They Look Human

By now we all know there’s a robot reading your resume when you apply for a job. It explains all that has confused the job seekers of the world for the last 10-20 years. Everybody knew there was something wrong. We just didn’t have the facts. When it comes to finding work in America, facts seem to be rather scarce. But now that we know, we can evaluate where we stand.

Where we stand is on the brink of societal and cultural disaster. Our entire civilization is built on the fundamental principle that a man who wants to work can find work. He may not start out at his dream job. He may not start out making much, either. But he certainly isn’t going to be confined to an Internet job board, clicking “apply instantly” buttons and being lied to until he starves.

Until now.

Our civilization and future are both being destroyed in a small room containing two chairs, a desk, a hiring manager and a job candidate. What happens in that room is the foundation of our entire economy. If the candidate can’t successfully navigate what happens in that room, no homes get sold, no cars get bought, no man marries a wife and no children are raised in two-parent homes. That room is where the American Dream gestates. Without it, all that our ancestors fought for is gone.

But our problem is more fundamental. Nobody can get in to that room. There’s a robot at the door barring entry. So it no longer matters what happens in that room, because nothing happens in that room.

There are six million people in this country who not only want to work, but have, in some cases, spent decades building the skills and experience to be effective at their jobs. These are people who can start making their employers money the very moment they sit down at their new desk. If we tolerate the status quo as it stands today, these people will never work again. Six million people is the combined population of Chicago, Houston and Sacramento, all sitting idle for the rest of their lives: Their talent, knowledge and skill wasted.

The “application tracking system,” as it has come to be known, was inserted into the hiring process by so-called “employers” without notice. The traditional job seekers had no idea they had been placed on the other side of a firewall by the companies that claimed to want their “marketable skills.” It stood to reason, of course, for those of us who have witnessed the increasingly vindictive way employers began to excuse themselves from the responsibility for their former employees about 20 years ago. Layoffs following higher profits became the dominant-tonic chord progression of American business after the dot-com crash. It was almost as if executives had some kind of vendetta against technology workers. But I have about as much proof of that right now as we had for application tracking systems ten years ago. A robot reading your resume? What a crazy idea!

Exactly how is the ATS evaluating your resume? Do you really believe it’s just looking at keywords from the job ad? It’s not looking at anything else? Do you really believe employers with an agenda can’t tune an ATS to exclude applicants based on any criteria they choose? How about zip code? How about age? Want to know how quick I can program a computer to figure out your age within five years?

What if an application tracking system is capable of monitoring your applications to many different employers at once? What if it’s keeping track of how many resumes you send out in a given time interval? How hard would it be for that ATS to be provided a threshold number and then to automatically blackball you after you reach your maximum number of applications in a week? A month? Ever? The employer could justify it by saying you’re a spammer, or that you’re desperate. They don’t want desperate people. So they’ll just blackball you.

What if they set up their ATS to reject if you’ve been rejected by another ATS? How hard would it be to tag you with the job market’s version of the scarlet letter forever? What if they reject you for having a resume that’s too good? What if they start analyzing the data to see which days of the week most successful applications arrive and then reject everyone else? People who apply on weekends probably have a job. Others probably don’t. Which do you want, boss? *click* –poverty and desperation for all.

In other words, after employers turn the job application process into a numbers game, they can start punishing you for treating it like a numbers game. You’re no longer looking for a job you want. You’re just looking for a job. The higher they turn that dial, the more impenetrable their ATS becomes. It’s not a mistake it’s called an application tracking system. Of course, that’s an Orwellian euphemism. Let’s call it what it really is: a firewall.

What else could a vindictive employer do with a hostile ATS? Could they set a minimum credit score? That’s ludicrous! Employers can’t get access to your credit score without permission! They would face legal trouble if they did that! They don’t have your credit score! What a crazy idea!

How hard would it be to reject resumes based on surnames? Or based on whether you have an accent in your surname? Or based on your e-mail address? Are you using gmail? Reject. Are you not using gmail? Reject. Could an ATS be programmed to prioritize applications if a competitor is listed in a candidate’s employment history? What if it performed a public records search and pulled up your divorce? Or your personal injury case from that slip and fall at your flower store last year? Or the police report from your car accident? Or the legal dispute you had with a former employer over their repeated attempts to illegally exploit your intellectual property? Reject. Reject. Reject. Reject. Employers don’t want colorful people in cubicles. They want obedient, unremarkable drones. Obedient, unremarkable people don’t show up in public records searches. They have 35 followers on Twitter and live alone.

I’ve written eight novels. That alone is grounds to reject every application I ever file. A guy who writes novels might get ideas. Might get uppity in a meeting. And we can’t have that.

But they want rock stars also.

What if the ATS just does a Google search and rejects you if you do show up, or alternatively rejects you if you don’t? Either condition could be a red flag depending on how paranoid and resentful your recruiter is. What if you have a common name and the ATS mistakes you for someone else? Reject.

Want to make it even more sinister? What if the ATS qualifies you the way social media companies qualify ad audiences? What if it rejects all Android phone owners in favor of iPhone owners? People with iPhones are generally more affluent, and affluent people are preferable to some companies and some hiring managers. You really don’t want to know how easy it is to find out which kind of phone you own.

What if I told you I can guess your income based on what TV shows you like? What if I told you I can guess your age the same way? Favorite band? The kind of computer you own? With the right tools, a savvy advertiser can zero in on your front porch with a half-dozen pieces of seemingly unconnected information. Remember the last time you passed around one of those “list your favorites” surveys on your favorite social media platform? Ever take a poll on social media? Are you in a group? Which one? If more than one, how are they related? How long do you think it would take to connect that to your e-mail address and then to your exact identity and your credit report? About eight trillionths of a second.

Don’t overthink it. The robot doesn’t have to be right. It just has to be close enough.

Know what the best part is? You’ll never know it happened. Without a massively expensive legal siege you’ll never be able to prove the little black box blocked your job application on grounds having exactly nothing to do with your qualifications, skills or experience. It can make a snap judgement about your life based on conjecture, statistics and theory, and then it can declare you unemployable and relentlessly enforce its decision forever and there is nothing you can do about it no matter how many graduate degrees you have.

The robot does not care about your qualifications. All that matters is whether your resume is fictional enough to beat the filter. That’s what gets you the interview now.

Lest you console yourself with the notion this is as far as it will go, I am here to tell you this doesn’t even begin to demonstrate what is in store for future generations. You see, real jobs have become privileges for the favored few. That’s why everyone else has two or three pretend jobs to make ends meet, all underpaid. Anyone who has been paying attention for the last 30 years knows how rapidly someone can become “more corporate than thou” if they snuggle deeply enough into that leather chair and can hide behind a receptionist, a key card and a general counsel. Once the rabble has been quietly locked out, how long will it be before you are legally required to avert your eyes if you actually encounter someone who is salaried? You probably thought the Matrix was just entertainment, and that dressing the agents in suits was all in good fun. It was a warning, not science fiction.

Your kids will never have a real job.

I’m not going to let the universal basic income people off the hook here, either. UBI is the last echoing click of the shackles that will be eternally fastened to your wrists if we allow this to continue. If you yearn for free money in place of the opportunity that once existed in America, you yearn for a prison. The same goes for you if you think borrowing scooters, cars and places to sleep with an app are good substitutes for owning a home and independent transportation. If you own no land, you have no future.

Back in the 1980s, we were all entertained by Kyle Reese and his cryptic warning to Sarah Connor about the future. The line has been exploited for humor, parody and dramatic prescience for decades.

“That thing is out there. It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead.”

That line isn’t really very funny any more, is it?

LinkedIn Won’t Save You

I’d like to think this long string of articles about the job market is just a phase, but the more I dig, the more articles like this one I find.

A young man posted his resume on LinkedIn and it went viral. Jackpot, right? Wrong. 1280 shares. Still no job. Fifteen in-person interviews. Still no job. How can this be?

Well, it is, and unfortunately this isn’t a rare occurrence. We’re all being told day in and day out how great the economy is and how everyone has a job except you. But what we’re being told and what several million of us are actually experiencing are two different things.

Fifteen interviews from a viral LinkedIn post should be more than enough to get past what the article calls a “lengthy and draining” job hunt. Except it’s not, and that should be distressing for everyone, especially those of you who are fortunate enough to be employed.

The article points out that according to Jobvite’s Recruiting Benchmark Report, only one in eight candidates who applied for a job in 2017 got an interview. It also notes recruiters spend an average of six seconds on each resume.

Time to wake up now. Your kids are next.

Black out.

All This and Fraud Too

This clip is instructive. Although it was part of a fictional television series, you are deluding yourself if you think this was composed in a vacuum.

Don is trying to get his dream job. When Don tries to go through the front door, he gets “oh, you’re the fur guy,” and “I threw out your portfolio” and “I ignored them. That’s my message to you.” That’s the modern job search in three sentences. Don Draper, of course, turns out to be a legend, but so far, the boss is never going to know, because it’s far more important to stomp on people than it is to find new talent.

Keep this in mind the next time you see a job ad that asks for “passionate guru rock stars.”

Since the front door approach isn’t working, Don has to employ subterfuge. So he admits he’s skipping out on his boss, admits he was lying about being in the building for a meeting and then gets the boss drunk at ten in the morning and lies twice more in order to get a job that didn’t exist until he lied it into existence.

Keep this in mind the next time you see a job ad that asks for “passionate guru rock stars.”

Black out.

Unemployment is a Growth Industry

You might be tempted to think the new policy of the freelancer platform Upwork is unique. Charging individuals to apply for jobs is a spectacular business model if you’re in a position to gatekeep those applications. It’s exactly like the lottery. You’re monetizing desperation. You are plugging your income potential right in to the human survival instinct. It doesn’t take much for the average person to notice the similarity “pay to apply” to the Internet’s other big business model.

Now let us all ponder a question together. If your income and growth model depends on monetizing job applications, do you have any incentive to get someone a job? Let me make it even more sinister. If your income and growth model depends on monetizing job applications, do you have any incentive to verify ads for freelancers or employees are even genuine? Once you have crossed the line between the productive incentive of earning based on success and rent-seeking, you have no incentive to do anything except make sure you collect a larger and larger share.

I once proposed that you are more valuable unemployed than employed. This would neatly explain the rise of the professionally jobless in our country. There are roughly six million of them, and they will never work again. Why? Because it is better for the rent-seekers that way. They have concluded there is more economic opportunity in keeping them out. The exact same dynamics were in play when equity firms decided to burn Toys R Us to the ground and destroy 30,000 jobs. Toys R Us was worth more dead than alive.

From an employment standpoint, so are you.

The overarching problem that we face here is that practical economic reality is not responding to market forces any more. If you have more experience, more demonstrated achievements and more skill, you should have a multiplicity of job opportunities. Firms should be competing for your talents. But they aren’t. Why? They don’t have to. Most companies have no idea how to convert your skills into anything productive, and that’s fine because they likely have a stable, entrenched business and have long since done away with their competition.

For example, what real boots-on-the-ground incentive does Google have to hire anyone, regardless of their talents? They have none. Google brings in $372 million a day. The company has been on auto-pilot for at least ten years. They make few, if any, physical products. They don’t even have a phone number. Their entire company is made up of people babysitting computers. Any hiring they do, if they do any hiring at all, is guaranteed to be for some middle manager’s hobby project. They have no competition, so there is no reason for them to compete for talent.

The same is true of nearly all the other companies in the Fortune 500. Disney, Apple, Nike, Verizon. Their revenues are on auto-pilot. Their competition is either non-existent or limited to a handful of other companies that are neither a short or long-term threat. Ultimately, the only time any of these companies experiences any real need to hire is if someone in the management hierarchy retires or moves on, and those openings can be easily filled after everyone in that branch moves up a level and the entry level desk is filled with a visit to the nearest Ivy League campus. Or the job can just be discontinued and the money pocketed by shareholders.

If you’re making $372 million a day why would you even answer your phone? You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t take even a remote chance on upsetting the status quo.

Unemployment is a growth industry. Imagine the money that can be made if we get a really big sponge and just soak up everyone’s last dollar! Resumes, new clothes for the five interviews you have to endure, books and seminars on how to improve your personal brand, premium memberships for all those online sites that promise you offers from multiple companies at once. Just think of the power you could wield with a platinum membership!

How do these “we’ll find you a job, little camper” companies stay in business if their customers are successful and cancel their monthly plans? They don’t. They have a direct, vested financial interest in keeping you unemployed.

In other words “We make $372 million a day and no, you can’t have a job.” Leaving aside the fact wages have been stagnant in this country for 46 years, if that is what we get from every major employer in the United States, we’re adrift on the ocean. Water everywhere and we still die of thirst.

And while the rent-seekers cultivate their vested financial interest, they show you a prize gallery of jobs and tell you success is only a credit card number away.

While You Face the Inquisition

Following up on my last post, I just wanted to point out something. We’ve all experienced how– conscientious employers are about getting that absolute top candidate. They are put through four interviews and meet every level of management before a hiring decision. They get their offer in writing, to emphasize how fortunate they are to have achieved this greatest of all summits in our ultra-competitive global economy. They got the job!

And on their first day, they are issued a toy gun and invited to go play with the other employees.

Clearly the hundreds of applicants who didn’t get the job weren’t quite Ivy League enough. It neatly closes the door on any challenge to my assertion the modern workplace has no adult supervision.

Don’t you wish you could go play toy guns with all the other kids (and get paid) while six million people are trapped in that unique pride-swallowing siege that is our mental hospital job market?

Black out.

The American Job Market is a Mental Hospital

By the time you finish reading this article, someone will have committed suicide. There is a 20% chance they will have taken their own life because they couldn’t find a job.

We labor under a number of myths in these United States. Among them is the belief that any man who can’t find a job is either defective or has himself to blame. It’s his fault. Either he doesn’t have the skills, or failed to get an education, or isn’t likable, or has a bad attitude. There’s a reason he can’t find a job, and whatever that reason might be, it must be his fault.

It’s certainly a convenient conclusion if you stand to gain from that man’s desperation. After all, how much easier and cheaper is it to hire a man who has no confidence in his worth as an employee? Once you’ve done away with his hard-won qualifications (and their effect on his price), you can portray your reluctant offer of employment as an act of unusual generosity instead of a transaction of money for labor. In the former, the man is expected to be grateful for your benevolent forbearance. In the latter, it’s an arrangement between equals.

Well, the very last thing some people want is arrangements between equals.

To say this disease has reached a perverse and sadistic magnitude in the American job market would be kind. The fact is teenagers are now being asked if they have experience when they apply for part-time summer employment serving bagels. As we all know, training someone to serve bagels is expensive and not always successful, and Heaven help us and the stock price if Timmy or Susie forgets to upsell that second $0.75 tablespoon of cream cheese.

Some might be tempted to put this sudden scrutiny of every defect a human might possess down to malice or hostility. But it’s simpler than that. Hiring managers are not playing keepaway with your livelihood. They are avoiding their responsibility because they are paranoid and mentally stunted. The American job market is corrupt to its core because these people are never held accountable for the arbitrary decisions they make about other people and their careers.

When I apply for a job, I assume I have about 30 seconds to explain how I can use decades of intricate senior-level technology skills and achievements to provide synergy and enterprise value to deliver cross-media solutions for an ever-changing market and an expanding global supply chain. That or I can say something like “my technical talents are just like Lord of the Rings but with dinosaurs.” The truth is it doesn’t matter what I say. The person reading my resume doesn’t have the slightest clue what any of it means. All they know is I’m not qualified. For any job.

Workers of the past, like my parents, had a very powerful tool at their disposal. It was called the “benefit of the doubt.” Hiring managers didn’t assume they were liars, nor did they assume they were unable to do the job, or for that matter, any job. They weren’t treated with suspicion. They weren’t accused of being grown adults who somehow managed to accumulate a ten-year employment history and a graduate degree without a single “marketable skill.” When they sat down for a interview, the hiring manager took what they had to say at face value. That’s why they got good jobs and kept them long enough to pay off their houses. It’s why I grew up in a stable two-parent home with enough to eat and a swimming pool.

Workers of today, by contrast, are presumed to be filthy, scheming frauds. That’s one reason, among many, employers so often schedule interview tribunals that resemble confirmation hearings for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Employers are on a mission, you see, lest one of you unqualified mongrels get past them and get your grubby hands on a paycheck or two. Once you’re employed, you have legitimacy, and that simply cannot be allowed to stand. They know you’re hiding something, and by God they’re going to make you admit it if they have to schedule second and third interviews and require a security clearance as part of your background and credit check.

And while this shrill, accusatory circus drags on, nearly six million working-age people who want jobs in the United States sit idle, unable to support themselves or anyone else. That’s more than the combined populations of Chicago, Houston and Sacramento. Think of the immense volume of productivity going to waste right now in this country! What could those people be contributing if they weren’t being blocked from getting a job by childish, irresponsible “managers” who won’t accept the responsibility that comes with employing adults? Everybody thinks the gig economy is some new innovation. It isn’t. The gig economy is six million people holding the employment equivalent of a garage sale so they can feed themselves.

The paranoid American workplace is nothing if not profitable. Wages have been stagnant for 46 years. Hiring people sight unseen from 11,000 miles away to pretend to do jobs in American companies sure looks impressive on a spreadsheet. The fact that it is yet another example of the kind of magical thinking that gave us the professional disaster we are currently experiencing is never acknowledged. It’s much easier to blame the guy with no job than it is to face facts. You’ll notice the candidate from overseas doesn’t have to sit in front of a tribunal and answer questions about ping-pong balls.

The starvation and suffocation underway in our nation isn’t helped by the continual celebration of the so-called “unemployment rate.” The brilliant numbers would seem to indicate anyone who wants a job can get one, when nothing could be further from the truth. Just ask around. It won’t take long for you to find a number of people who are qualified for numerous jobs and yet have been looking for weeks, months or even years with no success. Not only have they failed to find jobs, they have very likely failed to get a response of any kind from dozens, hundreds or even thousands of applications.

Even if they do manage to get past the fortress between them and a human being who actually took the time to read their resume, they’re certain to run into the aforementioned inquisition, where they will be politely informed by the nine people interviewing them their application has been turned down in a 5-4 decision over font preference.

And even if they manage to get an offer, what do they really have in a world where companies posting record revenues turn around and fire hundreds of highly trained and established employees a few weeks later? A job is the foundation upon which grown adults build marriages, families, homes, educations and retirements. Those are lifetime achievements they expect to fund with their paycheck from a job likely to end abruptly for reasons completely beyond their control. They’d be better off building a greeting card factory in a volcano.

Since nobody wants to face the unemployment disaster, it might be instructive to move on to the people who are employed and see if they can find any joy in their work day. I’m fairly certain I don’t have to explain to you how fast that investigation will end without success.

You might be tempted to think my flippant tone is meant to be funny. It isn’t. This isn’t funny. This isn’t funny at all. It is estimated that 20% of all suicides are the result of inability to find a paying job, and suicides in the U.S. are up 30% in the last 18 years.

American hiring managers are paranoid and corrupt, and they have turned our workplaces into a psychiatric ward where half the employees are being driven insane by impossible workloads and the other half are terrified they are going to lose their jobs and homes at any moment.

This state of affairs will be the end of us if it isn’t addressed. Leaving aside the deteriorating morals of our society and the increasingly adversarial political climate, no nation can survive if its wealth and opportunity are cheap prizes won over a roulette wheel guarded by a psychotropic-addicted mental patient.

Black out.

Start with Incompetence

The more I consider the current state of the American job market, the more I realize that its most astonishing failures are simply the result of incompetence.

American business management doesn’t train employees. Why? Because they don’t know how. They can’t find qualified candidates for jobs? They don’t know how. They can’t build a quality product and make money with it? They don’t know how. They use layoffs as a routine cost-cutting measure? They don’t know any other way.

This is all quite strange considering the obsessive and paranoid mechanisms workplaces have established to weed out anyone who isn’t quite frankly perfect in every possible way. We’ve all been treated to stories of how employers scour social media, conduct paid background checks, perform credit checks, insist on excessive references and so on. It’s almost as if they are more interested in disqualifying candidates than hiring them.

Anyone who has looked for a job in the last five to ten years has experienced the inexplicable delays, the unresponsive hiring managers and recruiters and the cumbersome, exhausting siege job candidates are forced to endure. And even if they succeed, what do they have? They are guaranteed to be underpaid, overworked and have no job security at all.

From a social and political standpoint, America is a warehouse full of gunpowder and dynamite right now. People are angry, frustrated and scared out of their minds. And when I say people I mean a lot of people. This broken thing we call the employment market is the box of matches in that warehouse. This is the thing that will be the end of us if we don’t get it locked down in a right now hurry.

It’s a complex problem, which means there are no easy solutions, but the one thing we need to put an abrupt stop to right this second is this perfidious myth that it’s the workers who are to blame. We have the best educated and most skilled workforce in the history of the human race in this country. Tens of millions of Americans have college educations, and the overwhelming majority of the workforce is literate and capable of all kinds of creative solutions to the problems we need to solve as a country.

This alternative theory that Americans are a bunch of feckless layabouts with worthless degrees and no skills is a message designed to consume what’s left of your hope for a brighter future. It’s patent nonsense perpetrated by lazy managers and shareholders who don’t want to pay their dinner check.

Our future may be as simple as something I read in a discussion of automated hiring the other day: “In the future, nobody has a job, but they can’t find anyone to blame but themselves, so they just starve to death quietly.”

While I don’t want to encourage people to spend all their time looking for someone to blame, I will point out there are millions of people in this country who not only want work, but are qualified to do amazing things, and they are all sitting idle because there is no practical way to penetrate the fortress of confusion corporate America has erected around gainful employment. And again, even if someone manages to achieve the impossible, they have only layoffs and pay cuts to look forward to.

Is that the country you want your kids to grow up in? Me neither.

LadyStar for Warrior Moms and Warrior Dads Chapter Four: Seeing Themselves in the Story

One of the great strengths of the ensemble model or the “classic” team of superheroes is the wide range of personalities and powers they can develop through the story. Authors like myself recognize many young readers are looking for someone they can identify with and root for through the adventure. That’s why I believe my character ensemble is one of LadyStar’s greatest strengths.

Simply put, everyone who reads LadyStar books will find a character they can follow. Whether they like seeing a shy girl like Talitha Casey navigate a mystery, or they like to laugh at a joke-telling firecracker like Ranko Whelan, there will be at least one hero they will find appealing, and that character will make them feel like they have something to offer too.

Middle grade readers are at a point in life where they are asking important questions about themselves like “where do I belong?” and “what can I do?” These can be confusing questions, especially for someone with little experience, few social skills and the ever present feeling maybe they don’t really fit in. What LadyStar will teach them is to be patient with themselves. It will show every reader that even the 11-year-old “annoying little kid” can be part of the older girls’ adventure and might even have something unique to contribute.

Things don’t always work out for the Ajan Warriors right away, but Jessica and her friends find a way to get the job done. They don’t quit. More often than not, the solution is found when everyone contributes. All the girls find their own answers to the questions of where they belong and what they can do. I wrote these books to give readers a sense of participating in exactly these kinds of adventures, so they can learn what it takes to overcome challenges, put their unique talents to work and achieve the same things my characters do.

Then I discovered I was telling a Noblebright Story.