Sunday, April 09, 2006

Help Wanted (Part 2)

Whoa. It's been exactly one month since the first part of this article.

A number of developments have occurred in the intervening weeks. My company's set another search for qualified applicants (particularly in the field of web programming), I've discovered a massive demand for people in the Information Technology sector, and one of my mailing lists started bewailing the "rampant discrimination" in certain want ads.

If you're concerned about the last of those points, I can give you a brief explanation of the issue. A company representative, you see, posted a job ad in one of my mailing lists. The job ad specified, among other things, that applicants had to be at least 25 years of age. An irate subscriber implied that the company was discriminating against younger people by posting such a requirement, and that touched off a succession of debates that lasted for three days.

In the end, I don't think anyone resolved the issue properly or successfully. So I leave you a good question in that regard: At what point do job qualification requirements become less person-specific and more discriminatory?

I'm not sure if anyone has tackled such a topic yet, but it would make for a good discussion as long as we could stay away from the name-calling. A lot of companies put up certain specifications, from the simple "Must be Female" to "Must Have Graduated From a Reputable University" to "Must Have Curly Black Hair, a Willingness to Experiment, and a Fetish for South American Spider Monkeys". These companies could probably make an argument for how important each and every one of these requirements are, but the radical job-hunters can easily argue that anybody can do any job if we all get right down to it.

You might as well put up a national writing contest, for example. You'll have winning writers who obviously fit what you want to see in a fine piece of original literature, but you'll also have millions of others who argue that their stuff is just as good under the right circumstances. This is probably one of those situations where none of us can ever win.

One of the specific issues has always been the question of age. Suppose that you have two applicants for an important position in your company: You could hire a 22-year-old young man with little experience but with much capacity for the long-term haul, or you could hire a 56-year-old veteran who's looking at retirement yet knows everything that there is to know about the business. Which would you prefer?

I suspect that such answers would be more personal in nature -- they'd depend on orientation, priorities, and/or immediate need. Or they'd be more businesslike in nature, for the exact same reasons. It's another debate all over again, in that case.

Fortunately, for the purposes of this article, we only have to point out those hints for the general jobseekers. What's interesting to note is that I can split up my last remaining guidelines among applicants of both categories.

If you're no stranger to the job market, for example, then you might want to consider the following:

1. Do NOT include outdated credentials in your resumé.
This should be obvious, I think, but a lot of people will put anything on a resumé if it means a greater chance of landing the job. I've met with the winner of a 1971 spelling contest and the most well-behaved student in a 1986 student assembly, for example, and I can already tell you that both situations will test your skill at keeping a straight face.

Outdated credentials are a terrible experience. They're extremely difficult to ignore, yet really beg the question as to why they made it to the resumé in the first place. Such achievements no longer have an inch of relevance, and should really be left out of consideration. Otherwise the interviewer will simply be tempted to make fun of you, and no one ever takes that lightly.

2. Watch those gaps in your resumé.
Sure, you were employed by a massive conglomerate that really appreciated what you were doing. Sure, your former boss wept openly on the day you submitted your resignation letter. Sure, you spent a loyal six years with your previous employer, regardless of how turbulent their work was.

But what I want to know is, what were you doing in the significant span of time since you left them?

Don't get me wrong here; Despite my earlier point about knowing what to leave out of a resumé, there are some things that really shouldn't be left out of one. If you have a gap in your employment history, then you have to expect that somebody will call you on it. And then you'll have to explain exactly what you did for the full year or two that you found so convenient not to mention. Watch those gaps.


Not all of us are experienced with the job market, though. This is especially true, considering that the products of the local universities should now be checking the want ads and packing the waiting rooms this time of year.

Having been a new graduate once, I offer former students a very valuable piece of advice: Don't bother. It's probably better for you to stay home and leech off your parents till you're forty. The world out there has some razor-sharp teeth, and only the most suicidal of oiks would possibly walk into such a deathtrap.

The problem, of course, is that most graduates are too constructive to listen to me. So, having disposed of my first piece of advice for them, I have to offer them the following fringe cases:

1. We don't really look at your grades.
Surprised? It's true, at least in my case. If you have the skills to do the job, then you can do the job regardless of whether or not you got that D in Socio-Anthropology class. It stands to reason, really -- you can be the worst Physics student in the history of mankind, but we'll still hire you if you happen to be an excellent graphic designer.

That's not to say that grades aren't important, of course. In fact, grades are a pretty good indicator of how much study and dedication you give to a certain field. That's how we're able to trust in the integrities of college valedictorians, for example. But if you constantly worry about how your grades are good on one end and bad on the other, don't sweat it too much.

2. What you do in your off time is important.
Do you have any outside activities? Were you a member of any school organizations or civic groups? What obligations are you likely to have outside the company?

The answers to these questions are just as good as grades: They imply attention and dedication, even if they are for endeavors outside the traditional academic requirements. If you tell us that you're a member of at least one organization, then we figure that you're at least a normal human being. If you tell us that you're an officer in at that one organization, then we can see that you're willing to put in time and effort in a certain general direction.

A word to the wise, though: Don't give us a long shopping list of organizations you've supposedly "joined", and then claim to be active in all of them. In that case, we're more likely to think that you either have a really short attention span, or that you're just plain making fun of our sensibilities.

3. Know what you're applying for.
We all have certain expectations of applicants. It's not a surprise, particularly when you consider that a lot of businesses aim for specific audiences or provide distinct services. Shipping companies, for example, tend to expect that you know how to swim. Statistical offices expect that you know how to count. Web development companies expect that you know how to type, how to use a computer, and how to send e-mail.

Occasionally, however, some random applicant doesn't get the point and ends up going for a job that he absolutely does not understand. This is worse than applying for something that you have no business applying for -- this involves trying to get into something that is way out of your league. If you don't know how to start a car, then that auto repair shop is more likely to fire you than teach you. Despite what some people may think, there are never any situations where a corporate entity will be so desperate.


And now this is the part where I post my disclaimers.

I'm not an HR person. I haven't been trained as an HR person. All that I happen to have is five-and-a-half years of experience dealing with the web development industry and its people, as well as the occasional command from my boss to Get Out There and Deal With Those Yahoos.

The job-hunters out there, of course, have license to ignore or criticize the items I've posted here. But I've gleaned these points from years of speaking with applicants, and this is probably as close as I can get at this point without being an applicant myself.

Besides, it wouldn't be much fun if we didn't kick up a bit of discussion on this. The above items are what I've got, ladies and gentlemen. You can take 'em, leave 'em, or wait a couple of years while I run into more unorthodox situations.

After all, there's no end to the weirdness you can encounter when it comes to dealing with people, I suppose. :)


Ferdz said...

This is a very good post! Every new person looking for a new job should read this.

Cathy said...

"Fortunately, for the purposes of thise article..."

Do not forget manners. Hiring well mannered people plays an important role in the foundation of the company's culture.

Human Resource people are not the only doing the picking in this corporate frenzied society. Some graduates, no matter how high the pay off is, would also prefer a place they can do their work with the right people.

Roy said...

Actually, I have to agree that an age requirement seems discriminatory. It doesn't make any sense, really, unless the job is like "A person to represent other people of age 25 years or older."

BTW Sean, just curious, where do you work?

Sean said...

Ferdz: Actually, the items given here are really, really narrow. New graduates would probably be better off talking to placement or guidance offices within their schools; Experienced job-seekers should follow their instincts more than anything else.

Cathy: Good catch. I should put up a no-prize for people who spot my spelling errors. :)

I'll agree with you on the manners principle. Manners, ironically, don't get a lot of priority when companies basically just look for people who can do their job. I'm wondering how one can test an applicant for manners, though...

Roy: I think it's all relative. Sometimes the age requirement speaks for itself, and sometimes you have to wonder why the younger people are getting the shaft. There's no general answer to this sort of thing.

Me, I work in a small web development company in the Makati City business district, and I've been at my job for the last five years. Is it any wonder that I'm tired most of the time nowadays? :)

Anonymous said...

Just wondering if you've read Joey's Orange. I want to know what you think of it. :)

Sean said...

Reiji: No, I haven't even found the time to look for it yet. As of last week, I was either engaged in mounds of work, or being forcibly pushed into Easter holidays. :)

kat said...

Have you encountered any 'unusual' application letters? :p

Sean said...

Kat: The strangest one I've ever gotten was the one that was written in script on pink stationery that smelled like roses. I remember thinking that whoever wanted the job wanted it pretty bad. :)

Otherwise, every application letter I've gotten tends to be strange in some way. I don't get many application letters, though, since I usually start when the resumés are already on my table.