Thursday, December 8, 2016

Before you waste time replying to a help wanted ad, make sure you know what game they are playing

On December 7th I saw two posts on the Jane Genova Speechwriter-Ghostwriter blog titled Lifehack, et al. - Read through Application Before Applying and The Cover Letter - It’s Not About You. The second one was missing some important information about analyzing a help wanted ad, which I learned about way back in graduate school.

One game is when the employer really is looking for someone to hire. A second very different game is when they already have found a foreigner, and now need a tall pile of applications to prove that they simply couldn’t find a suitable American. The second might well be referred to as a green card game, and you don’t want to play it.

Sometimes it is fairly easy to tell when the second game is being played, because there are overly specific requirements listed that look like and were reverse-engineered based on the background of the candidate who already really has been selected. You don’t need to go learn game theory to recognize that game is being played. 
Another variation on the second game is an EEO game, where an inside candidate already has been selected (or is very strongly preferred). Then the opening still must be advertised to keep HR looking clean. That EEO game happens both with companies and government agencies. It can be less obvious than a green card game.

Back when I was in graduate school some other PhD students and I were invited to a local research lab to present seminars about our thesis research. Someone from human resources (HR) asked us if we would like to fill out and later return their job application form. We were flattered, and did so. Of course, we never heard back from HR. But in the next few months we did hear that they had just hired a foreign student who’d received his PhD from an Ivy League university.  

Sometimes the games go even farther. Once when I was looking for work I was invited to interview at a research lab up the Hudson River from New York City at the very end of the year. Almost everyone there had an engraved wall sign in a holder next to his office door. The only exception was a Russian engineer, who obviously just had been hired. It was clear to me that HR was finishing using up their annual recruiting budget by paying for my plane ticket, hotel, and car rental. 

Help wanted ads sometimes show up repeatedly, as Jane described in another post titled Education Labs - Here the help-wanted is yet again, on May 30, 2016. Back when I was in graduate school, I remember an ad in the back of Metals Progress magazine. It was for an engineer to work on clad metals at a very large electronics company. That ad showed up every 18 months or so. By the third time it looked very peculiar. I wondered if it was a job that only Superman could have filled successfully.

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