I’m Standing In Front Of Them… Why Can’t They See Me?

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

I recently had a conversation with a recruiter at a staffing firm that brought up some interesting thoughts I’d like to share.

Before I get into that, let me provide some background on myself. I’m in my early 50s, about 15 years away from retirement, and was laid off from work seven months ago. Prior to this I had been employed continuously since I was 16, so that’s over 35 years in the workforce. I’ve held a variety of roles from IT to Telecom to Business Analysis and more. My employers have almost exclusively been Fortune 500 companies, so it’s pretty much a given that my skills have had to be better than average in order to stay with them for so long (15 years at my last employer, and 12+ years at the one before that). I regularly received glowing performance reviews and endless praises from my managers and co-workers on my ability to “get the job done”.

So why was I laid off? Why couldn’t I simply find another position in the company and keep working until I retire? That could be an essay unto itself; the short answer is, I was laid off because I was perceived as costing the company too much. Someone in HR decided another employee could do my job at a lower cost, so I was given a severance package and turned loose. I’ve been searching for a new position nonstop, submitting online applications and working through recruiters, and while the feedback I get from my applications is I have very impressive credentials, the result so far has been only a scattered number of interviews and no offers…

…which brings us back to my conversation with the recruiter. She was impressed with my background and skills, and was very interested in placing me to fill her client’s open position I had applied for. We then started talking about salary and benefits, probably the most painful part of these conversations. I usually state what my salary was at my last job and wait to see how the recruiter responds. In this case she told me how much her client was offering, which was more in line with an entry-level employee, or about half of my old salary – nowhere close to what I would need to pay my bills and still have a few pennies left to rub together at the end of the month…and forget about trying to save anything from it for retirement.

But instead of sounding apologetic for wasting my time, she seemed somewhat irritated – not at me, but at her client. She went on to describe that the amount of skill and depth of experience this client wanted was very high, but they are willing to pay only an entry-level salary to get it. On top of that, most of the applicants she’s been hearing from that would be willing to take a lower salary are not interested in becoming a regular employee, but instead would rather work as a contractor. This client, on the other hand, wants to hire regular employees and not contractors. It’s a stalemate that she has a hard time breaking, and it happens frequently with her clients.

As I was listening to her going on about these issues with her client, it made me think less about this particular job. Instead, we started talking more about the overall condition of the job market, the mindset of today’s employers, and the challenges of older workers finding new jobs – which in turn gave me better insight into why it’s taken me so long to find another position.

There’s no doubt the job market I’m in is saturated with people looking for work, at least in the tech field – from recent college grads to more experienced people like me, there’s no shortage of applications being filed for every new job opening. It’s what some call an “employer’s market” with lots of options and choices in their favor, and more competition for us older workers in landing a new position. Nothing out of the ordinary, really; at other times, it’s just the opposite.

The mindset of today’s employers is a greater challenge. The most visible disconnect I see is, many companies post long lists of skills and experience needed for a position, but are failing to recognize there are a lot more intangibles or “soft skills” that come with that experience – things like industry knowledge, loyalty, stability, focus, and perseverance. Those intangibles take a long time to build, and they have value — in some cases, their value can be worth more than the actual skills needed for the job. For example, it’s one thing to have a person who knows how to extract data points from a large database and assemble them into a report that provides information to management; anyone fresh out of college can do that. But, when you have a person who understands how the industry works and can focus on the goals without all the fluff, and can use that knowledge and ability to help management determine which data to extract and how to assemble it to provide the most useful insights into their operation, their value can be beyond measure.

Another element that is overlooked by employers is, in many cases it simply costs more for older workers to live than someone fresh out of college. Think married with children (or simply raising children), a home with a mortgage and monthly utility bills, one or more car payments, saving for or paying to send a child to college, setting aside a little for retirement, and the list goes on. It’s not like we can suddenly flip a switch and downsize our lives to make things work on what we were earning 15 to 20 or more years ago when we were just getting started; while we could eventually get to that point, it doesn’t happen overnight. I imagine if those hiring managers were suddenly laid off and the only jobs they could find required the same level of skill but offered only half the pay, their attitudes might change a bit.

So what would my message be to employers?

One word: THINK.

THINK about the skills and experience you want to bring in. THINK about how long it takes a person to build those up, especially the experience (my resume isn’t three pages long because I sat around doing nothing for 35 years). THINK about the value of that experience – especially the intangibles that come with it. And finally, THINK about how you would look at the job and the salary you’re offering if you were applying for the position.

At the end of our conversation, the recruiter vowed to go back to her client and have a discussion about the importance of looking at all of these details when determining how much to offer for a position. She’s likely going to give them a lesson in expectation-setting as well; like that old phrase “you get what you pay for”, my guess is she’ll tell them that unless they either change the requirements to fit the salary or change the salary to fit the requirements, they’re not going to fill the position anytime soon. I may not hear from this recruiter or about this job ever again, but I feel satisfied I was able to help her by shedding a little light on a problem that shows no signs of going away. Hopefully in turn that will help the next person who comes along and works with her.

As for me, I’m still looking…


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This entry was posted on Saturday, August 27th, 2016 at 11:04 pm and is filed under Today's Reality. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One comment

Vicki Landreth

Excellent article! I can relate to it, unfortunately!

August 28th, 2016 at 7:21 pm

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