Job seeker´s letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

This year I would like to approach you with a wish list you may find unconventional. I am unemployed, and have been actively applying for jobs throughout the past year. In doing so, I have repeatedly come across certain practices – some of them so common I would almost like to call them norms – that feel like unnecessary burdens on applying for a job. And the more I discuss this with my friends who are in the same situation as I am, the more we get the feeling that with many of these practices, the employers perhaps have not realized the implications.

So, dear Santa, in order to be able to land my Dream Job next year, and to help all my fellow job seekers as well, would you be so kind as to send a few of your energetic elves to whisper these things to the employers’ ears?

Firstly, the requirements listed for the vacancy. In many cases, the nature of the responsibilities described appears such that there is not just one candidate profile to excel in that role. Yet I often see a very narrow, limiting description for candidate requirements in job ads. Could you please ask the employers to consider alternative backgrounds for suitable candidates, not just look for a warm body to fill the ‘same old, same old’ mold? The same applies to competences. Openness to consider and effort to evaluate the candidate’s real competences and skills would most certainly benefit the employer more than considering formal qualification only.

The second item on my wish list reads ‘employer image’. As humble fan of yours, dear Santa, I occasionally get the feeling that the employers only remember the latter in the give-and-take. And the giving really should come first. In recruitment, that should translate to viewing – and treating – the job applicants as customers. Providing me with an opportunity to evaluate not just whether I would match the needs of that employer – but also whether the employer would match mine. Images of the work environment, video interviews with current employees, company values opened up and discussed… it speaks volumes of the employer if those are available – and it speaks equally loud if they are not. Personally, I would also consider stating the salary range in the job advertisement as an element of employer image. In any case, it is a remarkably thoughtful gesture towards job seekers – helps both sides to prevent wasting each other’s time.

A couple of things with regards to application process are the third item on my list. With all the time and effort I have invested into shaping and re-shaping my CV, it is really discouraging to come across an application tool where I have to copy-paste the contents of my CV, row by row, to a frozen template. I have actually now started to skip such employers altogether. I also tend to contact the employer for some clarifications prior to submitting my application – yet interestingly not all job ads provide instructions for doing so. Some employers are fortunately showing that it is in their values to be approachable. One trend I very much welcome here is to have vacancies for expert positions posted in LinkedIn, with the option to apply utilizing one’s personal LinkedIn profile. That is so easy!

I know, dear Santa, that you are real busy this time of the year. Let me throw in just three more wishes, okay? Oh, too many? Okay – two then. Deal? Thank you! This relates to seeing applicants as customers. Keeping all the applicants informed during the selection process would be really, really kind. I know cases where even the completion of recruitment has only been informed to the selected candidate. And I have heard rumors of a case where even that was not done! Keeping the candidates informed should also include giving feedback to anyone the employer has interviewed but did not select at that time. By helping candidates to improve, the employers themselves will get more competent applications next time.

The very last wish is about travel costs. When a candidate comes from out of town for an interview, it would be considerate for the employer to compensate for travel expenses.

Thank you for your time, dear Santa. And welcome down south! A word of warning – it looks like the only thing white around here again this Christmas will be the rice porridge.

Name your price…oops…salary

There’s not too many countries in this nice, blue planet of ours, where everyone knows how much money their colleague, their neighbor and their favorite celebrity made last year. But in Finland we all have access to that information via the public taxation records. What benefit does that serve? I can’t think of any. One major disadvantage comes to mind though: in a country where envy grows as an endless natural resource, that ability nothing but fuels it.

Okay. Fine. So we have public taxation records. Live with it.

I do. And I personally don’t bother with it. What does bother me, though, is the completely opposite approach – the ultimate secrecy – that hovers in the job market around salary ranges for any advertised vacancy. In public sector, the salary grade is often noted in the job advertisement. But in private sector, you will not find any such numbers in job ads. You would be more likely to find the original recipe for Coca-Cola in the vacancy text. This approach would not be sensible in most markets. And it is downright ridiculous in a market where the taxable income of everyone is public information.`

If the salary ranges were given in the job advertisements, everyone would benefit. The applicants would have one more critical piece of information available to determine whether the position is within their interests and reach (trust me, that is not always easy to evaluate from the requested years of experience and expected degrees). The employer would most likely get less applications – or at least applicants would be more of the expected caliber. And the unavoidable discussion on salary in the final stages of interviews would be far less likely to result in a dead end.

To further demonstrate that all Moomins are perhaps no longer in the canoe, in the Finnish job market it is normal practice to ask the applicant to state his or her salary request in the job application. Sing Hallelujah, brother! Dear employers, are you asking for salary request just because most other employers are doing so, or is there really an auction about to take place? But wait – if it is an auction you have in mind, is it the lowest or the highest bidder who gets the job? Do you then go for the seasoned, experienced talent who knows his worth, or aim for a discount deal?

In motor sports, race drivers have two ways to proceed with their careers. One is talent. By driving better than the rest, even with mediocre equipment, showing you got what it takes to become a champion. The other way, if you can’t quite excel on the track, is to excel on the sponsorship collection. You can buy your way to the next class, to the better team. Even with the latter approach, you can enjoy a season or two in the limelight and live your dream. Nothing wrong with that, as such. The champions, however, tend to still come from the first category.

When I coach job seekers, one of the most common questions I get is regarding the salary requests – how to address those. My advice is always the same – leave it out. And my justification for this is very simple: from the job applicant’s perspective, stating a salary request can only work against him. I have not come across a single case where otherwise promising candidate did not get invited to a job interview because he or she did not state a salary request in the application. But I am aware of cases where the opposite has happened: the single reason why a candidate was dropped out was because the stated salary request was off the employer’s range for the job. Typically quite significantly off, either too low or too high. The employer always – always – has a planned salary range or other compensation model in mind for the vacancy they have. They know what they want the person to be selected for that role to achieve, and what those achievements are worth to them. And they typically have done their homework on what, roughly, the ranges for similar responsibility level of roles, with similar candidate profiles, are in the market. Or at the latest, they will get that understanding when using a professional recruiter and discussing the role and the responsibilities.

There really is no need to run a lottery with the applicants to guess the numbers.

Did I hear someone yell ‘bingo’?