Getting The Gig

Allan Ripp received a cover letter for the job opening he posted on Indeed for his press relations company:

Here’s how one actress stated her case: “Not only do I believe in Ripp Media’s ability to deliver human and intuitive touchpoints through physical and technological interaction, but I can contribute to this strategic investment for the modern enterprise by bringing my diverse experiences …” It was like reading Mad Libs.

What makes this particularly amusing is that Ripp repped Martin Shkreli, doing crisis management for the weasel who roared. Pitches from flacks find my mailbox constantly, most of which read pretty much like Ripp’s actress applicant. Mad libs. We’re a nation awash in meaningless gibberish, jargon words strung together haphazardly, conveying the barest impression of meaning without actually saying anything. Delete.

But sitting with a group of people a little more than a year ago, all of whom had an M.I.T. degree under their belt in STEM, buying them beers (because that’s what old guys do), I learned about changes since my day. Jobs were online. Much of the time, the job descriptions read like mad libs as well, replete with jargon about diversity and inclusion, collaboration and atmosphere, and, if lucky, maybe a sentence about what the actual job was. Even then, the description was nearly incomprehensible.

But a few things were clear.

  1. The job was entry level.
  2. The job was for a company that couldn’t guarantee it would be around a year from now.
  3. The job was more about playing well with others than actually doing anything.
  4. The job required five years experience.
  5. The job didn’t pay enough to eat.

On the bright side, applying for the job was easy. Applicants upload their resume in advance and include a generic cover letter, and you just hit the “apply” button. On the dark side, you would never hear another word about the job. Companies used to send a “thanks, but no thanks,” letter. Now, silence.

The trick, according to HR people, is to game the algorithms that vet the applicants by using key words. If not, no human ever sees your resume. But what enables an applicant to get past the first level of scrutiny ruins them on the next. The same nonsense keywords make them sound like idiots to a real person. Not that it matters, since they hear nothing back anyway. And so, they pound on that “apply” button over and over, because it’s easy and why not?

But why won’t they put in the effort to prepare individualized, serious cover letters to let a potential employer know that they really want the job, they’re serious about it and they’re willing to put in the effort to get it? Because there’s no payback for the time and effort when their resumes disappear into the ether. Apply for hundreds of vague yet crappy jobs, put an hour into each cover letter, hear nothing.

You can’t blame employers for being frustrated at the quality of applicants and applications, but then, you can’t blame job seekers for not dedicating their best efforts to that entry level job requiring a masters degree, five years of collaborative team leader experience, and pays “up to” $22,000.

It’s the gig economy, yo.

I am a job seeker on Indeed.com and check my very specific alert daily. I expect to get leads for part-time job offers to teach or tutor Spanish, English and/or English as a Second Language within 15 miles of my home.

Well, most of the leads point me to job offers in faraway states that require teaching licenses in physics or chemistry. Further, why am I being offered full-time executive assistant or elder care positions at $12 an hour?

After my beers with the kids, I went onto Indeed and searched for jobs. The results were crap. It’s unclear whether the problem is that the search function sucks or that the jobs descriptions were so convoluted and meaningless that the search algorithm can’t do its job. Fifty pages of results failed to produce a single job that met the search criteria, but it did produce 50 pages of time suck to find that out.

And to hone in a bit more, the beer boys offered one additional treat. A resume sent to a company that seeks an electrical engineer by an MIT electrical engineering graduate doesn’t get a nibble. How is that possible? This isn’t some vagary like “product specialist,” but an electrical engineer. That’s what they’re looking for. That’s what the applicant is. Still, not a word.

Then there’s the one in a hundred, maybe thousand, time that they get the email saying they want an interview. Does the 22-year-old interviewer know how to vet their mad Python skills or whether they can tell a sexy circuit board from dreck? Not so much. They want to know if they’re Uber-type of people.

At ATG, we are ambitious, engaged and excited about transforming the way the world moves…Our teams are passionate about developing long-term technologies that advance Uber’s mission of bringing safe, reliable transportation to everyone, everywhere.

So are you ambitious, engaged and excited? “Uh, sure.” But are you passionate? “Yeah. Okay.”

Job Description

Do you enjoy technology? Are you an independent problem solver with a high level of technical curiosity? Are you willing to put in lots of good ideas to help bring new technologies from prototype to production?

Is Uber asking whether an EE hates tech? Whether they’re co-dependent, or can’t problem solve their way out of paper bag? What blithering idiot wrote this tripe? And what does the job offer the seeker?

Perks

  • Employees are given Uber credits every month.
  • The rare opportunity to change the way the world moves. We’re not just another social web app, we’re moving real people and assets and reinventing transportation and logistics globally.
  • Smart, engaged co-workers.

Salary? Not so much as a mention. Doesn’t Uber credits cover that?

Ripp’s complaint makes complete sense. So, too, does the actress’ jargonized cover letter. If Ripp was serious, then he would have done better to do some legwork on his end and go out and seek the person he needed rather than put the job on Indeed. He got what he asked for, and that’s the best the gig economy is going to do. It’s easy-peasy and sucks for everybody.

But of all the people for whom it sucks, it’s the guy who needs a crisis manager for his legal disaster and ends up with some desperate kid whose strongest skills are that he’s “ambitious, engaged and excited.” Qualified? Who knows, but is she “passionate”? Indeed.

 

As reliance on technology pervades everything, we’ve accomplished the goal of making everything far quicker and easier than ever before. It’s just that it sucks for all involved. We achieved efficiency at the cost of effectiveness. I look forward to the next press release from Ripp Media to see how well they chose their new hire, given the vast array of people from whom to pick. And I can’t wait to see how well Uber’s self-driving car works. From a safe distance.

50 comments on “Getting The Gig

  1. wilbur

    Jeez, I don’t think I could get a job today, unless it was doing the heavy manual labor through which I worked myself through school(s). And I’m too old for that now.

    Upon reflection, I was probably happiest and best at that. But I wouldn’t have what financial assets I do have now, limited as they may be.

    Nor am I unmindful of the crushing debt so many accumulate from their schooling now.

    And delivering “human and intuitive touchpoints ” sounds like just the job for Miss Thing, the aspiring actress.

    1. SHG Post author

      When my son was looking for a new job, I spent a good deal of times searching Indeed and elsewhere (they all tend to replicate each other, so it’s largely a waste of time to search multiple sites, but then, every once in a while, you come across a job that’s listed on one but not another. Why? Who the hell knows?). I was shocked by the meaninglessness of the job descriptions. I had no clue what they were asking for, but wondered if that was just because I’m old and out of touch. When I asked younger and more woke people, they told me this was their world, meaningless idiotic jargon. No wonder they’re all nihilsts.

      Could I get a job today? “Why, no, I am not collaborative or passionate. I do not suffer fools gladly, and have no intention of compromising to bolster the self-esteem of your little shits at the expense of a client. And my purpose is to win, not feel good about myself, you fucking idiot.” Nope. No job for me.

      1. PseudonymousKid

        Dear Papa,

        You talk a tough game and I believe you for the first interview, but by the thousandth hunger will probably get the better of you and you will sell out like everyone else. We’re all passionate about not starving. It’s a mean world.

        Best,
        Pseduokid

        1. SHG Post author

          Having never been tested by the hunger games, you might be right. But until it happens, I invoke the presumption of regularity.

      2. Ken Mackenzie

        You included the right keywords for the machine. A tweak or two for the human and you might get the job after all.

  2. Marc Whipple

    The situation is no better in the corporate counsel world. Same hash of jargon (you really don’t want lawyers in your legal department whose primary employment goal is “want to change the world,” really trust me you do not.) Same dropping your resume into the black hole, never to be heard from again short of a tiny burst of electrons as it crosses the event horizon. (I.E. an automated receipt email, if you’re lucky.) Same looking for Lawyer Jesus (“the idea candidate need not be able to walk on water, but should be able to cross the ornamental pond out front without getting more than their ankles wet”) for 50K a year, 65 if you make it across the pond on your first try.

    I was a GC for 19 years and my resume is solid. I sent it in almost two hundred times. I got one email response that died out in a burst of HR incompetence, two phone interviews, and one in-person interview. Oh, and maybe ten “we’ve decided to go with someone else,” two of which were more than six months after I sent in my resume.

    I’m not saying I deserve a job: I don’t. I don’t “deserve” anything. But when people are looking for GC and AGC, my resume is practically the damn job listing reprinted, and I don’t even get an email followup, something is dreadfully, drastically wrong somewhere. Other people in the same boat report similar results when I talk to them. I don’t know what part of how screwed up our economy is jobwise is due to HR, but I’d bet a nice dinner that it’s not a small part.

    1. SHG Post author

      The institutional knowledge and experience you could bring to in-house cannot be found in anyone other than a GC/AGC who has been there and done it. But hey, that doesn’t mean you’re worthy of a response.

      I still get people asking me for a job, though by email rather than letter as it was in the olden days. And particularly in criminal law, they tell me how they want to “change the world” and “achieve justice.” It’s like the old joke:

      Lawyer to client: Justice prevailed.
      Client to lawyer: Appeal immediately.

    1. SHG Post author

      The only job that pays well and is in real demand is coders. They should enjoy it, as it won’t last forever.

  3. John S.

    The Uber EE position, depending on experience can pay between $100,000-$200,000/year in cash and about $20,000-300,000/year in stock based on experience, current salary, and negotiation. Whatever other valid criticisms may be made, I promise, they pay.

    The credits are worth about $5000/year for what it’s worth.

    1. SHG Post author

      First, you missed the point, which is that there was no mention of salary in the job description. Second, Glassdoor says somewhat otherwise. Third, when you post anon, you don’t get to “I promise.” If you don’t have the balls to give a name and the basis for your claims, you don’t exist. I promise. Sorry, but if you need to hide, you don’t get to promise.

      1. John S.

        I’m happy to prove who I say I am in confidence but these companies do fire people who put their name out in public and are then guilty of thought crime.

        The glass door link confirms exactly what I said; I apologize if I was not clear enough but that is for the introductory level role whose band starts at 100+20 (or thereabouts); with 10+ years of experiences comes the upper band.

        This is your house and I don’t wish to waste your time and bandwidth on any points you aren’t interested in. My perhaps opaque point was that if you are offering extremely generous salaries (and for a fresh college graduate I hope we agree that 6 figures counts) it is not as cardinal a sin as to do run some naive kid through the wringer for a surprise offer of minimum wage.

        While I could not agree more about postmodern job listings, your drinking buddies are exceptional people looking for exceptional jobs (and entry EE roles are extremely rare to find in volume) – the entirety of the experience does not generalize to the larger job market.

        1. SHG Post author

          It was that I doubt that you knew, but that you can’t do what you did, no matter what your reason. You want to be an authority on something based on personal experience, then go public. If you don’t want to go public, no matter what you’re reason, then you can’t.

          That Uber pays well is great, but as I suspect you’re now getting, that wasn’t the point of the example, and that was noted as one aspect of a larger example. It happens to be the itty-bitty slice of a small example of a single point that you know about, so it’s the one you focus on. But you fail to see the forest through this tiny baby tree.

          So now that all these words have been murdered and no one was saved, it changes nothing. Was it worth it?

          1. John S.

            Well, there’s the small satisfaction of faring better than most dumb kids who pop up here but with that I’ve probably pressed my luck a little too far 🙂

            Thank you for the post and your time.

    2. Dubious

      If so, they’re a few standard devs up. From Forbes:

      College graduates in the class of 2016 with bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering can expect an average starting salary of $63,400 when they graduate in the spring. Computer engineers are close behind, at $63,300. Next come electrical engineering graduates with starting salaries of $61,200.

      At that rate, they need to post help wanted ads? An hour at Cal Tech should meet all their HR needs.

  4. DaveL

    I wonder how much of this exists entirely to provide cover for the informal labor market. You know a guy who knows a guy, and that guy is looking for a new job, and the guy who knows the guy says he’s really good. So you want to hire him, but as an HR professional you want to show your boss (and corporate counsel) that you really did an exhaustive search for other candidates (direct from Mt. Olympus and willing to work for peanuts).

      1. st

        DaveL is correct, although I would call it “professional network” rather than “informal labor market.”

        No one hires a high-5 or 6-figure salaried engineer based on a resume. There is always a personal reference involved, typically no more than 2 or 3 degrees of separation. It is quite common for the job description to be deliberately vague and overly broad in order to meet the HR quotas for applications from various protected groups.

        MIT engineers are rarely hired because of “playing well with others.” The tone of the telephone conversation with the personal reference is closer to “doesn’t bite (very often).”

        1. SHG Post author

          The beer boys were not the networking kind. They were more the hacking kind, obscure references, awkward social skills, quirky and peculiar, too fucking smart for their own good. And they all hated The Big Bang Theory. I mean, hated.

          1. st

            An accurate description. I’ve been hiring and supervising those young MIT men and women for 30+ years. Without the network reference to open the door, their demeanor and lack of specialization puts off the HR types. As one VP said to me, upon offering me a job based solely on my brass rat, “You MIT guys never fit our job descriptions, but somehow you work out OK.”

            The MIT network isn’t in the same league as Harvard’s, but it works very well. The beer boys are in it even if they don’t know how to work it, yet. Few recent grads appreciate the power at their disposal, but many of them figure it out.

            1. SHG Post author

              I know I always look for the brass rat. I know what they’ve been through. If you can survive that trauma, you can survive anything.

            2. Fubar

              Brass rats are quite easy to see
              When inspecting an interviewee.
              If the rat isn’t out,
              You can still dispel doubt:
              Have ’em translate “IHTFP”!

          2. D-Poll

            Agh, you mentioned that show and now I am Triggered. Why, why couldn’t you have used a trigger warning?

      2. Marc Whipple

        I can confirm something related: that jobs get posted because somebody wants to do some Empire-building, so they go and order HR to find them mighty candidates who will, lo, change the very world with their energetic passion. Or their passionate energy. Whichever.

        The HR person, knowing that there’s really not the budget to attract passionately energetic world-changers, goes through the motions and posts the job, or the Empire-builder will get all pissy. But they know anybody who responds to the posted salary isn’t worth having and nobody worth having will respond to the posting. Or, at least they think they do, although with what they’ve done to the job market I’m not sure that’s a good assumption anymore.

        ANYWAY, I suspect more than a few jobs get posted for reasons like these, which are really not ever meant to be filled as far as an HR person is concerned, so there’s no point in responding to anybody dumb and/or desperate enough to respond. Professional? No. Rational? Yeah, kinda.

        Another part of it – and this is speculation, though highly-informed speculation – may be that if they want H1B candidates they want to be able to show that they tried to fill the job with Real Americans but they just couldn’t do it. So they post the job at what they know some poor schlub desperate for a visa will take to do it, and when nobody bites, they throw up their hands dramatically and say, “Damn this tight labor market! We must needs venture forth into the wide world and find some hardworking foreigner to fill this CRUCIAL role, or the very wheels of American industry will grind to an ungrateful halt!”

  5. MollyG

    The job market is tough right now. I am a recent graduate with a PhD in nuclear engineering and I can not find a job. I have been met with the black hole of online applications. I have gone though lengthy interview processes only to find out that there was never any funding for the job in the first place. I find that in order to qualify for a job, you must have already done the job in the past. There is no such thing as entry level anymore.

    I think the biggest problem is the companies are unwilling to train people. They want to hire the skills instead of develop them.

    1. SHG Post author

      One of my beer boys was also a newly-minted Masters, who was scared shitless and betrayed, having done everything right and yet all the promises amounted to bupkis. He decided to continue on to his Ph.D., because that will fix everything. I hope he’s right.

      The entry level job conundrum has some curious problems on both sides. They want experience, but won’t give a first job to get experience. They fear they put the time and money into a n00b and, as soon as he can, he bolts for another job, so they lose their investment. On the flip side, the new hire feels no sense of obligation to the company because the company feels no obligation to the new hire, so he has no qualms about bolting for a higher paying job after he’s got some experience under his belt. Both sides need to have skin in the game or this is going to present some insurmountable hurdles.

      1. KP

        It has been going on for some time Boss, the Govt being ever-happy to step in and promote some Govt certification instead of experience. Maybe not in the USA, but certainly in the more Socialist West.

        We have stacks of millenials with pieces of paper quite unable to find the promised nivana at the end of the degree, and employers cannot see past the next HR invoice when it comes to finding an employee.

        I always just walked up to the front office and said “I want to work for you”, but it appears that world vanished 40years ago. Maybe it is all the final outcome of thirty years of Socialism and political correctness, we now need the robots to take over as we cannot run an economy ourselves.

      2. Marc Whipple

        Bing. Freaking. Oh.

        And it has ripple effects. I have been very fortunate to work for some wonderful employers. And they were wonderful employers, and they knew they were wonderful employers, so they at times thought that the fact that the company was a wonderful place to work should be part of the incentive to work there. In other words, that they could offer somewhat lower salaries because there was better job security and a much more pleasant working environment than is now the norm.

        And that is a perfectly rational thing to think.

        Unfortunately, the only way to convince someone that a place is a wonderful place to work with good job security and a pleasant working environment is to hire them and have them work there for a while. You can’t put “wonderful place to work, good job security and pleasant working environment” on a job posting, because if that worked everybody would do it but it doesn’t work because nobody will believe it because if it worked everybody would do it.

        So while it was quite reasonable to think that, in practical terms, it meant that it didn’t work, because the modern job market has trained everyone to only look at the salary posted as the be-all and end-all of what the job is worth. Discussion of raises, bonuses, profit-sharing, etc, all nearly worthless now, because they are so freely banded about and so rarely actually offered. Unless you’re so in demand you can select your employer based on who has more flavors of soft-serve in the free cafeteria, all you can count on is the base salary anymore.

  6. Z

    It’s a culture where job applicants don’t care very much because their employers don’t care about them very much.

    Here’s a fun story; I had a temp gig at a law firm in midtown. They had a reception desk. Instead of issuing me a pass to enter the building, they had me go to the desk & ask that they call the receptionist to let me in. This went on until one day when the front desk informed me that I no longer work at said firm.

    A culture that goes out of its way to show how little it values you will get what it deserves.

      1. Marc Whipple

        That’s true, but that sort of thing is really rubbing it in the temp worker’s face. I mean, they could give him a pass and let him enter the building with dignity, and when he’s done, they can just disable the pass. Making him beg admittance like some itinerant salesman every freaking day is just insulting.

        1. SHG Post author

          I wouldn’t do it that way. You wouldn’t do it that way. But then, a law firm doesn’t know who the (non-lawyer) temp worker is. They don’t vet them, check their background, know with sufficient certainty that the temp work won’t engage in conduct (like reveal client confidences) that’s anathema to the firm’s obligations, or just steal a computer.

          They paid him? They didn’t beat him or call him names? They kept their end of the bargain.

  7. Dan Quigley

    I’m still lost on the comparison of a sexy circuit board and a dreck. And I make drecks.

    1. SHG Post author

      The point was that a humanities major is passing employment judgment on the technical qualifications of an engineer in matters about which they know absolutely nothing.

  8. Pedantic Grammar Police

    As a young man I complained about how hard it was to walk down the street applying for jobs, but somehow I always found a job. Now young men complain about how hard it is to surf the web looking for jobs. Is it worse or just different?

  9. Pedantic Grammar Police

    I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that asking “Is it this or just that?” necessarily required this and that to be mutually exclusive. I’ve noted this rule in my SJ style manual.

      1. Pedantic Grammar Police

        Everyone knows that Pedantic Grammar Police are reply-challenged. Are you making fun of my disability?

    1. David Meyer-Lindenberg

      See, this is a classic example of ambiguity in language:

      “a or just b” ≡ “a v (¬a ^ b)”

      So “this” and “just that” are mutually exclusive. Scott’s right if “the two” refers to “this” and “that,” but wrong if it refers to “this” and “just that.” PGP’s right, but only because “is it this or just that” doesn’t discuss “that.” Don’t @ me.

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