A Recruiting Riddle

Here is a riddle from a professional recruiter I know. Today, the most in-demand profession is that of a social media specialist. That’s a person who blogs, tweets, Facebooks, etc. and can use their knowledge of social media to promote the company that hires them.

How does a recruiter know, however, if they are interviewing a real media fanatic or somebody who simply wants to ride the wave of this profession’s popularity to get a well-paying position?

The very first selection mechanism is the following: the recruiter asks the candidate to fill out some paperwork and leaves the room. After the recruiter comes back, she knows immediately if her candidate is the real deal without asking them a single question.

Question: how does the recruiter determine if the candidate is a true social media enthusiast before even talking to them?

Supplementary question: is this the coolest job in the world, or what?

Does Beauty Help You Get Hired?

I think I need to start a new series titled “The Stupid Study of the Week.” There are so many pseudo-scientists engaged in fake research whose only goal is to get into the media that I will never run out of blogging topics. Consider the following study, for example:

A team at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg in northern Germany questioned more than 3,000 people about their career, and compared this with rankings of how attractive they were. The results suggest that being one point more attractive was worth a three percent wage hike, while being five points more attractive boosted a career by the same amount as having a university degree.

Professor Christian Pfeifer said his study, published this week in the Applied Economics Letters journal, also showed that the importance of looks in the workplace was even more important for men than it was for women. . . “Five points more – that is about the difference between an ordinary face and downright beauty – helps in getting a job as much as a university degree,” he said.

Let’s leave aside the question of who composed the rankings of attractiveness and why we are supposed to take that person’s idea of beauty as a universal yard-stick. Who’s to say that the creator of this ranking system doesn’t have a really horrible taste?

Never mind that, however. Let’s look at the last statement of the passage I quoted. Is this weird researcher at all familiar with how the hiring process is organized nowadays? Does he think that people just show up at the place where they hope to be employed to demonstrate their beauty? Did anybody find their job, a job that required a university degree, in this strange manner?

When I was on the job market, I never got a chance to impress anybody with my “downright beauty” before proving I had the necessary college degrees. Nobody would have discovered how I looked at all if I hadn’t had the required diplomas. My CV would have ended up in the trash can in a matter of seconds. I cannot imagine a situation where a search committee would have looked at my CV and said, “Well, she never went to college at all but let’s meet her anyways. Maybe she’s pretty. Then, we might still consider hiring her for a professorial position.” I also don’t recall any discussion of the candidates’ beauty or lack thereof at the (often very heated) meetings of the search committees where I participated.

I actually got my very first academic position as a Visiting Professor at an Ivy League university without ever meeting anybody from that school face to face. They hired me sight unseen on the basis of my CV and portfolio. Probably if they had gotten an opportunity to see me before hiring me, I’d be the university’s president instead of just a junior faculty member.

My sister is a professional recruiter, so we discuss the job market and successful recruitment strategies all the time. From what she tells me, a recruiter first reads a cover letter, then a CV, and then decides whether it makes sense to meet the candidate in person. She tells me that a college degree is crucial in the job mandates she handles. The question of a candidate’s beauty came up a single time in her career. That was when she was looking for a receptionist for a plastic surgeon’s practice.

I do believe, however, that Professor Christian Pfeifer had to be hired for his beauty. Based on the kind of study that occupies his time, I find it hard to believe he was hired because of his intellect.

American Dream in Action

Today, I want to share with you the story of N., the man I love.

When N. was an undergrad in Russia, he learned from his prof about the fascinating field of quantitative finance that immediately attracted him. However, doing graduate studies in this field in Russia makes no sense. If you know anything about how the Russian economy works, you will realize why that is.

N. realized that what he needed to do was to apply to grad schools in the United States, the place where the world’s best quants were trained.

His English was pretty much non-existent at that time, though. Foreign language learning is in bizarrely bad shape in the FSU countries, which is why N. went to the UK to learn English. He is from a very modest family, so to finance his stay in the UK he had to work as:

– a seasonal worker in the fields;

– a busboy;

– cleaning offices at night;

– other low-paid menial jobs.

In the meanwhile, he worked hard on his English and eventually got it to a level that gained him acceptance to a very good PhD program in financial statistics in the US.

After N. successfully defended his doctoral dissertation, he found a great job as a quant in the financial sector. Everything was great for a few months, and then the global financial crisis hit. We all remember how fast companies in finance were closing down in those years. N.’s company was hit very heavily by the crisis, and since he was the last one to be hired, he was also the first one to be made redundant.

You have to remember, too, that N. is not a citizen of the US. In order to be employed, he needs a potential employer to demonstrate to the Department of Homeland Security that no employee with similar qualifications could be found among the US citizens and to sponsor him for a work visa. Many companies simply don’t have the right to hire foreign employees. Other companies don’t want the expense and the hassle, especially during a recession.

Of course, N. could have still found a job in a geographic area where companies that employ quants abound. At this point, however, another factor came into play. I got a tenure-track job in the St. Louis Metro area, and N. wanted to be with me.

As we all know, St. Louis is not a capital of finance. So N. set out to make himself attractive to this area’s employers. It took him two years of being unemployed, sending out resumes, and getting rejected.

In these two years, N. did the following things:

– published his research in a peer-reviewed journal in his field;

– received several certifications in SAS and C++;

– dramatically improved his programming skills;

– wrote a book for people in his field and self-published it. The book is selling and getting very positive reviews in a variety of countries;

– created a huge LinkedIn database of all potential employees in the area;

– created several projects that demonstrate how his quantitative skills can be applied to areas other than finance and placed them online;

– developed his own website, engaged in research projects, and placed them there;

– went over all of the courses he took in grad school to refresh his knowledge and put them on tape for future reference;

– recorded a video advertising his programming skills.

While he was unemployed, he worked more hours per week than I did at my full-time job. He had dozens of interviews and received hundreds of rejections. Whenever a potential employer got interested, N.’s lack of a work visa would come up and that interest would evaporate.

And then, one of the projects that N. had created and placed online attracted the attention of a company in St. Louis. They invited him to give a talk and were so impressed that they immediately offered him a contract with stunningly good terms of employment, a very high salary, and a great package of benefits. They also sponsored him for a work visa.

N. is starting his new job on Monday.

Today, he got news that his visa had been approved and he can start working. And you know what he is doing right now, at 9:30 pm on a Friday night? He is in the study, preparing himself for work. He asked his new employers for a list of readings he could do and is now going over them.

When I told N. I consider his story to be very inspirational and will post it on the blog, his response was, “But what’s so special about it? I just did what I had to do.”

Why I Hate Ethics Training

Not only does it offer ridiculous stories about “John, a graduate student, and Fatima, his best friend who is also the Dean.”

Not only does it suggest that everybody needs to spy on their co-workers and report them whenever they leave 30 minutes early or check their Facebook page on their office computer.

Not only does it tell me that if somebody related to the University bequeaths their sailboat to me, it’s ethical to accept but if somebody offers me a free meal costing $80 at a fair it isn’t.

Not only does it humiliate me by informing me at length that accepting bribes from students is not a good idea.

Not only does it rob me of 40 minutes out of a very busy day.

It also dares to condescend to me by telling me “Now is a good time to take a break and stretch out.” Can I at least be left in peace to stretch out or not whenever I feel like, not whenever some bored bureaucrat tells me to?


A New Disturbing Trend in Job Recruitment

My sister, known on this blog as “The Sister”, owns a job recruitment agency in Montreal. She tells me that there has appeared a new and very disturbing trend in the job recruitment process. On several occasions, she found a candidate who was a perfect fit for the job and who was really liked by the prospective employers. However, the employers added a new step to the job interview process: a personality test.

These personality tests consist of prefabricated sets of multiple-choice or yes or no questions that are extremely silly and pointless. Let me share a couple of examples with you.

“Do you agree with the statement ‘It’s a jungle out there, and everybody is out for themselves’?”

What is this, people? Who asks this idiotic kind of question of professional adults? What is the “right answer” supposed to be?

The following question was part of the “personality test” administered to a person applying for a managing position:

How would you describe your leadership style?

  1. Leading by example
  2. Leading by authority

Any leader worth his or her salt would be hard pressed to answer this question. Good leadership means you know how to adapt to a variety of situations instead of choosing one vaguely defined method and imposing it on every situation.

I have no idea why employers don’t trust their instincts as to whom to hire or don’t rely on the advice of professional recruiters. Instead, they rely on these meaningless questionnaires that, of course, will weed out all the good, self-respecting candidates with an ounce of independence and original thinking.

Servant Mentality

Crowds of people in my blogroll are peeing themselves with delight over the following list of instructions an unnamed important person sent to his or her future collaborator:

This isn’t all. The list continues, and you can see it in its entirety here.

I have known poverty and the hopelessness it brings. However, I can absolutely promise you that I would never ever consider working with an individual who’d disrespect me to the point of handing me such a list. There is no amount of money – not a million, not a billion, not a trillion dollars – that I would accept for spending even a day in the same room with this neurotic.

People who are gushing over how much they admire the “no-bullshit author” of the list should get out a dictionary and find the definition of the words “dignity” and “self-respect.”

Changes in the Ways of Making a Living

If people whose main form of entertainment is to whine about how everything is getting worse were simply to add “for men” to their statements, I’d have no problem with them. They never remember to do that, though. I see examples of this bemoaning of some vaguely defined prelapsarian moment when sugar was sweeter and salt was saltier on a regular basis. Here is one such article that attempts to tell us how horribly difficult it has become to make a living in Canada as opposed to an unnamed “before” when everything was so much better. I took the statements the article makes and applied them to the lives of women before the feminist revolution of the 70ies.

The old world was marked by full-time jobs, stable work environments and long-term employment.

For women, it was marked by either full-time housewifery or endless sexual harassment at work and inescapable discrimination in the job market. What a jolly place that old world was.

The new world, however, is characterized by short-term jobs. You may be on contract; you may be a temporary employee; you may work part-time. But the key is that you will probably be hired for a very short period (“just-in time work” is the moniker) and then “let go when the work is done.”

How is this new? Women were employed on precisely this basis pretty much forever. If anything, the situation has gotten better in the sense that now you are less likely to be stuck in the cycle of short-term employment based on gender.

You will have no pension, no benefits, no vacations, no sick days.

This was always the reality of women whose only way of making a living was to get married.

How do you find a job? The labour market is like a fish market: You are selling a commodity — in this case yourself.

In order to snag husbands who would feed them, women had to spend their formative years trying to sell themselves. They did it in ways far more demeaning than what today’s job applicant in Canada has to experience during the interview process.

And just as a fishmonger might wrap his mackerel in a fancy package, so you must make your labour power attractive to prospective buyers.

Women had to make themselves look as pretty, dumb, chirpy, and passive as possible in order to find a good, paying customer.

Constant retraining (what politicians call education) is a necessity in this new world. But it never allows you to escape; it just lets you keep up.

In order to retain the paying customer’s interest and avoid being swapped for a younger, fresher model, women read tons of crappy manuals that taught them to wrap themselves in transparent plastic, have the dinner always ready, and be constantly smiling.

People like this journalist can go on whining and moaning about the loss of paradise. For women, however, no moment in the past was greater than today. And tomorrow will be only better.