No way that could ever go wrong. But even if you're not on a blacklist, there's a good chance that ...
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 ...
Submitting candidates to a background check is a routine part of many employers' hiring practices. In fact, according to one survey, "About 93 percent of employers conduct criminal background checks on some applicants, while 73 percent of employers conduct checks on all applicants." And it makes perfect sense, if you look at it from the employers' perspective -- one in four people in the U.S. has a criminal record, and if the guy applying for your open teaching position was once busted for running a sweatshop thinly disguised as a day care, that's something you kind of need to know about.
"Sorry, Maddy, bathroom breaks are only for children who don't cry about 'needing' their insulin."
So what's the problem? Well, a study conducted in 2011 by the National Consumer Law Center revealed that the results of said background checks are often strewn with errors. You see, your potential employers aren't conducting that background check themselves -- and you never know who the hell might be providing that service to them. As the NCLC points out, "There are no licensing requirements for criminal background agencies. Anyone with a computer and access to records can start a business; the total number of companies is unknown."
These unregulated background screening companies are businesses, and as Merriam-Webster once said, the entire purpose of a business is to make money. And if that means cutting corners that occasionally result in some random innocent guy getting pinned with a brutal rape charge, then by God that's what a business does. We weren't even being facetious there, by the way -- that's exactly what happened to Samuel Jackson (no, not that one) when he was turned down for a job after a background check claimed that he had been convicted of rape back in 1987. When he was 4 years old.
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Shit, he's practically a grown-ass man.
Why? They got him confused with another guy with a similar name. Whoops! Our bad!
In case you needed another reason to worry that those photos you posted on Facebook from your last drunken house party (half-nude, duck lips -- you know the ones) would one day come back to haunt you, here you go: A recent survey showed that 92 percent of employers are checking out your social networking profiles during the recruitment process. And if you think you're getting around this by not providing links to your profiles, think again, because 73 percent of potential employers will track them down anyway.
Facebook: Making stalking easier every day.
What are they looking for, exactly? Well, the obvious stuff: drug use, sexual posts, drunken activity, My Little Pony cosplay. But you might be surprised to find out that the biggest sin of all is apparently spelling and grammar errors -- more employers were turned off by the public butchering of the English language than by references to alcohol. If the world needed another reason to abolish textspeak (it didn't), there you go.
But you can just fix this whole mess by not having social networking profiles in the first place, right? Nope -- if nothing comes up for you, that just makes employers think you've got something to hide.
But, but ... that's what privacy settings are for, right? Well, privacy settings don't do you much good when employers don't have any qualms about requiring applicants to provide their Facebook usernames and passwords. Luckily for your swear-ridden, booze-addled (but locked down) timeline, state governments have started stepping in with laws to prevent such practices.
"Guys, come on. Do we really need to pass a law? Can't you just stop being pricks on your own?"
Of course, this is all just a bunch of statistics mumbo jumbo -- stuff like this doesn't really happen in the real world. Tell that to the female psychiatrist who missed out on a position because she had a tendency to go topless at parties (hey, who doesn't?), or maybe the financial analyst who got blacklisted by a bigtime financial firm in Seattle thanks to his habit of posting drunken photos on Facebook (again, is that not what Facebook is specifically designed for?).
It sounds completely counterintuitive, what with so many qualified people currently out of work thanks to the utter collapse of the economy a few years ago, but for many employers, being unemployed is a gigantic red flag. That means once you've been unemployed for a certain period of time, you get stuck in a Kafkaesque trap where you can't get a job because you don't have a job.
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"Sorry, Mr. Yossarian, but we welcome you to apply again after some other dumbass takes a chance on you."
For skilled, perfectly able people -- like the 330,000 long-term unemployed in Illinois alone -- the longer they go without being able to find work, the less attractive they become to potential employers. As John Challenger, CEO of an outplacement firm in Chicago, put it:
"Hiring companies now wonder about whether or not their skills have become less current, about whether inertia has set in, how driven are you to get back to work. They worry that maybe other companies have seen something that they might be missing when they didn't hire you. Employers have some of these kinds of concerns about your candidacy that someone new into the market doesn't have to contend with."
"No other company would have him; what if he has herpes?"
To be fair, it's always been this way -- ever heard the old adage "It's easier to find a job when you have a job"? The difference being that there are now many, many more people looking for work because for years we had an economy where there were millions more unemployed people than there were vacant positions. Yet employers ranging from small businesses to fast food chains still show this bias against the jobless, to the point where New Jersey recently passed a law against prohibiting unemployed people from applying for a job, with other states and Congress considering similar ideas. Until such laws become commonplace, though, it looks like your average unemployed person has a laundry list of stereotypes to overcome in order to convince potential employers that they're not filthy bums.
So there you have it, kids: If you are currently hopelessly unemployed and desperately need a job, all you've got to do is get a fucking job. It's as easy as that.
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Why doesn't everyone do that?
For more ways companies are really screwing the pooch, check out The 7 Sneakiest Ways Corporations Manipulated Human Behavior and The 5 Most Horrifying Things Corporations Are Taking Over.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The 4 Most Childish Ways Powerful People Settled Arguments.
And stop by LinkSTORM to discover why fat and stupid is no way to go through life.
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