Why You Should Think More About the ‘Other Side’

Cool Hand Luke PrisonersAfter watching a man get beaten half to death, the warden in the old prison movie Cool Hand Luke tells the assembled convicts, “What we have here, is a failure to communicate.” I remembered that line as I read (yet another) story about tech employers bemoaning the lack of talent, and (yet another) string of comments about how companies will find plenty of talent if they’ll just stop looking for their dream date.

If my friends the regular blog commentators think I’m about to bash companies, or the managers reading this think I’m about to criticize job seekers, I’m sorry to you both. Because when it comes to exploring this disconnect, I’m looking at all of you. There is a hiring challenge in IT today, and it’s demonstrated by the low tech unemployment rate + the number of open positions. But it’s exacerbated by managers’ desire to find people who know everything they need to on the first day, and candidates’ belief that their past experience equals qualification for work that needs to get done with today’s tools.

To put it another way, companies don’t like to train new hires like they used to while candidates don’t believe it’s their responsibility to keep up with new technologies. A trade group executive once told me that success isn’t about learning new skills; it’s about evolving your existing skills. It amazes me how many people don’t like to hear that. Nor do they want to consider that following the basics of job hunting add up to taking your best shot: networking, customizing your approach to each employer, learning how to communicate with other departments. Even sending a thank you note after the interview stirs controversy.

At the same time, managers succumb to the temptation to dump every little need into their job descriptions, even though they should know better. It’s just a fact of life that some great developers don’t instinctively take the strategic view. They’ve got code to write, after all — the code the company needs. Others have demonstrated solid ability in software engineering, but are at a loss as to what’s the next tool they should learn. Ruby on Rails? Hadoop? R? Google Go? How about handling WebGL? Managers may want to consider the interest candidates show in the foundation skills needed to do the job, without being too granular. That said, it’s perfectly fair to then expect them to demonstrate their interest by nailing down the knowledge they need — once they know the rules.

The dynamics of the tech job market aren’t going to be changed by managers and candidates alone. Economics, politics, and dozens of other things impact it. But more thought about the realities faced by the person across the table can help, too. It is indeed about communication — it’s just no one should get beaten up in the process.

What are your thoughts? Could an adjustment in your thinking help? Or is it all on the other guy? Let me know by posting a comment below.

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93 Responses to “Why You Should Think More About the ‘Other Side’”

  1. Proud Paulbot

    —–success isn’t about learning new skills; it’s about evolving your existing skills. It amazes me how many people don’t like to hear that. Nor do they want to consider that following the basics of job hunting add up to taking your best shot: networking, customizing your approach to each employer, learning how to communicate with other departments. Even sending a thank you note after the interview stirs controversy.—-

    None of that bothers me. Sending a thank-you note after an interview is, to me, just expected, and it’s not a new aspect of job-hunting. I began doing this as soon as I graduated from mall jobs to office jobs, in the early 90’s. The notion of networking doesn’t offend me on its face, even though I personally have problems with networking, at least in the tech field. If I wanted to work in the legal field, I’d be all set (too bad the bottom fell out of that industry; one of my former employers is on the verge of losing his firm).

    The rest of the requirements: continuing to evolve one’s skills, etc., are true in any profession, not just tech. Even as a secretary, I experienced this. When I began doing office work, most companies were using the old WP 5.1, and some were still using typewriters for certain tasks. Obviously, a lot of things have changed since 1992. I never had a problem with learning new things. While I may age, I refuse to get old…and one of the sure signs of getting old is a refusal to learn anything new, on any level.

    I do think that one of the problems with hiring in tech is that most people who run tech companies have zero business education or experience. They really have no idea how to run a business, including how to hire, train, manage and fire employees. As I progress through my MBA classes, and learning about things such as organizational theory and leadership, this is becoming more clear to me. While it may seem like a class on leadership is fluff krap, it’s not. There really is something to be said about effective leadership. (I especially like what Jack Welch has to say about it.)

    On the other side of the coin, most tech employees have zero business education or experience outside of tech. Perhaps the fact that I do is the reason why I don’t balk at things like thank-you notes.

    Couple all of this with the fact that this country is melting down economically.

    I think I’d like to live in the alternate universe on “Fringe.”

  2. bartoncreek

    I come across this issue all the time and it reminds me of our Keynesian economic system we are under where constant growth must be produced at all times and new debt created to fund it.

    Corporate management is a doctrine built out of the steel foundries and rail roads where infrastructure was bought and put in place once every 30 or 40 years. Very easy to train and equip for that.

    IT on the other hand goes perfect with Keynesian thought in that it changes and adapts monthly requiring constant spend, money flowing, and training. Corporate buys a new cutting edge firewall or dev program and then gets pissed off when their internal guys have issues configuring it so they hire a “consultant” that has just a bit more experience. Then a year later they get hacked and buy a new new firewall or their code gets corrupted and they implement new kan ban agile scrum development measures so it “never happens again” and then repeat the process.

    The paradox is Corporate has to pay for training of internal staff on the technology they use BUT they don’t want to because a new box will arrive in a year requiring all new training OR their staff leaves as they have the new “hot” training. IT guys love training but the training has a certain shelf life before it is superseded by new tech.

  3. Job Seeker

    Sure, you can learn the new technologies, but getting on-the-job experience using them is a different story. I am totally current on my skills, but the job market is really tight now. Just to get a second interview you need to answer 2 hours of quiz show interview questions about obscure tech features, pass a programming test, then an IQ test. Not many other professions do this to applicants as most white collar professions do not have an extreme shortage of jobs like IT does. I guess I just need to deal with it and keep working hard.

  4. NYC Man

    It’s very frustrating to see thousands and thousands of opportunities and just as many candidates not matching up due to employers not understanding what it is a candidate can bring to the table. For myself, usually when I see a match, it comes with a salary 10%-30% less than what I make now.

  5. Employer do not want to spend the money to train employees. Most companies I have seen do not know what skill set they need in a recruit. So they look for only people with the name of the equipment or software. I’m a technician and most of the equipment and systems I work on I have little to no training on. Half the time I never heard of it before. It’s almost impossible for some one to guess what to learn to fill a position. Companies have to first find out what they need then look at similar systems so they know what type of tech they can and need to train.

  6. Steve C

    I consider myself lucky. I have managed to maintain my job in a sluggish economy in a city where most employers are over 60 and dont understand the value of computers/web. Some of my companies customers dont even have an email account. Hard to do business in this type of atmosphere.

    But I persevere. Being the lead engineer I find myself outpacing the development team on many occasions and have “down time” on my hands. I wanted to take the initiative and learn a mobile language during this free time. To have it for future development. But when I requested of my employer to use this time to better my skills he said “No”

    This is systemic in this area. In my whole industry in fact. The people in charge cannot see the advantage of investing in knowledge that will be required in the future. Many times when the future arrives, the resources are not available and companies wonder why they fall behind.

    We have been developing a breakthrough design software for interior design professionals (they still use drafting tables!) for the past 6 years. We have yet to find a manufacturer who is willing to adopt our software.

    Entrenched companies fight the future so hard they cannot see that it will eventually kill their companies.

    • David

      I whole-heartedly agree. Regardless of the industry, it’s progress or fail. We need more progressive thinkers who are not afraid to embrace new technology.

      • Steve C

        The forward thinkers need to have more control /influence in the companies. But companies are rated on money not knowledge. It’s a recipe for stagnation.

  7. Warren

    You forgot to mention the influx of Indians, H1B Visas and Offshoring. Please be more thorough and honest in your opinion pieces. Don’t sugar coat it.

      • James

        But you can’t ignore the h1b and L1 visa problem. That are part of the hiring pool American Candidates have to compete with.

        The problem with some companies have is they don’t know what they want, so they want it all or they one person to do the job of two or more and only pay one salary. Both expectations are unreasonable and the reason why they can’t find anyone.

      • Warren

        I beg to differ. I’ve worked for over 20 years in IT and saw it all happen all around me. Everyone else in IT knows it and is probably afraid to admit it due to fears of being labeled racist or a reactionary.
        Everyone in IT knows its about the Indians and offshoring. And its not something that should be sidestepped. IT jobs have been leaving our shores never to return and are being dished out by shady and dishonest hiring companies that are in cahoots with corrupt company hiring managers.

        • jaosn

          Life’s a b&*^Tch. You can spend time complaining about it or start your own off shoring company. Sitting on your hands does nothing for you or the economic engine that runs the world. Globalization, just like the railroads, are here to stay because they make rich people richerer due to exploitation AND provide incentive for somebody in India to get off a fishing boat, learn IT, and then use their money to fix up a house and buy coca cola’s for his village.

  8. David

    Here’s my belief:

    Many of the jobs posted on boards like this are not actual openings. They act as “fishing nets” to catch resumes by the hundreds. Then, they likely trash 90% of them at some point without even looking at them. Finally, they weed through the last 10% when they do actually need to fill a position and look for the “ideal” candidate.

    What makes me believe this? I’ve applied for countless jobs where I thought that I was the “perfect” match for the position and didn’t even get so much as an interview. In addition, I see so many job posts that are on boards for months and they just keep renewing the listing. Also, I think that HR personnel are given a huge list of requirements that the employer wants IT candidates, regardless of the position being filled, to possess. Then, the HR person, not knowing what requirements are critical for a particular position, just lists them all. At that point, the job seeker gets frustrated because there’s no way that any one person is going to possess that broad of a knowledge/experience base. It’s simply unrealistic.

    • jaosn

      I discussed a job with a customer the other day, they only wanted someone who was “expert” level at Exchange, “expert” level Active directory, and five years of experience directly managing 25 or more people. Oh, and they also needed above average Agile development experience.

      Mind you this was a “networks” engineering director position.

      • macmanjim

        I think they have these ridiculous requirements to keep the amount of resumes they have to sift through a low number. If they advertised for what they really needed, they’d have to sift through 10x the resumes. Still, it’s unrealistic and possibly fueled by a bad economy. I wonder how things will shift if the economy really takes off and the glut disappears? May be that is magical thinking. I miss the mid to late 90’s.

      • David

        As indicated in my comment as well as this article. employers are simply unrealistic with their job requirements whether it’s HR just guessing what skills are important or some CIO with their head in the clouds.

        Also, going through recruiting agencies makes it easier for employers to say “no” because they don’t have to look the prospective employee in the eyes when they do it. They don’t have to empathize with the job seeker knowing that they might have been unemployed for a few months or longer. They leave the dirty work to the recruiting agencies. Thus, giving them a bad rapport among job seekers.

    • Cicuta

      What you say is true and it has been going on for quite some time. Also, companies do that in order to keep the company’ share value up. Most jobs are non-existent. Also, most companies have contractors to do the job in 3 months’ time and they nail those guys to the wall. Our economy is a fake economy and just wait a few more years…it will get worst!

      • David

        Oh yes, the US (and global) economy is going to get worse over the next 2-3 years. It might even hit the point of no return. We need a president that’s worthy of being president. Unfortunately, neither the incumbent nor the candidates fit that bill.

  9. Joseph Fatula

    I’m told I’m overqualified when my skills match. Retraining is the stock solution but as the article cites–retrain for what? Of course Java and VB in my area. Then be told I’m overqualified.
    Also running into the issue that since the last IT job I did was as a systems programmer–my applications skills are no longer wanted.
    Therefore if I apply for an applications job I’m told I should be applying for a systems programming job instead. If I apply for a systems programming job I’m told I’m overqualified.
    I’m stuck in a box no matter what I do.

    • Dumb ur resume down a little. Just to get in. Most hr people don’t have a clue about what’s needed. If you know they need a application programmer and you know how to then discard the other skills you have

  10. Gary Nackenson

    One of the issues that could be fleshed out further is poor interviewing skills , on both sides. Interviewers often don’t seem to understand the difference between a technical problem they face that’s somewhat specific to their domain and general industry knowledge, and spend too much time on deep dives into narrow topics. When i interview i cover a broad water front more shallowly. This phenemonon can get particularly bad with very technical interviewers who have poor people skills.

    As far as those of us interviewing – we can do no wrong! kidding. I think the point is well taken here that its a good idea to stay abreast of best practices that are somewhat adjacent to your specialty.

  11. macmanjim

    The power of magical thinking. I believe you hit the nail the head, Mark. Reality needs to set in, but here’s my question about her disconnect: If baseball and hockey teams have minor leagues to develop talent, why don’t businesses approach their talent the same way? Expecting people to be ready made perfect for their needs is counterfactual. With perspective employees, I understand the frustration in keeping one’s skills sharp. It can cost a bundle with the certification merry go round and where is the loyalty if companies don’t want to invest in training and everyone is expendable? Flip this around, how can managers or companies expect loyalty under these circumstances? A poor economy is a poor excuse for such measures. I think we are going through growing pains in the transition to a new work/employer relationship paradigm. May be we are headed towards a paradigm where everyone is a contractor/1099 and we create our own agreements. What do you think?

    • I think there’s a lot of truth to what you’re saying about contractors. Companies have always been hated to add head count, and today using contractors is a handy way to get work done with good people while avoiding benefits, spending less on facilities and the like. I can’t help but think that the more they take that approach, the more they’re going to like it.

      One result of this is is less commitment on the part of employees. I don’t think that’s a good thing for companies, but it’s hard to quantify it. I worked for myself for ten years, and know it takes a certain kind of person to do it — you’re always hustling for your next assignment, keeping tabs on your rainy day fund and, of course, bearing things like health insurance on your own. Working for yourself has a positive side, of course, but it’s not for everyone. Nevertheless, more professionals are going to have to prepare themselves to do just that.

  12. I’ve been in the field for over 25 years and have been on both sides of the fence. I’ve work with great programmers and those that have no clue. And the difference has nothing to do with technology. The problem – the communication gap – is really about understanding what makes a great programmer. Technologies come and go, often with a speed and frequency that makes you dizzy just watching them go by, let alone diving in and learning their idiosyncrasies. But are they really new technologies? No. Over the last 30-40 years there have been very few truly new technological breakthroughs. OOP, web, maybe a couple of others. The rest is pretty much syntactic sugar.

    What employers fail to understand is that it is not lack of familiarity of the tool sets that causes problems on their projects, it is the lack of the fundamental ability to think in a clear, logical manner. And that is what great programmers have above everything else. They know their fundamentals, they know how to analyze requirements, and they know how to think through a problem. Whether they apply java, php, ruby or whatever to implement a solution is such a small part of the equation, yet that is the focus of most HR’s hiring criteria. Perhaps it is because they don’t know how to measure someones ability to think, or perhaps its because when things go wrong we point fingers and the easiest thing to blame is technology. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I will always hire someone who can think over someone who has listed all the latest tool sets in their resume.

    • I agree, but it doesn’t just apply to programming. Someone who can think and has troubleshooting capabilities is considerably more valuable than someone who knows a specific piece of technology well. I’m always amazed at how many ‘command-line’ questions are asked during an interview – isn’t that what man pages are for ?

  13. BambiB

    I think a lot of what you’re saying is true, but if I had to place the majority of blame it would rest squarely on the hiring side. An applicant reading a job requirements list may see a dozen skills required, have 11 of them, and be ruled out for lacking the 12th. This is just stupidity on the part of the employer. If they would think for even a few milliseconds, they would recognize that a 91.6% match to start with is better than they usually get after substantial investment in time and money. In addition, the person who substantially meets their “requirements” probably has the mental tools to pick up anything else they need. That is, after all, how we got to the position of being 11 out of 12.

    Instead of a list of a dozen “must have” items, a smart employer will list a couple vital items and a laundry list of “nice to haves”. If you want an assembly programmer, make that the first item. Nice to have? That might include a particular development environment or a specific processor family. Why aren’t they “must have” items? Because any assembly programmer worth a damn will be able to adapt to a new processor family or development environment. And if they’re NOT worth a damn, then do you really want them writing code for you even if they do have all the “requirements”?

    But not only are employers incapable of differentiating between “vital” and “nice to have”, they frequently include requirements that have absolutely no bearing on the job. “Assembly Programmer with BASIC experience”. Give me a break. When I see that, I usually think, “They have someone in house picked for the job but are required to list outside. Waste – of -time.” Sometimes the motivation is darker. Do a little checking and you can find companies who are deliberately listing requirements so as NOT to find an American candidate so they can instead hire a foreigner on an H1B visa. Think not? Check out this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fx–jNQYNgA

    Bottom line, employers need to start differentiating between what they actually NEED and what they would LIKE TO HAVE.

    • Michael F

      Couple notes:
      1. It’s not generically “employers”…it’s the $12 an hour schlub who’s screening resumes for the hiring manager. CTO’s don’t have time to read the 100 resumes that come in, so they ask the non-technical, non-coding, non-gets-it temp or HR/Recruiting person to filter those down to 3 or 4 resumes. That person filters out someone who has 11 out of 12 because they just don’t know what you and I inherently know about good technologists. It’s the system, man!

      2. H1B employees costs just as much (they are in America and need to live and work in your city) as US citizens. Outsourcing/offshoring is another issue, but I don’t know of employers who prefer foreigners over locals when they cost the same per hour. It’s an economic argument that wins in the boardrooms, always.

      • BambiB


        No offense, but that’s where your ignorance bites the American worker in the ass.

        If you watched the video, you know that not only does corporate America seek to hire H1B types over American citizens, they actually pay law firms to come in and teach them how to game the system. I can tell you from FIRST-HAND experience that when I was at Amazon.com, they brought in a specialist to teach ME how to avoid attracting/hiring an American applicant. But your assumption is a good one: They wouldn’t be doing it if both cost the same. And under the law, they are SUPPOSED to cost the same. But the truth is: They don’t. H1B visa holders are routinely paid less than American citizens. Do your own research. When a company like Microsoft hires 4000 H1Bs, then turns around the next year and lays off 5000 Americans, it’s not just the “economy”.

        There’s another aspect of H1Bs that’s attractive to employers. They can dump them at any time without repercussions. The fact that H1Bs have no right to remain in the country if they lose their jobs gives companies slave-holder type control. “What do you mean you don’t want to work 80 hours this week without overtime? You’re fired. There’s a plane leaving for India tonight.”

        As for the manager who hires a $12/hour worker to make his decisions for him – that’s at best a $12/hour MANAGER, regardless of how much he gets paid. Considering the cost of hiring the WRONG person, any manager who isn’t in the loop, or doesn’t have a screener who is up to speed, is the wrong manager.

      • Cicuta

        Michael F:
        Wrong you’re, this game about resumes is as old as people think. The resumes are screened by computers based on key words depending on the type of job and not by humans and this can be screened to any amount of resumes and leave only the ones that meet a criteria; then humans pick those resumes and choose the best ones; the drawback of that is that usually HR do the screening or a contractor head hunter and those do not know left from right and finally the hiring manager gets the last saying. Big corporations get about 20K resumes daily and humans cannot do the job…that is why we have computers. There is another problem now days and it is the grid of companies regarding the H1B visas. I bet that no one in here and not even Dice employees know how H1B visas started and when. The first company which started bringing in professionals from other countries was Texas Instruments in the late 70s early 80s; they just brought them in on a contract bases and with no H1B visa as they were nonexistent in those days; then, the government sue Texas Instruments because of their practices and won the litigation as those were people working in the USA and paying no taxes of any kind; the company paid those professionals ½ the salary of USA citizens. Then, as time went on companies got the Immigration Dept. to extend the H1B visas and I bet that they did it through lobbing as it is customary done with politicians. The problem is the government because they should not extend any H1B visa but those are ignorant people with no vision at all. I know a lot of people from India which came to the USA that way, with just a permit to work here for 2 years and then they extended the permit when it expired with the backing of the company they were working for till they had the 5 years requirement to get a permanent visa. Those people were the best professionals India could offer; then after they had the permanent visa they switched jobs to another company doubling the salary. I am an engineer and a computer science professional and I have seen the trend regarding technology and hiring practices. Even in the late 80s early 90s head hunters did not do the job of hunting for professionals the way it is done now as the internet was not where it is now; resumes were mailed in to the head hunters and those in return did the leg work for the professional they were working for on a commission basis paid by the company doing the hiring. One thing I can say though, those head hunters were a thousand times better than they are now and produced results. The interviews were also done face to face with the hiring manager and no silly and stupid questions were involved; certifications were nonexistent either and companies wanted professionals with a university degree and not a silly 2 weeks training to get a certification for $3,000.00 and even $5,000.00 for the course. Microsoft and Netware were the first two companies who started the lucrative business of certifications and now everybody is doing it. Just as I predicted back in the early 80s regarding the lack of professionals later on due to what companies did and do in order to earn an extra buck. The future of this country is bleak really and we will see the days when we won’t have professionals at all…just people with certifications; then, who will do the research and development? It will go to India, China, Korea, Brazil, Russia, and other countries including Israel.

        • Very informative. Thank you, Cicuta, for taking the time to write it. Your brief historical sketch provides us with a place to stand that gives us some distance from, and a clearer view of, the present moment in this industry. When I stand in the place that you have provided, it seems obvious to me that Mr. Feffer’s piece misses, not only the bulls’ eye, but the whole target.

          We need to look squarely at the H1B visa issue. No more crap about listening to each other better. This is yet another example of an industry and an occupation ruined by meddling and grasping government. “If you want to understand your world, look at how the money flows.”

      • Fred Bosick


        I ask only that you read the replies to Michael F.

        NOT a red herring! It’s real and we’re all watching it happen from ringside seats. I wish I could display the contact list from my Office Communicator. But that is corporate espionage and I still have my morals. For now.

      • macmanjim


        And that is the turd that no one can find a clean end. Why this isn’t trumpeted by certain political circles. I have no idea, but it’s nothing new. A friend’s sister worked for Tyson Foods in Arkansas and they gave her a van and sent her to Texas to bring illegal aliens back to work at the plants. She was bi-lingual, so that is why she got the job. It’s nuts.

        What is the difference between H1b and L1B visas?

  14. Kevin Crocker

    I would like to thank Mark for his truthful insight. This present day dilemma holds true to just about every area of the IT industry today. Companies are viewing the candidate pool with an attitude of expectation to get it all because the candidate pool is vast and full of enthusiastic desirable talent. It incubates or fosters the mentality of holding out for the perfect fit and it creates a gap which many talented individuals fall into that lack that one skill. To the hiring authority, it seems to pay off as they wait for that perfect match to sit at the interview table. But in reality, it lengthens their search time increasing their costs for filling the position. It also removes the opportunity of finding aspiring talent that is well capable of adding all of the desired skills and tools. Finally, the hiring company ends up paying a salary that is much higher than they could have if they were just willing to take the candidate that lacked the one tool but was eager to add the desired tool to their base.

    • BambiB

      Not only that, but when they find the one candidate who does meet all of their STATED requirements, it turns out they left something off… like “not a psycho” or “bathes at least weekly” or “won’t leave in the middle of a project just because someone else is offering $2/hour more.” You’ll notice that some listings now say, “Must speak English”. Any doubt about why that is?

      Really, the depths of corporate stupidity (especially HR) have yet to be plumbed.

  15. Michael F

    Oh, and my favorite job postings list “10+ years experience” in computer technologies that haven’t existed for that long!! Even the original creator of that technology doesn’t meet the requirement. That’s when you’re sure HR/Recruiting wrote the JD and no techie proof-read it. Embarrassing for the company involved, definitely.

      • Indeed! I saw some job postings that required 7+ years in Java, when Java was about 4 years old. My guess was that it was used as a filter: whoever claimed 7+ of experience, was lying.

        Of course, I was a lot less cynical back then. Now I just think they are delusional.

  16. Cicuta

    What you say is partially true; however, the question is: Is the individual equipped with the know how to tackle the so called “evolving technology”? If you think a bit, technology has been evolving since the conception of mathematics, physics, electronics, etc. and people have been able to handle it and make it better; so, what is the problem now days about companies not being able to fill available openings? The answer is stupidity. Every time I receive an email about a “3 month contract” I glance through the requirements and I laugh when I see the endless list…then, I reply telling the head hunter that the list of requirements is to short and he should through in a few more requirements. Question: How many software applications are there in the world of industry? I bet no one knows if we consider the different industries out there and the irony of it is that no one on earth can know them all especially if the individual has never had the necessity of learning a particular application as it does not apply to his/her present or past requirements to handle a job. What about recent graduates? Do they know all the applications out there? I bet that not too many people know all the Operational Systems (OS) out there either. Bottom line is technology has been evolving since the invention of sliced bread and people just did whatever was needed to get the job done; so, what is so different now days? I say that grid is the answer as the only thing new to me is the so called “contracts” instead of a steady job. By the way…I am a retired engineer with more than 30 years’ experience.

  17. Brian

    Mark, great article. This is probably the most important subject in hiring today. I’ve seen a disturbing trend over the past decade where candidates are expected to know everything under the sun, err regardless of the job title–in some instances it’s absolutely ludicrous! I’ve also seen managers reluctant to train their people, because they’re afraid they will jump ship; I’m sure it happens. Meanwhile, we’ve got people that have current skills and lots of potential going to waste. Message to employers: there’s no substitute for quality training. Candidates and current employees are worth it, and your companies will be better off too.

    • Andrew

      Amen! I am a very quick study at computer applications, and am also diligent; anyone who hires me finds no loss of productivity due to training. (I accomplish this largely by actually paying attention to what the trainers or the software tell me.)

      Yet this is the main issue I have with the article: the second-to-last paragraph seems to allude to this, but elsewhere in the article he castigates prospective employees for failing to show interest in re-training themselves. Believe me, I’d be happy to train myself on any application or system you’d like; but WHICH system or application?

      I am not exaggerating when I say that EVERY single job I’ve gone after, since getting into high tech and related fields, has required expertise in (a) different application(s) or system(s). It is simply not realistic to expect me to anticipate which one will be needed. There are hundreds.

      • Well, I don’t “castigate” anyone. But there are people who say they’re not going to worry about training because they shouldn’t have to. That’s just unrealistic, and I think short-sighted.

      • Andrew

        @Mark, I agree entirely that one should keep learning; but again, learn what, exactly? It seems that it is no longer the case that one can say “skill with such and such an application is much in demand,” because, as mentioned, I get hit with a different set of requirements with each new interview. The only skills that are constant are the ones on which I am already up to speed.

      • Proud Paulbot

        —–EVERY single job I’ve gone after, since getting into high tech and related fields, has required expertise in (a) different application(s) or system(s). It is simply not realistic to expect me to anticipate which one will be needed. There are hundreds.——-

        I’ve had the same experience. It wouldn’t be a matter of “just go[ing] through a few tutorials.” It would be a matter of me going through HUNDREDS of tutorials, plus purchasing software packages like Adobe Creative Suite, to the tune of $1,500.00 a pop, then praying I can teach myself how to use them. (I actually had a graphic artist strongly advise me to think twice about plunking down all of that money for Creative Suite, lest I not be able to teach it to myself. Apart from really basic functions like cropping and resizing, I have no graphics experience.)

        Even if I had unlimited time and money to take tutorials and purchase software packages, I still wouldn’t fulfill the requirements of these ads. The employers who place the ads are not looking for greenies who sat at home and learned the bar-bones basics of a language or software package from a tutorial. They are looking for EXPERTS with YEARS of documented experience, plus a portfolio.

        This is understandable when the job title says “Senior,” “Lead,” etc. What gets me is when the job is denoted as “entry-level” or “Junior”–or worse yet, “internship”–then specifies anywhere from 2-5 years of experience, along with expertise in a laundry list of programming languages, operating systems and software packages.

        I’ve long since given up. I’m using my Math & Computer Science degree to open a pet-sitting company. I don’t have any other work options. It’s surreal that the gov’t and American companies whine and complain that “not enough students are studying math and science,” yet I’ve got a STEM degree and cannot get a job other than walking dogs. I love animals, but it’s a shame that I put all of this work (and money) into this degree only to be told I’m unemployable in the tech field and will never use it. I went to a public university…doesn’t that mean the taxpayer dollars used to educate me were wasted? Wouldn’t the taxpayers rather I use the education they paid for? I guess not. They’d rather I just walk their dogs.

  18. BambiB

    There have been a number of mentions of the failure of HR. Thought I’d pass along this gem:

    A contractor spotted a job that was a perfect fit for his skill set (DSP programming), so he immediately contacted HR, told them he was a great fit and forwarded his resume. Since the hiring deadline was a short one, he called Hr to confirm receipt of his resume and they assured him they would review his resume for the job.

    A week went by without any response, so he called up and was told that they had hired someone else. The contractor was shocked because he knew his experience was tops in the field. The HR person told him it came up short because he didn’t have any “Digital Signal Processor” experience. The contractor replied that it was what he’d been doing for the past 10 years!

    “Well, it’s not on your resume.”

    “Yes it is. 10 years DSP experience!”

    “D? S? P??? Oh! Is that what DSP stands for? Digital Signal Processor?”


    • Jerry A. Edmonds

      Keep in mind that most HR Department personnel aren’t well schooled in IT acronymns. Know your audience and spell it out to eliminate misunderstandings.

    • Frances

      Great story.
      And EXACTLY describes what I have been saying since I was laid off in 2002 during the great Telecom downturn: the “technical recruiters” don’t have a clue what they’re doing. Most of them can’t spell IT (Information Technology) and acronyms make their empty heads swim.

      Unless and until hiring managers insist the recruiters (both inside their companies and outside their companies) start learning what the different parts of IT are, what the acronyms are, and how to truly do an interview on a technical person things are not going to change.

      • Andrew

        “technical recruiters” don’t have a clue what they’re doing

        When I started in IT, 14 years ago, I was an administrative assistant (that is, a secretary). I mentioned this at a party, and a man burst into my conversation and planted himself one foot from my face.

        “Um… Hello?”
        “I’m your worst nightmare. A recruiter. You’re a sysadmin?”
        “Oh–no, no! An administrative assistant.”

        In further conversation, it emerged that he had absolutely no idea what an administrative assistant was, though the term had been in use for at least a good 15 years before that.

        • I think you’re generalizing here. No question, there are recruiters out there who don’t know very much. But there are also others who know an awful lot about the industry. The trick for us is to find the ones who’ve got the expertise to actually help, as opposed to those who just read phone scripts all day.

      • Frances

        In response to Mike “I think you’re generalizing here.”
        Yes, I am generalizing, but it seems to me that the inept recruiters far out number the competent ones. In 30 years of being involved in IT I can confidently say I’ve only run into TWO (2) recruiters that had a clue, and one of those was an IT guy who did placements on the side.

  19. Terence Tomes

    Very good article with some very excellent points. As Steven Covey stated, you have look through “new” glasses. One other item not addressed is the fact that US citizens (and especially veterans like myself) are not hired due to the H1B and L1 workers.

  20. I dropped out of the 9-to-5 scene, when the CIO and cronies who know nothing about IT really gets done decided they had a problem to fix. Program errors occasionally brought down all 500 realtime sales registers for half a day. 14 months laterit happened again. The solution applied was to only allow new or updated software to be put into production once a month, supposedly reducing the frequency of disasters. No allowance was made for thorough testing (boom), and the programming staff was berated for for poor production and “raises” was a concept nobody had heard anything about since computer memory was vacuum tubes.Contracters quickly saw the hand-writing on the wall, and packed up their briefcases. I’m currently doing freelance work from the Web, writing, editing, proofreading, photography, blogging and website content heavy on the SEO.Much of the work is not offered to me for the same reasons discussed above. They want a 5000 word document ready in 3 days, for $100, executed with software they know nothing about, and is the only software out of 10-15 products that I haven’t used yet in my 47 years in IT with a 150 IQ.I used to be able to say “I haven’t used it yet, but give me a users manual and I’ll be ready in a week.” It worked more often than you think.It’s a whole new world now, and the potential customer is convinced you will die before you can produce anything.

  21. Frances

    Does anyone besides me find it strange that the hiring managers in IT seem quiet/disinterested in these discussions? This is the second or third article and subsequent discussion about IT jobs and recruiting.
    Managers: where are you? Do you see the problems we’re talking about?

  22. Manoj Kumar

    There are number of problems with the current hiring process. Because of these, 50% of the time the best candidates are not hired. 1. Hiring manager are often lack the interviewing skills required to spot the best candidate. Very often they hire people based on their personal bias. 2. Companies are looking for candidate who can do everything today, for example : I came across certain large companies in California who are looking to fill an IT Director role. But one of their requirement was , they want this candidate not only well versed in coding but who is currently coding. At the same time they expect this person to have all the executive management capabilities you expect in a Director. As stupid it sounds, this is the thought process of the many of the present day Hiring managers. 3. Companies are pennywise pound foolish: In the past companies are looking for candidates who have fundamental skill set required for the job and companies are willing to train them in any specific application they use. For example: If consulting companies are looking for an Oracle application consultant, they used to hire a candidate who has solid experience in ERP implementation irrespective of which ERP application and who has lot of other skill set including stakeholder management, project management, domain knowledge etc. Then they will train the candidate on Oracle application. Now a days Consulting companies looking for not only those who have experience in that particular ERP packages, but in a particular module. Because of this approach of the companies to hire the readymade candidates, they lose out on the opportunity to hire the best possible candidate for the company for the long run.

  23. macmanjim

    Here is a job that has the magical thinking, and it’s on DICE too: http://tinyurl.com/7uu6p7d

    Apollo Group has been trying to hire for this position for almost a year. For the requirements they want they could have sent a valued employee to training to get the skills. On top of this, the requirements have increased over time. Originally it was a little more Mac centric, now they want it all, plus networking. Anyone that has this diverse skill set is probably very well paid and isn’t likely to want to leave their current employ, especially for the salary that is probably being offered. I expect that in the following months that they will add Ph.D in astrophysics from MIT required and must be a master at playing the Didjeridu.

    • Cicuta

      One of the things I have always thought about is that the Microsoft and Apple Operational Systems (OSs) really suck for serious applications. Linux is one of the child’s derived from AT&T UNIX as are all UNIX platforms but the problem I have seen since day one is the PC architecture for Enterprise level work as are AIX, Solaris, HP-UX, Ultrix, Reliant UNIX, etc. When you have done work with all those UNIX platforms, you realize that the PC is for the home and very small business such as Realtor applications and some data acquisition for environmental testing which are dedicated applications and does not need a lot of Microprocessor power as it is with huge databases such as Oracle, Sybase, DB2 and those applied to Integrated Circuits (ICs) design; those databases need lots of Microprocessor and RAM memory power and the PC architecture is just not good enough for that.

      I give you two examples: Microsoft Hotmail which is based in San Jose, CA and Apple in Santa Clara, CA both use Solaris enterprise systems to do the work; my question is, if those two companies with their OSs are so good as well as the hardware why they don’t use them instead?

      Question: Why companies use Linux? Because they are cheap companies which don’t want to pay for systems from IBM, HP, and Oracle (former Sun Microsystems); however, they have lots of problems in the process. I rather invest for the future instead of creating problems meaning that I would always go with those companies such as the ones I mentioned. The history of Microsoft OSs is full with problems and the Mac has not replaced the PC for obvious reasons.

      Bottom line is…a certification is good for those which are not engineers and need a quick and easy way to make a living; on the other hand, certified people are not electronic designers to have core expertise in electronics and specially microprocessors.

      • macmanjim

        The requirements are nuts. VMWare, CCNA, MCA, Mac, Windows, ITIL…It reads like someone just took every possible technology from a pop-up menu on DICE’s job site and put it in there. My pops would tell the author of that ad: Tu sei proprio minchione, and he or she is.

        • Frances

          It seems to me that sometimes recruiters measure themselves on the number of resumes they have on file, not by the SUCCESSFUL placements they make (note that I said “successful”. Not all placements are good….)

          • Unless things have changed dramatically since I was an active contractor, recruiters are paid straight commission. That means that if they don’t place people, they don’t get a paycheck. That is why all of this griping about recruiter idiocy is so idiotic! These people are paid well, and are paid only for results. They are entrepreneurs. A recruiter who does not produce results will quickly become only a fading memory. “To understand your world, look at how the money flows.” Any theory that implies that some group of people systematically spend their money stupidly is highly improbable, both because it violates rationality and because it violates Stigler’s Rule. George Stigler was an economist in the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. He pointed out that even if individual economic agents are clueless about optimizing their choices, natural selection will eliminate those who, for whatever reason, make nonoptimal choices, resulting in a general pattern of optimality when an observer looks at large numbers of them.

            Technical people are often utterly illiterate in economic theory and also in the other social sciences, and this illiteracy dooms them to a lifetime of flailing in a world that they do not comprehend.

          • macmanjim

            Some may get paid well, but many are a waste of time. The key is, is there a real job that they are calling me about. On the other hand, for the last 6-8 months, I’ve been inundated with calls from head hunters that are south asian, impossible to understand on the phone or voicemail and are contacting me for a position that doesn’t jibe with my experience. It’s like the reverse of the applicant that uses the shotgun approach and applies to every job instead of targeting a position. May be part of the fault lies with the resume scanning software in that keywords don’t tell a head hunter what a person really does. At the very least they need to read the resume.

          • I agree. Spamming is a big problem. I get lots of inquiries from recruiters who haven’t bothered to read my resume and cover letter on Dice. This doesn’t mean that recruiters are idiots or that they don’t produce results. It just means that many of them won’t hesitate to waste OUR time. The only way to eliminate spamming behavior is for us to “think we” and collectively avoid rewarding it. Don’t do business with people who don’t show basic respect for other people.

          • Andrew

            Whoo, boy–well, kudos for defining the rule (Stigler’s rule) that you cite–I can’t stand it when people give you a homework assignment just to read their post.

            And I’m sure you’re correct about recruiters being paid to place people, and not merely to be resume farmers.

            But be careful not to fall into the trap, common these days, of presuming the infallibility of self-regulating markets. This fallacy is often presumed by conservatives speaking against regulation, but it flies completely in the face of economic theory (not to mention the reality seen on the ground).

            I hope I’m not reading too much into your comment, but it seemed to imply that markets are naturally self-regulating, and to ignore the occasions when they aren’t. Remember that Stigler himself worked for our government in Attorney General’s anti-trust division, and anti-trust regulation exists specifically because market failure occurs when markets are left unregulated. But perhaps I misunderstood your comment.

          • Ah, someone who is literate! (This is intended as a gentle jab in the ribs to readers who have never taken an economics course or go to college that it might be a good idea to allocate some of your unemployment time to taking some classes and/or spending more time conversing with people trained in economics, just to learn the general pattern of the kind of analytic thinking that they do.)

            Send me email and we can have a pleasant conversation about the proper scope of regulation of markets, as well as the practical problem that government regulators are often “captured” by those who they are supposed to regulate.

            My point here was to inject a simple and powerful proposition: If a $20 bill falls to a well traveled sidewalk, it won’t be there for very long. Chicago School economists such as Friedman and Stigler expressed this as “no unexploited profit opportunities”. Any theory or view of how the world works that implies, in essence, that thousands of people will step over that $20 bill before one of them picks it up, should be viewed with extreme skepticism. Individual recruiters and managers can make mistakes, and can even be repeat idiots for a while before they are fired. But the idea that a whole industry operates in an idiotic way, year in and year out, is not tenable. This is a very general and powerful idea that technical people can embrace and use to understand their world. This idea is arguably the most powerful and reliable idea in economic theory; it is the law of gravity of economics.

          • macmanjim

            I don’t think people here are saying all head hunters are unproductive…The ones that make money are with the recruitment company for more than a couple months. Commission only sales is a tough job and unless they are successful, they won’t last. The thing is, some companies, like RHI, use metrics that recruiters have to meet just to be there, and it’s not necessarily based on a real job. Like I said, for me, they are a time waster. I have used head hunters that were good though and they are in the minority.

            The other way to look at it is, if someone is commission only, they don’t cost the company much, so if they are unsuccessful, there will be a greater fool to take their place. It’s a step above MLM. If you haven’t seen it, Glen Garry, Glen Ross was a great look into sales.

          • Andrew

            Thanks Wo’o,

            I agree that the “self-righting” aspects of markets are powerful, perpetual, and intrinsic to markets generally. Using gravity as a metaphor is also apt. I only see too often that people forget about other forces at work, just as natural, powerful, and perpetual–along with centripetal forces, there are centrifugal forces. I’ll let it hang at that, since I suppose this is a tangent to the topic, but thanks for the compliment.

          • It would be off topic here, but you and all are welcome and invited to open a conversation with me via email about the economics of the software craft. You can send me email from the top of any page at IDEAFARM.COM .

          • macmanjim

            Robert Half is big at that. Their placement people have metrics to meet as such: So many resumes a day, so many phone calls a day and so many face to faces a day. If I get a call from them, I ask is there a specific position that they are calling me in reference to and if so, what is it? If they can’t answer that, I tell them I understand the metrics they have to meet, but my time is more valuable than running around to fill someone’s itinerary so they get to have a job to go to. Sorry, but it’s my time. I know of only one person in my life that was ever place by them and that person was as dumb as a box of rocks. I would bet they sell their data to whomever will buy it and that is how they make their money. I have yet to meet a head hunter from them that knew IT and what they were doing. A huge waste of time.

  24. I am not sure that there was ever a time before in the whole of human history when people were expected to renew their skills every six months just to be considered ‘current’. I think one of the major problems is that employees in the job market do not even know where to begin. In my present job search I have seen a variety of qualifications which are fairly conflicting with each-other and would send a person off in various directions. Some places asking for experts in SQL another asking for familiarity with C# and even an erroneous one asking for ALICE. These were all essentially hourly Customer Service jobs as well. This amount of confusion in the market leaves a person having no idea where to begin; especially given the small chance of actually getting any one specific job.

    Now I am aware that some times it is the technical manager who has no idea what he wants. He posts everything that the last guy had because he wants an exact replica of that person. However, sometimes its also the HR manager that has no idea what they are looking for. I recall a few years ago I saw an Job advertised that was asking for someone with “5+ years of Silverlight experience.” At the time, Silverlight had been on public release for about 8 months. Now that seems to me like a failure to communicate.