By Wolf Richter, a San Francisco based executive, entrepreneur, start up specialist, and author, with extensive international work experience. Originally published at Wolf Street.
The somewhat peculiar results of the Challenger Labor Shortage Survey showed that 77% of the approximately 100 human resources executives polled said their companies were having difficulty filling open positions due to a shortage of available talent. And 45% said they were having a hard time filling tech jobs, which run the gamut from software engineers to medical technicians. About half of the companies offered some sort of incentive, from referral and sign-on bonuses to relocation assistance, to get people to jump ship.
Peculiar because there are still many millions of Americans who are unemployed. But the report was the opinion of only a tiny group of select HR executives. So not exactly a universal statement.
But today, I ran into something that put that report in a different light, via Rebekah Campbell’s article in the New York Times, which describes her experiences in trying to rope in potential investors for her company, Posse. It was a story of how time and money – two commodities a startup CEO is desperately short of – went down the drain during her pursuit of VC, angel, and corporate investors.
A successful pitch led to lunches, dinners, and drinks, and to meetings, and some took weeks to set up, and more meetings with different people, and everything was exciting, and big money was being dangled out in front of her eyes, and then there would have to be a meeting with the senior guy, who was on vacation. Due diligence had started, and she and her team got peppered with questions, spreadsheets had to be redone, projections were challenged, but there was still no term sheet that would nail down the deal. And after months of seeing money and time spiraling down the drain, she ended up without a deal.
The article is a must-read for all those thinking about outside funding for their startup. Campbell is an excellent writer, and she’s probably a great CEO of her company. She is a compelling voice from the trenches of the startup world.
So I checked out some of her other articles and came across a crystal-clear explanation of one of the most dreadful aspects of the American jobs crisis that still exists despite Challenger’s peculiar Labor Shortage Survey. She spelled out what motivates employers like her, and big companies too, to keep the unemployed from being even considered for a job.
It’s not like we’re going to run out of job seekers: the rate of the unemployed, plus those in involuntary part-time jobs, plus “marginally attached workers” is still 12.2%. Nearly 3.2 million people are currently considered “long-term” unemployed. They’ve been out of work for 27 weeks or longer. And millions of other long-term unemployed have fallen off the list for a variety of reasons. Many of them, after looking for a job for years and not making any headway, have given up and have stopped doing the things needed, such as responding to job ads, that would qualify them for the list of the unemployed. These folks can sing a song about how hard it is to find a job once you’re out of a job. And the longer you’re out of a job, the more impossible it gets.
And Rebekah Campbell, the clear voice from the startup trenches, told us why. She used to post job ads for developers on the “appropriate websites” and then “braced for the flood of applications.” She’d delete three-quarters of them and email the rest a list with questions they’d have to answer by a deadline – “to filter out at least another half who either didn’t reply in time, wrote dud answers or couldn’t spell and didn’t pay attention to details,” she explained. In the end, she’d set up some interviews, which often “would all be disappointing.”
Then she discovered that “the best candidates all had good positions and were not reading job advertisements.” Later she added the corollary: “I know the people who apply through online job ads are seldom the best candidates….”
So she decided to chase down people who already had jobs, and to heck with the unemployed and those actively seeking jobs. Her company is in Australia, but the principles are the same. She signed up with LinkedIn Recruiter and was off to the races:
Some companies, like Google, have a reputation for hiring the best developers. On LinkedIn I can run a search specifically for engineers who have worked or are currently working for Google in my area and have been in their positions for more than two years – so they might be looking for a new challenge.
Her search method seemed to be successful: “In one afternoon, I was able to set up meetings with three senior developers who work at a large competitor of ours.”
It’s not that she is using LinkedIn’s Recruiter per se, but that she’s using it specifically to exclude from consideration any candidates who are currently unemployed. She’s using it as a poaching device, and not as a tool to re-integrate a job seeker into the workforce:
As a small-business owner, I recognize that building the right team is crucial. We only have room for A-plus players, who will always be in good positions and may require quite a bit of convincing to leave. LinkedIn gives us access to the passive job hunter market that used to be available only through expensive recruiters, and it helps us seek out top quality candidates from within other companies.
She isn’t the only one. That’s how it is done nearly everywhere, from small companies to large corporations. Convenient and relatively low-cost online tools allow companies to routinely court people who are already employed and are not looking for a job. In the past, only key positions were filled that way, usually via expensive recruiters or networking. Now any position can be filled that way. It’s less risky for employers: the record of what the employee is currently accomplishing for the competitor speaks louder than a resume.
With her credentials as startup CEO, Campbell delineated the prevailing attitude in today’s business world, and simultaneously one of the most harrowing problems for the millions of unemployed job seekers. It’s one of the reasons why the unemployment crisis in America is dragging on: if you don’t already have a job, forget it.