Is it more enjoyable to look for a job than to look for job candidates?

In my current position, I'm doing a lot of hiring right now. I have a new team to build from scratch, and it's tough! The job market seems to be chock full of candidates who want either way too much money for arguably little experience, or who think that a resume is supposed to tell their life's story.

I mentioned to a co-worker that I was a little frustrated with the process and he asked me a very honest and thought-provoking question: Is it more enjoyable to look for a job yourself than to look for job candidates? He wasn't asking if I'd prefer to find a job... rather if my own experiences trying to find one were better or worse than my experiences looking for a crack team of software engineers.1

My experience with job hunting has been varied - after completing my undergraduate degree, the market was empty. The dot-com bubble had burst and jobs were simply gone. I applied for what positions I could, near and far. The best I could hope for was about 50% as much pay as graduates from the previous class had received. It wasn't really enough on which to build a future (and start paying off student loans, of course), so I chose graduate school.

A year later, new Masters Degree in hand, I searched again. Salary rates were beginning to level off again, but now that I had a Masters Degree, I felt I had "matured" and was looking for "more than just a good paycheck". I found "nothing". I was unemployed for about eight weeks and finally got a nibble from a temp agency working as a level 1 support tech at a corporate help desk, fixing Outlook PST files 8 hours a day. Since then, on the other hand, I've been offered every single position for which I've applied. While that sounds self-inflating, it was really my experiences hunting for jobs (and utterly failing) that got me to the point at which I could go into an interview and secure said offer.

New graduates tend to expect a position. In general, they believe that the world is supposed to "give them" a shiny new career as soon as they graduate. They also expect to be paid well. This is counter-intuitive as entry level positions almost never pay "well", and college graduates have exactly zero non-academic work experience (save an internship, on-campus or retail job - they've never been a full-time employee in their discipline). This is one of many, many reasons, that it took me 10 weeks to find a job that I didn't even want. I figured two degrees must bequeath me some sort of benefits such as, say, a $50,000 salary (in economically depressed Buffalo) and a cushy position with upward mobility.

Dead. Wrong.

First of all, I didn't "deserve" squat!

Second, getting work takes work, and I hadn't mastered the concept.

Third, a company pays you what they think you are worth as an employee, not what your degree is worth.

So, after being humbled by a short taste of jobless poverty, I changed my perspective, stopped talking about my degree like it was so hard to obtain, was perfectly honest with myself and interviewers about my lack of professional experience and need to increase said experience and landed the next interview I had.

Gone are the days when I even speak about my college degree work. It stops being relevant after about two years in the working world, or at least it should.

Fast forward to now: I'm in my fifth position since graduating from college. That might sound bad, but it's only the third company and the first was a six-month contract position. It's the third in which my role includes hiring people to do my biddingwork for me, one of which barely counts because I was hiring current students. My perspective is vastly different now than it was then. My resume doesn't include a lengthy technical skills/languages list any more because it's far more interesting to potential employers when you can describe what you can do with real-life experiences. (It still helps to list your top few skills and areas of expertise for keyword-searches.) I also stopped listing my responsibilities for jobs I haven't had in several years. Who cares how many students I managed in 2002?

So, as I look for candidates, I've noticed that multi-page resumes have become the norm with every single position, project and language ever used (or even heard of) listed in great detail. I've also noticed folks with 2 years' experience expecting to make a salary grade for those with 5-7. I don't understand the phenomenon, but it helps me to weed out those I'm simply not going to hire!

To answer the question, I think, in some sadistic fashion, I liked being job seeker more than I do looking for them. It boils down to one very important contrast: As a candidate, I can have a direct effect on the outcome of my interview and can even accept a position below my expectations just to pay the bills. As a hiring manager, convincing someone to take a pay cut is nearly impossible unless they came up with the idea themselves, which almost never happens. On top of that, I have to hire people that are capable of doing the job or else I might not have one! I can't "settle" for a candidate who doesn't really meet the requirements of the position just to fill the team.

The current hiring market is very job seeker-friendly. There are dozens of companies per applicant, so the competitive environment is a huge pain for me as a manager. I find I have to do far more to sell the laurels of my company than I do to sell the position itself, which is thankfully fairly easy since the benefits here are pretty darn good.

I hadn't intended to blog about management geekery, but it's what I do, so it makes sense. I'll follow-up at some point with thoughts on interviewing, coaching and any other tricks I pick up along the way.

  1. At least, I don’t think he was intimating I should look elsewhere!

Nov 16th, 2007