Base | Recruitment

2003 09 11

Base | Recruitment


Misrepresentation and the job market

I had a meeting today with a headhunter, during which we discussed, amongst other things, our mutual frustrations with the rat race that the job market in the UK and The Netherlands (the only two I have actual experience with) can be called these days. I would like to share the point I made in that meeting.

My statement is that all three major parties that actively use the job markets (candidates, employers and recruitment agencies) have fundamental compelling reasons to misrepresent themselves, their 'product', or both. This misrepresentation causes massive frustrations for all three parties involved.

First of all, I assume that candidates want the best possible job (with 'best' being a rather subjective measure). Furthermore, I assume that employers want the best possible candidate (same caveat with regards to measuring this). Recruiters sit inbetween: depending on their business model and prefered way of working, they might please either the one or the other party. I have personally come across way too many who try to please both—unfortunately, they rarely employ brutal honesty to that end.

Candidates and employers alike are hindered by the relatively small bandwith between them: they both have to convey large amounts of knowledge about each other over a very small line, be that a job add, a few pages on a corporate web site or a CV. On average, one can find out much more about a prospective employer than one can about a prospective employee, at least by using publicly available information. Nevertheless, the few things a company will say about itself rarely cover stuff that really matters, such as what the people that work there are really like to work with. (note: I do not have any decent answers on how such information might actually be conveyed at all, short of allowing for a six month trial period before commencing any further negotiation).

The same applies to the candidate: with a CV as pretty much the only way in which to convey information about themselves, and the acceptable limit of such a document being around 3 pages, even saying that 'I am a nice guy' is a waste of precious bandwith. Employers' HR/recruitment staff (let alone recruitment specialists) typically review dozens, if not hundreds of CVs per day. A halfway decent psychological profile (which I am using as an example of information about what kind of person a candidate would be to work with, regardless of skills) is a dozen pages. The obvious gap illustrates that even a bare minimum of information about a candidate might not be reviewed with any sort of attention.

In short: all parties involved are constricted by the available bandwith, so they have to make choices about what information to convey and how to convey it. The main driving factor is for candidates to appear to be the best candidate to an employer and for the employer to present themselves (or the role) as one that attracts the best candidates. Neither party can tell with even a fairly low degree of certainty how trustworthy the information supplied by the other party is.

More later on how I have observed all three parties involved in the job market to react to these drivers.