Well, maybe not tomorrow, but if our nation’s employers committed themselves to cutting the number of U.S. job openings from 3.8 million (June figure) by two million jobs by the end of 2012, it would be a step in the right direction – a fitting way to give more meaning to Labor Day, close out the year on a positive note, and create some momentum going into next year.
Today marks the 130th year since the first Labor Day celebration was held in New York City. While we may not have unemployment figures from back then, we do know that by September of 1882, the American economy was experiencing a recession as a result of a decline in railroad construction that would last until 1885. I’d like to think of the celebration in the streets of New York as a shining example of the American optimism and creative spirit that have fueled our nation’s prosperity. We came out of that lengthy downturn, have been tested numerous times since, and always prevailed.
To be clear, I’m not saying that private companies should create jobs as a matter of public policy.
I’d just like to see private-sector employers fill the jobs they’ve already created.
CEOs advertise open positions for a reason, and the longer they remain open, the greater the adverse impact on the company. According to the July WSJ/Vistage Small Business CEO Survey, 39% of small business CEOs believe that not being able to fill open positions is holding their companies back. To their credit, many of these employers are taking extra steps: One in four employers are offering highers salaries and one in three are providing additional training. Despite these efforts, however, the evidence is clear; we have to do even more. While we can lament the skills gap and the real difficulty employers are experiencing finding qualified talent, complaining alone usually doesn’t help much. Skills gap notwithstanding, our current system for matching qualified people with open positions is pretty horrible. Here are just three thought-starters as to why:
1) It’s An Inherently Discouraging Process for the Applicant – It’s not because job applicants can’t handle rejection; it’s that over time, they can’t cope with the indifference. They fill out forms, fine-tune their resumes, craft cover letters, and they hear “crickets” in response. Some would argue that prospective employees do receive form emails thanking them for applying, yet as we all know, they offer nothing more than the equivalent of “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” (With a special emphasis, I might add, on “Whatever you do, don’t call us!”) Prospective employees begin to realize that unless they get really lucky or have a contact inside the company posting the position, the chances of receiving any kind of response, let alone an interview, are slim to none.
2) It’s Keywords over Culture – Resumes aren’t read for their content, they’re scanned for keywords – selected largely against specific skill sets rather than personal character sets. So the person who doesn’t demonstrate experience working with a certain piece of software (Prospect A) is immediately eliminated in favor of the person who has the requisite experience (Prospect B). Turns out that when Prospect B comes in for an interview, none of the people at the company can stand him. Of course Prospect A might have been a perfect fit for your company and culture and, with a few weeks training, would have had the skills necessary to run the required software and be a valuable contributor. Problem is, you’ll never know because Prospect A has already been dismissed without even the courtesy of an email or phone call.
3) It’s Too Much Process of Elimination and Too Little Process of Selection – The reason Prospect A will never get reconsidered is because too many HR departments engage in a process that’s too heavy on eliminating prospects and too light on discovering and selecting them. They frame the challenge as: How can I get this digital pile of 400 resumes down to 40 or even 4, as quickly and efficiently as possible? Hardly a great system for matching excellent people with promising job opportunities.
So how can we put our heads together to cut the number of open positions by more than half between now and the end of the year?
In celebration of Labor Day, I’d like to invite employers from all sectors to share their best practices for matching the right people with the right opportunities. (A great issue to process with your peer advisory board, by the way). Then implement these best practices to help you fill the jobs you’ve already created by year-end. Imagine the joy you’ll experience when you find that new person to help you grow your organization and, as a bonus, consider what it will mean to your newfound employee (and his/her family) if they can celebrate the holiday season with the gift of work. Today is a celebration of the social and economic contributions of the American worker. Tomorrow, let’s get to work putting more people back to work!