Employment Paralysis in the Obama Economy — Doug Kimball

 

As many of you know, I’m in the midst of a job search. It became clear early on that I needed to temper my expectations; which is to say consider taking a few giant steps backwards in order to get a paycheck.

The first headhunter I met with tried to sell me on a “retained search.” That’s a euphemism for paying them a fee up front to represent me. I politely told them, no, but I wanted to ask them if they saw “SUCKER” tattooed on my forehead. This is where the job market is. Poor unemployed dinosaurs like me are rubes to be deprived of their IRA savings.

Not all of the search firms have gone over to the dark side. Some are still helping fill open positions for a company fee. Right now, I’m well along in the process, but the hoops and barriers are as absurd and onerous as they have ever been. 

A struggling economy is like candy for HR departments. When there are so many candidates, sifting through the chaff becomes a major task (forget that the immense chaff is in large part generated by the unemployed going through the motions so that they can obtain their weekly unemployment checks). Once one has settled on candidates for interview, there are an infinite number of tools available to further the assessment. I’ve been subjected to personality tests and software tests. I’ve been asked to analyze deals, prepare spreadsheets, and consult on possible acquisitions.  I’m an unpaid consultant now, servicing nervous CEOs who are afraid to hire a CFO.

In the midst of all this activity, I remain unemployed — which leads me to a conversation I had with a recruiter yesterday. I expressed some frustration with all these demands. I told him that I thought this was a result of general insecurity among CEOs. Hiring a high-level finance guy is risky and costly, so they balk and balk. 

My recruiter buddy disagreed. He said that his problem was a dearth of good candidates. Of course, when I asked him about positions for someone like me, he said it wasn’t top-level jobs, but secondary, middle-management positions that he could not fill. I thought about this comment as I tossed and turned last night. It seemed so counterintuitive, but then I realized the answer. 

This trend results from a complicated series of factors, but, first and foremost, it’s the product of a poor economy.  Employers no longer think in terms of training or developing talent. In this economy, they demand a perfect fit. They want it cheap and they want it now. They look for specific industry experience, specific software experience, current professional credentials, expertise with specific software tools, etc. Out-of-area candidates are immediately dinged.  Relocation assistance has gone the way of the dodo bird. Candidates are eliminated if they lack any required attribute.

On the potential candidate side of the equation, there is little confidence. They are staying put and tempering their ambitions. Finally, salaries are stagnant or declining, which provides little opportunity for any employment mobility.

Here is what it comes down to: a strong economy seeks talent and is willing to train and pay to get it; a bad economy looks for an exact fit at the cheapest price and is not interested in promotion or training. We are not in a period of employment immobility; our economy is suffering from employment paralysis.

Published in General
Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 43 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Well and truly said. It’s a buyers market for labor right now. 

    My question is this: did the change of policy at the top cause this, and can a change correct it? Or, are there larger problem eroding our economy that quadrennial elections cannot repair?

    • #1
  2. user_435274 Thatcher
    user_435274
    @JohnHanson

    I sympathize, I am a system engineer with current training in system engineering, who has been unemployed for 2 years likely because I am a) 65 years old, b) overweight.  The combination tends to make it more difficult to get hired by 35 year old athletes.  I am working on the weight, but the age, just keeps going.    I keep looking and meanwhile have sufficient income from partial pensions, social security and a working wife that we will survive quite well.  I am just not yet ready to be retired full time.   So I do some volunteering, and become the house husband for my working wife.   She appreciates that.

    I have seen the focus on exact fit.   I have sensor experience on SONAR, RADAR, VIDEO, AUDIO, and other electronic sensors, but frequently do not have experience on some particular Sonobuoy, or radar set, or requirement software package etc.etc. There is always some facet of every job I haven’t worked with before.   It is a convenient excuse, but that is all it is, because over a 35+ year career, I have always been able to self-teach any knowledge I need, quickly and efficiently.  They just need to take the chance and in current environment are reluctant to do so.

    • #2
  3. user_1065645 Contributor
    user_1065645
    @DaveSussman

    I feel for you. The economy is not what we are being lead to believe it is. The only ‘recovery’ is the hyper inflated, QE based equity markets. Small-medium businesses are still feeling the pinch. Business owners must be nimble and make cost effective decisions. Hiring a seasoned professional is not cost effective anymore, when someone younger is willing to take that job for half salary. Usually that person isn’t worried about college tuition, health care expenses and the other life costs of a 50-60 something. 

    Entrepreneurship, while not for everyone, may be the best option for someone in your position. Possible as a CFO for hire?

    • #3
  4. user_6236 Member
    user_6236
    @JimChase

    This absolutely rings true to me.  I’m employed at the moment, but actively looking and not finding.  20 years systems and project engineering, business analyst.  Add to the fact that the online submission process triggers on keywords tied to skill sets, there is just no knowing whether you are even getting to a hiring manager’s desk.

    • #4
  5. Steve in Richmond Member
    Steve in Richmond
    @SteveinRichmond

    I’m also a CFO in the middle of a job search.  I am told repeatedly by recruiters what a strong candidate I am and interview for jobs I know I can easily do. Yet, as you mentioned, Companies  seem to have a 100 item list, and 99 checks is not enough.  Some are quite interesting, especially the guy who just wasn’t comfortable because I was friends with a former associate of his. 

    The focus though needs to be on creating a stronger economy.  That is not done with a higher minimum wage or tighter regulations or a failure to fully exploit our energy resources. These are all the true job killers and that is what depresses wages, jobs, and work force participation and keeps us mired in a 2% growth economy.  

    I loved what the CEO of DuPont or Dow ( I forget which) said on CNBC.  essentially, that in a 2% economy, he can achieve that with productivity gains each year and will never need to create a job again.

    • #5
  6. Roberto Inactive
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Doug Kimball:
    Employers no longer think in terms of training or developing talent. In this economy, they demand a perfect fit. They want it cheap and they want it now. They look for specific industry experience, specific software experience, current professional credentials, expertise with specific software tools, etc. Out of area candidates are immediately dinged. Relocation assistance has gone the way of the dodo bird. Candidates are eliminated if they lack any required attribute.

    This right here is the most cogent description I’ve read of the current employment market, period.  

    • #6
  7. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    It’s tragic that we have an Obama economy instead of a Romney economy.  I hope and pray you find suitable work very soon.

    • #7
  8. user_216080 Thatcher
    user_216080
    @DougKimball

    I have my doubts about our resiliency, but thoughts like that are downright un-American.  Nonetheless, we need to so many things to reverse these trends.  First of all, we need to realize that an elderly safety net designed in the 1930s has met it’s demographic death knell.  We also need to realize that the federal government can’t manage access to health insurance or alter the delivery of health care.  We also need to acknowledge that our tax system is a complex, illogical disaster.  Further, we need to dismantle the federal bureaucracy and declaw it.  Let the states decide how to regulate their industry.  Our banking system has consolidated and the federal government is way too involved in lending.  These trends need to be reversed.  S-O is too onerous; we need to re-open the public markets to profitable, promising, thriving businesses.  Davis-Bacon?  Repeal it.  SB Act?  Gone.  Government sponsorship of businesses should be prohibited (GSEs and investments.)  Any discrimination, including reverse discrimination and set asides, should be eliminated.  Let’s start there.

    • #8
  9. user_216080 Thatcher
    user_216080
    @DougKimball

    If the equity and commodity bubbles break, there goes America’s wealth!  Want to see it?  Keep using the Fed like a currency factory.

    • #9
  10. user_216080 Thatcher
    user_216080
    @DougKimball

    With RF as hot as it is, you’d thing folks would be snapping you up!  Good luck.

    • #10
  11. user_216080 Thatcher
    user_216080
    @DougKimball

    The Left doesn’t get it.  Leftist policy is the cause of this malignancy.  Capitalism is not pretty and can be abusive.  I’ve worked for some pretty arrogant capitalists who were unethical, wanted to cut corners and kept all the gains for themselves (and believed that they deserved it.)  That’s why we need regulation and a robust private sector.  Unethical employers have a tendency to be punished by the competition.  Leftist denigration of the rich is a bald attempt to paint all those with money as exploitive capitalists, to punish them and blame them for our weak economy.  That’s like blaming all publishers because you can’t read. 

    We’ve been adopting state run socialist institutions and policies since the 1930s.  These have supplanted prudent behaviors like saving and health maintenance and squandered our public wealth and that of our progeny.  The piper will be paid, that is certain.  Now it is affecting our very desire, much less our ability to earn a living.

    God help us!

    • #11
  12. user_358258 Member
    user_358258
    @RandyWebster

    I’ve worked as a mason’s helper before;  you know, setting up scaffold, hauling bricks or blocks, mixing mortar, and making sure the masons didn’t  run out of any of the above.  I’d do it again if I was unemployed.

    • #12
  13. user_216080 Thatcher
    user_216080
    @DougKimball

    You might not f you were like me, nearly 60, and surviving on Motrin.  I never saw a sport I didn’t like and played many well into my 40’s.  Now I play golf.  My body is beat up, stiff, seized up, nearly petrified.  I need to play nine holes golf before I can break a 200 yard drive.  I went bowling with my wife and suffered for days afterwards – bowling!  I don’t think I’d have much of a chance as a bricklayer’s helper.

    • #13
  14. KayBee Inactive
    KayBee
    @KayBee

    Discouraging.  I am 15 years out of the labor market between 2 kids and three cancers.  I would like to go back to work to help fund 2 college educations and retirement.  But I wonder if I’m nuts to think that someone would ever hire me.  So my attempts are desultory at best.  You are spot on about the “perfect fit,” which is frustrating when you know that your work ethic and your learning ability could get your further.

    • #14
  15. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    “Employers no longer think in terms of training or developing talent. In this economy, they demand a perfect fit. They want it cheap and they want it now. ”

    I’ve certainly noticed this at the company I work for. Senior management is confident that they can always find what they need in the marketplace, and at a price cheaper than what the current staff is being paid, so management sees no need to develop talent. 

    • #15
  16. Suzanne Temple Inactive
    Suzanne Temple
    @SuzanneTemple

    Thanks for the post, Doug. I hope things turn around for you soon.

    • #16
  17. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    Great post. I’ll try to comment more when I’m off mobile, but your second recruiter speaks truth re: “the next level down”.  Slim pickings out there. 

    HR contributes to the problem, IMO. Take one example, the “tick the boxes” mentality noted in other comments. That’s how your HR partners look at — and filter — resumes for your postings.  They believe they can evaluate qualifications and “help” you eliminate the unqualified. But they focus only on explicit academic and technical skill, but miss business and passion context.

    That’s why I insist on seeing all CVs.

    • #17
  18. Yeah...ok. Inactive
    Yeah...ok.
    @Yeahok

    I’m same age, similarly situated. I actually thought the economy would crash first, maybe my meager ,soon to be ex-, job is the only think keeping it afloat.

    You have some experience with construction/excavation; what would it take for you to head to North Dakota oil work? It’s my belief that any warm body can get a job. I think your experience and knowledge would get you into a warm office before 2 winters passed. So would you consider it?

    When I contemplate a similar move, I puss out. At what age do you expect your body to die?

    • #18
  19. user_139157 Inactive
    user_139157
    @PaulJCroeber

    As regulation and uncertainty continue, even executives face a zero marginal value consideration that won’t be taken lightly by the understandably risk averse.

    • #19
  20. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Keep in mind, it really isn’t you.

    I’ve shared this before on Ricochet, but just in case you or anyone in the thread missed it:

    http://www.johnnixdorf.com/Break_Room/TheRealReasonsYouDidntGetTheJob.pdf

    You could set up as a consultant if you think it would be worth it to jump the hoops to become an LLC, subchapter S, or whatever. You have to do that because business almost only work with other businesses because of the crackdown on contractors not reporting social security. And fight all the other heads of the regulatory hydra connected with owning your own business.

    <snark>At least you don’t have to worry about medical insurance because now we have Obamacare</snark>

    • #20
  21. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Hang in there, Doug.  I went into the market last May, while I still had a job, and it didn’t look good.  At the end of September, I went all in – the handwriting on the wall became my new reality.  Fortunately, some of my rather more esoteric experience landed me a new gig a whole lot faster than expected.

    Life is easy for the HR departments now, but if the economy ever seriously starts to recover, what has gone around will come back around.  One of my friends is working for a company that decided to save on their fire insurance and become “more green” by banning coffee pots. A software outfit making coffee difficult to obtain is just stupid.  Couple that with a lack of cross-training and critical knowledge will one day run, not walk, out the door.  Temporarily, the soft employment market is keeping people in place, but this too shall pass.

    • #21
  22. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Randy Webster:
    I’ve worked as a mason’s helper before; you know, setting up scaffold, hauling bricks or blocks, mixing mortar, and making sure the masons didn’t run out of any of the above. I’d do it again if I was unemployed.

    I painted houses when I was in college and for several summers thereafter. That was 40 years ago. I can barely lift a ladder anymore and I’m sure I’m not agile enough to work at heights all the time.  We get too old to do the things we easily did in a younger day.

    This the problem with “raise the retirement age to make social security solvent.” Where all all those 60 year olds going to work? Who’s going to hire them? 
    Miracle on the order of fish & loaves I just started a super job at the age of 62 and plan to keep it for another 10+years. But it doesn’t work out that way for everyone.

    • #22
  23. Carey J. Inactive
    Carey J.
    @CareyJ

    Percival:
    Hang in there, Doug. I went into the market last May, while I still had a job, and it didn’t look good. At the end of September, I went all in – the handwriting on the wall became my new reality. Fortunately, some of my rather more esoteric experience landed me a new gig a whole lot faster than expected.
    Life is easy for the HR departments now, but if the economy ever seriously starts to recover, what has gone around will come back around. One of my friends is working for a company that decided to save on their fire insurance and become “more green” by banning coffee pots. A software outfit making coffee difficult to obtain is just stupid. Couple that with a lack of cross-training and critical knowledge will one day run, not walk, out the door. Temporarily, the soft employment market is keeping people in place, but this too shall pass.

     Nah! They’ll do what they always do. Run a sham job search then hire an H-1B from India who’ll work for $25,000/yr. 

    • #23
  24. PsychLynne Inactive
    PsychLynne
    @PsychLynne

    I couldn’t agree more with this statement:  A struggling economy is like candy for HR departments. 

    My husband has struggled with long term unemployment and now works at a local grocery store as a part-time wine consultant.  This job is close, enjoyable, and doesn’t have costs associated with it (child-care, clothes, etc.)  Though, as you would imagine, the hours are limited by O’care.

    At the same time he was offered a job at a local university where the HR department was truly unprofessional in ways that reflect the abundance of candidates they have.  Their response time was slow, new rules were added mid-search, they restricted who he could talk to and tried to manage all the communication.  We wound up not taking the job for a variety of reasons, but I had not seen anything like that from an HR group.

    I have wondered about relocation to a booming place, my husband is almost 50 and in excellent health, but the nicks and pings of time preclude jumping into that kind of physical work now.  

    Good luck, Doug.  This is a tough struggle.

    • #24
  25. Look Away Inactive
    Look Away
    @LookAway

    I wish all of the job seekers the best of luck and my prayers. I went through a year of looking for work in 1981-1982 recession years and have never forgotten the feelings of frustration and worry it brought.

    This short article by Mohamed el-erian, Wallets Wide Shut further amplifies the reluctance of the private sector and is the best summary I have seen yet:

    http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/mohamed-a–el-erian-offers-six-reasons-why-business-investment-has-stalled–despite-firms–bulging-cash-reserves

    • #25
  26. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Look Away:  Excellent article you linked to.  I’m a fan of El-Erian.  He was on some people’s short lists for the Fed chief.  I would have preferred him to Yellen.   The ironic aspect of the hiring problems: The top companies like Ritz-Carlton “hire for attitude, train for skill.”  They are good to their employees, and they have relatively little turnover and excellent profit margins.   The skills and credentials these other companies are looking for, needed just to enable the HR person to impress the department head making the hire, don’t say anything at all about the prospective employee.   Self-employment is great after fifty for anyone who can manage it.   There’s a great book on what to do with your second life by Mark Walton: Boundless Potential: Transform Your Brain, Unleash Your Talents, and Reinvent Your Work in Midlife and Beyond.

    • #26
  27. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    Sorry to hear the job search is not going well.  I just hired a new Post-Doc in my lab and I am having to replace a retiring accounting/admin associate.  In both cases at first I fell into the thinking that you describe, but I am slowly coming around to the fact that perfect doesn’t exist.

     

    • #27
  28. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Randy Webster:
    I’ve worked as a mason’s helper before; you know, setting up scaffold, hauling bricks or blocks, mixing mortar, and making sure the masons didn’t run out of any of the above. I’d do it again if I was unemployed.

     That sounds good but they would not want you.  It is easier and cheaper to hire illegals on the side than to deal with a US citizen.  

    • #28
  29. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Carey J.:

    Percival: Hang in there, Doug. I went into the market last May, while I still had a job, and it didn’t look good. At the end of September, I went all in – the handwriting on the wall became my new reality. Fortunately, some of my rather more esoteric experience landed me a new gig a whole lot faster than expected. Life is easy for the HR departments now, but if the economy ever seriously starts to recover, what has gone around will come back around. One of my friends is working for a company that decided to save on their fire insurance and become “more green” by banning coffee pots. A software outfit making coffee difficult to obtain is just stupid. Couple that with a lack of cross-training and critical knowledge will one day run, not walk, out the door. Temporarily, the soft employment market is keeping people in place, but this too shall pass.

    Nah! They’ll do what they always do. Run a sham job search then hire an H-1B from India who’ll work for $25,000/yr.

     Bingo, I know many IT people that can’t seem to find jobs.  But in the companies I work with I get told they can not find enough “qualified” IT people and keep hiring Indians.  Almost every IT department I am around anymore has from 30%-70% Indian staffing.  

    • #29
  30. user_129539 Member
    user_129539
    @BrianClendinen

    HR Nazis, are partly to blame. That is one area were plenty of people want to work yet incompetence and unprofessionalism runs ramped.  I can’t think of a more worthless and out right damaging department in corporate America (other than maybe the law department whether internal or external).  I know I have not gotten interviews because I would not give what I made. Seriously do you take me for a sucker, you expect me to deal with confidential financial information and yet my own finances you expect me to disclose. If I don’t know how to keep personal information confidential do you expect me to do it with other peoples information? Just plan stupid, but I know they want a leg up on negotiating and don’t think long-term. However, it is a two way street, employees also have no loyalty to companies. I wonder if the 80% of jobs are gotten thru people you know, is still true for managers and highly paid white collar professionals. From what I have seen it is a little high but still seems to be true.

    • #30
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.