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The Politics of the Unemployment Number: This Week in Employment

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Let’s start with the big one. The piece of data that would sway the electorate one way or the other in the upcoming elections, determining once and for all which party knows best when it comes to job creation. That’s right: we’re talking the final monthly jobs report prior to the mid-terms. In political punditry, it doesn’t get much more fevered than that—especially when the best you’ve got to on otherwise is speculation over whether one of the candidates happens to be a witch.

As with most regular events that get a fevered build-up (New Year’s, anyone?), the announcement just had to fail to live up to expectations—and it surely did, with the economy leaking just enough jobs to ensure that the overall number came in at an unchanged 9.6 percent. Politically, that’s the worst outcome either party could have hoped for: the failure to get the expected rise to 9.7 percent leaves Republicans without an easy case to make when it comes to accusing Democrats of job-killing policies, while the fact that things haven’t improved means the Democrats can’t claim to have figured out anything approaching a solution either.

(Incidentally, a recent Vault poll found that the public is more or less aware of that: when asked which party was most likely to make a difference to the unemployment crisis, the number of respondents who plumped for one side or the other came to less than 50 percent combined. That compares to 38 percent who stated that the two parties need to work together, with the remainder suggesting that government should get out of the way altogether and just let business get on with it.)

By far the most interesting employment-related number of the week came from the Pew Economic Policy Group, which found that a record 30 percent of unemployed Americans had been out of work for at least in August. And it gets worse: the technical definition of “long-term unemployed” is someone who’s been out of work for over 6 months. In August, 71 percent of the “long-term unemployed” had been out of work for at least a year—dating their layoffs back to some of the darkest days of the recession. The risk, of course, is that the longer someone is out of work, the harder it is for them to find a new position—especially if the type of job that person did isn’t likely to return. That scenario gave rise to perhaps the most depressing sentence of the week, courtesy of USA Today (emphasis added): ” Many of the long-term unemployed will struggle to find work even after the job market picks up, and some will never work again.

Things don’t look much rosier when considering the major hiring announcements from the past week, either; notwithstanding the announcement that Kohl’s is hiring 40,000 seasonal workers, any other significant announcements of new opportunities tended to be in overseas markets.

It’s unlikely that we’ll see much improvement in the job market before the elections take place at the end of the month, but at least there’s one thing to be thankful for: the attempted politicization of the unemployment number should die down, at least for the foreseeable future.

Written by Phil Stott

October 8, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Down in the Valley: How Tech Leader Policies Limited Recruiting

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Google. Apple. Intel. Adobe. Intuit. Pixar. Each of these names is known to elicit superlatives for innovation and leadership. Each is also counted among the most desirable employers of Silicon Valley. And yet, as a U.S. Justice Department investigation has revealed, working for one of them could mean your career prospects could be severely limited for the rest.

On Friday, the aforementioned gang of six collectively consented to a Justice Department order to cease a series of clandestine no-poaching pacts. The department alleges that, through much of the past decade, the implicated parties kept do-not-call lists to mark each other’s staff as off-limits for job offer solicitation. In turn, those recruitment restrictions hampered opportunities for rising talent at top companies.

As the government’s resulting settlement describes, “The agreements eliminated a significant form of competition to attract highly skilled employees, and overall diminished competition to the detriment of affected employees.”

For tech professionals, the existence of such policies can only be disheartening. It’s difficult enough to soldier on in the IT field’s current state, as the rise of mergers and acquisitions threatens to consolidate the industry—and squeeze out workers in the ensuing layoffs. To know that employers actively avoid certain candidates can quash not just advancement or competitive salaries, but the perceived value of one’s own accrued skills and experience.

Moreover, Silicon Valley is a climate that thrives on migration. For decades, the industry has been characterized by the ability of its workforce to roam amongst market leaders and scrappy startups alike. It is this viral spreading of knowledge and talent that bolsters progress. The actions of Google et al risked stifling that dynamic, at a time when new ideas were so vital to the market amid a dire recession.

But even after striking a blow against the major players, this may only scratch the surface. In announcing its settlement with the six conspirators, the D.O.J. said it “continues to investigate other similar no solicitation agreements,” raising questions as to the scope of this practice. It may be minimal: while leaders such as Microsoft and IBM were implicated at the investigation’s inception, they were ultimately omitted from the settlement. But given the industry’s interwoven dependencies among firms, it’s not hard to suspect that many alliances have included deals to prevent poaching.

A statement by Google (thus far the only party to publicly respond) bodes particular ill: Assistant counsel Amy Lambert assures on its Public Policy Blog that Google “abandoned our ‘no cold calling’ policy in late 2009.” But by acknowledging “a number of other tech companies had similar ‘no cold call’ policies,” she seems to imply that the company followed an established trend, rather than marching to its own drummer. That’s not what you come to expect of an innovator.
— Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

What’s Keeping You From Getting Hired?

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If there was one thing that stood out from Vault’s recent Job Hunting in CSR series, it was the disconnect between candidates and employers. A recent survey by Towers Watson further indicates that this disconnect might be much more widespread because of a difference in priorities for employers and employees.

Job Skills

A survey released by TalentDrive, the team behind online resume aggregation search engine TalentFilter, now adds yet another layer to the troubling scenario. The report suggests a widening gap between current employers’ expectations and job seekers’ actual skill sets.

In a month-long survey, 79,000 job seekers (86 percent actively seeking employment) were asked to assess their personal skill set and attitude toward the current job market. Additionally, 20,000 hiring managers from Fortune 1000 companies were asked if they had noticed a change in the quality of candidates since the recession’s start.

The results of the survey are unnerving:

Almost three-quarters of the job seekers surveyed were pessimistic about their career search: that’s the number of respondents who indicated that they possessed the required skill set for positions, but were not getting hired. Little wonder, then, that 37 percent of respondents expressed no hope that things would improve.

However, 42 percent of the employers surveyed indicated that the recession had not only increased the quantity of candidates, but that they were finding more qualified candidates than in years past.

So where is the disconnect? When candidates believe they possess the required skill sets, why are they not getting hired? Take into account that 67 percent of those surveyed reported having between one and five interviews per month since the beginning of their job search, and that 75 percent of those had not received a single job offer.

Specialization or general business skills?

Since your company started hiring, how many interviewed candidates on average would you consider

Could the disconnect come down to a question of specialized vs. general business skills? According to the report, 71% percent of HR representatives reported that more than half of their open positions were specialized.

Comparatively, 61% of the job seekers’ group considered themselves to be “professionals with broad skill sets.”

Interestingly, my interviews with MBA graduates Ashley Jablow and Geet Singh reveal a flipside to the specialization picture. Having focused on CSR and sustainability at business school, both Jablow and Singh confessed that their job hunts weren’t exactly working out to be walks in the park. However, in their case, partial blame goes to a lack of demand for CSR work. For the respondents of the TalentDrive survey, specialized skills leaned toward more traditional fields like IT and technology.

Job Search Destinations

What source has recently delivered/uncovered the most quality candidates?

If there is one area where the TalentDrive survey shows job seekers and employers in agreement, it is where they are finding each other. The winner: Social Media.

An overwhelming 74% of job seekers said the most beneficial job search method was posting a resume on job boards followed by 27% picking social media, for the first time surpassing traditional methods like classified ads, professional recruiters and networking events.

Agreement was mutual with 27% of employers saying the highest response for most effective search method was social networks, followed by resume sourcing technologies.

Other highlights:

For the types of positions your company fills, what skills/activities make an applicant stand out?

Differs for each position: 55%
Longevity with past employers: 21%
Certification: 16%
Advanced degrees/MBA: 5%
Extracurricular work/Volunteer work: 3%

What category would the majority of your open positions fall under?

Mid level/management positions: 67%
Entry level: 16%
Director/Executive positions: 14%

Since beginning your active job search, how many interviews have resulted in an offer?

No offers: 75%
Less than half: 21%
More than half: 3%
All interviews resulted in an offer: 1%

Given the current job market, how willing are you to transfer fields or change your skill set to adapt to a new work environment or industry?

Not willing or interested: 11%
Somewhat willing, depending on the opportunity: 44%
Very willing: 45%

Does your experience relate to these results? Do you have a story to add to these numbers? Leave a comment, email us In Good Company or connect on Twitter @VaultCSR!

The Job Market Stays Flat: This Week in Employment

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Employment-related news hasn’t been difficult to come by this week; the fevered speculation over the August jobs report made sure of that. As it turned out, the report was neither as good or as bad as feared: a loss of 54,000 jobs overall was offset by the fact that the private sector increased hiring by 67,000. And, with the overall rate climbing only slightly to 9.6 percent, the abiding concern now seems to be stagnation. Or to put it another way: employers aren’t laying off anymore, but they don’t seem to be hiring either.

That reality is reflected not only by the flat response to Vault’s job seeker sentiment poll, but also in the postings on the Employment Tracker this week. Sure, there’s news of a major restructuring at JAL—with the airline cutting 16,000 jobs–but that event stands out precisely because it’s no longer the norm.

A look at the hiring news on the tracker seems to confirm the thesis that hiring is stuck too. While there are some fifteen reports of firms seeking to add employees, collectively they will add less than 15,000 jobs to the economy—and that doesn’t factor in the fact that many of the positions are in international markets, or that the biggest U.S.-based announcement came from the government, which is seeking 1,700 cybersecurity pros.

If that isn’t indication enough of the kind of difficulty the economy is seeing, check out the following chart from The New York Times’ Economix blog. It compares this recession to previous ones in terms of percentage of jobs lost (left axis) over the duration of the recession (bottom axis). As you can see from the chart, we’re definitely in unfamiliar territory—and bottoming out to boot.

NY Times chart of job change vs previous recession

With all of that in mind, perhaps the most telling story of the week—and certainly the most unusual—has nothing to do with unemployment figures or projections of where the economy might go next. Rather, it’s the slightly absurd news that the Irish agency tasked with job promotion was forced to lay off staff as part of the government’s efforts to balance its budget.

All told, then: lots of talk about the unemployment number, but very little action.

–Phil Stott, Vault.com

The Week’s Best Hiring News: Week of July 5, 2010

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After the disappointment over the June unemployment numbers last Friday, this week has been much more positive on the hiring front. Leading the way, of course, is the new jobless claims number which came in significantly below predicted levels at 454,000—the lowest it’s been in two months. Better still, notes The Washington Post‘s Economy Watch, is that “the number of continuing claims dropped by 224,000 to 4.4 million. That same piece points out that part of the reason for the unexpected dip in new claims is that automakers are not shutting down production in July to the same extent as usual.

But that’s not the only good news we’ve seen on the hiring front this week: there have been plenty of vacancies announced as well.

How Disappointing Were May’s Unemployment Figures?

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What do we make of today’s jobs report? On the surface, it seems like good news all around: 431,000 new jobs in May, and the unemployment rate dipping back down to 9.7 percent. Nothing to complain about there, it would seem. So why the following headline on The Huffington Post?

Dreadful Jobs Report Headline

Well, turns out part of the clue is in the sub-head: the private sector—something of a bellwether for economic growth—did indeed only add 41,000 jobs throughout the month. Worse, according to the accompanying article: “Virtually all the job creation in May came from the hiring of 411,000 census workers. Such hiring peaked in May and will begin tailing off in June.”

So that dip in the unemployment number—down from 9.9 percent last month—is largely the result of temporary hiring, and therefore likely to shoot back up next month? Well, yes, but it would appear that even that doesn’t capture the full story: “The dip partly reflected 322,000 people leaving the labor force for a variety of reasons.” One of those reasons: people giving up looking for work altogether because they’re discouraged by the market.

It’s a strange time to be trying to predict job market movement. On the one hand, you have a constant flow of news suggesting things are getting better in the economy, and that a recovery is well under way. Sure, you get the odd week or two of panic over the Greek economy (and an undercurrent of concern over the PIIGS), but consensus seems to suggest that we’re headed in the right direction. And then you get a weak hiring number. Even more confusing: that weak number comes out in the same week as a study that finds a significant number of employers are planning to hire in 2010.

Confusing, eh? Even the President admitted that “[t]here are going to be some ups and downs,” although he remains bullish—at least on the surface—about the direction of the economy. According to The New York Times, he told workers at a trucking company today that “the economy was ‘getting stronger by the day.'” As proof, he pointed to the fact that May is now the fifth straight month in which jobs have grown—a fact, it should be noted, that would have been true even without the ramp up in Census hiring.

So where does that leave us? Cautiously optimistic? Just glad that we’re not losing jobs anymore? Depressed that things aren’t any better? If anyone knows, feel free to let us know—either in the comments section or on Twitter.

Written by Phil Stott

June 4, 2010 at 12:04 pm

The Week’s Best Hiring News: Week of May 3, 2010

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In terms of hiring news, the best was kept until last this week: Friday saw the announcement that the economy added 290,000 jobs in April. Unfortunately, that was accompanied by a rise in the official unemployment rate—it went up from 9.7 percent to 9.9 percent—as more people actively began searching for work again.

That wasn’t the only good news this week, however. In fact, aside from concerns over the fate of various European economies and their potential for weighing down a recovery, most of the news that emerged this week was remarkably positive. As you’ll see below:

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