Having interviewed more than 100,000 candidates, face-to-face, since 1973, I’m always amazed that people looking for a job think that those people who run companies in the United States really know what they’re doing when it comes to business matters and especially hiring. Most people recognize that this is not the case with the companies they are now working for or have worked for in the past. But all of a sudden, when they become candidates for employment and begin looking for a new job, they think that all those other companies in America are being managed by astute leaders who have great business sense.
Some Statistics on the Nature of Employers
There are 7.5 million businesses in the United States with employees and 27.5 million businesses without employees. Almost all of the businesses (99.9 percent) with employees have fewer than 500 employees and 98 percent of them employ fewer than a hundred people. In fact, the average number of employees in those 7.5 million businesses with employees is sixteen. Back in the year 2000, that figure was the same—sixteen.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that the monthly turnover rate for U.S. companies was 3.3 percent. The monthly hire-and-separation rate of employees and American companies, according to the BLS, was 3.2 and 3.1 percent, respectively. The point is that we are a nation of small companies, with 3 percent of our employees coming and going on a monthly basis. As I mentioned above, most people, for some reason, think that the majority of businesses in the United States are run with great business acumen and have a solid system of doing business. For the job seeker, that translates into the misguided perception that their résumé is going to fall into the hands of intelligent people who are going to read it, who have the authority to hire, and who will bring them in for an interview.
Ironically, most of us know in our hearts and minds, how messy, sloppy, and unorganized most businesses are. But for some reason, we imagine that when these people have the opportunity to interview us, things are going to change.
The average job in United States lasts two and a half to three years. The average 40-year-old in the United States changes jobs 10 times, and the average worker will change jobs 15 to 20 times in their career Even at the C-suite level, there is little stability. Every year since 2007, the average CFO’s tenure at the Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies has been three years.
In 1975, the average company in the United States was fifty-eight years old. In 2011, the average company was fifteen years old, in 2014 the average company was 12 years old, and I recently read where the average company in the United States was now 10 years old. That is a drastic difference over the years. Companies come and go more often than all of us think and so do their jobs. Businesses are more erratic than ever.
Even very large companies make poor business decisions and teeter on insolvency. All we need to do is look at the automotive firms and the major banks that, at one time, were model businesses; then they had to be bailed out by the public. Business success, even survival, is much more of an imprecise science than most of us would want to admit.
Books like Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle reveal that, while hard work is certainly necessary, a great deal of good fortune also is behind both individual and business success. We have a tendency to look at successful businesses and successful people and think that they have magic potions and dazzling talent. Our own egos deceive us into believing that, when we are successful also, it is mostly due to our “dazzling brilliance,” not that we take advantage of good circumstances when we encounter them.
Bill Gates summed it all up well: “Success is a lousy teacher; it seduces intelligent people into thinking they can’t lose.”
A recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that more than 70,000 businesses were established every month in the United States, and that more than 60,000 closed down every month. The same study attributed the creation of more than 300,000 new jobs per month to the birth of these firms, as well as more than 250,000 job losses from the deaths of those other firms. And that was recently, when the economy was considered strong.
I’m not trying to overwhelm you or scare you with all these numbers. I’m just trying to give you a realistic view of the overall employment picture. It’s crazy!
To make matters even more complicated, the challenges of enlarged egos and greed are often overlooked, or not even recognized, in most U.S. businesses. We certainly realize the destructive activities of major names in business who destroy themselves, their companies and the people in them. There are, however, countless other people managing and running businesses in the United States with the same enlarged egos and greed as these people had. The number of people whom these lesser known individuals impact isn’t as great as the high-profile characters, but their actions can be just as devastating to the few who need to work for them or are their customers or clients.
When you come down to it, the people who manage most businesses in the United States are downright goofy. It is amazing that as many of them last as long as they do— and even make money in spite of themselves.
I have personally dealt with more than 80,000 different hiring authorities since 1973. I am convinced that most businesses in the United States model themselves after the people who run them. That is, people run their businesses not much differently from how they run their personal lives. Self-centeredness, greed, ego, lack of common sense, and general overall inflation of one’s business acumen are more the norm than most of us would admit.
Most businesses are started and run by “technicians.” These are people who are good at a particular skill, such as engineering, accounting, or sales. They think that because they are good at what they do, they can start or run a business or even run somebody else’s business (that is, manage). Odds are, you’ve worked for these kinds of people before. They are good at what they do, but they are not really good “people people” and sometimes awful at managing a successful business.
Most businesspeople who manage companies are unrealistic. For example, they often overestimate their capability in dealing with a varying economy. I read a report that at the beginning of the last recession an estimated 42 percent of small business owners expected to increase wages over the next few years. Now, we all know that, except in small pockets of business, wages did not increase during that whole recession. In fact, the National Association for Business Economics released a survey at the beginning of the last recession reporting that 37 percent of queried firms planned to hire people in the next six months. Yet we know that hiring did not happen. The businesspeople were doing some wishfully thinking.
Indeed, many of us see our own narrow slice of the economic pie in overly optimistic terms. We kid ourselves about the future and about our increased hiring. We hope the future will be better. Even authorities promote this delusion. One popular job-hunting author recently wrote that companies assess their needs twelve months in advance. Oh, brother! The truth is that 99 percent of the businesses in the United States don’t have that kind of vision. They never had, and they never will.
Let’s get real. Recovery from each recession in the United States has taken longer than the ones that went before. There were eight recessions between 1947 and 1982, and for each one it took an average of twenty months for the labor market to bottom out and then recover fully. However, in the early 1990s recession, the same process took thirty-two months. Even in the relatively mild “tech wreck” recession of 2001, recovery still took twenty-four months. The recovery from the last recession is still taking place.
On top of this optimism on the part of business managers and owners, companies have “unhappy” employees. Recently, the Conference Board reported that 61 percent of workers under the age of twenty-five were not happy with their jobs, and less than 45 percent of workers between the ages of forty-five and fifty-four were satisfied with their jobs. So, the hiring authority who is potentially going to interview you—unless he or she is the owner of the company—doesn’t like his or her job any more than you like yours and is simply operating out of fear of loss rather than vision of gain.
On top of all of this, it is very rare for any individual, especially a manager, to be hired for their ability to hire and manage other people successfully. Have you ever seen as part of a job description, “the ability to hire, train and keep good employees.” If you’ve been looking for a job for any length of time you are well aware that the people doing the hiring in the interviewing process don’t really seem to be good managers even though they are in that position. If you asked them to tell you how they got those jobs, none of them would ever tell you, “because I have a proven track record of being a skilled hiring authority. I train people extremely well and I retain them as employees because I’m really a good manager.” I’d be willing to bet that 65% of them got their job by just hanging around long enough to be the “last man (or woman) standing.” And they had lived through so many other managers that their superiors thought that if they didn’t promote them into a management slot they might leave and after all, “they’ve been here so long maybe we owe them something.” No one ever bothers to ask, “Is this person a really good manager and do we have documentable proof that they are?” or “We certainly know that they can do the job and even understand the whole department, but can they hire and manage people?”
So, it’s not surprising that the people doing the hiring are not really “people – people.” They don’t interview you very well and they appear, many times, to be extremely incompetent…and they are!
When the people running a business are fearful about what is going to happen, it makes things difficult for the hiring authority, but even more difficult for the candidate. Hiring authorities can’t afford to make a mistake. They perceive that there are hordes of candidates to choose from—and there are. They tell themselves and each other that they can’t afford to hire anyone but the “perfect” candidate, so they are going to keep looking until they find that person. They may not even know if one of those candidates exists, but, by goodness, they need to find him or her.
On top of all of this, you have to have a perspective of what happens when a poor hire is made. When an accountant makes a mistake in accounting, he or she can always go back and rectify the mistake. Maybe other people know it but it’s very few of them. When an IT person makes a mistake there are all kinds of quality control systems that help them rectify their mistakes. When engineers make a mistake a design, it is usually detected early on and fixed. But when managers make a bad hire, first of all it is not detected for quite some time. Secondly, it’s very hard to rectify and thirdly, probably most important, everybody in the company can see the mistake and they all talk about it.
Everyone in the company or a department knows when a manager makes a bad hire. The hiring authority knew it before everyone else did but, as most do, “wanted to give the benefit of the doubt” to the new employee. The reality is that the hiring authority is being judged by everyone in the company who is aware of the mistake as the, “doofus who hired another doofus.” Since they don’t want to look like a doofus too soon, they will give the new employee even a longer time to prove themselves. As a job seeker you have to realize that one of the reasons that it is so hard for a hiring authority, or group of them, to hire someone is that, if they have the least bit of doubt about the candidate, the fear of them looking like a “doofus who hired a doofus,” runs through their mind.
To make matters worse, it’s a lot harder to fire people these days than it used to be. Putting people on performance plans with the eventual goal of getting rid of them takes a tremendous amount of energy and time as well as being terribly distracting.
Why is all of this important for you to know? Because if you are like most candidates, you think that you are going to be considered and evaluated by intelligent businesspeople who have a genuine sense of appreciation for what you can do for their company. You think a great hiring authority is personally anxious to interview and hire you.
If you assume that the “right people” are reviewing your résumé and thinking about interviewing you, you need to think again.
Next week: more on the Crazy Hiring Environment