much better ways than putting yourself through this system. I’ll talk through some of these future posts.

In the meantime, happy hunting.


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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Merwyn January 4, 2012 at 4:47 pm

It’s been 3 years riding the employment roller coaster & I have to deal with rejections once again in 2012 as I have started applying for jobs. I worked for “one of the biggest media agencies” two years ago but lasted only for a couple of months, most probably because they had too much expectations but also likely that I not do my “ie” and “o” as the locals did. I bought a resturant, employed over 10 people over one year but had to sell it due to the retail slump. I lost my savings that I brought to Australia & now I am back at square one searching job sites.

What I find hard to understand is that I tried to contribute to the economy in a small way to retain staff that I had hired, more from sympathy but who never the lesss validated my hiring decision. Now that I am on the other side of the fence, I see that not many are that risky-friendly. I just wonder if Bill Gates had decided to move to Australia presently but in the same age bracket he was fifteen years ago, would he have got a job?

Karalyn January 4, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Thanks for the comment Merwyn, I have asked Richard to give you his thoughts in a blog post coming up in the next week or so, Karalyn

Ratko March 10, 2012 at 8:22 am

Hi Karalyn,

I (don’t) work in marine industry for 20 years and already trying to find a job for 20 months. I found out by myself all you wrote in your posts (hard way;). All you wrote is truth total truth. It is simply wasting of your time and effort to find a job over agent. I sent out close to 3000 mails with applications. First question asked when they eventually call you is: “How much you want to be paid for job?” :)))))))) I usually reply; “You are agent give me a hint!” 😀 I try different approaches and ways but no result. Last time few weeks ago I been offered job in Africa from Dubai off shore company. First they gave me totally wrong job description to be signed by myself, then asked me if I have my own working boots and cover all, and then I turned their offer down when I realize that working contract and my life insurance is becoming a tricky problem and an issue for them. They simple did not know what they were doing or maybe they were?! 😉 Employers are getting worst and worst thinking only about financial effects and seams not anymore about people and that is very bad. Crises all around, financial and moral.

Ashleigh Walsh March 13, 2012 at 3:09 am

hi my name is Ashleigh i’m 18 yrs old i’m finding it hard to think of a job, and what i would be interested in, in the future. i had an accident which made me lose my left hand, it happened 3 yrs ago but i’m still finding it hard to pick a job. i hope u can help me.
cheers Ashleigh 🙂

Karalyn March 22, 2012 at 3:56 am

Hi Ashleigh, I am so sorry to hear about the trouble you are having. There are actually many things that you can do, as adaptive technology is amazing nowadays. I have hired many people with a disability, and I hired them because they could do the job and focussed on that in the interview. Could I suggest that you look at the job access website as a starting point, not so much for the services they provide, but they have a lot of resources on finding career paths. Also try the website as it lists career counsellors, who may be able to get you started in the right direction for you. Karalyn

Bruce li February 16, 2013 at 10:28 pm

Hi, Karalyn,

You’re absolutely right. My friend applied a job about mechanic by email near his home, but could not get any feedback. So we went to the company together to check why. The recruiter in that company only gave your very stupid answer: you have to have experienced the same model machine and doesn’t give you any chance to present. I thought she could not understand at all about engineering it means nothing even your presenting. This company is very big mining company in Perth I don’t want to mention its name.

How can we do except annoying?!

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