Top Five Worst Hiring Trends of 2009

It's been a horrific year for U.S. job applicants.

The average length of unemployment in November was 28.5 weeks. At last count, there were six job seekers for every opening. More than nine million Americans now work part-time because it's the only work they can find.

The grim statistics go on and on.

But stiff competition isn't the only hurdle job hunters have had to clear this year.

In this employers' market, companies have become pickier than a five-year-old at the holiday dinner table. Employment scams have spread faster than H1N1. And much like the budget surplus of the 1990s, hiring managers who respond to candidates in a timely manner have become an elusive, distant memory.

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I asked some intrepid job seekers and employment advocates for their biggest peeves of the hiring process. Following are the top indignities they would like to see wane in the coming year.

Labyrinthine Job Application Systems

If there's one thing I hear more job hunters harrumph about, it's the maddening online application tools so many companies use. No one's suggesting employers do away with online job applications altogether, just that they bring their systems up to twenty-first century computing standards.

"Not only do most of them have the job seeker input all of the information from their resume -- redundantly at times -- but half of them shut down, crash your computer or steer you into dead ends," said Dick Barnes of The Freeland Group, a management consulting firm in Bellevue, Wash., that frequently helps employers with the hiring process.

"The really top people look elsewhere," he added. "They become disgusted with a process that treats them as children."

Another common complaint:

"No acknowledgment that your resume or cover letter went through," said Robin, a marketing professional in Washington, D.C. who didn't want her last name used. "I know they are getting hundreds of submissions, but this is easily automated."

Overly Demanding Job Listings

Once upon a time, a person could apply for a job as a plumber, software programmer or public affairs officer. Now we have job listings calling for programmers with marketing experience, plumbers with a project management background and publicists who have a knack for accounting, mediating personnel issues and troubleshooting a leaky toilet.

Deirdre, an executive assistant in Los Angeles who didn't want her real name used, said she has seen a rise in such demanding, kitchen-sink job listings during the 16 months she's been looking for work.

"Two years ago, you could transfer skills to any job," said Deirdre, who's been in the workforce more than two decades. Not so much for today's vacancies, which often require personal assistants to have a background in the employer's industry, be it entertainment, real estate or banking, she said.

"Some have crazy requirements," said Deirdre, who's grown accustomed to seeing listings for executive assistants who can work on call 24/7, drive a limo and speak a foreign language -- all for 30 percent of what she earned before the economy tanked.

Unscrupulous Recruiters

I don't have anything against recruiters. Legions of them are stand-up individuals who excel at connecting job seekers with employers.

But like many vocations, recruiting has its bad seeds. They seem hell-bent on giving the profession a bad name. And when it comes to these bad seeds, job seekers don't mince words.

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