Originally I had in mind doing a post on "The Vanishing 24 Year Old HR Ditz." The reason why was that it has been 7 years now since I've been interviewed by a young female in her twenties, obviously oblivious to my profession, the job I was interviewing for, let alone the industry she worked in. I termed them "HR Ditzes" because they were exactly that. 20 something ditzes asking me inane, pointless questions like
"So, um, like, uh, what's your favorite color and why?" (not joking)
"And like have you ever been in a situation where you disagreed with your boss and how did you resolve it?"
"And so, like what is your biggest weakness?"
"So, like uh you do like Dogs or cats?" (not joking either)
I could never understand how a company could ever attract any talented labor with these dolts doing the initial screening for them and why you never interviewed with the hiring manager directly. Well seven years and not one 20 something HR ditz later I finally got my answer from a friend of mine who unbeknownst to me at the time was an HR manager.
Short answer - "Oh, yeah, sorry about that. We found out that didn't work so they're phasing those generalists out."
Really? You mean having young, idiotic, inexperienced morons who don't know a damn thing about the company or the job being your front line of defense for interviewing because the hiring managers are too damn lazy to do it themselves didn't work out so well? NO! Well, good thing it only took 2 decades to phase them out. Otherwise there might have been some real costs to that!
Regardless, what was infinitely more interesting and important was what I learned about how HR has changed since. Namely "check lists."
Since the elimination of the HR ditz, HR departments are now employing different and automated screening tactics. For example the much-hated "Taleo" or "Brass Ring" application forms where you regurgitate your resume (that you just uploaded) into little fields so a computer can scan for "keywords" that show you're a qualified candidate. Or the use of not only criminal background checks and drugs tests, but now credit checks. Or requiring a cover letter and analyzing the writing quality.
It was here I started to inquire if she ever thought about the unintended consequences of using such tactics?
For example smart, or at least, efficient people know they can apply for 10 times the amount of jobs where it only requires attaching your resume in the time it takes you to fill out a Taleo form. If you require they fill out a Brass Ring application, you may get less efficient or smart applicants. Same thing goes for the cover letter, that alone it 3 more applications, and you just lost an (admittedly) potentially smart applicant. Background checks, all well and fine. But you're going to do a credit check on me? You're going to pull my personal finances? Uh, not until I see your credit report first pal.
"Well, we have 9% unemployment and we have literally hundreds of applicants each job. We have our pick of the litter and we have to filter and screen them out somehow."
And then I started to see what was happening. Not consciously, but it definitely WAS happening and there was a relation. And I only ask myself why I hadn't seen it before.
In short HR is coming up with a longer and longer check list as there are more and more applicants. This isn't necessarily a bad thing in that how does one filter out a larger and larger applicant pool. But HR is still coming up with a longer and more detailed check list.
(Does this sound familiar yet?)
There are so many applicants and jobs are so highly sought after, HR has their pick of the litter.
(Anybody going to be able to finish my line of thought here?)
I'll give you the one last hint here that might link it together - HR is still dominated by women.
And now you are having the epiphany I had the other night.
The employment check list is eerily similar to the lengthy and long check list women have of men when it comes to courtship. And not only is it similar, it's also made and created by women.
It is here while we were continuing our conversation I started to realize the parallels as well as some of the pitfalls to this;
One the impossibility factor. I didn't believe it when I was younger because frankly I couldn't believe women would have such lengthy and detailed (and some times) mutually exclusive lists. Oh, sure I knew they had STANDARDS, but I did not believe women would refuse to date a guy because he "was too short" or "wore ugly clothes" or "had a bad hair cut" or "didn't have blue eyes" or "made less than $XX,XXX." Of course come to find out in my aged 30's women actually DID have these impossible lists. I now wonder if the lists they create for potential applicants (male or female) are now just as impossible.
"You want a leader who thinks outside the box and will turn your company around, but you're only going to hire yes men who have impossibly perfect resumes, perfect credit scores and are yet docile enough to spend 2 hours filling out a Taleo application form?"
It's no different than,
"I want an alpha male, who's still sensitive and will write poetry who drives a Harley, but won't have sex until we're married, but still rocks in bed, but only once a year, who works out and makes $250,000 per year, but will do chores and housekeeping and is an Orthodox Jewish, Catholic, Muslim Agnostic."
Two was the eerily similar market to men in their teens and twenties versus today's labor market. Back in your teens and twenties women held ALL the power. Men had no clue what the rules were, were told the rules were something completely different than reality and were so desperate they'd do anything and settle for any price. Job seekers today are no different. They're desperate for a job and will do anything (including lie on their resume to make them seem perfect). I couldn't help but notice the unintentional air of arrogance or power in her voice where she said, "we have our pick of the litter." You did in your 20's and you do now today.
Three, the lead up to an inevitable collapse in the market. Understand for anybody to be getting through this impossible HR defense shield you either have to;
1. lie or
2. be so abnormal and so flawless you'd be dysfunctional
It's again why men who lied in their teens and twenties did well and honest schmoes like us kind of flailed along. But even more analogous to the courtship list vs. the HR check list is the beta male or "beta employee." The employee that magically meets the impossible checklist or the magical boyfriend who magically meets the romantic checklist.
Of course, if women were to get that "ideal" boyfriend who would write poetry, who would hyphenate his name and open doors and do whatever she wanted, what did she end up doing anyway?
That's right, dumping his weak beta butt for some motorcycle driving alpha bad boy with a criminal background. But in the employment world it's slightly different. Instead of getting dumped, they get laid off after however many years of loyal service.
However, there is another cost to hiring the obedient, behaving beta employees and this is the true economic cost - it brings about a Black Swan Event. Namely the collapse of the company.
Talk about diversity all you want, if you employ nothing but conformists and yes men, no tolls are going to be sounded and no alarms are going to rung when there are real problems (or opportunities). Because the selection and filtering method really does screen out any genuine "outside of the box" thinkers, you have nothing but highly functional automotons and no real leaders or critical analysts. Couple that with a desperate labor market and your employees are NOT going to rock the boat (for better or worse). This leaves the employer in a horribly risky situation because unless people in executive management are intimately in-tune with every aspect of the company, the company can slowly be piloted towards disaster because nobody dares to speak of the iceberg ahead or problems within their division.
Laugh as you might and say my speaking of Black Swans is all poppycock, may I point out the Black Swan events of GM going belly up? The entire banking industry going belly up? The US retirement system about to go belly up? The US government finances going belly up? Many people tried to sound the alarms for this, but they WEREN'T the well behaved beta employees just trying to hold onto a job. It was the likes of Roubini, Shiller, Schiff and others (and how many of them I wonder would pass the HR created check list let alone had women pining for them in their youth?)
In the end, like courting, the participants in the labor market will become disincentived and leave. You already see this with a collapsing labor force participation rate, people more willing to take and stay on unemployment, higher turnover and shorter average stays on a job, or people just refusing to have kids they can't afford and get by on a lower paying job and not jump the hoops.
The result? Well, as I highlighted before in the "courtship market" you will have a decrease in marriage or courtship. Economically the impossible HR check list translates into less employment, CERTAINLY less innovation, but overall less economic growth and lower standards of living. Which once again proves there's only one thing do to.
Enjoy the decline, people. Enjoy that bleeping decline.