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Too Efficient By Half

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There is an abundance of jobs. There are a lot of people looking for work. So why are companies having so much difficulty finding employees? You can ask different people and get a lot of different answers. The most common answer from the workers’ perspective is that it’s about excessive experience or training requirements without the wages to justify it.Almost all of us – especially in the technological realm – have seen this sort of thing before. They lose an employee to someone else, then seek someone with that same skillset for a salary that was too low to retain the guy who just left.

That is certainly a part of the equation, but from a broader view it’s more complicated than “Offer more money!” A company can almost always pilfer an employee from another company, with the right amount of money, but all they have done is shift the job opening around. If there aren’t enough people that can do the job, money won’t magically produce more people. At most, it will draw people who are already qualified out of other sectors and, at best, you’re just creating a shortage in whatever field they are working. You might be able to draw in some people like me that don’t hold jobs outside the home, but we’re of pretty limited supply. No, at some point, by raising salaries you are hoping to draw people to learn the skills and come into the field. Even optimally, that’s going to take time. The last option is to simply bring in workers from abroad. A whole lot of employee shortages are artificial in the sense that they could probably convince someone from abroad to come in and do the job for the posted wages (even if we didn’t tie them to an employer with the work visa). We just don’t allow them to, for various reasons.

I have also heard from the employers’ side and have found that their complaints are not always meritless. I’ve heard specific opportunities and specific salary offers that were quite reasonable, but for one reason or another they would have difficulty filling the job. Sometimes it’s a regional shortage – there are qualified applicants, just not nearby. Theoretically the market should clear at some point, but you’re dealing with a lot of inefficiency along the way.

That is a part of the equation, too, though this also has a more complicated side. Even if they offer a reasonable salary given the intelligence and degree of training required, they still want all of that settled before they get in the door. A lot of people report having seen an ad requiring ten years of experience for something that has only been in existence for five. In times of higher unemployment, employers get used to ramping up requirements that don’t go down whenever the labor pool tightens up. Sometimes, you actually have to train people to do the job. Which they want to do for reasons unreasonable (it costs money) and reasonable (we’ll spend all sorts of money to train them then won’t be able to afford to keep them).

I am, on the whole, more sympathetic to the workers than the employers here, but there do seem to be some problems with our system’s efficiency. People looking for work who can’t find jobs. Employers looking for labor who can’t find people.

What if the problem isn’t inefficiency, though, but rather that employers have gotten too efficient for their own good? Especially on the employers’ end? I speak of recruiters:

Once upon a time, employers had a relatively passive approach to hiring. They would put word out, either through newspaper ads or their own networks, and wait for people to respond directly. Nowadays, they’re often more proactive. They turn to specialized intermediaries, which scour social-media sites such as LinkedIn for the best matches. {…}

The newer, more targeted approach would tend to identify more candidates who fit the employers’ requirements — and more prospects who are already employed. Recruiting such workers might take more effort, helping explain why vacancies remain open for longer. The whole process might also bypass a lot of people who are out of work, putting them at a disadvantage.

This is a real problem for the unemployed and a collective action problem from hell. People lose their jobs, go to the back of the hiring line, stay unemployed, the gap on their resume grows, and so on and so forth. This is of a particular concern to me because I have been out of the job market for quite a while. If something happened to my wife, I would have yet another disadvantage when it came to finding work.

Recruiters driving this makes quite a bit of sense. So does the fact that they make filling jobs more time-consuming, even apart from the long-term unemployment issue.

It actually reminds me a bit of online dating. The dating marketplace is extremely inefficient. There are a lot of guys looking for girlfriends, a lot of girls looking for boyfriends. Sometimes you run into situations where standards are too high or people are too unattractive (physically or otherwise), but it sure seems like we could do a better job. Enter internet dating. And I’m just old enough to have sort of watched it happen.

Suddenly you had dozens of people at your fingertips. You had profiles to look at, pictures. And what happened to me, and a lot of other people, is that standards suddenly shot upwards. You’d often end up skipping right past people that might catch your attention in an “attainable” sort of way because they would suddenly be next to someone who was something of a complete package. It’s the paradox of choice, except with people involved.

Likewise, when you hire based on word of mouth or social networks, you accept certain things. You accept they might need a little training, or there is a gap in their resume you have to ask about, but you do so and move on. They’re right there. But if they’re sitting there with a job profile next to 100 more, you can afford to ramp up your requirements a great deal. You feel like you can afford to make zero concessions. And if they don’t show up this week, or the next week, by heavens they will show up at some point. So jobs go unfilled, and people with blemishes can’t use interview skills to compensate.

All of this to some degree does depend on a job market favorable to employers. Maybe that will turn around.

This may come as a surprise after decades of wage stagnation, when the good jobs of an earlier industrial era — in which workers could go straight from high school to a lifelong place on the factory floor, with a pension on the other end — have largely disappeared, replaced in many cases by work with little security, uncertain hours and few if any benefits.

Still, the wage picture is looking decidedly brighter. In 2008, in the midst of the recession, the average hourly pay of production and nonsupervisory workers tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics — those who toil at a cash register or on a shop floor — was 10 percent below its 1973 peak after accounting for inflation. Since then, wages have regained virtually all of that ground. Median wages for all full-time workers are rising at a pace last achieved in the dot-com boom at the end of the Clinton administration.

And with employers adding more than two million jobs a year, some economists suspect that American workers — after being pummeled by a furious mix of globalization and automation, strangled by monetary policy that has restrained economic activity in the name of low inflation, and slapped around by government hostility toward unions and labor regulations — may finally be in for a break.

With Japan, perhaps, leading the way:

It’s all a question of the tipping point: When do labor shortages become so acute that there’s a scramble and employers both big and small have to pay up or risk, literally, running out of people?

Izumi Devalier, head of Japan Economics at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, thinks we’ve reached that point. “There have been many false dawns, so making the case this time can be quite difficult,” she acknowledges over lunch. But, using an admittedly anecdotal example, she observes that famously high levels of service at Japanese restaurants are starting to slip subtly because of the gathering labor shortage. “People know that if they don’t secure talent now, it’s going to get harder and harder.”

For those that want to stay in business, the need to retain staff will outweigh all others. Yamato Holdings Co. Ltd., the parcel delivery company with the cat-and-kitten logo that seems to be everywhere in Tokyo, is instructive. Faced with a shortage of drivers and efforts by competitors to poach those it did have, the firm raised its base rate for customers in April.

So maybe in the future there will be a market for workers to better be able to look at employer after employer, checking for the least little blemish that will make a job go long-term unfilled.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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74 thoughts on “Too Efficient By Half

  1. Is recruiting really that much of a thing except at the largest of companies and among the best of the best?

    My girlfriend went to a top of the top MBA program. She gets contacted by recruiters all the time. By contrast, I went to a formally well-respected but decidedly local law school* that was hit hard by the fiscal crisis, law school crunch, and the fact that almost everyone under 40 wants to move to SF (joking not joking). I can tell you that recruiters never really talk to me except for temp gigs of doc review. The firms I worked for were too small to use recruiters. When I tried finding a recruiter for a permanent job they could never help me because I wasn’t top of the top.

    There was an article on Slate about this a few months ago, the article theorized that employers learned to demand too much and employees stopped trying to negotiate

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  2. I hadn’t really thought about how recruiters enter the mix, usually because recruiter targeting has struck me routinely poor these past few years (less precision, more scattershot). So often the emails I get from recruiters demonstrate that they have either not read my resume, or failed to understand my training or experience. This happens so often that when I get an email that is on target, I actually contact that recruiter, even if I am not looking to change jobs.

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    • In my experience (hey, my previous job came via a recruiter finding me in LinkedIn), as you progress in your career and do more things, your profile becomes more difficult to understand for automatic computer searches. Are you a plane designer, or career navy, or a materials engineer, or a coder? You probably get job hits for everything.

      Perhaps @veronica_d can set up a side gig telling us all how to write our online resume so that we only get hits for the kind jobs we want, without just deleting the years where you were doing other things.

      (Actually, there must be people whose job is to design web pages that will tickle whatever Google searches do so that you come in on the results no matter how badly I phrase my search)

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      • I do get hits all over my experience base (I love the ones that want me to relocate across the country for a $50K/year job doing entry level depot maintenance at a shipyard).

        My favorite ones are hits for insurance companies looking for sales agents. I get these all the time (AFLAC is especially annoying). I have, at no time in my career, been in sales. I suck at sales. I’d have a hard time selling water in a desert. If I ever decided to start a business, my very first hire would be a sales and marketing person.

        But I’ve also gotten hits for postings for web designers, civil engineers, industrial engineers, chemical engineers, etc. I know why I get flagged in the search for such postings, but I expect the recruiter to not just blast out their email* to every address that pops in their search. Don’t save yourself time by wasting mine, that is the fastest way to make sure your firms name becomes one to avoid**.

        *And for FSMs sake, learn how to write in proper English. Nothing flags your email as a scam faster than getting something that reads like a Nigerian 419 email. I’ve even looked into some of the companies that send me such poorly written emails and they appear to be legit companies, they just don’t seem too concerned with making a good impression on a potential hire.

        **The second fastest way is to express serious interest, and the suddenly, without explanation, stop taking my calls. Had an Executive Search firm do this to me once. Spent a few weeks trading emails and calls, and then suddenly nothing. I find out later the recruiter had also been talking to another guy in my office and decided to go with him (which was fine, he was a better fit for the job), but the sudden silence did not make me want to deal with that recruiter again.

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        • I enjoy those as well. I get them from companies that clearly found my resume flagged “Full time employment only, no contract work, no relocation” who offer…6 months contracts a thousand miles away for less than I earn now.

          On the other hand, I will say the existence of stuff like Glassdoor and other salary aggregation sites does help with salary negotiations. Most modern workplaces…frown heavily…on salary discussion, no matter what the law says. Being able to walk in and say “My qualifications, in this area, merit a salary in this range — of which my salary is, I might add, quite below ” is really useful.

          And probably quite vexing to employers.

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      • @j_a — It’s keyword searches all the way down, and recruiters seldom have the first clue what they are looking for. Likewise, the HR staff who write up the requirements also have no clue. It’s just bad piled atop bad. You can try to game the system, I suppose, by making sure only relevant keywords appear in your resume. It probably won’t work.

        If you’re a coder in a cool tech town, you’re way better off going to meetup group and networking. You’ll be talking to other engineers who understand engineering. They can point you to their hiring staff.

        I have no idea how things play out for other types of engineering.

        I am aware that non-STEM careers exist. Presumably they hire people through some opaque process.

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        • Man, I hate interviews with non-programmers.

          I had one with a non-coder, and she was basically transcribing my (on the phone) responses to questions — some sort of simple screen. Except I knew she wasn’t a coder, so kept simplifying my answers instinctively.

          Which made me look, I’m sure, to whomever reviewed it like I was quoting a CS 101 book.

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          • I remember a similar experience. During a phone interview asked me how to generate normally distributed pseudorandom numbers using uniformly distributed pseudorandom numbers, so I mentioned a few of standard ways of doing it (like the Box-Muller transform, using the inverse CDF, et c.), and finally the interviewer just asked, “It says here, ‘central limit theorem’. Do you know what that’s supposed to mean?”

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            • And as God is my witness, my literally answer would be “If I needed to generate normally distributed pseudorandom numbers, I’d use google”.

              You know how much FASTER my work is because of google and places like Stackoverflow?

              “Hmm. I need to determine whether a line generated by these two points will intersect an arc. I could determine this from first principles but instead will….google that and have 90% of my answer inside of 10 minutes, leaving just the other 10% to work out myself”.

              Which means that implementing that took about 1/10th the time.

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              • Obviously “use Google” is always the right answer. Even when I know the right answer, I’ll often still Google the topic to see if anything new has been recently published. Who knows. Last year’s textbook solution might be old hat by now.

                In fact, every time I do some “internal training” thing here at work, I end up learning about some new math or new algorithm, and I’ll end up reading a dozen new papers and maybe a book. This is normal.

                If, however, I ask you a question on an interview, you damn well better think up and interesting solution. It need not be perfect. In fact, I’m not really trying to find out if you’re “memorize the textbook” person. Instead, I want to see if you can do abstract reasoning. Can you “solve a problem in your head” (or on a whiteboard)?

                For example, my “go to” interview question involves implementing a breadth first search for a problem that is not obviously a graph problem. Here’s the thing, I don’t care if you utter the phrase “breadth first search.” That isn’t critical. It’s nice. it earns you something. Obviously if you know BFS down cold, and if you can “see” the solution right away, you’ll nail the problem fast. Yay. But I’ve had candidates who clearly reinvented BFS from first principles during the course of the interview. That’s fine. They sometimes score a “yes hire” recommendation, if their solution is interesting and if it works.

                Can you think? Can you solve problems using your brain?

                We all know how to use Google.

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              • Yep. And if Google is unavailable, somewhere in the bookcase in the corner of my office is a copy of Numerical Recipes in C. As a systems guy, they should be hiring me because of my ability to see the pattern in the chaos or figure out how the pieces can fit together. And that I know where to go find the details, not whether I’m carrying the details around in my head.

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                • Seriously, if you write any kind of numerical code, and you don’t have some variant of “Numerical Recipes in X” on hand, I don’t know how you can call yourself a scientific developer.

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  3. Another thing I have noticed is that one hot scene can make it hard for others to recruit.

    Tech is the reigning king in San Francisco. Almost all young people who come to SF want to work in tech in someway. This can make it hard to find a paralegal at a reasonable rate. It is hard to compete with VC cash.

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    • Speaking as a paralegal, I would move to San Francisco in a second. Well, not really, since I have a wife and kids and am geographically very settled. But hypothetically. The issue is what constitutes a reasonable rate? I’m quite sure that it is different for San Francisco than for central Maryland. Also relevant is that the one thing that would tempt me away from my current employer, who is a mensch, would be a job with a negligible commute. Even hypothetical footloose and fancy free me would not be tempted by higher living expenses and a hellish commute, absent substantial inducement.

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  4. Another interesting thing is that advice from older generations can largely be useless. When I was in unemployed or underemployed land, I got a lot of advice from my parents on how I should just go knocking on doors with my resume in hand.

    That always struck me as something that would not work. My girlfriend with her more modern MBA sensibilities agreed. Though she was surprised that law firms still used Craigslist.

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    • When I asked a lawyer in my field in California on how to get a job, she explicitly stated that knocking on doors with my resume in hand will not be taken politely. The one time I tried that when visiting you a few years ago only got one response of thanks, handwritten from the owner of a big firm, but he also said he didn’t need anybody. Your supposed to show gumption and initiative but some types of gumption and initiative are not favored.

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  5. The recruiting angle is a very interesting one but if Japan is the example, employers can wait years or even a decade or more before changing their ways.

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  6. has some good observations, but one thing I have noticed (second hand, as my wife has done hiring for major bay area universities in the past) is that online recruitment really exploded during the recession. Where once she would get 10-20 resumes for something like a mid level development job (fundraising) and those CV’s were usually in the right ballpark experience wise, after 2008 she would get 500, ranging from way over qualified, to someone who did a bake sale for the church once. So, you up the requirements, just to cut down the noise. And in public positions, even if you have a internal candidate, you still need to go through this, with the same results regarding number of applicants and time to process.

    So, now most job searches go at least state wide, if not national, as there might be something worth moving for. And why not, it just takes a click…

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    • I don’t think anyone would doubt that the number of job applications goes up in a recession as people are laid off and looking for work. The issue Will is talking about is how often businesses can be resistant to raising wages when there is a labor shortage, not a surplus. As Lee pointed out, Japanese companies took years if not decades to adjust to a Labor shortage.

      American companies seem to have a hard time realizing that they are not in the recession landscape anymore either.

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      • I know what you are saying, but the point still stands. If an organization gets 25 times the applicants for any job, why would they raise starting salary offers? They are getting responses (at least nominally) at the offered wage. And if they can hold out, not fill the job but still get at least nominally qualified candidates, what signal would be correct? Add background internal noise (should we keep the position? Should we merge it with this other job, etc.) well, why should they deal with it by raising wages offered?

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        • Well, if a company can afford to wait, then that is their choice, but then I don’t want to hear them whining about how they just can’t find the right person for the job.

          If you are not getting resumes that fit, then your job posting is crap. Re-write it, or hire a new recruiter, because your current one sucks at their job. I’m willing to buy-in to the idea that a combination of crappy recruiters and badly written postings are a big part of the problem.

          If you are getting good candidates, but no one is accepting your offers, then you need to come up with a better offer.

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          • Well, one of the problems with that is simply who determines what is needed, vs. who pays the bills. For example, all of the members of a dept. might feel they need a new [whatever] when person X leaves, but upper management might know that a huge budget cut is coming down, and that might, might, be an area that is on the block. Internal politics playing its part. So, the recruitment stands, but no pressure to fill it. It really doesn’t cost much in the long run to keep up the search. Also, open jobs get pulled due to budget shortfalls, hiring freezes, what have you. Again, if the job has a mandatory public posting requirement, but they have an internal candidate, then all bets are off.

            All of which is a long way to say, if this issue is only looked at from an applicants perspective, you will never solve the problem. One final thought, maybe the whole internet job search has modified the parameters so much that any current thoughts on this issue are so mired in the past that they aren’t even barking in the forest, let alone the right tree.

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            • Absolutely! Agree all around. But if that is the case, said company probably shouldn’t be out there whining that they can’t find good candidates.

              One final thought, maybe the whole internet job search has modified the parameters so much that any current thoughts on this issue are so mired in the past that they aren’t even barking in the forest, let alone the right tree.

              Truth here. I wonder how often a company posts a job nationwide in order to get the most candidates, but really just wants to hire someone local. If you aren’t willing to drop $20K for a relo package, you really shouldn’t be searching more than 100 miles from your site. I’m not sure recruiters are really clear about that with their customers.

              ETA: Thinking about how the internet affects this – it may be that recruitment has to get away from checking things off the list so much. Finding an employee is not like buying a car, you don’t get to shop for the right features until you find the one you want.

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              • About the nationwide job search, that might not be the companies fault. If a job gets picked up by a job search engine, such as Career Builder, and then it gets picked up by half a million little job boards that are specialized…

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                • Seems that would fall under the whole “not thinking about how the internet changes the game”. Gotta be very clear in the posting that you want someone local/you are not offering relocation

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                  • Well, how quick does the Lazy B turn? On a dime, or make a super tanker look agile?

                    It’s the old “fighting the last war” problem. Best practices are best practices, until they don’t work. talks about a third interview, where they flipped the script on him. Well, business needs might have changed during the process of his interview and they reacted accordingly.

                    Again, what was true a year ago might no longer be. Keeping expectations in the same place is a fools errand.

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                    • I don’t work for the Lazy B anymore, but super tankers are nimble frigates in comparison (not that the Big German S is any better in this).

                      However, really big international companies aren’t actually the ones having trouble finding people. They have really good filtering algorithms, and can offer relocation without a thought. It’s the small to mid+ sized companies that struggle.

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                      • A friend of mine used to work for the German S, he said that it took almost a year for his resume to reach the person who interviewed him. He had totally forgotten about it, but the manager was super jazzed to get it.

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            • This is why I’m kind of comparing it to internet dating. Or at least I think it’s potentially similar.The increased efficiency provides the illusion of a lot of options. The illusion of a lot of candidates willing to meet the criteria. But if they’re not filling the jobs, they’re not getting the applicants. It’s possible that you have 100 different companies looking at the same pool of 25 potential applicants and each thinking that they have a buyer’s market and 25 people to choose from and if they wait longer they might be able to do even better!

              It really seems to me that’s how internet dating works, a lot of the time. The illusion of options leads to increased standards leads to matches not occurring.

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              • One thought that occurred to me while reading your post is the role signalling plays in all this. For example, it seems to me that internet dating, being a “virtual” model of an otherwise intensely personal and real one, both caters to but also fosters the role signaling plays in our decision-making, reducing an intensely personal process or experience to a checklist of values expressed as signals sent and received. IOW, both processes mistakenly confuse – and increasingly confuse – signal with substance.

                Something like that, anyway.

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              • It’s also possible that the Internet is allowing applicants to mostly filter to better employers, leaving the crappy ones more chronically understaffed and likely to go to the newspapers to whine. In the bad old days, you might have ended up at a low paying oddball employer because you didn’t know about a better opportunity.

                My guess is that generally crappy employers are now stuck with a pool of generally crappy candidates, and that’s probably a good thing overall.

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          • I’ve seen a lot of bad postings from all sides. Including one where I got to the third round of interviews and then they told me that what they were really looking for was a serious Java expert instead of someone with a strong applied math background. That was… annoying.

            Of course, sometimes it’s just the case that the skills you want are really rare, in which case even a good posting and a good offer may only get you so far.

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                • My group needs people well versed in CFD and application development. OJT for CFD is a serious lift, so we look for people with the educational background in that, and resign ourselves to doing OJT for the development side, but we still look for people with some OOP background/experience. I can break someone in on the specifics of Java and C++, but starting cold with regard to OOP is tough.

                  On the plus side, we offer starting salaries close to 6 figures and relo.

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                  • Yeah, somewhat similar for us. If they have the sort of background we need in terms of quantitative and programming skills, we can usually teach what we need about the domain knowledge. It doesn’t work so well the other way around (but people who are domain experts are really valuable in other roles, of course).

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                    • Yeah, the domain knowledge for us is just crazy deep. If a candidate had a really strong background in numerical analysis, we could probably OJT the fluids specific stuff, but that is still a lot of training.

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                        • If you are serious, I can point you toward some good texts to start with.

                          And I don’t know about other places, but as long as you are respectful of others and can do the work, no one really cares if your hair is neon.

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                          • — I always take book recommendations, and fluid dynamics is one of those deep magic things that fascinates me. (Be warned, I know almost nothing about it. I vaguely recall something called a “Reynolds number.” Past that it’s a mystery.

                            That said, I’m pretty happy at the goog.

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                            • When I get back to the office, I’ll find you some places to start. Right now I am sitting in a base DEERS office getting a new retired ID, because apparently the Navy decided to make me get a new ID, except they never told me I would need a new one. So a quick trip for cheap Disneyland tickets is now a longer trip for IDs and tickets.

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                                • The why of it was smart, my old ID had my SSN on it, the new one does not. It just would have been nice to get a letter from the DOD about it, rather than having the gate guard tell me my ID was coming back invalid when I needed to get on base for something else.

                                  Luckily the guard was super chill about it and let me through on the promise I’d head straight to the ID office and get it updated.

                                  On the plus side, after 20+ years, I FINALLY have a new photo on my ID to replace the skinny kid with a porn ‘stache to the larger, bald, clean shaven guy. I actually tried to “lose” my ID some years back so I could get a new photo, and they just pulled the old photo from the file and used it to make me a new ID.

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                              • So, texts. For the basic physics, you need Fluid Mechanics and Thermodynamics. Luckily they are two very closely related topics and what you learn in Fluids leads right into Thermo.

                                Fluid Mechanics

                                Thermo

                                If you really just want the nuts and bolts, there are Dummies books on both topics, as well as the venerable Schaum’s Outlines.

                                When it comes to the specifics of the numerical approaches, Anderson, Tannehill, & Pletcher is one of the best, and most approachable.

                                There is another text I used for my Master’s Thesis, but I’ll have to find my bibliography at home to get the title.

                                There is also CFD-online.com as well as an open source solver called OpenFoam, which is pretty good, but has a very steep learning curve.

                                I have some of these as PDFs, which I won’t post here. If you’d like to have look at them, PM me (madrocketsci at the gmail).

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                          • I’ve found going online to talk about the cool things about your job is actually a pretty good way attract positive interest and possible future leads for hiring. So is going to general “tech” conferences and talking about the neat ways you’re able to apply the tech to an interesting problem domain.

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        • I think you are talking about different phenomena. If the organization is getting 25 applicants for any job, and these are actual qualified applicants and one of them will accept the job at the pay rate being offered, then the organization doesn’t have a problem. They aren’t being discussed here. It is the organization that can’t find qualified applicants at the salary offered that is the matter at hand. The discussion is whether the problem is the salary offer is too low, or that applicants are being filtered out for reasons unrelated to their ability to do the job, or that qualified potential candidates simply aren’t out there.

          My reaction to this discussion is that the answer undoubtedly is all three, depending on the specifics. If the employer is a machine shop using specialized equipment that vo tech programs don’t teach, then it is quite likely that there are in fact no qualified candidates, if by “qualified” we mean can step in and be fully productive from day one. More often I think it is a combination of the other two. Will’s example of a job listing with a reasonable salary offer but facing a regional shortage is really just a case of not offering enough. Pay for the relocation and the problem goes away, assuming you aren’t living in some hellhole no sane person would move to.

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          • If the employer is a machine shop using specialized equipment that vo tech programs don’t teach, then it is quite likely that there are in fact no qualified candidates, if by “qualified” we mean can step in and be fully productive from day one.

            This is something I would bet a lot of employers just don’t think about. If it takes you 6 months to find a “qualified” candidate, but it would only take you, say, a month to train an experienced machinist to use that machine, then you need to rewrite your posting, because you are focused on the wrong thing.

            This does dovetail with what the OP talks about, and something I’ve talked about in the past, that employers seem very unwilling to accept that a new employee is going to need spin-up time, and you should focus more on a breadth or depth of experience that will allow for rapid spin-up, rather than targeting highly specific skills that may not be common in the wild (or are, perhaps, highly sought after and thus well compensated).

            Going back to “recruiters are the problem”, if I take recruiter marketing at their word, they are claiming that they can find you the exact candidate that you want or need in short order. That’s a bold claim, and they might be able to deliver on it, after a fashion, If they find you the exact right guy, but they are on the opposite coast, gainfully employed, and well settled, you might not be able to offer enough money to uproot them, but the recruiter has delivered on their promise.

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            • I don’t know if recruiters are the problem per se but my experience with recruiters again is that they are very good at helping the top of the top (at least in terms of credentials) but not anyone else. One recruiter couldn’t quite grasp that as a freelancer I might be working for more than one company at a time. Then again during the lean years, there were seemingly a lot of law school grads who went straight from undergrad to law school to recruiting somehow.

              I think there has been a strong seachange from when OJT was a thing and many companies don’t want to go back and/or don’t have the time our resources to do so.

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              • Most of the recruiters I’ve dealt with were more interested in throwing resumes at the client that finding well qualified candidates. I once was sent on an interview for a controller level job (note, I have some accounting education but am not an accountant nor a cpa). Turned out that their “controller” job was really a senior manager with specific gov’t contract type experience, so I basically failed on the controller level job and the gov’t contract type level experience. AND they were paying 5k more than what I was currently making. WTF. Yes, that rate is competitive the recruiter said. Err no, doubtful for that job as explained in the interview, not in the on line ad.

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              • companies don’t want to go back

                This. Not having the resources is an excuse, not a reason. If you are OK with doing OJT, you have the resources, you just need to free them up a bit.

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          • More often I think it is a combination of the other two. Will’s example of a job listing with a reasonable salary offer but facing a regional shortage is really just a case of not offering enough

            Meh. This is something we often say, but it has its limits. And I’m not sure how true it is. I mean, you could fill just about any job if you were willing to pay $1 million a year, but it doesn’t follow from that your inability to fill the job is a product of your being stingy.

            There are definitely cases where they are short-changing by not offering market-reasonable wages. But it’s questionable to dismiss all of it as that. Especially given that we’re often keeping people out of the country that are ready, willing, and able if we just let them into the country. They can as easily blame it on immigration restrictions as we can on thriftiness.

            In any event, at the least it’s still rather inefficient due to geographical labor resource allocation. We’re just quibbling over who should pick up the tab. (My opinion on which depends on what they’re offering compared to what industry wages are.)

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            • But the immigration rules are what they are, with the labor market they imply. Pointing out the benefits one would accrue were they different is an argument for political advocacy, but in the meantime who have to operate within the labor market you have, not the labor market you wished you had, or the labor market you might have at some point in the future if your industry lobbyists come through.

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            • I mean, you could fill just about any job if you were willing to pay $1 million a year, but it doesn’t follow from that your inability to fill the job is a product of your being stingy.

              If I have a shop in the middle of the Sahara Desert 300 miles from the nearest town, I’m going to have to pay a premium to get programmers to move out there. Maybe not $1M, but a lot. If nobody is moving out there, I’m not sure where I draw the line between my being too stingy and everybody else being wrong about how great my offer is.

              I don’t know if “stingy” is the right word, but “not enough” seems to be true pretty much by definition.

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        • Yeah, my firm switched to a staffing agency around the time of the Great Recession for clerical jobs because the number of resumes was overwhelming for a small business. But these were long term developments, involving the increased cost of newspaper classifieds, fewer eyes on the local newspaper, and wordprocessing making it convenient/cheaper for mass mailing. It wasn’t that we couldn’t find qualified workers, it was just that the process became too time consuming and we outsourced. Clerical jobs generally don’t have credentials to help out.

          The first job hire was a woman who was working for a similar business and had been noticing that the flow of work had slackened, and she was worried that the principles were going to retire any time. She wasn’t inclined to mass distribute her resume for fear that it would get back. She was the only person we interviewed and she said we were the only ones that she interviewed with. And so it continued as a closed system.

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    • Yep, after the 2008 bloodletting, I was the POC for a temp job who was to help me. My boss actually worked with the recruiters to post the job. I got former Directors of Finance with 30 years experience willing to take a 15 dollar an hour job.

      Over my years, I’ve seen very vague and very specific job descriptions. One company I know always has two sections of job related data: the specific job stuff, and the general pay grade job stuff, so you need to understand which is which. Other companies have job descriptions that in now way are in any way similar to what you’re actually going to do. I told my manager when we started hiring that the job description was crap and rewrote it to provide some specifics.

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  7. Love the analogy to online dating! I hear this often in my company…hunting this unicorn that’s got both industry knowledge as well as our particular skillset. Passing on candidates who would probably do just fine, but may not have deep knowledge in some product category.

    When they could just hire someone who’s smart, with drive and enthusiasm and train them. Although I think that’s the rub, too – sure, we could get someone on board and train them, rather than take a year to find the perfect candidate, but “no one has time to train them”. I use quotes because, of course, of all things worth making time for…

    One small quibble: “guys looking for girlfriends, girls looking for boyfriends”. While I’m sure there are some girls looking for boyfriends online, I’m pretty sure it’s mostly women that you were referring to, since you used “guys”. Or “gals” if you want to match guys, or turn guys into boys, if you’re going for folksy.

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  8. Today, I was thinking about intelligence and labor and things that have changed.

    Once upon a time, it was possible to be below average intelligence and get a good job. Work at a manual labor job in a factory, work the assembly line.

    Not to imply that IQ is real or anything or that the Flynn Effect isn’t real or anything but the average IQ is 100 (by definition). There’s a bell curve with that that seems to demonstrate that there are about as many people with IQs of 85 as 115 and of 70 as 130.

    I am fortunate enough to work a job where everybody is a bare two standard deviations to the right on the low end and I’ve got a handful of people around me who are at least three standard deviations to the right. Maybe even one or two fours.

    Any one of these people could quit today and find a job tomorrow. Easy peasy.

    But what about the people who are a standard deviation to the left? God help us, two standard deviations to the left?

    I don’t know that I even *KNOW* anyone who is a standard deviation to the left. I mean, know by name, know they know my name, and we trade pleasantries as we walk past each other in whatever context.

    Our culture used to be able to create jobs galore for the people on the left side of the bell curve and not doing half of a decent job of automating or simplifying the jobs found on the right side of the bell curve and making such jobs accessible to the people on the left side.

    And I was thinking that this was going to be a bigger and bigger problem in the future and there’s no way to deal with it and we’re going to see more and more of a glut of jobs and nowhere near enough people to fill them because they’re jobs for people who are two standard deviations to the right (if not further than that) and, at best, only 1 out of 6 people are two standard deviations to the right (if not further than that) and they all cluster together.

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    • The good jobs for the uneducated only really became good thanks to many decades of work by union activists throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries plus the unprecedented destruction caused by the World Wars and the growth of liberal-left politics. Before that most of the jobs for the uneducated were long, grueling, and not well paid.

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      • I’m not trying to argue that “uneducated” and “left side of the bell curve” mean anywhere near the same thing. There’s a vague overlap, maybe, when it comes to stuff like “interest” (though there might be some tautological stuff going on there) but I’m mostly talking about “below average intelligence” and not “doesn’t have a degree in something”.

        As for liberalism… sure. Okay. But I’m not sure that “better unions” will fix the issue of employers not being able to find workers.

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      • Thinking about this part: “Before that most of the jobs for the uneducated were long, grueling, and not well paid.”

        I suppose that, through human history, *MOST* jobs for *MOST* people were crappy jobs. Back in the days of the Great Gatsby, for example, there were all kinds of servants in the house. Doing crap jobs for crap wages. Laundry. Dishes. Beating rugs. All of these crap jobs vaporized by automation (my dishwasher is running right now as we speak and it took me 2-3 minutes of labor to wash thoroughly about 40ish dishes (including cat dishes!) instead of a few hours of labor).

        And I’m not thinking about all of the jobs that have been lost due to stuff like me doing my own dishes, my own laundry, my own vacuuming.

        But we managed to replace those jobs that “anybody could do” with automation. And we’re automating more and more jobs that “anybody could do”. We’re creating jobs that require specialized people at an amazing rate… we just aren’t creating a whole lot of jobs that anybody could do.

        And that’s bad for the people who really only can reasonably be expected to perform at a level that anybody could perform at.

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