I recently was asked by an executive level candidate if I had noticed a shift recently in employers’ preference for “less experienced” candidates. I had to answer yes – since 2001, I have seen a noticeable shift in some industries, except for maybe engineering and highly technical positions. Not only is there a bias towards hiring employees who have less experience on the misguided assumption that they will stay longer if the economy bounces back, the jobs available are at a much lower level than I have experienced in the last 15 years. Case in point: Corporate Recruiting Departments that used to have 10 seasoned recruiters now have 3-4 recruiters and are hiring a Recruiting Coordinator to offload some of the work.
I felt really pretty bad as this executive went on, “No one wants to hire experts anymore. Tenured, experienced staff that can produce at lightning speeds are a thing of the past. Every company has this churn and burn mentality when it comes to hiring: get them in green, use that Rolodex to make some contacts, and then when they are all burned out, they leave. Don’t companies understand that people should be an investment, not a consumable resource?”
I think companies get that point, but they are not willing to pay for highly-skilled workers and here’s why: U.S. productivity vs. real hour wages grew by 62.5% from 1989 to 2010, far more than real hourly wages for workers, which grew only 12% in the same period. Why pay more for what the company perceives is already coming to them?
Let’s take corporate recruiting, for example. If I work for ABC company as a recruiter and I am forecasted to fill 100 positions within the next 12 months, what happens if I fill those positions in 9 months with quality hires? Does the company put me on another worthwhile HR project or promote me? Unlikely in today's market – the company will probably lay my super-productive self off and save 3 months worth of salary. Most companies just don’t have the foresight built into their culture to see that far down the road. I see some heads nodding – it’s a dirty little secret that employees don’t want companies to know – if you obtain results too fast, you’ll work yourself right out of a job. So companies gain, but just enough to get by, not to excel. Result: mediocrity at its finest level.
How is the U.S. ever going to be more competitive against the rest of the world? Good question. I don’t think we ever will gain the kind of productivity gains we enjoyed prior to 1974. The employment marketplace is far too damaged by short-term objectives to be fixed anytime this decade.
Another disturbing trend, recruiters are seeing on the street is that recent college graduates are asking for MORE at the offer stage than their more experienced competition for these mid-to-entry level positions. In January, there were 2.76 million job openings, down slightly from the 2.92 million in December. But there were 13.9 million out of work. That means there were no jobs for four out of five job seekers.
Older workers have been passed over for the last 12-24 months are desperate to take a job at any pay level, just to keep food on the table. I had the opportunity to work on a couple of skilled positions that were entry to mid-career level and it was surprising. When I asked about salary history and expectations for the advertised position, the more experienced candidates were asking for an average of $5000 LESS than new grads for the same position.
Why? It is well documented that all forms of discrimination increase during economic hardship, but ageism is only part of the problem. Corporate recruiting departments have really felt the pinch of hard times too. Maybe they are worn too thin to fight for what is right. I would argue as well that sometimes negotiation plays a bigger role in base salary than what people are willing to believe, but statistics show us trends and not minutia.
What do you think is going on here, and what does it mean for the recruiting industry as a whole?