Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

It never rains in Human Resources

A recent series of articles in the Tampa Bay Times about the CareerSource Tampa Bay and CareerSource Pinellas agencies has centered on the fact that some people have found a lucrative living running agencies that purport to help those in need of work in the Tampa Bay area find jobs.

Indeed, by taking the credit for hiring that did not have anything to do with, the two agencies’ staffers, one of the CEOs and his cronies managed to increase their salaries dramatically and accrue perks that would have made a Wall Street type envious, especially when you consider the lack of work and effort involved.

Of course, none of that money that was paid out in salary increases and bonuses went anywhere near the folks who were – or were not – helped to find a job. Apparently, you had to be pals with the CEO and close to the throne to be stroked with the dough.

Making money off those who need a job is nothing new, of course. The region is chock-full of nonprofits with CEOs and top executives and boards of directors who take home six-figure annual salaries (plus benefits) to get people jobs in the low-five figures with no benefits.

People often wonder why workers are so afraid nowadays of being laid off or fired, even with the unemployment rate so low and tax reform creating millions of jobs. The thing is that the people who run these job-based nonprofits and the people who work in Human Resources departments have never experienced being laid off and not having an income.

You might wonder why your employer’s HR department is full of so many nasty people. Maybe you went somewhere for a job, and the HR people were slovenly, unprofessional, smelled bad and wasted your time.

Possibly they accused you of being on drugs or stupid, or saw the gaps in your resume where you were unemployed during the recession and figured that it was all your fault that you lost that job you had for 20 or 30 years.

Many of the people in Human Resources today – as well as those who write newspaper and online job advice columns – did not experience a layoff and unemployment during the recession that began around 2007, and thus are giving advice without any experience of their own in what it’s like to look for a job.

I remember absurd job-search “classes” that I had to take, in which I was given useless and outdated advice by well-meaning people. We were still being advised to present our best selves – which is good advice – but pointless when all applications are online and the only judge is a computer that’s looking to weed out people.

I recall looking for retail jobs, and running into absurd psychological tests in which the main concern seemed to be my (nonexistent) drinking or drug-use habits. As for knowledge and experience, well, who gave a hoot?

Yet job advice columnists kept beating the drum that you needed to talk to the hiring manager about the skills you could bring to the company, when the hiring manager was not a real person you could meet and talk to but rather a computer algorithm designed to figure out what year you graduated from high school so it could round-file your application without violating federal law about age discrimination.

One of the most infuriating times I spent in a company’s HR department was sometime in 2009 when I was working for a local news website but was not making enough money. I answered an ad on a job website for a company in Largo that needed a copy editor. The firm printed promotional materials, and the trouble was that the workers they were hiring were not adept in printed English, and the materials were having to be redone over and over because of spelling mistakes.

I went to the “interview” and met a woman who definitely had a nasty attitude. After answering a questionnaire, mostly about my alleged “drug use,” the woman told me that I had to take a whole series of online tests from home to show I had the skills I said I had.

That was not fun, and neither was the woman’s warning not to try to negotiate a higher salary. I advised her that I wouldn’t cross the Skyway for less than $15 an hour, and she said $10 was the top pay for the job, or just stop wasting her time.

We argued about it, and I finally told her that it was a small wonder they couldn’t find anyone with English language skills at $10 an hour and no benefits. Considering that some of the people coming in for jobs at the company had prison tattoos (one guy had been incarcerated for so long, he didn’t know what the internet was) they should be glad to have someone who didn’t have a criminal record looking for a job.

I left and drove home, and later emailed the woman and told her I wouldn’t be continuing with the process.

Many politicians complained then that the unemployed were being too picky about their jobs, but even when I applied to places like a bowling alley and Walmart, I got treated like dirt. The Walmart interview was a trip and a half. The job was going out and retrieving shopping carts, but they treated it like I would be planning the location of a new store. The guy interviewing me had four teeth and no idea what a newspaper was. They never called me back.

At one place, the company was looking for someone with years of editing experience and knowledge of the military. They published coffee table books on America’s military – especially the Navy – and magazines for when a new Navy ship was commissioned.

The interview went well, and I was called in for a second interview where I met the CEO.

As it turned out, they didn’t want me because while I had the knowledge and experience they were looking for, my salary request of low-$40s plus benefits was too rich for their blood.

I asked the editor who interviewed me what kind of salary they were offering. About $23,000 a year, plus benefits. “I brought you in to meet the boss to show him that you were worth what you were asking for,” the editor said, “but he’s convinced that he can get your level of knowledge and experience for a lot less.”

The editor then admitted that he was so frustrated that he was looking for a new job, too.

“Sorry I wasted your time,” he said.

When you hear on a TV report or NPR about someone who has sent out thousands of applications and heard nothing, even in today’s low-unemployment era, that’s more true than you might think if you haven’t gone through what most people have gone through.

Companies have their spokespeople whine and howl about the low quality of job applicants, but in truth they often don’t even see the applications of people who are highly qualified.

I am amazed at how I am treated sometimes when I apply for a job. I am tempted to start my own business and treat my employees and applicants with dignity and respect.

Human Resources people often seem to have been trained to be nasty to everyone. It reminds me of the part of Orwell’s “1984” in which Winston Smith has been renting a room from a kindly old man and committing all sorts of crimes in there with Julia, and suddenly, after he and Julia are caught, realizing that the kindly old man has started standing up straight, removed his stage makeup and is giving orders to the police.

Smith looks at the man and realizes – for the first time in his life – that he is looking into the cold, dead eyes of a member of the feared “Thought Police.”

That’s how I feel about Human Resources nowadays.

 

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February 19, 2018 - Posted by | Life lessons, The jobless chronicles | , , , , , , ,

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