One Size Job Search Does Not Fit All

Every year there is always a new diet fad. Perhaps the greatest problem with diets is that they are presented as one size fits all. Works for everyone works every time. On one level every diet is a basic mathematical calculation. Calories burned and calories consumed on a daily basis will either get you to your goal or not. More often, not. The problem is context. Just like job seekers every dieter is not the same. The amount of effort required for a 25-year-old to lose 20 lbs is never the same as the amount of effort for a 50-year-old to lose 20 lbs. Making it one size fits all is actually deceptive. The concept that what worked for one person will work for the next is delusional unless their context is almost identical. The path of false equivalents is dangerous and ineffective.

Most job search guru’s and experts have very sound advice for one very small segment of the population. They then try to extrapolate their good advice for the general population at which time it falls flat. It continues to work well for that group that it is ideal and it continues to fail for everyone else. One of the greatest misconceptions is that there is one job market and one job search technique that will be successful. There are various job markets and each requires a different approach. You first need to determine which group you belong to and which approach will yield the greatest success. The same technique that works for one group will be a guaranteed failure for the other. They are in fact mutually exclusive. How many people do you know who actually gained weight on a new diet? Wrong approach and wrong context will yield failure. Guaranteed.

Entry level positions are the easiest to understand and explain. It is the one situation where the automated ATS (Applicant Tracking System) works. Entry level candidates have the greatest opportunity to be vetted fairly against their fellow job seekers. It is fair and open. You apply for a position that you qualify for, the ATS rates you on a numeric scale. The problem is since the ATS works on this level it is then applied across the board and fails candidates on the next several levels. It also fails the firms that use it but since it is a “time saver” and since it works in one situation it becomes “this is the way we have always done it” rationalization. I don’t think I have to point out that this is not a sound business practice.

There is one area that the ATS is extremely efficient at all levels and that is candidate elimination. The problem is it eliminates vast numbers of candidates without a human ever viewing their credentials.The good with the bad, the average with the exceptional, the qualified with the unqualified.

For the sake of my example, I will use three tiers, beginning with the entry-level. The middle level for managerial roles where the ATS fails abysmally and the specialized roles C-suite and diversity candidates which are vetted on a different path entirely. Entry, Middle, and Specialized. The use of the ATS at the middle level actually discriminates against minority candidates. Now, since it has bias built into it against any candidate that has any variation in their background it is an academic exercise. Does a computer discriminate if no one notices or it is done unintentionally? Now, rather than eliminate the bias they simply abandon the ATS for the roles that are more specialized. It then becomes a justification and rationalization for bias. A single Mom that takes a year or more off to raise a child. The ATS will eliminate this person every single time. Her score will be lower than any other candidate that meets the criteria. Next please, try window number three. Since it works on the entry-level it is allowed to not work on the middle level.

The third path for diversity candidates, highly technical roles and c suite positions is an ATS free zone. It is where the advice for the first two levels is completely disregarded and irrelevant. If you have a specialized skill, you do not need to have citizen status. If you are a C-level candidate, like a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door. If you are the right flavor diversity candidate you become a highly valuable and sought after commodity. I am not in any way disparaging the recruiting of diversity candidates. I think we need more diversity recruiting, not less. I can only use myself as an example, I am a single parent who took a few years off to raise a newborn. Since I am a white male it becomes a deal breaker, day in and day out. Were I other than plain vanilla I would have multiple offers. I say this in a clinical context. It actually doesn’t matter why it simply matters what works. I cannot fix the system I can simply study it and discover what works and what doesn’t.

I still have not discovered a path that will lead to more interviews. The basics are all sound ideas. A good CV, well-written cover letters, highly targeted roles, practicing your interview skills and doing your homework are all a good starting point. I have done the breakdown of my job search for 2016. It supports my thesis that one size fits all does not work. I submitted over 2000 job applications in the last 12 months. I have achieved about one phone screening a week and 1 face to face interview every 6 weeks. I neglected to mention that yes I could have 10 different entry-level, minimum wage positions on any given day. As soon as someone tells me I can eat everything I like and still lose weight I stop the conversation and move on. Likewise with job search. I am glad it worked for your brother-in-law Calvin but we are not seeking the same roles and it is highly improbable his path and mine are similar enough. I still have not discovered what works but I am continuing my experimentation.


Robert J. Hardy
Robert J. Hardy
I was born in Camden, NJ, the oldest of eight and graduated from Villanova University with a BA in PSC/ENG (Political Science and English) with a pre-law concentration. Originally the plan was to go to law school but I had an opportunity to work on the trading floor at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange (NASDAQ-omx) for what is now Goldman Sachs. I worked for a boutique clearing firm and helped to build our office from the smallest to the largest clearing firm on the exchange. The more moving pieces the more I enjoy it. My background is primarily sell side and have hands-on experience in risk and compliance, KYC, AML, regulatory and client management. I’ve traveled extensively and am a passionate rugby player and fan. I enjoy contrasts and what they tell us about ourselves and others. I am a polished senior executive comfortable in any boardroom and yet I enjoy a good rugby match and getting banged around a little and meeting people I otherwise would have no contact with. I am actively seeking a new role and enjoy writing an article once a week or so to keep my skills sharp. My greatest hesitation is exposing my innermost thoughts to complete strangers, but quickly realized I had nothing to bring to the table without an honest dialogue. Once I opened that door and walked through it I realized I had far more to gain than lose.

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  1. Totally agree. We see three levels as well — exactly the way you described. The way I explain it as —
    1. Workers to support the work structure
    2. Leaders that restructure and reorganize the work and org structure
    3. Leaders that restructure and reorganize the business and business management

    These map pretty well to your three.

    • We work in the world of models driven by data and by leadership personalities. Yes, we’re scientific. But there are many out there that talk like us yet use pseudo science.

    • Yes we live in a world full of pseudo scientists, pseudo Christians, pseudo democrats/republicans, pseudo journalists.. All we can do is identify the falsehoods and hope people make their own conclusions based on the facts and nothing else.

    • Very important information you’ve presented Robert and in further support, I still believe all of it — this too, points back to leadership. Using systems such as what has been illustrated in your article isn’t doing anyone any favors~

      What never ceases to amaze me is that by failing to take the time to consider the most important parts of the hiring process, organizations seeking new talent miss opportunities that directly impact their own workforce and as Chris asserted, thereby influence all three levels. All contribute to our bottom line.

      I realize that there is a lot of time and commitment involved in the hiring process, but to risk missing such valued talent because we’re invariably weeding out is worthy of re-consideration. …not to mention the added layer of challenge and pressure added to our job seekers with amazing talent to offer that is waiting to be had.

    • I find it perplexing that everyone agrees the system is far from ideal and eliminates great candidates and yet… Nothing is ever done about it. It seems intuitive to me that everyone involved would be looking for a way to improve the system rather than just accept mediocre results.

    • At this stage of my job search nothing surprises me anymore. I don’t know if that makes me jaded or simply experienced at interviewing. I took some time off to raise our baby a few years ago and was asked if the gap on my CV was due to my being incarcerated. I laughed but she was serious, I ended the interview then a there. It was one of those ultra high end boutique recruitment firms and it left me scratching my head.

    • Oh my word – that’s a first. I cannot believe the audacity to ask something like that! Yes, I’d leave that place scratching my head too… I can only imagine what it’s like ‘on the inside’ (not anywhere that sounds attractive to be!)

    • My mother pounded it in our heads that if you can’t express yourself without profanity or vulgarity then you are a product of an inferior education so I bit my tongue and told her the conversation was over. I know she had a plan which was to see how far she could push me but I find that particular interviewing technique unacceptable on every level, its just plain sleazy and manipulative.

    • Wondering if there would be any industry interest in a video I’m thinking pulling together titled “Vendor Management Systems that Kill”.

    • I think a fundamental problem is that the current system is incredibly beneficial to the recruiting industry so they have zero interest in making it more efficient. When I apply for great role their commission is often the equivalent of a years salary for many American’s just for getting me a job. I know they don’t get it all at once but a 25k+ finders fee is pretty substantial, and that’s for the low level roles (100k+).

    • My topic is about how Vendor Management Systems (VMS) are not working in the benefit of the companies that use them. They are good at filling low ranking spots. But not so good for higher ranking ones. When VMS hit the scene, turnover rocketed really high up.