I hate stories like this. From Liz Ryan’s column:
I moved up through the ranks in the insurance industry, starting when I was 22. Now I’m 57, and I’m returning to the workforce after my first-ever break from full-time employment. My mother passed on several years ago, and my dad was living alone until his health started to fail last year.
I first took a leave of absence from my job, then resigned my position to help my dad during his decline. When my father passed away, I took care of his affairs.
It was a grueling task as you know if you’ve ever been through it. When I began job-hunting again, I was shocked at how many interviewers asked me to “account for” and even apologize for the crime of having taken 18 months off from my career.
Three weeks ago I went to a job interview where I met a woman, the company recruiter, whom we can call Rachel. She and I sat down and she immediately addressed my “employment gap.”
“To start our conversation,” she said, “Can you please fill me in on your activities since leaving your last job?”
That information was right on my resume. It says on my resume that I was helping a family member who had health problems.
“I know you mentioned a family member with health problems,” said Rachel, “but can you please be more specific?”
I couldn’t imagine why she would care, but I said “My father’s health was declining and I am the only one of my parents’ children who lives in this area. I was privileged to be able to spend time with my dad before he died.”
Rachel said “Okay, but we really don’t consider job candidates with gaps. I’m making an exception even to sit here talking to you. I need to be able to explain to the search committee that you take your career seriously. If you were me, what would you tell them about why you quit your job and took 18 months off, and now want to return to the industry?”
I would like to see the videotape of me reacting to Rachel’s question. I’m sure my jaw dropped open. I tried to keep my voice steady. “I can’t really help you there,” I said. “I just told you that my father was ill and he needed me. If the search committee would prefer that I had told my dad I couldn’t help him, then I’m not the right person for this job.”
Rachel got up and left the room with a sigh. As she walked out the door she said over her shoulder “I’ll be right back.” She didn’t close the door all the way. It was open a crack. I heard Rachel talking to someone in the other room and I heard the words ‘high-strung.’ I took a deep breath, gathered my things and stood up.
When I left the room, there was no one in the other office so I just walked out of the building, went to my car and drove home. I haven’t heard from Rachel or her company again.
Liz, what is wrong with people? When did it become a crime to take care of your family members? I thought that was every child’s obligation and something to be proud of, not to be interrogated over! My mojo was very depleted when I left that building, but by the time I got home most of my equilibrium was restored.
“We really don’t consider people with gaps.” I have to wonder about the Rachels of the world who’s life always work so well that the blips and troubles never seem affect them. It must be nice to not have to worry about the life problems that strike suddenly and the bad choices that many of us have had to make. I’m glad that there are people like that. I hope that it continues to work out for them.
Does that though, excuse the fact that, for some reason there’s seems to be no empathy for those who’ve had to deal with the stuff that beats you up? Just look at it his way, there may come a time where you have to deal with aging parents or get laid off through no fault of your own. You may be forced to take the first job that comes along and put up with hell just to keep getting pad. You may be forced to work jobs that you don’t really want to put on a professional resume. Sometimes you try things and they just don’t work. Life is a bumpy road for many of us.
The system though, seems to demand a higher standard for job seekers than the people actually interviewing could ever meet. It’s all to easy to find fault in others. It’s far harder to discover the great things about them. I count the number of interviews where I left feeling rotten and disgusted about myself. There’s a limit to self examination that anybody can endure and going through the interview process seem setup to push all the buttons.
The fact of going through the process for a job seeker is pretty straight forward. If you go through the process you get some essential things pretty slapped in the face. The most import things are that the poor job seeker gets treated like crap and knows it. The ATS screens them out, the HR people act like people in the DMV and Hiring Managers seem determined to verbally torture you if you actually get to the interview. That’s the reality of what today’s hiring has become. When your system is dysfunctional, it’s only going to hire dysfunctional people.
The fact is that hiring is about the future, not the past. There’s that old clichéd saying that past performance doesn’t guarantee future results. I’ve found that to be the case in my life. Self improvement takes real effort. Those gaps in my resumes are full of attempts to improve myself, including things like this blog. Now is this blog something that is valuable in a work context. Or the fact that I taught myself “C” programming, took classes on CNC programming and machining, and an online course on programming micro controllers. Or learning how to make YouTube videos or work social media.
In my experience that doing things like this typical of scrappers, those who don’t have the kinds of straight line lives that HR and other corporates seem to like so much. The scrapper is always looking for opportunities to better themselves, because they know that the only way to keep ahead is to get better at what they do.
The problem is that the current hiring system is geared more toward finding faults and screening out than it is looking for opportunities. All through the “hiring process” which I suppose is like the hog butchering process the system is working to weed out the very qualities that are needed to employment excellence in many of the things that require creative inputs like engineering or marketing. The system is geared toward finding cogs for the corporate machine rather than employees that help the business grow.
Maybe if nothing ever changes and all work is always the same the cog method would work, but in the real world, that’s not what happens. A business needs to be flexible and antifragile to survive and that’s exactly the thing that the current setup is preventing. Instead it’s creating an environment where the most likely best employees are weeded out for excuses that have nothing to do with their abilities or the results that they may produce in the future.
In many ways successful hiring has to be as entrepreneurial as any of the other driving parts of the company. Hiring and employee development need to be forward looking, not backward looking. Hiring involves risks, but it also involve the potential for great rewards. Great people can make a company great. In the current way that companies hire, the likelihood of finding the great people is as likely as finding a purple squirrel. Companies shouldn’t gamble on miracles and phantoms because they will be disappointed.
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