The world's economy never came all the way back from the 2008 crash -- unemployment is still at terrifying levels, and there are a hell of a lot of good people still on the streets. If you have unemployed friends, you've no doubt heard horror stories about what it's like (or if you're unemployed yourself, you have an even better view of the horror): nobody's calling back, even for jobs they're well-qualified for.
So why in the hell is it so hard? Partly because there are a whole lot of invisible barriers standing in your way. For instance ...
Did you ever really embarrass yourself in a job interview or otherwise make a bad impression on an employer when you were young and stupid? Whether you know it or not, you may very well have wound up on a blacklist for that ... and it might haunt you for years after. And when we say "blacklist," we're talking about an actual list that recruiters and HR staff keep and share with each other that says "Don't bother even interviewing this person." If you're on that blacklist, your chances of being hired are about as likely as finally striking it rich with your Etsy store featuring sculptures made with your own feces.
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Although if you actually have shit sculptures, that will probably get you blacklisted as well.
So what does it take to get blacklisted? Any number of things, some of them as petty as applying for too many jobs or having the gall to ask about salary and benefits. And once you land on one company's list, your bad reputation spreads -- HR professionals love to share their lists. For example, take the completely qualified software developer who landed on two different recruitment companies' blacklists at the same moment because one of the HR reps thought he had bad presentation skills. And once you're on there, you're on there for good: Just ask the programmer who's still labeled as an unsuitable hire by a major defense contractor because when asked if he was willing to submit to a drug test, he responded with "Sure! As long as you give me six days' notice!" A dumb joke, to be sure, but six years later he was still blacklisted for making it.
And hell, these days HR people don't even have to step away from their monitors to build their blacklists, since the Internet has turned absolutely everything into a social network. Thanks to places like HR Blacklist, a company can simply pay a small fee to find out if their candidate has been trashed by anyone, anytime, anywhere. Who does said trashing? Well ... you do, apparently. According to HR Blacklist's website, anyone can become an "HR Agent" and begin blacklisting people within minutes:
"This job is aimed to experienced HR professionals, with thousands of CVs in their personal database, and with considerable experience in evaluating people. Of course, we will not forbid you to create a HR Agent account, even if you are a newcomer in this area."
"No, no one would ever abuse this to avenge a petty grudge." -Man steepling his fingers on the homepage
No way that could ever go wrong. But even if you're not on a blacklist, there's a good chance that ...
When the unemployment rate skyrockets, it creates a buyer's market for employers -- whenever they post a new opening, they have scads of people scrambling to fill it. Luckily (for them, not for you), most companies these days use applicant tracking system (ATS) software to help them deal with the influx of applications. What this means for you is that your resume very likely will never land in front of human eyeballs. The robot can send it right to the trash if its software decides you're not up to snuff.
"We're really looking for someone who's more interested in exterminating all humans."
These applicant tracking systems receive those countless resumes and automatically parse and sort each one, a process that in the past would have taken untold man hours to do. Think of all the time it saves when they can just have the computer scan the applications and send 75 percent of them directly to the digital shredder.
The Web is rife with checklists on how to beat the ATS and get your resume seen -- how and where to use keywords, minimizing graphics, and the exact wording to use for your resume's section headers, to list a few examples. So go ahead and add "SEO Expert" to your work experience, because that's what you'll have to be to have any hope of getting your resume in front of a human.
"I have no idea. Can't we just let the robots decide this one?"
Just how difficult does this make it for job seekers? Ask Russ Wichelman, an engineer and programmer with 30 years of experience in the field. Because Russ never obtained a college degree, he couldn't populate his resume with that one specific key phrase that the companies he was applying to were looking for, and as a result, Russ basically didn't exist to those companies. Did we mention that he had 30 fucking years of experience?
But at least until the Singularity happens (at which point we'll all be worried less about jobs and more about stocking our personal arsenals), computers simply aren't as capable as humans of inferring your true capabilities based on a couple pages of text. So to sum up, just in case the black shadow of unemployment hasn't made you feel quite shitty enough, technology has gone ahead and reduced your worth to a list of keywords.
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With the exception of certain high-profile elected officials, most jobs require the worker to avoid tripping balls while on the employer's dime. And you can't really blame them for that -- after all, companies can't have their delivery drivers pursuing rainbow-shitting dragons along crowded sidewalks or their HR staff using confidential records to blackmail their employees for crack money.
"I'm sorry, your honor, can we get a continuance? I'm blitzed out of my gourd."
That's all completely understandable, but the problem comes from the way in which employers screen out the druggies: the good old-fashioned piss test. Otherwise known as the test that gives false positives "at least 10 percent, and possibly as much as 30 percent, of the time."
That's right, as much as 30 percent of the applicants being screened out as huge Bob Marley fans are the victims of false positives. But even when the results are correct, they're not exactly painting a crystal-clear picture -- the standard piss test can't tell if you indulged once on a special occasion or if you're in the process of trying to achieve immortality by replacing all of your body's hemoglobin with THC.
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"Judging by your levels, either you saw weed on TV once or you're smoking right now."
The variances are in fact so erratic that experts have difficulty even tallying all the ways to fake a negative or trip a false positive. Here's a short list of some of the things that could end up labeling you as a junkie to your potential employer: poppy seeds, Wellbutrin, cold medicine, tricyclic antidepressants, Zoloft, quinolone antibiotics, even some AIDS medications.
But if we look past the nuts-and-bolts stuff, there still must be a positive psychological effect -- you'd think that knowing they could be required to pass drug screenings at any time would have to result in lower drug use among employees. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong: Past studies by the National Science Foundation and the American Management Association have shown that drug testing "has been ineffective in reducing drug use and has no noticeable impact on reducing either absenteeism or productivity."
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Not when there's a steady supply of drug-free dog urine to be had.
So if detection is shaky at best and drug testing doesn't even work as a deterrent, why are companies still doing it? According to the CEO of one Fortune 500 company, "It's there for image." Well, that makes total sense then. We're sure your average unemployed Joe doesn't mind taking one for the team when the end result is making a multimillion dollar company look a bit better to its investors.
But even if your clean drug test actually does come back clean ...