Oft stubborn, peevish, sullen, pout, and cry

Oft stubborn, peevish, sullen, pout, and cry;
Then nought can please, and yet I know not why.
As many was my sins, so dangers too,
For sin brings sorrow, sickness, death, and woe,
And though I miss the tossings of the mind,
Yet griefs in my frail flesh I still do find.

Ann Bradstreet, The Four Ages of Man

There are plenty of reasons to be peevish about searching for a job, especially in a sour economy. The “opportunities” disappear as quickly as they appear, owing to budget changes, project plans, drastic changes in direction or stultifying fear. Interesting jobs attract many candidates in similar circumstances with similar skills, and differentiating yourself from the rest while staying basically honest is a daunting task. A general wariness and distrust hangs in the air, with hiring managers talking about how “we value our employees” and candidates saying wonderful things about their last employer, both knowing that there are worries, woes, and stings beneath the surface.

These are the existential condition of recession-era job hunting in the age of the across-the-board layoff; one gets used to them and generally accepts them. But there are a couple peeves that irk me in looking for information technology work that I don’t think we should have to accept; whether these exist in other lines of work I’m not sure, but I suspect they’re nearly universal.

Coy Recruiters

Technical recruiters are a different class of people from the IT professionals and employers they work with; I’ve only met a few who have an understanding of the technology beyond knowing which buzzwords go together, and all of the recruiters I’ve worked with have been salesmen to the core. Their job, after all, is to sell a candidate on an “opportunity,” and to sell the hiring manager on the candidate; sometimes it’s a case of honest matchmaking, with attempts to find the right fit for both, but more often it’s all about the sale.

That’s fine enough; I’m used to the pitch-man approach and I can dissect the lingo. And I’m sure I’m not the only candidate who tends toward the taciturn when the recruiter really gets pitching. What really bothers me, though, is when they play coy.

I get the sense that there’s some cut-throat competition in the recruiter world, with everyone angling for a limited pool of jobs. In addition to making their matches, they’re also trying to extract leads and protect their turf, which explains the “I can’t tell you who the client is; but I can assure you they’re a top-notch, premium, exclusive company you’d love to work for.”

From the candidate’s perspective, though, this is simply annoying. We need to know where we’re applying to ensure that we aren’t submitting multiple applications for the same job, and to be sure that this really is the sort of place we’d like to work. It wastes our time to go through five minutes of pitch before we get to the punchline, the punchline being that the client is a company we’ve either applied to already, or for whom you couldn’t pay us enough to work.

This game is especially annoying when the recruiter is reading off the same job description as every other recruiter. It doesn’t take long to recognize the patterns and match the description to the company; most candidates will already have seen the same description on Monster or Dice, or heard it from another recruiter just minutes earlier.

I suppose that some enterprising candidate could game the system somehow if they had this crucial piece of information up front, or could try to scoop the recruiter and pass the “confidential” information on to another recruiter. But by the time the job description has been floating around Monster.com for a couple days, the cat is out of the bag as far as confidentiality goes. It would be much less annoying to start the conversation with, “I’ve got a job at XYZ Company; you interested?”

Redundant, repetitive, and non-portable resumés

This is a problem for everyone, but it especially irks technologists. I’ve got profiles on multiple job search sites, and a couple versions of my resume in Word and PDF formats, but every time I apply for a job online or get beyond the initial phone call with a recruiter, I’m filling out the same information yet again in a slightly different format.

When I start filling out one of these forms, the first thought that goes through my mind is, “This is a job for XML!” The same pieces of information are required for everyone; the data types are largely universal; I should be able to provide my resume in an XML format and have the recipient parse it to the format of their personal delight.

I’ve found that there are at least two XML formats for resumés: one from the HR-XML Consortium, to which Monster belongs, and an open-source XML Resume Library which appears to be abandoned (no development since 2004, no forum activity since 2008). Neither appears to be in use by anyone.

This seems like a great opportunity for streamlining, rationalizing, and simplifying the hiring process. There would need to be a large enough number of adopters to start to sway the environment, but the benefit to everyone–candidates, recruiters, hiring managers, HR–should be clear. A standardized XML format for resumes would make searching, storing, matching, and managing resumé data much simpler than it is now. If I could provide my resumé, or a subset of it, to employers in an XML format, I would spend far less time being annoyed at them for not using technology to solve real problems.

Hmmm… if any employers are interesting in integrating HR-XML (which looks like the most stable format) into their hiring workflow, or if any technical recruiters would like an education on why they should accept only XML resumes, drop me a line; maybe I can turn this peeve into a gig . . .

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