Even It Up!

Shifting the balance for jobseekers

Archive for September 2009

It’s about the people, stupid!

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Even It Up! gets quite a bit of criticism from recruiters.  Surely not, we hear our supporters say; how can this be?  The criticism comes from two main areas 1) we aren’t recruiters and 2) we’re too negative.

Before we address these criticisms, how about we get back to basics?  How about we think about the purpose of recruitment: what it’s actually for.   We’ll go to our friend the internet for this, and offer a selection of definitions for your perusal.

Definition #1 (from Business Dictionary) Recruitment is the process of identifying and hiring best-qualified candidate (from within or outside of an organisation) for a job vacancy, in a most timely and cost effective manner.

Definition #2 (from BNet) the activity of employing workers to fill vacancies or enrolling new members. Employment recruitment is composed of several stages: verifying that a vacancy exists; drawing up a job specification; finding candidates; selecting them by interviewing and other means such as conducting a psychometric test; and making a job offer. Effective recruitment is important in achieving high organizational performance and minimizing labor turnover. Employees may be recruited either externally or internally.

Definition #3 (from eHow) Recruitment and selection refers to the chain and sequence of activities pertaining to recruitment and selection of employable candidates and job seekers for an organization. Every enterprise, business, start-up and entrepreneurial firm has some well-defined employment and recruitment policies and hiring procedures. The HR department of large organizations, businesses government offices and multilateral organizations are generally vested with the responsibilities of employee recruitment and selection.

If we collate these definitions, it would be fair to say that recruitment is about the processes and systems that ensure the organisation puts the best possible person into a vacant job position so that the organisation is able to perform at optimum level.

There are three parts to this equation.  Firstly, there have to be the “best possible people” who can be recruited; secondly, there have to be vacant jobs that require filling; and thirdly organisations have optimum processes and systems in place in order to do the recruiting.

From a jobseeker’s point of view there is generally some work required on their part to ensure they are “the best” and can seamlessly integrate with the organisation’s recruitment systems and process.  The onus is usually on the jobseeker to acquire the necessary skills (communication, computer etc.), qualifications (degrees, diplomas, trade certificates etc.) and experience (work, volunteering etc.) to ensure they can meet the organisation’s requirements.   Often the jobseeker will keep “skilling up” to improve their career prospects and keep being “the best”.  The jobseeker, therefore, fulfills their part of the recruitment bargain*.

So, from an organisation’s perspective, it should be a very simple process to ensure that the best possible person wins the vacant position.  If only that were true, because the organisation, in its efforts to minimise risk** puts barriers and obstacles in the jobseeker’s way (and anyone who reads this blog and has visited the Even It Up! website knows very well what these are.  If you are new, here is an example).  The organisation, in effect, is not fulfilling their part of the bargain! And, interestingly, this is projected onto the the jobseeker,  who is then seen to have “failed” in some way.

Now: to get back to address our critics.  We are not recruiters, but we have been a part of the recruitment process.  We have collected the necessary skills, qualifications and experience.  We have jumped through all the hoops you require us to.  And still we come up short.  We are too this, or not enough of that … you get the picture.  And it’s not a case of sour grapes.  We have applied for roles, not won them, and can still speak highly of the organisation involved (sadly, not many!).  Treating jobseekers fairly and respectfully is a wonderful (and strategically clever) way to manage your brand.

And it’s the very fact that we’ve had recruitment “done to us” that entitles Even It Up! to be negative.  And we are not going to change this position in a hurry because recruitment is broken, and it needs to be fixed.  And by that we don’t  mean just getting rid of all those awful recruitment companies who operate on an old school sales model, rather than a knowledge economy talent model.

We need organisations to fulfill their part of the bargain and make it easy to actually hire the best person for the job.  Not the person who will argue the least, or has the WASP surname, or who is the easiest to manage, or is the youngest and therefore most likely to stay, or who the panel chair would like to bonk, or who kisses up to the recruitment consultant.  We expect our organisations to actually be diverse and live up to the promise of employer branding, not simply talk about it using empty rhetoric.

There is a wonderful old saying that can be directly applied to recruitment: you can put as many candles as you like into a pile of crap and it still doesn’t make it a birthday cake.  Our being positive about recruitment won’t make it so.  It’s only by saying that it is broken that we can truly think about how it can be fixed.

* One thing that recruiters hate more than anything else is jobseekers applying for jobs where they don’t have the skills, knowledge or experience, or conversely, too much of it.  It throws the process into chaos!  The internet has highlighted this “deficiency” and many recruiters complain about being swamped by online applications from people who they consider unsuitable.

** Many organisations are risk averse and perceive (and treat) recruitment as a  major risk management operation.

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Gen Y: will work for free!

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The founder of Even It Up! (Diane Lee) teaches part-time at Tafe.  She has noticed a disturbing trend among Generation Y: they are working for free.

Example #1 – Jonah*

Jonah had found a job in a restaurant.  The owner wanted him to work for  a “trial period” for a week before making a decision as to whether to hire him.

Example #2 – Chelsea

Chelsea wanted to break into the graphic design industry, and a friend of  her family’s (who had a graphic design business)  gave her a number of projects to work on (with strict deadlines) as “work experience”.

Example #3 – Brenton

Brenton was keen to get an apprenticeship, so was working for a week as a “trial” before being “formally” offered work.  The potential employer was a friend of the family.

In all cases, Diane advised them that being asked to work for free was, in fact, illegal.  Interestingly, they said they didn’t know (we are pretty sure, though, that their “employers” did!).  More interesting, though, was that these young people  felt they had no option, with their rationale being:

  • If I want the job, then I have to do it…
  • It’s a friend of the family, so I feel obligated…
  • It’s only for a few days, and then I get a job at the end…

Even It Up! can only assume that there are thousands of young people being taken advantage of in a similar way.   And it will continue because of the power differential.  We doubt that any young person will risk possible employment (in this tough job climate) by telling a potential boss that what they are asking them to do is illegal.

* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals

Written by evenitup

September 24, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Jobs for the boys

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More proof that it’s about who you know, particularly if you move in certain circles!

Even It Up! wonders if, before Kim Beazley and Brendan Nelson were appointed to their news jobs, they had to:

  • apply through a recruitment company
  • convince the consultant they were the best person for the job
  • answer copious amounts of selection criteria
  • tailor their CV to the position being applied for
  • have a panel interview or three, where they answered behavioural questions
  • undergo psyhometric testing
  • had their references checked
  • be kept waiting 6-8 weeks for any sort of communication about an outcome?

Clearly not, if the speed with which Brendan was appointed (and how quickly his Wikipedia page was updated*) is any indication!  Clearly, jumping through hoops is only applicable to “normal” people!

Things must be very different at the top end of town!

*Hint: not changing the article in front of  “former” to “a” is a dead giveaway!

Written by evenitup

September 18, 2009 at 9:19 am

Open letter to Minister Emerson from ICT Contractor

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Minister Emerson,

As you are aware your government has implemented measures to acknowledge, strengthen and protect the rights of independent contractors in this country.  This has obviously been prompted by the changing nature of the workplace environment with 20% of that being comprised of independent contractors.  This is a large section of the voting public.  The reality is that the government’s measures have largely been superficial and in the governments interests rather than to the benefit of contractors.  I wish to detail an account which describes how organisations are able to subvert the legislation which strikes at the heart of the problem.

The one organisation in this country that you would expect might honour the legislation of the Fair Work Act and the intent underpinning fairness in the workplace is the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations.  If no other organisation in the country was to accede to the current legislation out of compliance or decency this organisation should be seen as the touch-stone.  However, this is not the case.  I am currently engaged as an independent contractor with the Department.  I am working in the Contracts and Procurement area.  My contract is for a three month term with a three month extension.  This week, on Tuesday, after performing six weeks of the contract I was advised that the Department no longer requires my services and that my final day would be Friday of this week.  The grounds for the termination have oscillated between the branch being under budgetary pressures to a change in direction or a revised need for the work being performed.  When the issue of honouring the contract was discussed I was simply advised that the Department has a contract with a recruitment agency and because there is no notice in that contract then notice would be provided.  It was a simple take it or leave it approach.  The perfect example of the abuse of asymmetric power.

This situation highlights the dire position that many independent contractors are in.  We operate in a “rights free zone”.  Organisations, like the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, are able to abrogate their responsibilities to people because of the deceptive practice of using a third party to hide behind.  If you are not aware of how this artificial subterfuge works then let me elucidate.  An organisation, like the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, wants to engage independent contractors.  It wants to do so on terms that suit it and has no intention of honouring any agreement that it enters into, so it goes out to the market and engages with a “panel” of recruitment firms.  The recruitment firms, eager for easy money, sign whatever they need to sign to join the gravy train.  When the Department  requires contractors it goes out to market.  It makes the contractors jump through as many hoops as possible and then engages them to work on site just like employees.  It makes representations to the contractor about the term and nature of the engagement and acts for all intents and purposes as if it is an employer.  When the Department decides that it no longer requires the contractor it simply pulls the rug out from under them.  The contractor has no right to redress the termination of the contract or the conduct of the Department because they don’t have a contract with that organisation.  The Department then steps back and completely abrogates any responsibility for their conduct, pointing at the recruitment firm.  The recruitment firm, who has drafted their contract so that the contractor has no recourse against them simply washes their hands and moves on.  Is this the type of situation that your legislation was supposed to address?  If you think that it has then I am afraid to tell you that you are sorely mistaken.

I have contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman about the matter.  They advise that their jurisdiction does not extend to independent contractors working under an ABN (which is most of them).  They referred me to the Independent contractors hotline. When I contacted them they advised that the Fair Work Act only covers a “narrow” range of “adverse actions” by an employer such as discrimination.  They suggested that as I do not have a contract with the Department then I would need to pursue independent legal action.  So there you have it – the extent of this government’s legislation on the fair work place for independent contractors.

Of course there is the Independent Contractors Act.  Who does the contractor take action against under this legislation?  The Department or the recruitment firm?  Obviously the latter, but what did they do?  They didn’t breach the contract they simply did what they were directed to do by the Department.  And so the subterfuge is perfected.  No one is responsible for their actions and, better still no one is accountable.  Isn’t this the intent of Government?

If you are the Minister for Independent Contractors then I would expect that you would find this situation outrageous.  You might be outraged because of the manifest lack of equity in the situation.  Or you might be outraged because if this is the way that the business environment operates then how can independent contractors rely upon organisations to provide their services?  If we have a business environment that lacks trust then we simply degenerate into an environment where people do what they need to do to protect their interests rather than doing what is right, decent and fair.  The impetus is always for business to make money and paying people is in opposition to that.  It is therefore quite likely that a business (or government) will do whatever they can to not honour agreements.  Hence the government, your government, MUST intervene and have legislation that is effective, because at the moment it is NOT.

I would therefore entreat you to do something to change this situation and stop window dressing with legislation that is ineffective.

Written by evenitup

September 15, 2009 at 10:39 am

Ability: A New Form of Job Discrimination?

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The post Even It Up! wrote the other day about our experience with Edge Recruitment and their feedback on our application has been niggling at us.  It’s not that they were defensive about their processes (who wouldn’t be under the circumstances?) or they accused us of chasing work as consultants (isn’t that how work is sometimes won?).  What bothered us was the overt discrimination against skills, experience and qualifications of the applicant, and that we had dared apply for a  lower-paid position (although salary wasn’t stipulated in the ad).  Is what we experienced a form of ability discrimination?

It’s interesting, because the rhetoric around qualifications (certainly from schools, universities and the majority of employers) is that they are instrumental to (and even crucial in) gaining work.  Certainly, we have all been led to believe this over the years (if we didn’t, why would we spend thousands on our education – both vocational and academic)?  But what if it just isn’t true?  What if having qualifications is as detrimental to finding work as not having them?

If you participate in Even It Up! Forums, you know that this is not a new phenomenon.  Other jobseekers have also experienced the prejudice and suspicion that comes with being overqualified for positions they may apply for.  The recruiter (direct employer or recruitment consultant) often perceives that:

  • the jobseeker will walk (and quickly) once they find another position more “suitable” to their qualifications and pay expectations
  • they may expect (and demand) more money once they are in the role
  • they may be more “difficult” to manage and not be as pliable as someone who has less experience/qualifications.

While there may be an element of truth to the above assertions, it is not always the case.  Jobseekers apply for roles they are clearly overqualified for for a number of reasons:

From our perspective, the issues are: why should jobseekers have to justify themselves for seeking out work they are overqualified for? Aren’t employers being narrow-minded and short-sighted for not embracing the clear skillset that these sorts of jobseekers will bring to the role (and the organisation as a whole)?

And so the questions become: what sort of organisation are you? Are you an organisation that will embrace the various skillsets of jobseekers that apply for your roles?  Or are you an organisation that is suspicious and judgmental of anyone who applies for a role that (on the surface) they may be either overqualified or underqualified for?

And how willing are you to take the time to find out why before discarding “unsuitable” applications?

Written by evenitup

September 9, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Recruitment companies need not apply!

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Even It Up! loves this ad that Parsons Brinckerhoff recently posted on Seek, an excerpt of which is below.  Hot tip: read the sentences in capitals!

Written by evenitup

September 8, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Recruitment, recruitment companies

Tagged with

Edged out by “instinct”

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At Even It Up! we like applying for roles just to interrogate the process that direct employers and recruitment companies use.  We are a bit like Mystery Jobseekers. The latest one we applied for was a part-time Communications Assistant with Edge Recruitment.

The role was advertised on Seek in early August, and we applied for it by sending in our CV and a cover letter.  Then we waited.  And waited.  A couple of weeks went by and we called to follow up.  We were advised that the person who was responsible for the recruitment was out of the office, and a message was taken.  And then we waited, and waited some more.

Yesterday, we thought we’d call again.  And we got the same spiel.  But we got a call this morning, only to be told that they were sorry for that lack of response, but people were off sick, and our message must have slipped through the cracks (and yes, they got the irony considering the position that was applied for!)….

Anyway.  Back to the position.  We were advised that the position had been filled, and we were told about the background of the person who had been given the role.

Unsatisfied with the response, we dug further and found:

  • They received over 70 applications for the role
  • They could have interviewed 10 people for the position (including us) but decided to only go with three
  • All other 10 people who could have been interviewed (including the person who had won the role) had similar backgrounds, experience and qualifications
  • The recruiter had the same conversation “explaining” the situation to the other people who called and weren’t interviewed…
  • The decision around who to interview was based on follow-up of the application (difficult when your calls slip through the cracks), presentation of the application and was more to do with “instinct”  than science (the recruiter told us that she had been recruiting for 11 years, and often made decisions based on this, although she didn’t want us to think that there wasn’t a scientific process behind it!)
  • When we suggested that as a jobseeker, it was difficult to see how this was a fair process, given that an interview would have been where we could have showed our portfolio and communication skills , the response was:  what would you have us do? Interview all 10 candidates?  There was also a discussion about having to be “ruthless” in the culling process.  Just what every jobseeker wants to hear – not!
  • We then told the recruiter that we were calling on behalf of Even It Up! to which the reply was: why would you apply for a role that you had no intentions of taking?  We said we were like Mystery Jobseekers, but we would like to take our response further: why would you advertise a position, have a number of suitable candidates apply and not interview them?
  • We were then told that our feedback was welcome (and that she knew about our site) and would welcome an opportunity to review the process.   We said: engage us as consultants, to which we got short shrift!

So, the questions that we ask are these: if the so-called recruitment experts are basing their selection of candidates on “instinct” rather than a scientific process (that jobseekers are supposed to know, agree to and comply with), what hope have any of us got?   And how many excellent candidates are excluded from being interviewed because recruiters have not thought about managing the positive risks of too many applications?

We would therefore be right to assume that getting an interview and winning a position is a matter of luck rather than good management (despite all the rhetoric to the contrary).  And meanwhile the evidence keeps mounting about the subjectiveness of the jobseeking process and how systemically flawed it is…

Written by evenitup

September 8, 2009 at 11:56 am