What HR Won't Tell You About the Hiring Process
5 Truths HR Won't Tell You About Getting Hired
With Odds Like These, What's a Job Seeker to Do?
When it comes to your job search, may the odds be ever in your favor. But the truth is: they're usually not.
Competition is fierce, and for all the time you invest in rewriting that resume and submitting your application on-line, it will take a small miracle to get to the interview stage.
Feeling Locked Out?
If you're feeling locked out of the hiring process, consider this: on average, companies receive 250 resumes for each position posted.1 And it's not unheard of to receive thousands. That statistic echoes my experience in HR, but here are some examples as well:
- In 2013, when Southwest Airlines sought to hire 750 flight attendants, over 10,000 applicants responded in under two hours.2
- Similarly, when Wal-mart opened new facilities in the Washington, D.C. area, over 11,000 applicants vied for 1,800 of the notoriously low-wage jobs.3
- And in Spain where more than one in four adults is unemployed, 100,000 applicants crashed the IKEA company website, each hoping to land one of the 400 vacant positions.4
Stuck On the Outside Looking In?
Here's Some Insight
For a typical job, 50% of applicants do not meet the basic qualifications.5 Desperate for work and tired of looking, job seekers submit applications for swing-for-the-fence-type positions that they are unqualified to fill. They fail to read the entire job listing. They figure it couldn't hurt to apply.
But even if you're perfect for the job, your application can get automatically rejected if it's unreadable or misread by the applicant tracking system. And if your resume makes it past the initial screening phase? On average it will have only six seconds to impress a recruiter.6
Only 17% of recruiters even look at the cover letter you labored over. Then, if there's as little as one error in your spelling, grammar, or punctuation, do you know where that will get you? Automatic disqualification, more often than not.
With odds like these, you may feel locked out. What's a job seeker to do?
Don't despair, ever hopeful one.
Learn the inside scoop about the hiring process so you can maximize your chances of job seeking success. I've spent years in the Human Resources field, including working for two Fortune 500 companies. I've helped to hire hundreds of employees and have rejected many more than that.
Let me share the inside scoop that most HR professionals won't tell you about applying for that dream job (or any job).
Job Hunting Is Difficult
Inside Scoop #1: Your Resume May Never Be Seen by a Human
If you've ever applied for a job online, you've used an applicant tracking system (ATS). Examples include Taleo, Kenexa-Brassring, Jobvite, Peoplefluent, ADP, and SuccessFactors. Most medium and large companies invest thousands of dollars in this HR technology to
- post jobs
- accept applications
- screen out unqualified candidates
- send "no interest" communications (aka "ding" letters) and
- keep track of applicant data (so the company can comply with federal hiring regulations).
Yet here's the awful truth: applicant tracking systems are as much art as they are science. They involve some hocus pocus.
Applicant Tracking Systems: One Part Science, Another Art
Say, for example, that your resume and cover letter are not formatted the "right" way. You abbreviate "Manager" as "Mgr." You call your work experience by an alternative name, such as "Professional Experience." Or, perhaps you put your dates of employment before the company name.7
Maybe you make the mistake of submitting your resume in a PDF format rather than in a Word document. (The ATS may find it unreadable. Sorry.) Or, you don't use the magic keywords in your resume to match the skills and experience that the job posting is trying to target.
And the screening questions — for example, the willingness to (potentially one day) relocate? Well, you answer them with such extreme candor that your resume will never see the light of day.
Even if you're a great match for the position, the ATS may not be able to recognize your awesomeness. Your application may never be seen by a real person.
Knowing the Inside Scoop: Increase Your Odds of Success
Did You Know?
Companies that receive an unwieldy number of applicants for a specific position sometimes use data reduction techniques that include random sampling.8 This can reduce the number of applicants to a more manageable number.
Luck really can play a role in getting hired!
Inside Scoop #2: There's a Lack of Transparency
You've been conscientiously checking job aggregation websites like Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com. You're not finding jobs that you're interested in. And when you do apply, you don't hear back. What gives?
Many available jobs are not published, even though federal regulations require certain employers to post their available positions. Unadvertised job vacancies are especially the case for management and executive positions, where referrals are typically a preferred source for job candidates. (Update that LinkedIn.com profile and double down on your networking!)
Behind the Scenes
The hiring process is often not as transparent as it should be. Behind the scenes, here's what may be going on:
- For recurring positions, a specific job may already be filled, and the company is simply collecting resumes for "next time." In these circumstances, the company attempts to address its endless cycle of turnover by increasing the size of its candidate database. If you see one particular job advertised repeatedly over time, stop to consider why the company cannot ever truly fill it.
- The hiring manager may know exactly who he wants to hire before the process begins. It may be a friend of a friend, a current employee, or someone else they know. I've seen extreme cases of "open" positions with only one applicant. When the hiring manager is obliged to follow the company's process, he may step through hiring process requirements as a mere formality. Collecting applications and even conducting interviews may be done simply to justify the candidate he wants to bring in.
- Sometimes the company may be confidentially hiring a replacement for a problem performer. (Talk about awkward!) The incumbent doesn't know he'll be out of a job soon, so the open position is not advertised.
- There could be a hiring freeze you don't know about. The company doesn't want to have a reputation of having not hired in two years, so they post "dummy" job postings that are never actually filled.
- Particularly with newly created positions, the hiring manager may not know exactly what she wants.
Getting Hired Takes Serious Effort
To get hired, you must get in the applicant pool and stay there. Consider these tips for more optimal results:
- Don't repeatedly apply to positions if you're truly not qualified for them. The company recruiter will notice your desperation and wonder about your level of self-knowledge and judgment.
- Customize your resume and cover letter for a specific position using relevant keywords from the job description.
- Stay away from abbreviations, complex or creative formatting, tables, graphics, and PDF resumes.
- When listing work experience, do it in this order: employer's name, your job title, then dates you held the job. Don't get creative.
- Get your LinkedIn profile up to date. Landing a job is all about relationships.
- Look the part.
- Always have a short "elevator speech" regarding why you're the right fit for the position you're applying for.
Does the Hiring Manger See You as Adaptable?
Inside Scoop #3: Yes, Age Bias Is Real
If you're a silver-haired job seeker, you probably know that ageism is real. Older workers — especially those over 50 — face a number of assumptions from hiring managers. These include perceptions that older workers
- are less adaptable, especially to technological changes
- will have trouble dealing with a younger boss and team mates
- won't accept direction and feedback
- don't represent a company image of vitality
- will incur greater health care costs and absences
- cannot keep up with an energetic and fast-paced work environment and
- are more likely to leave at the first opportunity because they're "overqualified."9
As a result of these phony perceptions, older Americans stay unemployed longer, and when they do find a job, they take a bigger pay cut than their younger counterparts. More than one in five charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are for age discrimination.10 And although the law prohibits discrimination against both applicants and workers over 40 years old, the truth is that age-based employment discrimination is difficult to prove.
If you've an older job seeker, don't give up. Instead,
- uncover the challenging and costly business problem that the vacant position is tasked with addressing
- emphasize your adaptability and learning agility (and be able to provide specific examples)
- look the part and
- hone your communication skills at "selling" the value of your experience.
Think You're Not Biased?
How Biased Are You?
"Mirror, mirror on the wall ... so I'm biased after all?"
If you're prejudiced against old people, fat people, Arab-Muslims, or gay people, would you know it? Would you be too embarrassed to say so?
Psychological research has found that people are not always willing to admit their true feelings. In addition, they could have "blind spots" in their perceptions, thus they do not consciously realize their biases. This is because much of our thinking is automatically processed.
Using reaction times and categorical labels, the Implicit Association Test (or "IAT") measures attitudes and beliefs that you may be unwilling or unable to acknowledge. It taps into unconscious perceptions using a series of rapid categorizations.
Compared with self-reports, the IAT is a better predictor of behavior in socially sensitive situations such as employment interviews. The test takes about 10 minutes and provides feedback about your automatic preference for one group over another, be it slight, moderate or strong.
Inside Scoop #4: Tattoos and Extra Weight -- Appearance Matters
Getting tatted up with Tweety Bird or the word Revolt may have seemed like a real sweet idea when you did it. However, visible tattoos and piercings can impact whether you'll be hired.
People make assumptions about your ability to do the job based on what you look and smell like. It may not be fair, but hygiene and appearance matter. A lot.
According to surveys of HR professionals and hiring managers, you're also less likely to be hired if you have a strong smell (e.g., strong perfume or cigarette smoke), are packing extra pounds, or you have bad breath. (Invest in some Listerine and Lifesavers, my friend.)
What They Think About Your Ink
Hiring managers' preference for tattoo-free employees is typically based on their perception that customers may negatively react. One study, for example, showed they feared customers would perceive such employees as "abhorrent," "repugnant," "unsavory" and "untidy."11 (That's a little strong, don't you think?)
Feelings about tattoos, however, extends to positions that involve no customer contact. Furthermore, research shows that hiring managers actively screen out inked applicants.12 Negative attitudes towards tattoos are age-related.
Fat Bias: A Weighty Subject
Similarly, weight is a significant factor in employment. Studies show that obesity affects career opportunities in important ways:
- Overweight applicants are less likely to be hired
- Overweight employees are paid less for the same work
- They are more likely to have jobs with lower status and pay
- They are perceived as less competent, conscientious, and agreeable and
- Overweight employees are less likely to land a promotion.13
Do You Look the Part? Professional Image Matters
The Heavy Costs of Obesity
You know that spare tire (or two) that you carry around your middle? The extra junk in your trunk? It comes with some heavy costs for both you and your employer.14
Consider these statistics:
- According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of American adults ages 20 and older are obese -- meaning a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more.
- The CDC projects that by 2030, 42% of American adults will be obese.
- Obesity is a leading risk factor for life-threatening and disabling conditions. Obesity is related to diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, certain cancers, infertility, high cholesterol, back pain, skin infections, gallstones, and ulcers.
- Obesity-related medical costs are an estimated at $190 billion each year. This is more than the medical costs of alcohol and smoking combined.
- Medical expenses for obese employees are estimated to be 42% higher.
- On average, obese women earn 6.2% less than their non-obese coworkers.14
HBO Presents "Is Weight Something We Inherit?"
Inside Scoop #5: You May Be Asked Non-Job-Related Questions
Conducting an interview seems so darn easy. You just think up questions to ask, listen, and choose the best candidate. Anyone could do it, right?
But the truth is a lot of hiring managers are terrible at it.
Rather than using structured interviews (involving a standard set of questions that are directly linked to position requirements), hiring managers decide to be renegades.
They opt for unstructured interviews that have been consistently shown to be less valid and reliable. They over-trust their "gut reaction." They wing it, relying on a relaxed and "conversational" approach. They base questions exclusively on the job candidate's resume.
They ask illegal questions about such things as arrest records, marital status, citizenship, what religious holidays you observe, or what type of discharge you received from the military. And they ask some of the weirdest questions imaginable — questions for which there is no "better" answer, questions that seem to have little relation to the job itself.
Reader Experience Poll
In a job interview, have you ever faced an inappropriate or off-the-wall interview question?
Not All Hiring Managers Are Trained in Interviewing Skills
They Seriously Asked That? Odd Job Interview Questions
Below are questions that job seekers have reported on Glassdoor.com. While some of them may be arguably job-related, other questions are clearly not.
Enjoy! Then share with us in the comments section the most unusual question you've been asked during a job interview.
Asked at Zappos
- If you could throw a parade of any caliber through the Zappos office, what type of parade would it be?
- Give us two ways to use a brick other than for building or as a paperweight.
- If you had to buy Tony (the CEO) shots, what kind of shot would you buy him?
- On a scale of 1-10, how weird are you and why?
Asked at Airbnb
- How lucky are you and why?
- What food have you recently had that made you emotional?
- If you could pick one public person to embody who you stand for, who would that be?
- When you walk into a room, what would be your theme song?
- If you had super power what you choose and why?
Asked at Apple
- If you were a pizza deliveryman how would you benefit from scissors?
- How many ping pong balls will fill this room?
Bewildering Interview Questions
Asked at Altria
- How do you reconcile working for a tobacco company with being an athlete?
- What is responsible smoking?
- If you could be any consumer product, what would you be and why?
Asked at Red Frog Events
- If you could receive a $10,000 gift card to any store, which store would you choose?
- What was the best song of the decade?
- What is on your bucket list?
- If you could sing one song on American Idol, what would it be?
Asked at Dell
- Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?
- What do you think of your current company CEO?
- Break down how you would gain access to the CEO of a Fortune 200 account — in detail.
Asked at Norwegian Cruise Line
- Do you believe in Big Foot?
- Describe a situation with your last employer that caused you to feel inadequate.
Asked by Goldman Sachs
- How many square feet of pizza is eaten in the US each year?
- What is our biggest weakness?
- What do you think of JPMorgan's bribery scandal?
- Who is someone you hate?
- If you flip 400 coins, what's the probability of getting more than 220 heads?
- If I were to tell you that the world is running out of paper, how will you verify that my statement is true?
Asked at McKinsey & Co
- What do you do if you don't get a job today?
- When will you know it's time to leave McKinsey?
Asked at Bed, Bath & Beyond
- If you were a box of cereal, what would you be and why?
- How would you sell me this pen?
- Where else have you applied and why don't you think you got hired?
Asked at Chick-fil-A
- Do you go to church on a regular basis?
- Did you have sexual relations with your wife prior to marriage?
- When was the last time you made someone smile?
- Who are your heroes?
- Describe your daily routine.
What Kind of Monkey Business Are Hiring Managers up To?
If you're feeling unlucky in the hiring process or locked out, these 5 factors could be in play:
- Your resume was screened out of the hiring process by an Applicant Tracking System before it could ever reach a human.
- The hiring process is not transparent -- for example, a hiring manager who already knows who he wants to hire, a job that has already filled, or an unannounced hiring freeze.
- Your (older) age is working against you.
- Your appearance is working against you (e.g., tattoos, weight).
- The selection process is using other non-job-related factors. This may become painfully clear if you interview with a hiring manager who is untrained in interviewing skills.
Test Your Job Seeking Knowledgeview quiz statistics
1Sullivan, J. (2013, May 20). Why You Can’t Get A Job … Recruiting Explained By the Numbers. Retrieved from http://www.eremedia.com/ere/why-you-cant-get-a-job-recruiting-explained-by-the-numbers/.
2Trejos, N. (2013, December 30). Thousands apply for flight attendant jobs at Southwest. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/todayinthesky/2013/12/30/flight-attendants-hiring-southwest/4248543/.
3Wiener, A. (2013, October 14). Applications Pour In for D.C. Walmart Jobs. Retrieved from http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2013/10/14/applications-pour-in-for-d-c-walmart-jobs/.
4Moran, L. (2014, January 9). Spanish IKEA store receives more than 100,000 applications for 400 jobs. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/spanish-ikea-receives-100-000-applications-400-jobs-article-1.1570930.
5Weber, L. (2012, January 24). Your Resume vs. Oblivion. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204624204577178941034941330.
6Sanburn, J. (2012, April 13). How to Make Your Resume Last Longer Than 6 Seconds. Retrieved from http://business.time.com/2012/04/13/how-to-make-your-resume-last-longer-than-6-seconds/.
75 Insider Secrets for Beating Applicant Tracking Systems. (2012, March 1). Retrieved from http://www.cio.com/article/701272/5_Insider_Secrets_for_Beating_Applicant_Tracking_Systems?page=2&taxonomyId=3123.
8 OFCCP (n.d.). U.S. Department of Labor - Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) - Internet Applicant Recordkeeping Rule. Retrieved February 27, 2014, from http://www.dol.gov/ofccp/regs/compliance/faqs/iappfaqs.htm#Q1DM.
9Myers, B. (2013, December 7). Long-Term Unemployment Turns Fatalistic. Retrieved from http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/12/07/1260909/-Long-Term-Unemployment-Turns-Fatalistic.
10U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2014). Charge Statistics. Retrieved February 27, 2014, from http://eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/charges.cfm.
11Taylor, V. (2013, September 5). Will having a tattoo cost you a job? Maybe, researcher says. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/tattoos-cost-job-researcher-article-1.1446791.
12Welsh, A. (2013, May 21). Tattoos May Be Giving Wrong Ideas to Employers. Retrieved from http://www.siop.org/article_view.aspx?article=1111#.Uw91U_ldWSo.
13UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. (n.d.). Weight Bias & Stigma > Employment - UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Retrieved from http://www.uconnruddcenter.org/weight-bias-stigma-employment.
14Hawrylak, M. (2013, January 14). Obesity and Workers' Comp Costs. Retrieved from http://www.insurancejournal.com/magazines/features/2013/01/14/276698.htm.
Human Resources: They Guard the Corporate Gate
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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