Why They Aren't Hiring You?

August 2003

by

Randall Scasny

Most of the time I write about things I think most job hunters would find helpful. But after receiving a flurry of email responses from my last month's article on how age factors into job hunting, this month I'm letting my readers choose the topic. They want to know: Why they aren't getting hired?

Many readers told me their stories. And they gave me their reasons why they think they are not getting hired.

The most common reasons people believe they are not getting hired have to do with skills, education, age, experience and location. Of course, there are many more. Here's a list I found posted on a state job service website.

Since most of my last month's email was from readers in their 50s, "age" and the increased burden of insurance which generally accompanies older workers was a major reason why they thought they aren't getting hired. This is a common belief. However, it's not that simple. In the future, employers may have no choice but to hire older workers.

A few readers voiced the belief that no one was reading their resumes and that's why they aren't getting interviews.

Another mentioned that corporations today have so diluted their human resource staff of experience that they really don't know how to hire good people anymore.

Wow. Talk about taking my breath away!

It's useful to air out these ideas, beliefs, frustrations or whatever you want to call them. Because no matter whether you are a senior manager, a technical professional or an experienced tradesperson, all job seekers must confront pre-conceived notions that may affect choices they make during their job search.

So, why aren't they hiring you?

The answer to this important question may be to improve your job-hunting skills, which is pretty easy because there is a lot of help available.

A more painful answer is to look for a different line of work. This solution is becoming less rare, however. The experts are suggesting people will have from five to seven careers over the course of their working lives. People are just living and working longer today than they did thirty years ago.

Finally, the drastic way to answer the question is to avoid the entire hiring process and create your own job by starting a new business.

Again, this is not all that out of the ordinary nowadays. The Small Business Administration claims that most new jobs are being created by small businesses, not large corporations.

Technology has opened new doors for industrious people without a lot of money to chisel out their piece of the American Dream.

Only recently I read a newspaper article of a husband-and-wife team who began selling stuff on eBay, perhaps the most popular "garage sale" of the Internet. Now it's their full-time job. They've taken control of their lives and making plenty of money.

...

I've thought about why people aren't getting hired. And I think it comes down to this:

Once a pool of job candidates are chosen for a particular open position, typically based upon their skills or experience, when all the interviews have been completed, and the time has come to select a candidate, a hiring manager's decision to hire one candidate over another is largely based upon whom he or she believes is the person who will work best within their corporation's culture.

Personally, I don't think a particular hiring decision comes down to race, age, gender, skills, education, experience or compensation. These factors have been considered long before the actual decision is made.

Consciously or not, I think a hiring manager chooses the person who gets a "yes" vote to these questions:

  • Whom do I like? (Or: Who would be the most agreeable to work with?)
  • Who can I trust?
  • Who will not make anyone on the work team look bad? (Or: Who will make the team look good?)

Yes, these questions are subjective. But people, not machines, are making hiring decisions. Despite all the tests and fad techniques now available to assist in the selection of job candidates, people still rely on intuition, human nature and gut-checks to make them.

But the key point is that these questions are answered within the framework of an organization's corporate culture. It is the measuring stick used by an employer to determine who is the candidate with the "best fit."

If job hunters understand the wild card of corporate culture, they will at the very least understand why they aren't getting hired. At best, they can discover what they must do to become a "best fit" candidate.

Of course, you may be saying to yourself, "I'm adaptable so I can work in any kind of work environment or culture. Why should I care about corporate culture?"

Fair Question.

And I don't have to go too far to give you a fair answer--the morning newspaper.

While having my morning cup of coffee, I opened up the business section of the Chicago Tribune and found a story (Keyword Search: My Biggest Mistake, July 21, 2003) about a successful business owner who brazenly proclaimed the following to the readers of this international publication: "I did not enjoy being an employer: I did not have empathy for the people who worked there."

Imagine trying to get hired by a man with this attitude? Would the decision be solely based on your skills or would there be other, more subjective factors?

More than that, imagine trying to remain happily employed in his business? A challenge at best, in my estimation. (Note: The story says he gave up his business and started a new one where he didn't need employees. He couldn't stay happily employed in his own business!)

Rarely does an employer publicly admit to this kind of information. And his statement is indeed rare. I have visited hundreds of companies over the past sixteen years and I always felt most of them treated their employees with respect and had empathy for them even though sometimes they were forced to make business decisions that were not popular with their employees.

The above example underscores how important the style of a company's leadership is. A positive and respectful style will create an satisfying work culture. A negative tone can be the source of unhappy employees and high turnover. Leadership style is a telltale sign of corporate culture.

How can you use knowledge about a company's culture to your advantage in your job hunt?

Well, it's a two-step process:

Recognize your working style and own up to it. If you don't recognize your working style, it will become evident during a job interview. It's one of the things a hiring manager must determine to prune down a pool of candidates.

Remember, they are professionals and determining good fits is what they do for a living. Don't try to be a square peg and think you can fool everyone that you can fit into a round hole. That's your military experience talking, not civilian employment realities.

If you can't figure out your working style, go see a career counselor and have him or her administer you the Myer Briggs test. You will learn a lot about yourself.

What kind of organization works best for you? Reflect on your military career. What duty stations were winners for you? Which ones were the lemons? What positions made you shine above others? And why?

I'm not referring to the job tasks you performed. Rather, the context of the work environment. For example:

  • Was it a large or small organization?
  • Were you on independent duty where you set your own work pace or did you work in a large shop on a team?
  • Was it loosely supervised or autocratically managed?
  • Did you have a regular schedule or a swing shift schedule?
  • How did you go about resolving conflicts: with your boss? fellow workers?
  • What motivated you to keep on working in the face of adversity?

There are perhaps hundreds of these types of questions to ask. But the final answer should reveal to you a simple one sentence statement about the kind of work environment and culture that "fits" you best.

...

I find recognition of the importance of corporate culture in job hunting escapes most veterans. This is not surprising because unlike the private sector, military culture is established at the very beginning of a service member's employment through basic training. And military culture is incredibly consistent through all branches of the armed forces.

Unfortunately, the private sector has as many cultures as there are organizations. By listing the types of private-sector organizations, you can easily imagine how different their cultures might be:

  • Family owned businesses
  • Privately-held corporations
  • Public corporations
  • Multinational companies (about the closest to the military)
  • Not-For Profit organizations
  • Virtual organizations (the newest type which uses the Internet to communicate with its employees who may be spread all over the world; there's little if any direct human contact--ever.)

In addition to these types of organizations, there are two other factors that can affect the corporate culture of an organization: size and industry sector.

The size of the organization--large, medium or small--affects how people communicate within it. Communication styles have a lot to do with the historical choices of corporate culture.

In small organizations, direct personal communication may be possible, which can give the culture the homey touch.

On the other hand, in large corporations, direct communication is impractical. Mass emails are sometimes used to communicate company-wide. This communication style can create a formal, impersonal culture that not all people can function in.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit companies in different industry sectors--automotive, manufacturing, financial, medical, electronic, software technology, Internet, etc.--like I have, you will find that each sector has their own unique management style and corporate culture.

Seeking the "best fit" employee in the financial industry is very different from the one in the Internet industry.

Without specific training of the organization's culture, there is really no way one candidate can be the "best fit" for all these different types of organizations.

The military could afford to mold you to their culture; the private sector cannot. Its needs are too changeable, too variable, too seasonal. Besides that, unlike the military, it cannot afford to extensively train everyone in this respect. Why? The marketplace won't allow it.

While the military is financed by the U.S. Congress and culturally held together by values such as honor, duty and patriotism, the private sector is self-financed (through bank loans and investor's money) and is held together, that is, exists solely on the promise of financial success.

To be financially successful, the private sector is forever evolving to both serve its customers and to fend off its competition. Hiring plans are not based upon top-down manning projections; rather, they are based on local, short-term needs of the marketplace.

In addition, since most new jobs are created by small organizations, which generally are undercapitalized, hiring budgets must be paid for by existing or new business. (Very few of these companies can afford to lose $6 billion as Ford Motor Company did in 2001 and 2002 and continue to remain in business. Source: The Financial Times)

This means that for the vast majority of open positions, the private sector must seek individuals not to develop but who are already developed and can fit into their organizational culture.

Finding candidates with the necessary job skills is easy.

But finding a candidate who has both the necessary skills and experience AND has the same work-culture aptitudes without providing him or her a boot camp to learn and adopt a work culture is like finding the hiring manager's version of a needle in a haystack.

...

In your job hunt, you can apply knowledge of your work style and corporate culture in a number of ways. Here are the main ones:

Company Choices: Whenever you apply for a position at a company, you should ask yourself two questions: (1) Is it making money? and (2) Is it keeping its employees?

These questions give baseline information about the organization's culture. If it is making money, somebody is doing something right! Financially healthy companies for the most part are good places to work.

Employee turnover is another telltale sign about the health of its corporate culture. High employee-turnover is generally a red flag. Nowadays, if an organization or department can boast of a 5-year turnover rate, their culture is thriving.

Where do you find the information to answer these questions? Publicly held companies publish annual reports. If you can't find a copy on the Internet, go to your public library. Or, write the company and request a copy.

Information about privately held companies is more difficult to obtain. You have to "network" to answer these questions.

Resumes: You can embed your cultural assets in your resume in two ways:

Direct Approach: Include the statement you developed about your "best fit" work style and culture in your resume's Objective statement. This will differentiate you from other candidates. By including this kind of information, you're helping out the employer immensely. Besides that, you're helping yourself by "screening out" organizations that don't fit your style.

Indirect Approach: Write or rewrite your resume in terms of the employer. This means remove any military jargon that the employer may not understand. Go to corporate websites and read everything about the company. Jot down terms or specialized language it uses to describe its business or culture. Use these "mood words" in your resume. Sometimes the language is subtle. But the goal is to conjure up an image to the resume reader that you understand their business and can fit into their culture.

Interviews: A job interview is where corporate culture explicitly reveals itself. You can use knowledge of corporate culture to your advantage both defensively and offensively, to coin a few sports terms:

Defensive Strategy: Have a list of questions (5-10) ready to ask the interviewer. They should be along the lines of: What's it like working at this company? How would you describe the company's management style? How do you deal with conflict? Describe your ideal employee?

You are basically asking them: What is your corporate culture? You may find that you don't care for the company's style. Better to find it out now than six or nine months into employment and wishing you had not taken the job.

Offensive Strategy: After you have learned their style, and you feel you would like to work there, make sure any interview question you answer includes and emphasizes the style and values the interviewer had communicated to you. You are basically mirrorring the information you have just received. It will place you in a positive light.

Networking: The best way to find out about a company's culture is by networking. Talking to people who have worked at a specific company, or knowing someone who has, is the best way for you to determine if there is "a fit."

Networking, family connections and employee referrals still remain on top of the list of How People Get Hired. Why? These are informal ways for both employers and job seekers to get to know each other so they can determine if a "best fit" exists.

Website Job Hunting: Most people use job websites to locate open positions. Expand on this approach. Once you've located positions in companies that interest you, conduct some detective work on the company.

Answer the question: What is this organization's culture? Go to their corporate website. Determine their industry sector. Find any professional trade associations supporting their industry. Basically, you are trying to paint a portrait of their place in the business world.

This hybrid approach can help you determine if you want to pursue this job any further. If so, the information you have gathered can help you personalize both your cover letter and resume. If you score an interview, the information can be used to demonstrate that you understand their business and you came to the interview prepared because you "mean" business and want the job!

Corporate culture is a subtle yet powerful force that influences who gets hire or not. It is the factor that is considered closest to the actual hiring decision. How you play the culture factor throughout your job search and a specific hiring process can tip the scale in your favor. Ignoring it leaves the hiring decision up to chance, that is, the hope that you appear to be a better fit than your job-hunting competitors. That's what most job hunters do and that's why they aren't getting hired.

Good luck in your job search.

Update...Update...Update

In my June article, I mentioned that Alan "had been hunting for a job over a year." He recently got a job and here's his story:

He told me in an email: "I have a job now. I am working for [a college that specializes in engineering.] My title is Information Technology and Telecommunications Manager. Essentially it's the job that defines and does everything to support the computer system hardware, software, and telephone system. I love it! This job describes me."

How did he hunt for a job?

His words: "I was looking for slightly more than a year when I wrote to you the first time in April. I started sending my resume by postal mail every time along with the other methods indicated in the postings. Every postal resume I sent included a "pocket resume." It's a business card sized piece of rigid paper containing my contact information, the URL to my on-line resume, and on the back a summary of my qualifications. This page also includes a revised, informal story of my employment history."

Why did he get hired?

His words: "I don't know if [my approach] made any difference in my being selected for this position. I think I was just fortunate in the timing."

"The department's information technology (IT) equipment was assembled by an electrical engineer who taught himself computers. He had some help from a graduate student. The Access database programming was outsourced to an independent consultant."

"My predecessor wanted to get back into his area of expertise in analyzing energy-related data and defining parameters (data quality auditing) so he needed a person who could just take the IT responsibilities away from him while being able to interpret his new responsibilities (backup quality manager)."

"My experience in the Navy nuclear power program helped with its display of electrical, fluid flow, and heat transfer techniques."


Disclaimer
All opinions, advice, statements or other information expressed in this article are solely the author's and do not necessarily express the opinions of MilitaryHire.com or the publisher.

Copyright 2003 Randall Scasny. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.