Labor Participation: What’s the Job?

This post is continuing my earlier contemplation of what may be behind lower labor force participation rates, using my perspective on the outside of the participation fence.   But as with recent notes, I’m drawing on personal anecdotes rather than pretending to have some broader insight.

Today’s topic is the apparent disconnect between getting through the job-search process and the actual work expected once the hiring is completed.

I was reading recently about how modern jobs require college degrees unnecessarily because companies face discrimination lawsuits if they attempted to apply their own testing to applicants.   The college degree from an accredited college is some proof of passing some minimal competency that the company would have tested for directly if it could get away with it.

So, job openings come out saying something like minimum bachelor’s degree required.  Often what it is really asking for is what it would get from some testing that they can not practically administer themselves.

What does a college degree requirement really mean?   My first reaction is that the job duties actually require something gained from the education behind the degree.   In my specific case, I look for jobs requiring a technical degree because I expect that there is something like technical problem solving involved in the job.

The job description may go into more detail about skills required.  Most of those details are non-college skills that would be learned without any elaborate training, but there is an element of college-level challenge to the job description.

To get noticed, I am encouraged to modify my resume and customize a cover letter to explain why I’m ideal for the specific job they describe.   Whether I could offer other value added services is irrelevant.   I need to compete as the perfect fit for the job description.

The job interview, if it happens, proceeds to discuss these exact topics of my answering the job description.

If I am hired, the first week or so is wasted on orientation and finally the real work begins.    It turns out that the job description and interview were for skills that are not typically needed and in fact may never be needed.   It is as if they want those skills in case a need for them comes up.   But because those skills were demonstrated, they have high confidence I can do the work they really need done.

It reminds of me of a college math professor who told the incoming class studying calculus that at the end of the course everyone will be certainly highly proficient at doing algebra.    The same kind of logic seems to apply to jobs.  If a job requires algebra, then make sure the candidate passed calculus.  But if the job requires calculus, then the candidate should pass some applied-calculus course like partial differential equations.

The necessary qualification for a job is one step beyond what the job actually requires.    I am not really complaining about this.  Having been a manager, I’ve learned that someone who only minimally meets the job requirement probably is not very proficient at the requirement.   Now, it my turn to try to impress some other manager.

The real annoyance comes when the actual job duties are far outside the linear progression of skills.   For example, requiring someone to know calculus for a job where most of the time will be spent driving around town doing sales calls.   Perhaps the sales visits may require impressing the client with mathematical jargon, but the bulk of the job is about inter-personal skills and a tolerance for driving.

My objection comes in when significant aspects of the job only becomes known after the job is started.   I use driving as an analogy for a common skill that is easily taken for granted but it can be any number of other tasks.   There was no need to bring it up in the job description or interview because it was assumed this would not be a problem.    But the majority of the work experience is doing this particular kind of task.

The job description and interview process should cover aspects of the actual job in some proportionality of the actual work that will be performed.   For example, some jobs require sitting in a specific chair for 40 hours a week.   Even though an employer can assume that anyone is capable of doing this, this should be at the top of the list in requirements for the job announcement and the first issue to discuss during the interview.

The job placement process should have some correspondence to the actual work that will be expected.

Many modern jobs presented as a straight-forward 40 hour per week jobs will actually turn to expect that the employee can be reached at all hours by cell phone or at least respond to internal-company emails within 30 minutes or so.   The actual job is an expectation of 24×7 on-call duties but this is not brought up at all during the job placement process.   We no longer need to bring it up because we assume everyone understand this and everyone is as accustomed being continuously connected as they are being able to tie their shoes.

I consider the long term unemployed or those recently unemployed with old fashioned jobs.   They may not be so accustomed to being accessible outside of official hours.   On finding out that a job really is not isolated to a set 40 hour work schedule as advertised, they may object to the deal.

I’m not quite in that group, but I sure would appreciate some more honesty that this is expected.   Instead the entire hiring process including the initial week orientation period emphasizes that this is not what is expected.  On the second week, we find out what the real culture is.

If such requirements were made explicit up front then I may consider not responding to at all.   Things that may be taken for granted as common culture may be things I’m trying to avoid.

The real harm is the certainty that there will be surprises waiting after joining the company.   A big portion of the actual reality of the work day will come as a surprise.   There is no attempt to present a fair and full picture of what the work day would be like.   As a result, the candidate considering participation in the workforce may be highly suspect that the hiring process is withholding some very relevant information about the nature of the job.

Without the confidence that there will be a full disclosure of the terms of the contract, it is reasonable to expect that one may opt not to sign up.

The lack of full disclosure cuts the other way as well.  Earlier in this post, I described how I’m encouraged to revise the resume and cover letter to show that I’m a perfect fit for the job description: exactly what is needed but nothing more.   Describing other capabilities may suggest being over-qualified to be a good fit for the job.   I’d rather present the full picture of what I offer, but the hiring process discourages me from disclosing everything I have to offer.

This becomes a problem when after joining I find out that the company has needs for my skills or experience that I was discouraged from disclosing.   I’m filling a position that is artificially constrained by the job description and the hiring process.  If that other capability is urgent enough, the employer will open a different job requisition and hire a different individual to fill it.

To me it would seem more practical if we could have discussed this up front and carved out a hybrid position that took advantage of my full set of capabilities to match with the full set of needs of the employer.  It is annoying to not only be prevented from doing what I’m good at but outside of the job description, but to be tasked with uninteresting filler work to complete my gainful employment.

This makes sense for a simplistic approach to employment that says all that matters is getting a job.   This works both ways.  All that matters to the candidate is that he has an employer.   All that matters to the employer is that he fills a vacancy.   This is ridiculously simplistic.

This essentially eliminates any concept of negotiation of terms based on what each side has to offer and is willing to commit to.   An employment contract is a contract involving two parties where at least one is an independent human being.   There should be an honest negotiation of the terms of the actual duties, commitments, and contingency capabilities of both sides.

An honest approach to negotiate the full offerings of both sides is part of what encourages people to join in employment contracts.   Lacking that opportunity, the employment prospect loses some of its appeal.   Given the high stakes involved in employment, the contract should be negotiated in full faith of both sides.

I have a hunch that this is closer to employment contracts used to be negotiated.   I rely on my one experience where we actually did negotiate (over several months) a mutually agreeable arrangement that best met both of our needs.   The hiring manager involved impressed me as being an old fashioned kind of manager.    Not sure if he was typical of an older time, but that kind of negotiated arrangement seemed very appropriate.


Today, we don’t enter any other contract as carelessly as we are being asked to enter into employment contracts.


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