Do Employers Want Too Much From Candidates?

Reading a job description can send even the most talented technologist off the proverbial deep end. Many employers’ “required” skill sets seem to include everything but the ability to teleport and build a Shaker barn; the lengthy requisites of skills and experience seem achievable only by candidates who’ve spent the past four decades using a hundred different programming languages and platforms to excel at fifty different, complicated jobs.

Even under the best circumstances, it’s difficult to find a job for which an experienced tech pro is a perfect fit; so what do some employers hope to get out of this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to hiring?

Need for ROI

“Most organizations want to pay premiums for the perfect candidate, and when they have to identify somebody on their own, find they can’t do it and reach out to a recruitment firm,” said Justin Laliberte, managing partner of the Lucas Group, an executive search firm. “Then they think, ‘If we’re going to invest $40,000 in a candidate, they better have everything.’ That tends to happen on a regular basis, but it doesn’t mean it’s realistic.”

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Companies want to make investments in talent, but the inherent costs of that talent also make them wary of hiring anyone but the absolute best. “They’re looking for ways to leverage and to justify the cost of hiring,” said Mirjana Schultz, president of Instant Alliance, a recruiting and staffing firm.

Who Wrote the Job Description?

The need to find the right talent, and the concern over cost, often leads to employers producing job descriptions too broad for the actual position. A laundry-list job description is also a possible sign of communications breakdown within the organization doing the hiring.

“I tweak [job descriptions],” Laliberte said, “because way too often they’re generically written by HR. Managers just don’t have the time to put them together, so you get something that reads nothing like what was said in conversation with the actual hiring manager.”

Writing the wrong kind of description can limit an employer. “The client may say ‘I need an MDM developer with an Informatica skill set,’” said Laliberte. There’s just one problem with that request: There are no MDM developers out there. “There are MDM architects who are designers, who do a lot more than development… but the client wanted the one thing that they’re missing, instead of investing in someone who can do more. It’s a very narrow-minded way of thinking.”

Employers Don’t Know What They Want

Sometimes an organization isn’t entirely sure what it wants in a new hire, which inevitably leads to issues in defining the position. “In an effort to find someone who can also do more than the normal functions for the job,” said Trevor Simm, the founder and president of OpalStaff and Talos Solutions, “companies add lots more duties and/or responsibilities to the position.”

Employers are also casting a wider net, he continued: “There is a concern among companies that are hiring that if a job description is too narrow, then they won’t attract a reasonable number of applicants.” Wishful thinking is another issue, with employers sometimes including a lengthy list of everything they’d like a candidate to have—whether or not those skills are really needed by the organization.

The Curse of the Former Employee

It’s hard to replace someone who’s been on the job for years, keeping pace with changes in technology and the evolving needs of the employer.

“Many companies lose sight of the fact that their employees, especially those with some tenure, have evolved a great deal since their hire date,” Simm said. “They’ve gained knowledge of technologies that are specific to said employer and their environment.”

Employers also want to leverage as much of their employees’ skill sets as possible, in order to get the most out of them—which can make it difficult to hire just the right person. “Outside candidates tend to be disciplined in one area, and employers are looking for them to not only be great at what they need but also have strong aptitudes to match their wants,” Schultz said. “Sometimes what they want doesn’t go hand-in-hand with what they need.”

The Influence of the Multi-Hyphenate Consultant

Schultz noted that, over the past few years, employers have relied on staffing solutions for short-term projects. ”Now they’re trying to bring everything in-house,” she said, “and they’re really trying to justify the cost of that. Instead of just doing one function, they’re looking for folks that can do cross-functions.”

Laliberte concurred. “In a consulting world, you may want someone who can do everything because you’re going to have limited time with that individual and they’re going to help you execute and deliver a project.” He usually has to curb managers’ expectations. “When you’re hiring an employee there needs to be room for growth. Employers need to learn that investing in potential is as important as investing in skill.”

Until that lesson takes hold, however, some employers will likely continue posting job descriptions that push the boundaries of realism.

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87 Responses to “Do Employers Want Too Much From Candidates?”

  1. Alexander E. Patrakov

    I have one more apparent reason that is not listed.

    We need web developers and sysadmins, and historically we have kept these jobs separate. I.e., we didn’t test sysadmin skills in our would-be web developers, and familiarity with various web frameworks in sysadmins. Result: communication failures between the two groups. So, from now on, both types of skills (in different proportions) will be required from both groups of candidates. That could be classified by an observer as “wanting too much”, but hopefully you understand why it isn’t.

    • James Brownson

      If I’m going to be a web developer and a system administrator I expect to be paid the salary for both positions, which on average is about 230k per year. And that’s the problem a lot of techies have with employers they only one to pay them for 1 job which is really 2 or possible 3 positions.

      • Alexander E. Patrakov

        We did bump the salary offered for both positions (but not to the sum), and do not expect candidates to perform duties of the other side full-time. So I think it is a fair offer.

        • JohnGPL

          I actually do both those jobs at my company, but I still would have a hard time finding similar work at other companies because idiot HR people and hiring managers want experience with THEIR particular set of web frameworks and their particular hardwaresoftware systems. Since there isn’t even a name for the possible number of combinations that could result in, they might as well be looking to hire a unicorn.

          The best thing a company can do in hiring is realize that you’re better off hiring a smart employee who will take 6 months to learn all your systems than you are hiring an average employee who already knows your systems. Kind of the “best athlete available” approach that many winning sports teams use.

          • Alexander E. Patrakov

            “The best thing a company can do in hiring is realize that you’re better off hiring a smart employee who will take 6 months to learn all your systems” – yes, exactly! The checking for the opposite-group skills will be done in the amount sufficient to convince us that the candidate knows the basics and is smart enough to understand the rest if needed. I.e. to weed out web developers who cannot deploy to anything else than their own Mac and cannot test whether the web app works as intended if e.g. put behind a Nginx reverse-proxy (because they don’t know how to set it up on their own VM and can’t understand why Nginx is set up in this particular way).

        • So when you do operation and you need to have anesthesiologist and surgeon you also say – you can do both jobs alone, you don’t do them simultaneously, but I will pay just for single job (which one is cheaper).

    • ” weed out web developers who cannot deploy to anything else than their own Mac and cannot test whether the web app works as intended if e.g. put behind a Nginx reverse-proxy (because they don’t know how to set it up on their own VM and can’t understand why Nginx is set up in this particular way).”
      You are looking for a pig in poke, Nginx web server is a new technology in relation to “Apache HTTP Server”, IIS, and Websphere most web developers have experience in. More than likely you would have to train that person in that technology so it’s disingenuous to ask that person about that technology during an interview.
      It seems your looking for perhaps a junior system administrator who is also a web developer and both jobs are full time positions.

      • Alexander E. Patrakov

        “Nginx web server is a new technology” – sure, yes. It won’t make much sense to ask a web developer (or, for that matter, a sysadmin) about Nginx specifically. But general theoretical questions about reverse-proxying (e.g. – what’s the problem with REMOTE_ADDR in this configuration, what are the de-facto standard ways of dealing with it, what are the common security mistakes on that path) apply to candidates who don’t have specific knowledge of Nginx. In fact, if a candidate is able to explain the problem and the solution using Apache-based examples, he will probably be able to translate his knowledge into Nginx terms after a little on-site exposure to the new tech.

        “It seems your looking for perhaps a junior system administrator who is also a web developer” – true, but we’ll call him/her a web developer. We are also looking for a junior web developer who is also a sysadmin and whom we’ll call a sysadmin. I.e. the idea is to enforce some overlap of capabilities, from now on, to ease the mutual understanding.

    • It depends. If you have 10 servers (for example) then of course the sys admin should do more than just administer the servers. In other words if the environment is small enough then the admin should do more than just one thing and this is usually the case. If you have 50 servers then you need a full time admin who is specializing in Windows/Linux/Unix and should not be burdened with doing any sort of web development. Normally development and system administration are 2 completely different skill sets and if you are asking for both in a large enough environment you are asking for mediocrity on both accounts.


    If one spends one’s 9-5 hours working as a web developer, one will probably be too busy to pick up sysadmin skills on the job, and vice-versa.

    I doubt “communications failures” are the real reason for wanting both skillsets in one worker. The more likely reason: employers are too cheap to pay for two employees and figure they can continue to squeeze more and more work out of fewer and fewer workers.

    They’re probably right because, contrary to media & industry propaganda, there is a glut of qualified personnel.

      • Mike S.

        Not to mention the glut of jobs. Plenty of jobs out there, but employers want EVERYTHING, and nobody is willing to train. All applicants are expected to have everything already. That is a VERY BAD thing. There is a downside to high productivity.

        • “Not to mention the glut of jobs. Plenty of jobs out there, but employers want EVERYTHING, and nobody is willing to train. All applicants are expected to have everything already. That is a VERY BAD thing. There is a downside to high productivity.” Exactly! Everybody wants the “Perfect Candidate”. Unfortunately, that person doesn’t exist.

  3. Jeff Irvin

    This is an excellent article!

    Thought I was the only one who saw this problem, so I’m glad to have company. 🙂

    I’m a sysadmin with a Ph.D. in early modern Europe and a couple of publishing credentials. I have also done a little programming. However, I am not a programmer, and any level of scripting I can do does not make me a programmer. This is a completely different skill-set. So, employers, stop conflating the two!

    Also, I have to share an anecdote about the ignorance of people who run IT departments. I once had a boss ask me why we couldn’t just buy the Symantec anti-virus software but not buy the contract for future virus definitions updates. I just shook my head while I let my colleague explain.

    • You must remember many IT managers don’t necessarily have technical backgrounds. These managers rely on others below them to tell them what they need to know. You see in many job descriptions pie in the sky skill sets required. Some skill sets aren’t convergent they’re completely different IT career paths. I’ve seen job descriptions that require you to write code then run network cables through the ceiling. These requirements seem to go by the way side when a manager or hiring decision maker wants to hire a friend or relative that has no skill sets, you may end up training that person in everything. In other words most if not all companies can flex on that job description if they want to.

  4. Much of this is companies hiring immigrants on H-1B visas. By setting an impossible skill set they can justify passing over qualified American citizens. Then they hire someone from a developing nation with a grossly inflated resume.

    In one case I have direct knowledge of, the H-1B person listed Oracle but didn’t know what it was. Got hired anyway.

    • tim niles

      This kind of thing was a Silicon Valley staple even in the early 80s, before the semiconductor industry suffered for a decade. Semiconductor companies needed everybody they could find with certain skills (this, to get historical, was a different era, one where ability was actually important, mostly) AND protecting their alien employees was seen as critical to their ability to HOLD ON TO other alien employees. Essentially, if say, National Semi lost one alien employee, that information would travel at light speed to other aliens… and pretty soon the company would have many gaps to fill. I used to monitor the job specs and these for tech people were so specific if was absurd. It was humorous. The HR and managers would concoct a spec based precisely on an existing alien employee’s skillset and background, and then if they got a resume from a citizen o the US with nearly identical skills an experience, why HR would tell the candidate that they had 3 months more IC design or whatever. It was a game they played to avoid federal laws. Of course, among the reasons why the Japanese steamrollered the US semi industry (with few exceptions) in the 1980s was because four Japanese aliens came to the US, worked for US companies long enough to learn the critical technologies and then took ALL THAT BACK TO JAPAN. Then the Japanese started to dump chips in the US, selling at below cost even for the Japanese. On top of it all was the blind arrogance of the people in the semiconductor industry in the US, not quite justified, not quite.

  5. Bey Shaeffer

    “Most organizations want to pay premiums for the perfect candidate” [citation needed]

    Most organizations want to get as much as they can get out of a candidate for as low cost as possible, and lowball a person that they find that looks like they can do it. That’s why there’s so much discussion about how to negotiate a salary in tech circles – because it’s well known that organizations do NOT want to pay premiums, they want to commoditize the role so they can pay bottom dollar.

  6. I find one of the major problems is employers are simply unwilling to train employees or promote from within anymore, let alone pay for what peoples skills are worth. I applied for a job at a local company that had 3 senior network administrator positions open. This was not a large firm and during the course of the interview process I learned that they had 5 total networking positions in the whole company… and not a single one was entry level. They had one ‘chief networking architect’ and 4 senior networking admins. Their networking needs had been growing steadily over the last few years but they had held off on hiring staff because of the economy. When the funds were finally freed up for hiring they decided to fill out their roster in one go but were only paying entry level salaries. Fully benefited positions sure, but well under what a ‘senior’ admin could pull in anywhere else. While we are in a medium sized city we are out in the sticks and there simply isn’t the talent pool they were looking for. They strait up told me that I didn’t have enough years of experience for what they were looking for (BA, several industry certs, 8+ years experience, etc) and wouldn’t wire me. After interviewing several candidates they ended up hiring no one at all and re-listed the job a month later with the same requirements and benefits. Its still there 2 years later, getting refreshed every month. I haven’t reapplied.

    I made a connection with their one senior networking tech that was on my interview panel and kept in contact with him after I was passed over for the job. He informed me that after several rounds of failed job listings they were able to find one candidate, who wasn’t local, willing to take the position and move to our area. By this point they were getting desperate as their chief networking architect was closing in on retirement. They ended up paying him about 30% more than the advertised salary just to fill the position. 2 years in their chief networking architect has been retired for months and they have been unable to hire a replacement (surprise, surprise). He consults for them now part time and earns almost as much for that as they were paying him originally to do half the work. Meanwhile they still have 2 empty senior admin positions open, they wont train or promote either of their current admins to architect and they even hired a headhunter to fill out their roster but no one wants to move out to the boondocks and take a pay cut to work for them. Their HR depart still continues to wring their hands like the gods are somehow conspiring against them.

    They are not the only company in my area that are doing this. I’m constantly seeing open job listings going unfilled months and even years after they were first posted because the local HR just don’t understand you can’t pay someone with a 4 year degree and thousands of dollars spent on getting industry certs $45k a year when they could setup shop 3 hours away and get paid $120k for the same job.

  7. We hired a lab manager last year. We needed somebody who understood most of the things on their resume (that ruled out about half of them :-), could explain an ISO protocol stack because they’d be managing routers and switches, at least to the depth of following a packet (didn’t need all the fields memorized), and sounded like they could coordinate moving a lab to another building (which was our project for the next year; we didn’t need a PMP certificate or anything, though some people had them.) Also, they had to work directly for a contract shop; we’ve had too many bad experiences with indirect subcontractors not getting paid.

    It was surprisingly hard to find somebody; we probably rejected about half of the ~50 resumes we got from HR, rejected more than half after first phone interview, had the usual first and second choice who got better gigs that ours, hired one guy who didn’t work out, eventually hired a former coworker whose contract somewhere else was up.

  8. Employers routinely think they can field a winning World Series baseball team with Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout, Felix Hernandez, Yasiel Puig and Max Scherzer, figuring 5 future Hall of Fame players and clearly the best starting pitching staff will guarantee victory.

    The problem is that they don’t want to pay for a catcher, infielders, and another outfielder. Or relief pitchers, or a bench.

    What happens when a pitcher throws three strikes that the batter swings at and misses… and there’s no catcher to catch the ball? The batter runs to first. No first, second or third baseman, either? The batter runs all the way home to get a home run after a dropped third strike. You could have Kershaw pitch 1000 120mph strikes and he wouldn’t get out of the first inning… because management decided that a few people with great talent was enough.

    You don’t put catcher’s gear on Kershaw during his days after his start and expect the same performance for a season.

    I just quite a corporate CTO gig because they expected me to be Bugs Bunny:

    If the corporate veil didn’t protect C-level execs from liability, the Home Depot, Target, Anthem and other security breaches should have spouses who once had Country Club memberships working as housekeepers. It wouldn’t compensate the victims, but those who skimped on security and testing shouldn’t dump problems on their successors and walk away with golden parachutes.

  9. Vincent

    HR is just too dumb to write a proper vacancy! They don’t distinguish many technologies (even mutually exclusive) and write all buzzwords they got from same dumb articles.
    AT LEAST these vacancies could be more specific – if you need WinForms dev, don’t write “.NET developer”! It’s too wide to get proper guy. Same story with “C# dev” (from vacancy) and “web-developer on ASP” (what really needed).
    But most ridiculous vacancy is where they hire, say “Python guy” and in requirements you read “Java is a bonus”. WTF, b!tch? Why the hell you need “java” if Python is a completely different language and nobody knowing Python will write your cr@py java code?! That’s most moronic side when you use HR/Recruiters to hire. DO IT YOURSELF!

    • Wow…it’s somehow comforting to know that I’m not the only one going through this madness. I have a bachelor degree and have CCNP routing and switching certification, so I thought, “well, I’m ready to find a good job, making some good money”, but then started to search for a job, and the first thing I noticed is the even though I’m super good in routing and switching, there is no job out there asking for that. Then want you to know about firewalls, which you don’t learn in the cisco routing career absolutely anywhere, then they want you to know Nexus, which is another career path, and apart from that they also want you to be an expert in Microsoft, so you’re able to run everything. It is like if they want a doctor, but wait!, what kind of doctor are you looking for?, the one who is a surgeon, but is also a hematologist, a pediatrician, a dentist, and can also drive the patient home after everything is done…WTF ?

      • Ulysses Blakeley

        My personal favorite is job descriptions that specify “CCIE preferred” and then go on to list a dozen non related skills, technologies, and environments, for a “service desk manager”. I look at that and uhh no thanks…

          • I sent an email to one recruiter and told him the job description was for four jobs rolled into one.
            They wanted IP, CCNA, CCIE, IPSEC, VOIP, SIP, TDM, SS7 and be a manager as well for $55K
            at GURU level.

          • Mariusz


            Look at this one 🙂

            • Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems or a related field preferred
            • Cisco WCS and/or WLC experience preferred
            • 2 or more years PC, Network, and/or Telecom and IT Support experience preferred
            • Ability to work on multiple Windows OS and support various POS with serial, parallel and USB peripherals preferred
            • Experience configuring, deploying and troubleshooting layer 2 Cisco devices preferred
            • Experience troubleshooting fiber issues, network performance and wireless connectivity issues preferred
            • Inside and outdoor copper plant best practices and troubleshooting techniques preferred
            • Ability to read and understand blueprints for electrical design pertaining to copper and fiber installations preferred

            I guess you should be an electrician as well.

  10. What’s likely to happen if they find someone with all the buzzwords and capability? Compensation aside, the ‘superstar’ will likely get bored with the organization’s technology set. In 2-3 years, they’re gone anyway, because they have the skill set that says they can. The organization would be better off finding people with a can-do attitude, set real performance goals and allow them to grow into the role.

    • wageSlave

      Superstars don’t leave when they are making more than the prevailing wage. In other words they don’t leave if they are going to take a pay cut unless the work environment is hostile to talent ( 60 hr work week) to keep up with the loads caused by the shortage caused by paying in the margins.

  11. What a relief to see this article. I thought I was just starting to lose my mind. I’ve noticed on the SYS engineer side the same thing as of late. Literally, every job posting I’ve been sent and phone interview I’ve been in the last 2 years has seemed like they’re asking for a ridiculously wide skillset. “We’re looking for a certified RHEL admin, but we’d like them to be a certified DBA as well. Also, we would really like it if you had experience building the actual hardware and 10+ years developement work”.

    …sorry…..what?….I’m not even sure how to respond to that. Um….maybe you might find two of those things in one person?

    • Yeah, I see that a lot on the Windows side of things too. “8+ years of Windows admin experience, 8+ years of Linux admin experience, 8+ years of DBA experience, pay is $40,000”. They just have no idea.

  12. Denis J. Lanza

    I have been seeing this consistently for some time now. I’m a Sr. .NET Developer and Solution Architect with database design. C#, ASP.NET (Web Forms and MVC), TSQL as well as design patterns, etc. You’d think that would be enough. But the employers want front-end development expertise as well. So HTML 5, CSS 3, jQuery, Angular, etc. They don’t seem to realize that these are completely different skillsets and areas of expertise. It’s so ridiculous and maddening.

    • This reminds me of someone I knew of after 9/11 when people in my company were being laid off and eventually outsourced. .NET just came out of beta.

      Someone went to RHI, and said they wanted someone with 5 years experience with .NET. The guy I knew told the recruiter unless you wrote Visual Studio in Redmond, you couldn’t possibly have that because it wasn’t even out for 6 months. Even with beta versions, a year or so would be the most any given person could get.

      The recruiter replied that’s what the client wants. The end. It’s not possible to meet that requirement. That’s when a confident smile, executive style hair, and a cheap suit come in the same. Go figure.

  13. I’ve come across the client not knowing what they want, and the curse of the former employee, In general, I think a lot of places ask for way too much. As far as the job descriptions being a problem, my experience has been that’s due to the hiring manager. I’ve seen that a number of times. In addition, I noticed something else that’s problematic in that many places word things in such a way that you can’t readily differentiate the context between two positions.

    For many years, I would get job posts that wanted a network engineer who knew something about programming. That doesn’t work by and large. You’re either one or the other-not both. If you are both, you’re quite likely to be stronger in one as opposed to the other. Nobody seemed to get that.

    One day, I got a like description. At the very end of the job it said “DO NOT SEND US A SENIOR DEVELOPER”. I saw that and wondered why then I was getting that email. Then again, the recruiter is too ignorant to understand what I evolved too. That’s typical.

    Then came a line in the description about maintaining 400 applications and being on call 24 x7. I thought to myself, nobody in their right mind is going to go into a place at some crazy hour on a weekend and write code. 400 applications is just excessive and entirely unrealistic.

    I told that to the recruiter and said that doesn’t work. He gets cocky with me and says it works for the client. How? It made absolutely no sense.

    When I started to realize that if you view a server as a physical piece of hardware vs. the software perspective, that changes things-and I know some managers that think you’re feeding them a line when you view things in that manner. A server by and in itself with nothing on it is a box. It’s the software on the box that makes it a server.

    It finally dawned on me that the description I was sent was not for a developer but for a network engineer who knew something about writing code in C#. If you send in a senior developer, they’ll tell you exactly how screwed up it is. The client doesn’t want that at all. They want to keep the problem going. I conveyed as much to the recruiter and said I think you’re looking for a network systems analyst versus a programming analyst. The way the job description was worded by the hiring manager, you couldn’t tell. When I realized that, I understood why half of the jobs I went for never went anywhere because they never clarified anything.

    Now, why would a client want to keep the problem going? It’s simple. I was the person who had the work of the former employee who was a network person but knew something about code. He made a huge mess to where it was hindering the company. You can thank the manager for that in part.

    When you go through a staffing place if you’re a company, it’s for tax purposes. Yes, they pay you what you want, and the staffing agency fee. That can’t be less than what we ask for. It doesn’t make sense. Then a former manager in another industry told me how that works. If you employ someone through a staffing agency, from the Regan administration on, you get a tax credit for hiring someone who is otherwise unemployed. So in addition to the write off, the credit is such that it makes the person working cheaper than what that employee makes. The more things are broken, the greater the exploit of the tax credit.

    Don’t you love that? Someone gets a tax credit at the expense of your sanity!

    • It figures that employers are getting kickbacks from simply posting jobs, but not really wanting to hire anyone. A quick trip to failure after 15 minutes of questionable success seems preferred over a slow build to LASTING success. Now it’s “you don’t have to know what you’re doing, just make us look good” (lots of social media presence helps). Much has changed in just 20 years.

  14. gsc2000

    Some UK public sector clients already have internal candidates marked for roles so job requirements may be more strictly enforced for external ones. The result is external candidates may have no chance in ever meeting the requirements and even if they do they are scrutinised much more closely than internal candidates. The plus for the employer is they are seen to have made a serious effort to recruit externally in line with their mandated requirements but agencies and external applications are left confused in failing to understand where they have not met the criteria.
    I have seen this situation in the NHS during the past year.

  15. Alan Hawkins

    What really gets me is that not only do employees want someone who has 50 or so separate skills, years of experience, but also the ability to work on water.

    Also, where are the entry level jobs where a company is willing to train someone to learn their systems.

    And if you’re over 50, forget about being called in for an interview.

      • A good question, Eva. I’m over fifty and have been job hunting for over five years! In all that time, I’ve had three job offers:

        The first was an offer of $20 per hour, 16 hours per week for a three month contract (the job description was for $50, full time, six to nine month position). In the meantime, the company was putting together an RFP to have the work contracted out– they didn’t know what they wanted.

        Next was a nine month contract (at Harvard University) that I took and did so well in the position that they increased it to 18 months and then offered me a permanent position at the end. However, the permanent position salary was a 40% pay reduction in a mid-level, dead end position– and I would have had to relocate to Cambridge. Their justification was that as a full-time, permanent employee, you can take classes for free- plus a “registration fee.” I already have a PhD, why do I need to take entry level courses from their continuing education department?

        Finally, I was offered an excellent position in another state. I made arrangements to move, paid a deposit on a condo only to have the company rescind their offer a week later on the grounds that their “priorities were changed by management.” At least I hadn’t actually moved yet.

        • Anachronist

          That reminds me of a story I heard in the 1990s about an engineer who got hired by Cisco, relocated to California, and happened to start work while Cisco was having a layoff. Naturally, with no seniority established, he got his pink slip upon arrival.

  16. True story. I have interviewed not once, twice, or even thrice with the same company over the past 5-6 years, but four times! And for multiple positions, but all roughly in the same solutions architecture area. And have always gotten the same, “everyone you spoke with agrees that you would be a great strategic asset, but we don’t know exactly where”. At some point in time, that inability to find a fit is on the company, not the candidate.

    The funniest part of this saga is that the fourth set of interviews came about after I wrote to the HR contact, telling her I would NOT be applying again!

    In retrospect, agreeing to talk to them again put the joke on me…

    • Ulysses Blakeley

      I have EXACTLY the same experience. In my case after the third rejection, THEY reached out to me AGAIN… only to reject me again. The funny part is, at my previous position they were a vendor, and I worked closely with THEM to resolve design problems in the product they were selling to US. It is simply NOT a rational process…

  17. Sean Beckman

    This is half of a good article. Yes, we know the problem. Yes, it’s been laid out well here. No, you haven’t provided any solutions.

    This problem is not unique to the IT world. I’m a systems engineer (Not the IT kind, yes there is a whole other definition of systems engineering out there. Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary field of engineering that focuses on how to design and manage complex engineering systems over their life cycles., and I come across the same problem in my job search. Companies want the superstars that can perform all the duties and all the types of analysis then can’t understand why they can’t find them.

    So, tell me how I can overcome this as a job applicant and how corporate culture can be changed to phase this type of thinking out.

    • Richard Monk

      Amen to that!

      As another commenter said, we’ve all been looking at these announcements for a very long time. While it is nice to know that others recognize the situation, it would be nice to be given some methods for job hunters to successfully navigate through the many roadblocks the job descriptions present.

      Please give us solutions, not just a rehash of the problem. Though to be fair, the article was very well organized and presented.

  18. It’s funny this article came out when it did. My wife is searching for a new job after getting laid off a few months ago. A recruiter contacted her a couple of weeks ago and the job she was looking to fill seemed to be a perfect fit for my wife. The recruiter called back yesterday and asked my wife about a set of job skills that had nothing to do with the original position. The employer had just added these in. Originally, it was a position where the main focus was on implementation and training. The new skills were more in the area of programming and database administration.
    Not sure if the employer doesn’t know what they want or they’re trying to fill two roles – roles that are usually vastly different.

  19. How nice to see an article that touches on the reality of the tech job search. Is it that managers don’t have the time to put together real job requirements or do many of them lack the comprehension to do so?

    Leaving it to solely to HR who are not technical experts would explain the shopping lists of skills on job descriptions. Many great candidates are eliminated in resume submission. They may have experience with similar software and technology to the requirements, but those doing the hiring don’t understand that knowledge can be translated. Some candidates have decades of experience and dozens of skills.

    Paying recruiters with funds that could go toward attracting a qualified candidate is simply wasteful. If anything is clear, it is that companies should be more concerned with the capability of their managers. Too many are the PM/politician/administrator variety. An interview with an actual technically qualified manager is a smooth communicative process, as they look for the correct combination for a position they understand.

    A company is trusting a manager to hire the individuals that will do its work in the world. Shouldn’t managers be chosen from among those who understand that work best?

    • “Some candidates have decades of experience and dozens of skills.” Yes, but what they are looking for is the 2540 Candidate. Where 2540 = 25 years old with 40 years of experience.

  20. As an entry-level web developer with only a BS and a four month internship under my belt (but with plenty of other work experience) it feels impossible to find a position. I’ve interviewed at several places all with completely different, specific tech needs and told them I could easily learn their platform. Still, I am lowering my standards and applying for jobs every day. It’s hard to believe that every one of these positions is being filled by someone more qualified in a city of 240,000. This is extremely frustrating.

    • Yeah, having the same problem. I had a person contact me as I have .NET development,self taught. She asked how did you come to learn this… ummm, my computer science degree taught me more than the basics.

      HR and managers have never been able to hire programmers because they don’t understand that learning is more important then previous knowledge.

  21. Mark Hikari

    Don’t know if anyone else mentioned it. But maybe the company already has a candidate, but has to advertise the job to prove there is nobody with those skills that can be found.

  22. Mariusz

    Guys check this one out….

    “Intimate knowledge of Mac OS X, Windows 2000 and 2000 Server operating systems, Apple hardware and peripherals, and Intel-based hardware required. Must understand function and system requirements of the software suite used in SAIC computer classrooms and administrative offices, including Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, Apple Pro Apps, etc. Should have familiarity with OS X, Windows and UNIX concepts and command line tools. Must possess knowledge of TCP/IP and general networking principals; knowledge of Active Directory Domain structures and practices; and understanding of software distribution concepts and methodologies. Should have ability to diagnose problems and correct them with software or by instruction, where possible. Familiarity with maintenance programs such as Norton Utilities, DiskWarrior, Drive Image, etc. necessary. Excellent communication skills. management and organizational skills; ability to work independently, as well as in team environments required.”

    Would you thing they required to much for “Night Time Technical Support Specialist” ?

      • Mariusz

        Best part is “Familiarity with maintenance programs such as Norton Utilities, DiskWarrior, Drive Image, etc. necessary” Ok so I should put in my resume etc. necessary lol

        It is hard to apply for any of those jobs….

        • when I was recently looking I would come across ads that had literally 3 pages of stuff written and sometimes nobody would even bother putting it into bullets or cleaning it up they just sort of threw everything together. It was very to read to say the least. I would just skip over those because how do you apply for something like that? It’s like they don’t really want you to apply.

  23. I am getting sick and tired of getting job notices that downplay the name of the job and salary.
    These are crooked employers trying to get a $125,000 Design engineer for $55,000.

    They create a job “Tech Support Engineer” and when you read the job description, they want a CCIE design engineer with every IP, Telecom, network security, design, deploy, support and manager experience possible.

    They are taking advantage of the job shortage and trying to screw employees.

  24. James Hefner

    The perfect person these employers and hundreds of thousands of temporary agency recruiters and HEAD HUNTERS have been searching for more than two years proves what these employers are asking for what does not exist in a large enough supply to fill their needs.

    These people can enjoy their search until H^^E^^L^^L FREEZES!

  25. John Davis

    Recruiters, is it not great to work on commission when you have nothing to sell?

    Every Tom, Dick, Harry, Sue, Mary, and Harish contract technical agency or consulting firm recruiter on planet Earth is looking for a skilled IT professional to earn his or her commission. Many work from home in their pajamas and want to pay $25 to $35 per hour to increase their cut of the bill rate.

    Lacking the high value skills to earn a decent living on their own, the only career choice higher than one of these recruiters is that of a used car salesperson at a buy-here-pay-here car store! A used car salesperson sells the same used car over and over again. Cars do not have feelings or families. People do. They should be ashamed! They should tell people that they are PROFESSIONAL LEECHES.

    God meant for people to work and earn by the sweat of their own brow. It is time for them to get off their lazy behind and get a real job.

  26. Joseph I. Szweda

    Here is another case of someone having unrealistic expectations. After I read the one guys story about interviewing for the place several times only to be told the same thing each time.

    I remember getting a phone call from a recruiter. She told me about the job, and it was exactly where I wanted to be geographically. It was my skill set. I got a phone interview. I told the guy in the interview that I always say, do it right or don’t bother because it’s too expensive in the long run to do it otherwise. The guy said in that case, he definitely wanted to see me in person. Great!

    So, with my first ever paid vacation, I went down to Orlando and had an interview. I talked to 2-3 people including the company VP. When I was talking to the VP, he asked if anyone explained the benefits package to me. I thought to myself “YES!”. It stands to reason that if you have a discussion like that, you’re odd of being hired are good.

    I got back home-after having a perm offer locally (which I didn’t like but that’s another story), the job fell through. That was exceptionally depressing.

    Some time later, I saw an opening again like the last one. So I called and talked to another recruiter. It was for the same place. I told her how the last interview went, so she looked at my resume, heard me, and she submitted me. Great.

    That cycle happened somewhere between four and six times in a row. Each and every time I was submitted, the position was closed, or withdrawn. It never failed. It always happened in 2-3 weeks after I sent my resume in. The last time they just flat out said they weren’t interested. Why?

    I talked to two people from different fields and they said the same thing. One owned an automotive shop. He said it sounded like they didn’t want me because I knew too much. Great.

    I talked to a second person, and she told me of a friend of hers who went through a like situation-each time she applied for a job, the position was withdrawn or closed-many times over many months. Why?

    My friend told me that the law in that state says you had to hire the most qualified person that applies. The one who was always re-applying was in fact the most qualified. They didn’t like her, so to work around that they closed the position or withdrew it so they didn’t have to hire anyone.

    I thought about that, and I remember talking to the senior developer at the one place. I think what it boiled down to at that job was simple. They realized I had evolved to the level of a senior developer. So, I had the skill set and expertise they wanted without a doubt. The problem is that it would be having someone who is senior level with someone else who is a senior developer. So you can’t have two of those working-so I was out.

    My point here is that even if you have exactly what the employer wants, there is still that game of one upsmanship that you can’t win. Having exactly what they want is actually a bad thing. Go figure.

  27. A few years ago I considered entering software development. Programming has been a hobby of mine since childhood and I have some distinctions in various programming course, both commercial and degree-level modules, and I run a large (not-for-profit) Web site. I am also an excellent mathematician (though it’s debatable whether or not that is relevant to programming). I got largely put off commercial programming by precisely this problem and programming has remained but a hobby, though I have written the odd app for other people, including for commercial use, whilst programming my own projects for over 20 years. People complain about the shortage of good programmers, and I suggest there are several reasons for this apparent shortage, poor recruiting strategies being one of them.

  28. as an employer i think the main problem actually comes from the fact that we are in an extreme good market for developers – which is a good thing, do not get me wrong.

    but this means that this is a good market for each type of developer including the bad and average devs.

    these are the people that resist technology change, that deliver mediocre code, generally create chaos around them but expect the pay of a good developer.

    i think generally an employer is willing to pay good money on a good (and above) developer, but the employer need to be from IT and the developer should also be willing to invest time to show what he can do.

    i cannot pay premium salary to a guy who only says: i was a senior dev for the last 10 years at company X and have developed this and that – but cannot show me anything, any github repos or anything else. Who when i ask him to take a test, instead of investing 4h in that test he is willing to put in 1h and chooses to do the easiest part of the test.

    show me in the test that you can learn new things, that you can tackle a new problem. show me in the first 3-4 months that you really are the guy that you say we are and then we can talk premium salaries, bonuses and so on.

    and of course for that i expect a few things from my employees. todays systems are more complex then ever, they are not written in one language anymore, they do not use only one platform anymore, they might even have different programming paradigms in one – you should be able to get into these without any problem – this is why we actually got into programming and tech in the first place.

    HR was always bad, actually really bad at finding IT talent, but i also notice that the developers are becoming more lazy and have higher expectations.

  29. Anachronist

    Not all employers want too much. When I was in a hiring role, HR asked me for the qualifications of a position I wanted to fill. I told them “a security clearance and a heartbeat.” Seriously. We’d train whoever we hired with the technical knowledge needed. I don’t believe HR actually published the description with the qualifications I described, and we weren’t able to fill the position, either….

  30. Keith H

    I find a lot of these comments interesting and some hilarious.

    I’ve been a multihat operator in IT for almost 20 years. On three separate occasions, including the position I had for almost 8 years that I left in May 2014, I was the only in house desktop and web developer. I was also the DBA. I was also the most tenured network administrator. On 4 separate occasions, I was the only IT person in the entire company, and at our best, we never had more than three people in the department at once.

    You may see nothing wrong with that. We had 40 servers – 15 or so were racked and the rest were VMs. We ran both VMWare and HyperV. We ran both Citrix and 2X. We had another 20 different major applications running on the network, without including our line of business app. We ran fat clients thin clients via Remote Desktop, and gateway servers for outside access.

    We had 250 employees, 75 of whom were 100% mobile. We had a BYOD policy thanks to my fielding the initial requests to bring Apple phones into the ActiveSync config, which means yes, we ran Exchange, and I was chief admin on that too. We ran corporate distributed antivirus. We had six offices in four different states. And I still had to get under desks.

    I was being paid $10k under the minimum for any one of those separate areas of concentration, according to salary surveys. I was putting in 160-230 hour pay periods during some upgrades and migrations, in some cases remaining at work for three day shifts at a time. I got one raise in 8 years, and no promotions. In fact, four separate IT Directors were named, three of whom weren’t even IT, and one who was a consultant for two weeks prior to being named.

    Needless to say, I quit. I am now in my 10th month of companies telling me I’m too much of a sysadmin to be hired as a developer, too much of a developer to be hired as a sysadmin, or else “don’t fit right now”. Apparently, I need to know 5 different frameworks to write PHP or Javascript, need to be working on a Windows server problem for someone else while I’m doing the phone screen, or something similar to be considered a good fit or having worked “recently enough” on tech. I also need to have every answer they can ask for on the top of my head when they ask, or I don’t know what I’m doing.

    I start driving for Sidecar tomorrow. I’m sick of this sh–

    • I’d hate to see you throw your career down the drain. When you apply for sys admin jobs only list stuff you did that pertains to servers. When you apply as a developer only list stuff you did as a developer. Like somebody else said companies don’t know what they want especially when you are dealing with HR. I bet you confuse them to no end. Keep it simple for them. Only highlight stuff that pertains to the job. I hope you give it another shot.

    • A. Matulich

      Keith – one good practice that worked for me is to write a resume with everything in it and use it as a “master”. Mine came to about 8 pages. Then for a particular job application, cut out anything that isn’t relevant to that job

      Wield your axe vigorously, don’t leave something in just because it sounds impressive or you’re particularly proud of it. If it has no relevance to the job description, cut it out! You can always tell stories about those things in an interview.

      The point of the resume is to land an interview, not get a job. Use the interview to impress the hiring manager with the diversity of your knowledge and skills.

      I found the site quite useful for this. The cost seemed high at first but I found it worthwhile. It lets you build a master resume, and then you can paste in any job description and it shows you exactly what parts of your resume don’t fit. It uses the same algorithms that HR sites lilke Taleo use to pre-screen resumes. I never printed my resume from Resumate, but I used it to customize each and every resume I sent out.

  31. Lucy A-P

    If you can make it through the initial screening by Taleo and similar, it’s frustrating to find that your real experience — the ability to learn, connect dots and identify issues on the horizon because you’ve been there, done that — isn’t recognized or valued during interviews. A bit crazy making to know you’ve got qualities that can’t be taught, but didn’t get the job because of a few items that can be easily learned.

    • I went to an interview yesterday where both interviewers told me separately that their primary criteria for the position was a couple of characteristics and that they cared little for anything else because they put all new hires through extensive training regardless. They want to know that the candidate has the right attitude– as you say, something that can’t be taught.

      I assured them that I have those characteristics and that’s why I applied for the job in the first place. The interviews went great and we seemed to all be “on the same page.”

      Then I received an email less than 6 hours later saying they’re not interested in me as a candidate. I was floored! Perhaps they think that no one has those characteristics and that I was lying when I said I do.

  32. Mariusz

    Not long time ago I applied for Plant IT Specialist at Ford. Here is a job description according to Ford.

    The Plant IT Specialist has the responsibility of implementing, maintaining, configuring, and troubleshooting IT applications used within the manufacturing plant and ensuring they are providing the maximum contribution to productivity, quality and responsiveness.
    The Plant IT Specialist facilitates the implementation of IT enablers in the plant to support the Company’s Process efforts in terms of flexible and lean manufacturing, error proofing and manufacturing execution systems.
    This position provides an excellent opportunity both to apply IT skills to manufacturing, and to acquire manufacturing experience at one of the modern manufacturing plants in Ford that will enhance long-term career potential.

    I received a phone call from Ford recruiter asking do I have a experience with fixing machines that are on the plant floor. I am assuming the recruiter did not know what she was taking about. I asked her do they look for an IT person or a mechanic/engineer to fix production equipment she said all of the above. I told her that kind of information should be in job description so I would not waste my time applying. Correct me if I am wrong guys.

  33. Over 50 and Apparently Dead

    The problems described in the article and in the comments are not limited to just IT jobs. It’s insidious, the over inflation of job requirements not only discourages a person from even applying but also, because it seems every employer now is doing the same thing, makes one think if all these things are what a qualified person is really SUJPPOSED to know then “hey maybe I AN an idiot and just didn’t know it until now.”

    At the heart of the problem are two functions that don’t have a clue, never had one and never will get one; recruiters and HR departments. Neither one has any understanding what the listed job requirements actually mean – to them it’s just a series of characters they were told to search for.

    As an aside, have you noticed how many technical recruiters are now from India originally or perhaps even operating out of that country?

    There’s a hilarious book you can get on Amazon for like 99 cents called “Screw the Recruiter” that tells the story of an 50 year old professional who suddenly found himself unhireable and on welfare. I can’t say I would go the extremes that the author did to make sure he got jobs despite terrible recruiters and incompetent hiring managers but it still makes for a very entertaining and quick read.

  34. Foolkiller

    Wow. I’m glad to see it’s not just me. I recently saw a job opening for a scientist (chemist or biologist) to join a food product development team. And get this gem: “Must have experience in the culinary industry.” So, one has to be both a biochemist and a chef as well. I’m pretty sure, they won’t include “cooking for oneself” as “culinary experience”. Employers are their own worst enemy. Get rid of recruiters! Don’t involve your HR department in anything concerning the hiring process. Bosses! Start acting like a boss and take matters into your own hands.

  35. We’ve all seen the same companies post the same job for months, but never fill the position. Last week, I drove 48 miles one way to an interview, in rush hour traffic, and was told ten minutes into the interview, ” This job would not be challenging enough for you and you would get bored, so we are going to have to pass on you.” I met every requirement and by meeting every requirement I suddenly would get bored and this job is no longer a challenge? The bottom line is, these companies don’t know what they want!

  36. Stevie Wonders

    With polls indicating two thirds of hiring managers thinking they have the luxury of waiting for the perfect candidate, this problem isn’t going away anytime soon. 15+ years ago, a manager letting positions go unfilled indefinitely would have been deemed incompetent, raising questions about why work was being left undone. But they craftily shifted blame onto candidates, as if we became a nation of nitwits in less than one generation. Which continues because higher management won’t see this as an internal problem, like they used to.

  37. It’s also all about who is desperate and will accept a salary well below scale. If you score a big talent for pennies on the dollar, you look like a genius! I had a phone call two months ago that caught me off guard. The HR manager of a medium size manufacturing company called one hour after I submitted my resume online and asked me only one question, “What is the lowest salary you would accept to work here.” After my quick answer he replied, “Sorry, I have to make two more phone calls and so far I found someone that will do this job for less money.”

  38. Companies pay $40,000 to a recruiter because companies trained IT candidates that if you go directly to the company, you’re wasting your time as resumes go directly into the bitbucket with zero feedback. Who’s even reading the resumes?? Plus, you click a link that has a 20-page form-from-hell to enter your job history field by field – after registering. Who’s gonna waste their time? Just let someone upload their resume and if the parser can’t parse, then just READ THE RESUME.