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Tough bounce (first appeared in InfoWorld)

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Awhile back I wrote a column differentiating responsibility, accountability, and blame. In case you missed it:

Someone takes responsibility for a result — it’s up to them to make sure it happens. You hold someone else accountable — it’s what you do after delegation, to make sure whoever you delegated it to lives up to it. You blame someone after the fact, as a pointless alternative to fixing the problem. People who spread blame rarely accept responsibility for anything. It’s always someone else’s fault.

Which is a problem with the current debates about the IT labor shortage. Too many out-of-work IT professionals would rather blame age discrimination and employers who prefer H1Bs than take responsibility for being more effective applicants. Hiring managers would rather blame a lack of qualified applicants and unduly strict H1B limits for their staffing woes than take responsibility for failing to train the employees they have. And nobody is holding corporate recruiters accountable for methods that are demonstrably ineffective.

The root cause of this fiasco is not in doubt: It’s the recruiting industry’s insistence on precise skills matching — and worse, on automated skills matching — as the preferred way to screen resumes. Heck, if staffing is simply skills inventory management, let’s give the Purchasing Department responsibility for recruiting. After all, Purchasing is good at replenishing depleted inventories for a fair price.

Okay, we all agree, right? It’s Recruiting’s fault. So you’re an over-40 Cobol programmer who’s out of work. Do you think you’re off the hook?

Of course not.

I get a lot of mail from angry out-of-work IT professionals. Their old employers didn’t give them a chance to update their skills; they have good skills but can’t get past HR’s screening; they get an interview but can’t get hired because twenty-something hiring managers can’t cope with their advanced age.

I sympathize. I really do. Which is why I offer these words of empathy and encouragement:

Tough bounce. Get over it.

If you can’t get hired in today’s job market, there’s only one possible conclusion to draw: You’re doing something wrong in your pursuit of employment.

For example, are you reading recruitment ads and sending your resume to HR in response? Don’t be a schmuck. Maybe one job in ten is filled this way. Don’t even waste your time.

What should you do instead? Here’s one strategy you might try: Sell yourself as an independent contractor. Independent contractors don’t deal with HR. They sell to those who are buying – managers who need more people than they have.

So look at the recruitment ads and call whatever managerial title seems most likely to be the hiring manager. Don’t request an interview for the job. Consider not acknowledging that you know there’s an open position. Just offer your services for a fee.

Huh? You don’t want to be an independent contractor? That’s fine. Offer a “try before you buy” deal — you’ll serve as an independent contractor for six months, so both of you can decide if it makes sense to bring you on as an employee.

Independent contractors don’t interview — they sell a product.

What exactly do you think a job search is, anyway?

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