Book Review: Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs

I just finished Why Good People Can't Get Jobs, by Peter Capelli. It's a terrific read, all about the reasons hiring managers and companies have trouble finding people, and why job seekers have trouble getting in the door. It's related to John Sumser's series, the Hiring Paradox.

I've never believed that there is a war for talent. I've long believed that we have hiring managers who don't understand: how to analyze a job, write a job description or ad, how to interview, etc.

Capelli has data to prove there is no war for talent. That's the bad news. There's good news too. There's not much you have to do to change this, if you are having trouble hiring people.

Capelli refutes these myths with data:

  • Workers don't have the skills
  • Workers aren't willing to take jobs at going wages
  • Skill shortages are only part of the problem; workers have a lack of knowledge and experience
  • Workers are reluctant to move to where the jobs are
  • Students lack basic competency
  • Public schools are failing society
  • University grads don't major in fields where the jobs are
  • Things will only get worse

Note that these are the myths and he has data to prove it. What are the root causes of the problems?

  • Employers want people who have already done the jobs, exactly as they have described them, title and all
  • The employer's resume intake system, your software is an artificial barrier
  • The employer's job descriptions don't differentiate between the essential and the desirable, so you eliminate too many applicants before you and they even have a chance
  • The employer is not willing to train anyone

So, what do you do?

  1. Hire people close enough and train them on the job, because it's the job-specific skills that employers really need. Capelli has five alternatives for this.
  2. Stop using the Applicant Tracking System, with its emphasis on highly targeted keywords and learn to write real job descriptions.
  3. Learn to differentiate between the essential and the desirable for a job description.

It's a quick read and good book.

(Want to learn how to do what Capelli says to do? Read Hiring Geeks That Fit.)

3 Replies to “Book Review: Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs”

  1. I’ll have to get this book, thanks for the review! But I’m not sure it’s correct, at least in my case.

    My company doesn’t have a resume tracking system, we put much more emphasis on capabilities than past experience, we are working on differentiating essential requirements from desires, and we have built most of our team by hiring junior people and training them.

    Despite that, we get very few applicants for our software developer positions, and a frustratingly high percentage of those are completely and obviously unqualified. We’ve lowered our resume and phone screen bars somewhat to get more people to the interview stage, but that has only increased our final percentage slightly.

    My current theory is that developers are reluctant to move to our area, if they do move here they’d rather work for much higher wages at government contractors in DC, and most students lack basic competency. The first two are guesses based on the responses I’ve gotten, and the last one is based on the success rate of our last four interns.

    I’m frustrated, and I think it’s coming through in this comment. But I am actually pretty optimistic that I’ll be able to solve this problem, it’s just taking a lot more work than I planned.

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