Thursday, June 10, 2010

N.U.N.A. (No Unemployed Need Apply)

As if it isn’t crappy enough being out of work, some of the companies that are hiring are limiting their recruitment to those who are already working.

Case in point, a job posting referenced in a recent HuffPo article that listed the usual job qualifications, plus:

…red print at the bottom of the ad says, "Client will not consider/review anyone NOT currently employed regardless of the reason."

Those lucky choosers! Never having to deal with beggars.

The company with this less than enlightened (IMHO, anyway) HR policy, by the way, is not some piddling little local outfit that makes an occasional hire. It’s Benchmark Electronics, a NYSE-traded multi-national that provides high-end electronics manufacturing service.

Benchmark has a nifty (if slightly mysterious) motto:

We’re where you want us to be.

Oh, no, you’re not.

Because if you' were where I wanted you to be, you wouldn’t have a wet blanket policy on not hiring those who aren’t currently working.

"It's our preference that they currently be employed," [the Benchmark HR rep] said. "We typically go after people that are happy where they are and then tell them about the opportunities here. We do get a lot of applications blindly from people who are currently unemployed -- with the economy being what it is, we've had a lot of people contact us that don't have the skill sets we want, so we try to minimize the amount of time we spent on that and try to rifle-shoot the folks we're interested in."

Forget the unfortunate choice of the term “rifle-shoot the folks we’re interested in.” (“I was happily working away and, bang, I felt this stinging sensation in my arm. Fortunately, the bullet just nicked me and, as it turned out, the people who were shooting at me offered me a swell new job!”)

The Benchmark HR person makes a reasonable point about hearing from desperate job seekers who will take – I’m getting into the spirit of things here – a scatter shot approach to job hunt, sending out resumes to anyplace that’s hiring, even if they are only tangentially (at best) qualified for a position. I’m sure it’s painful and boring to have to open up 100 resumes from people who were grill cooks who want to make the transition to electronics engineer.

And I’m really not meaning to pick on Benchmark, here. Bully for them that they’re hiring. Plus they’re not alone in refusing to consider candidates who are not currently working.

But  there is something unsettling (especially, no doubt to the unemployed), and a bit off, about this policy.

I’ve been on the giving and receiving ends of lay-offs, so I know that absolutely drop-dead brilliant employees do get pink slipped.

I also know that underperformers have a way of making their way to the top of the layoff list – especially in first rounds, and when the layoff is subjective (as in, ‘We have reduce headcount by 10%. Who do we want to get rid of?) rather than methodical (‘We’re shutting down the plant in East Oshkosh.’)

99.99% – make that 6-nines -  of managers will, if given the opportunity to do their own picking and choosing, take advantage of a layoff opportunity to get rid of deadwood. Managers have also been known to sandbag a couple of underperformers, holding them in reserve if they anticipate a lay-off. This may not be shining star managerial practice, but if there’s a layoff looming, you may not be able to do any hiring. So why get rid of deadwood if you can’t replace them. Especially when you know, know, know that, even if you just sacrificed headcount for the good of the company, you will, will, will be asked to keep sacrificing.

So you prop up your deadwood with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other so that people will think they’re alive and, when you’re asked to toss a few heads on the platter, you’ve got yours.

So, yes, some employees who are laid off may not be stellar performers.

But there are a lot of other reasons you could find yourself on a lay-off list.

Politics is one – and it may not even be politics that you play.  Someone wants to take down your manager, or their manager, for some reason, you may be vulnerable.

You might get the pink slip because you haven’t been around long enough to build up relationships, good will, and a performance record.

Maybe you get picked, even though you’re great at your job, because there’s someone who can do your job well enough, but is great at something else you can’t do – a two-fer, as it were.

Sometimes you hit the lay off list because, for whatever reason, you don’t fit in with the group or company culture. Maybe that shouldn’t matter as much as it does, but it does, indeed matter. Maybe you’ll fit in better somewhere else.

Maybe your product or project got canceled. Maybe your division got shut down. Maybe your industry went bust. Maybe you took a chance with a small company that withered away and died.

Lot’s o’ good reasons why lots o’ good people are unemployed.

Frankly, I really don’t believe that any company would absolutely, positively, categorically refuse to consider hiring ALL the prospective applicants who happen to be out of a job at the mo.

Surely, if one of your best-y workers recommended and vouched for a former colleague, you’d give them a tumble.

I don’t imagine that the No Unemployed Need Apply practice – at least overtly – is all that widespread.

But surely there are hiring managers and HR groups winnowing down their piles full of cover letters and resumes by separating out the perceived chaff of those without jobs.

Personally, I don’t believe that just because someone’s currently employed they’re a better bet than someone “collecting.”

Sure, if someone had a big, gaping hole in their resume, I would want to know why.  But there’s quite a long list of “why’s” that I could look beyond, including, but not limited to:

  • At home with the baby
  • Illness
  • Sick family member
  • Back to school
  • Went out for the Olympic luge team
  • Took time out to write a novel
  • Paddled across the Pacific in a kayak
  • Always wanted to see if they could make a living crocheting (answer: no)
  • Laid off in a bad economy
  • Faced age discrimination

From my own experience, I think it’s kind of nuts to assume that just because someone’s employed they’re any good (even in this dire economy).

I made some major hiring mistakes in my career – and I’m talking Capital L, Capital U, Capital LU LULUs.

Guess what?

They were all in jobs when I hired them.

Maybe their managers were sandbagging them for a layoff. Maybe their managers were chicken shits – I know the feeling – who were just hoping and praying that their misfit would land somewhere else before they had to have “the conversation” with them. Maybe (although, in the case of my Capital L, Capital U, Capital LU LULUs I doubt it) they were actually performing well in their company of origin. Maybe I was just a gasoline-and-match manager for them. (I doubt that, too.)

In any case, they became my problem.

One I sandbagged for a lay-off. One we had to fire – this person had really gone around the old performance bend. One I put on performance notice, and two weeks later she quit. (Yahoo…..I can still remember the feeling of elation. When I told my friend Kevin that “E” was leaving, he high-fived me and said, “That’s addition by subtraction.”)

I don’t know what happened to the one I sandbagged, other than that she moved to California. I actually think she had a lot of raw potential, and I hope things worked out for her.

Number two on that list – the one even soft-hearted I couldn’t sandbag for the next layoff – landed somewhere fast, as the job hunt was already in process, and so far along that the hiring company probably didn’t even realize that the person they were so deliriously happy to get had been let go. For cause. I did hear through the grapevine that this company came to regret it.

The third one didn’t last long at her new job, either.

So bad things can happen to good people if they are deluded enough to think that the fact that someone’s working is a sign from the gods.

Look, there are enough unhappy ending stories in this economy already:

  • Aging boomers who need to work but are slamming up against age discrimination. (Boy, is that don’t trust anyone over thirty coming back to haunt us.)
  • Kids just coming out of school and looking for a springboard first job. (Special sympathy to those with hefty loans.)
  • Folks in industries that have gone permanent bye-bye, and who are extremely unlikely to have jobs at the same skill level that pay as well ever ever again.
  • Et al.

Do hiring companies really have to add to the misery and debilitating angst by making a fetish out of N.U.N.A.?

Why don’t they just specify that they will not look at resumes that don’t 100% fit their qualification list – and be ruthless about it.

The only good thing I can say for them (other than that they’re hiring) is that, when they woo someone who was contented-cow happy at their prior job, that leaves an opening in a company that may be able to look beyond an employment gap on a resume.

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