The Trouble in the Haystack

The Trouble In The Haystack

© 2019, MJ Ostrander

I don’t job hunt on weekends.  No twenty-four seven thrills for me.  There’s no point in that level of masochism, nothing productive in the practice of ruthless rumination.  Like those trapped in a toxic workplace, I live for Fridays.  Especially Friday evenings when my husband arrives home and we drink a few Labatt’s.  With my first sip, I begin to feel more free, more in the moment, more me.  We let our hair down and talk.  About politics, music, our art, plans for this newborn blog. We pontificate on how moronic Christmas commercials have become, especially the kind where the man buys the wife a new Lexus.  When did advertisements become sixty second mini fantasy lifestyle dramas?  If buzz catching one evening per week is self-medicating, I say God bless us, everyone.

This weekend I spent time looking at our tree, a prismatic collage of vintage ornaments.  My favorites are those my mother painstakingly crafted with her talented hands and loving heart.  I recall the year my father bought a tree with a trunk so crooked that no amount of books shoved under the stand to level it up could keep the noble fir from falling twice with no warning.  I have hundreds of memories of those holidays, one for every light on our tree.  It’s good to revisit those days, to revel in that never again land.  For me, it’s a super balm, back to the times when things didn’t change so fast and I had no clue the future would come with all its rollercoaster peaks and valleys, its glory wins and rat race losses.

But I do not linger over recalling how easy finding employment used to be.  For many, it was merely a three-step process.  Respond to an appropriate want ad by phone or in person.  Complete a single paged application. Attend a half hour interview.  Maybe take a few clerical tests.  Then go home knowing nine times out of ten whether you were hired.  Those were the days when employers took calculated risks, when we still had some measure of trust that a company understood their responsibility to its employees.  But it’s nearly 2020.  Such recollections breed resentment and must be left behind in order to move forward.

The last time I babbled at you, I talked about online application dates and how simple it is for hiring managers to slither around the ADEA.  Not all potential employers require you complete an application as part of your initial contact, but those that do are not necessarily being efficient.  Before you stretch the truth about graduation dates and more, understand one thing.  Unlike a resume which is a marketing tool, an application is a legally binding document.  Even after many years of service to an organization, a crafty HR professional can pull your yellowing application and find those little white lies or omissions you used to help stack the deck.  Such misinformation can not only get you fired, it is likely you will lose that imperative good reference, or professional licensing and in extreme cases civil liability.

Forty-two out of the fifty US states are ‘at will’ states.  You can be fired for any reason at any time.  The axe could fall because you picked your nose in front of the boss once too many times.  The only exception are situations where canning your behind would defy your state’s public policy dogma and/or state or federal statutes.  If there’s a greenish cloud that chronically hovers above your cubicle or workstation, form a posse and report it in writing.  You may find yourself unemployed for a bullshit reason for doing the right thing.  But if that stench-filled haze blows HQ sky high, not only will you be grateful you were fired, but you have written documentation to support a case for wrongful termination.  Eight states don’t have this exception.  Eleven states have implied contract protection, but the burden of proof always lies on the fired worker and there is precedent which reveals it’s too much trouble for our judicial system to figure out an employer’s real reason for ruining your whole day.  So, consider uploading your resume and complete the application with the truth and nuthin’ but.  Life is risky enough.

If you’ve been at this game long enough, you have periodically hit enter only to see your screen fill with a series of questions seemingly irrelevant to your desired position.  Personality tests are carefully crafted to further assess not only your competencies, but also how well you would fit into the job and company culture.  Some of these questions have credibility.  After all, I’d hesitate to hire an applicant for a childcare opportunity whose favorite animal is the crocodile because crocs have been known to eat little kids.  Employers do not rely solely on these psychological evaluations but there are many species of them, some with a few trick questions.  Why do they try to trip us up?  Why isn’t a good background check enough?

I now need to backtrack.  It’s important and you’ll quickly realize why.  Look at your resumes.  The ones over which you labored (or paid someone else) to include charts to quantify your experience, your best selfie or other image to support your bad ass professional self.  Now toss them.  Not all companies require completion of an online application, but before a human ever gazes upon your creation, it must come through the Application Tracking System (ATS) alive.  The ATS is a recent addition to the corporate arsenal.  With scores of applicants for one job it is a helpful tool.  An increasing number of firms large and small now use the ATS.  The software allows for setting filters which its non-human eye scans.  Keyword recognition is the most common criteria used.  Therefore, the weary but informed job seeker is forced to customize each resume.  Just don’t overdo because the ATS watches out for matchy-matchy suck ups.  This Orwellian oracle can be told to look for graduation dates earlier than HR wants to consider, again skirting the ADEA.  It may be the remnants of the fever I had earlier this week, but I don’t think it’s a lunatic fringe kind of thing to wonder if the ATS will one day be able to recognize names which contain overt indications of your ethnic or racial origins.  Maybe it already can.

There is hope.  Your resume can survive the six seconds it takes the ATS to scan it.  The Eye has a glitch.  Graphics, tables and other kinds of formatting confuse it.  The ATS is a boring entity and rejects overly artsy resumes because it can’t read it.  I imagine its circuits sweating, its algorhythms trembling with indecision.  Does its programming worry it will be canned for making mistakes?  I see the robot in Lost In Space spinning away across an alien landscape wailing it does not compute.  But I doubt its ability to count the number of qualified applicants corporate America voluntarily prevents from human eyes.  I question the technology far beyond its efficiency.  To fight the machine, compose no frills resumes in a business kind of font.  Unless you’re gunning for an artsy gig, avoid cutesy, creative section headings like “All About Me” or “Where I’ve Been”.

We older citizens are another band of walking wounded.  Taking an adversarial stance on this topic is not the attitude I ever wanted to have.  But the current playing field is often woefully uneven and deviously illegal.    We can no longer tolerate the scourge of ageism.  Because it’s dangerous, Will Robinson.

Next Up:  Interviews, Final Thoughts and I Make A Decision.

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