Of purple squirrels, job impossible and the “skills mismatch”….

About a year ago a friend of mine who is still a working scientist read a job description to me and asked me what I thought.  It took five minutes just rattle off the list of required skills and experience. I started doing some quick math.  The list was Byzantine at best.  Why anyone would take such a twisted path through a maze of seemingly unrelated scientific disciplines baffled me.  I couldn’t imagine that anyone in the world would have that skill set.  But had someone actually managed to fit that job description, they couldn’t be a day under the age of 60.  I told my friend this and she agreed and asked “But why?”

Why indeed would anyone put out a job description that no one on the planet could possibly fulfill?  Its an interesting question and though its an issue that is not unique to science, the long training pipeline of the scientist brings an issue that seems to be plaguing our grim job market into sharp focus.

The search for the purple squirrel….

A purple squirrel is an HR industry term used to describe a job applicant with literally impossible credentials.   I came by the term  while reading a New York Times article  by Catherine Rampell about employers who are waiting for perfection.

The article itself was an interesting read, but perhaps even more compelling was the comment thread  where readers described some of the absolutely ludicrous requirements and obstacle courses  that they, as job applicants, had to endure.

They included the following: 

  • Requiring five years experience with software that has only existed for three years.
  • An algebra and geometry test for a marketing position.
  • 9 interviews  for a single position requiring extensive travel at the applicant’s expense.
  • Getting free labor out of applicants by requiring them to brainstorm a problem and create a presentation proposing a solution

The list could go on and on.  The latter is of course the most egregious because it is exploitation pure and simple.   Why pay for expertise when you can brainstorm with dozens of applicants  for free?

One frustrated job -seeker summed it up very well:

I am endlessly frustrated by the number of employers who complain out a lack of qualified job candidates. They moan and groan, yet they demand that new hires not only have the skills to do the job, but also speak three languages, have multiple college degrees, know how to use 30 different kinds of software, have the ability to walk on water, have proven experience rescuing puppies from burning buildings and are willing to pick up the boss’s dry cleaning…

The H1-B and the skills mismatch myth…

The skills mismatch has long been the siren song of such high-technology players as Microsoft, HP, Apple as well as the titans of biotech and academia has also joined in the chorus.

If I didn’t know better, I would swear that they are going out of their way NOT to hire Americans….Oh wait….maybe that IS what they are doing.

The bottom line is that corporate America isn’t the least bit interested in hiring within our own shores when they can have a malleable, vulnerable, cheaper  and compliant workforce from abroad.  Just create a list of requirements no human could fulfill. Show that you can’t fulfill the job description locally and then get permission to hire from abroad.  Wash, rinse, repeat……over and over and over….This is what has been happening in the sciences and high-tech sectors for years.  Its expansion into every nook and cranny of the employmemt process is very discouraging.

Meanwhile – Americans will try to morph into  the purple squirrel.  Although this squirrel in the video isn’t purple, he is truly trying to complete a “Mission Impossible” obstacle course just like many  American job applicants.

© 2013 – RGHicks – http://reinnovatingamerica.com – All rights reserved.

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4 Responses to Of purple squirrels, job impossible and the “skills mismatch”….

  1. Suzanne Arena says:

    True. And has been since I was working — LOL! Presentations were part and parcel, but most people sited work that was already published, so they couldn’t actually “take” it from them. There’s a republican movement to increase the H-1 visas for exactly the reason you state. They want High tech knowledge at low, low prices! Furthermore, having worked with them, they are like indentured servants: they can’t just quit if they are over-worked or mistreated.

  2. Every word in this piece of work is very clear and your passion for this topic shines. Please continue your work in this area and I hope to see more from you in the future.

  3. Ruthmarie says:

    Hi Suzanne,
    I certainly haven’t been monitoring this blog that well. However, you are correct. They want high-tech knowledge for rock-bottom prices and they want to be able to use and abuse the worker to their little heart’s content. These workers CAN’T QUIT, they don’t have the capacity to walk away from the abuse, so they just have to put up with whatever garbage is dished out.

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