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Examine the expectations and inferences underlying selected job positions. Consider timely topics in career preparation and the struggle for fulfilling employment. Analyze what could be improved in either situation. If this blog reminds you too much of work, then peruse my namesake blog for lighter fare.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Job Application Fee: A Game-Changing Tool for Winnowing to the Winners

Problem Statement

After carefully reading the requirements and duties of the position, some job seekers may apply for a position in which they could potentially learn all relevant duties but have only performed a few of those in actuality. In turn, this lower end of the applicant pool tends to think, "Hey, my chances are 1 in 100 if I apply and 0 in 100 if I don't, so I'll apply despite an unknown number of more experienced people going up against me."

The over-optimistic job seeker hopes, “Although there are probably dozens of more experienced applicants, their communication skills might be inadequate to describe their experience in the best way compared to the talking points demanded by the scoring rubric. Who knows? Given the minimal opportunity cost, I may as well pursue this position.”

Presuming a telephone interview takes around 20 minutes and post-interview notes by the phone screener require another 10, each interviewee occupies at least half an hour of paid personnel time. Double or triple this cost, depending on how many interview panelists are involved. I made a cost matrix to illustrate just how expensive it is to interview first-rounders:

Number of InterviewersInterviewer WageNumber of ApplicantsTime per ApplicantTotal Cost
1$15/hour1001/2 hour$750
2$15/hour1001/2 hour$1,500
3$15/hour1001/2 hour$2,250
1$20/hour1001/2 hour$1,000
2$20/hour1001/2 hour$2,000
3$20/hour1001/2 hour$3,000
1$15/hour1001 hour$1,500
2$15/hour1001 hour$3,000
3$15/hour1001 hour$4,500
1$20/hour1001 hour$2,000
2$20/hour1001 hour$4,000
3$20/hour1001 hour$6,000

NOTES: To calculate the cost of 200, 300, or N applicants in each scenario, multiply the Total Cost by 2, 3, or (N/100). I included 1 hour as a potential time per applicant to account for capitalized expenses of pre-interview screening exercises such as iCIMS (cheat sheet accessible on the top-right tab of this blog), as firms spend time and money to maintain the online functionality of such stratagems, if not administer them in person. Also, temp agencies process a bunch of paperwork for each temp, whether ultimately hired or not, so this must be accounted for. Continuing forth:

On the job seeker’s end, a face-to-face interview costs more time and perhaps a comparable amount of money when you account for gasoline; the risk of running off the road in frustration over a slow, lengthy drive in unfamiliar territory; and the stress of a commute just for a glorified game of chance -- “maybe” getting that job.

[Optional Rant: Show]

NOTE: Thinking and acting, “That job is mine!” doesn’t work, either. None of the thousands of job coaches who have lived ever figured this out! Willpower means nothing without proper instrumentation. Does visualizing yourself breathing easily while you’re drowning make you capable of breathing underwater? NO!!!

[/Optional Rant : Hide]

Thankfully for job applicants, organizations are increasingly using phone interviews to identify who gets a second-round interview face-to-face. Although a telephone screen isn’t costly for the job candidate, the pre-screening tests of psychological exam and “common sense” customer service skills costs money due to the license paid to administer online these test batteries.

Anyone who’s worked in a call center at any time in the last five years can tell you about the computerized simulation that serves as a litmus test for who gets to reiterate their résumé to an actual human -- albeit one lacking humanity, as HR personnel are wont to check theirs at the door when entering the office every day.

Thankfully for job applicants, organizations are increasingly using phone interviews to identify who gets a second-round interview face-to-face. Although a telephone screen isn’t costly for the job candidate, the pre-screening tests of psychological exam and “common sense” customer service skills costs money due to the license paid to administer online these test batteries.

Anyone who’s worked in a call center at any time in the last five years can tell you about the computerized simulation that serves as a litmus test for who gets to reiterate their resume to an actual human -- albeit one lacking humanity, as HR personnel are wont to check theirs at the door when entering the office every day.

All things considered, it’s more surprising an algorithm hasn’t been patented to weigh candidates against organizational biases and then auto-pick by experience. Then again, clever people such as I could ascertain how to “game” the system by trial and error, so an anthropomorphic watchdog remains necessary.

Have you ever heard of computers pulling off a conspiracy to keep someone unemployed for so long? It’s because computers aren’t biased against an individual’s very existence -- unless so programmed by decision makers!

Too Many Jobbers in the Tournament of Champions

The most extreme examples of people having no chance to actually be selected -- yet, nonetheless offered a half hour of well-paid staffing personnel time for an interview -- are found in publicly funded state agencies and state universities. Although I’ve never been interviewed for a federal or municipal job, I’ve had dozens of first-round interviews for various positions at universities and in state agencies.

But given the lack of a second-round interview after so many tries, it should be quite evident to someone who sees my name pop up again and again in the ATS -- with the same work history, due to the glass ceiling of quasi-relevant, semi-credible “self-employment” -- that an easy time-saving measure would be to do as the private companies do: Send the template “thank you for applying, but…” rejection email a few minutes after receiving my application, as nothing has changed, and no amount of job interviews will change anything.

However, agency regulations prohibit the human resources department from refusing to interview any applicant who minimally qualifies for the position, such as by a score of 70 percent or greater on the civil service exam. Some will protest, “70 points do not mean 70 percentage points,” but I’ve never seen a maximum score higher or lower than 100. Ergo, N points implies “N out of 100,” which means “N percent.”

There is only so much utility to the job candidate that may be gained from facing the same first-round interview questions over and over again. On the bright side, I’ve slogged through enough such inquiries to understand the question clusters that are asked of each policy analyst position in the State of Wisconsin government and can therefore advise accordingly as an unofficial expert on the subject.

Then, you wonder why the UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Science (CALS) interviews the 17th-ranked candidate on their “civil exam,” which is merely an applicant’s own written comparison of how their work history demonstrates the skills and abilities called for in the position description.

Again, the job candidate can benefit by knowing his or her rank in terms of experience, something which the State of Wisconsin actually deigns to disclose! (That is quite refreshing, although I’d like to know who I beat in the qualifying round for “Top 10” and who the nine other finalists are. Networking, you know? Not to make them unavailable for interviews or anything.)

So, what’s the big deal?

Opportunity Costs Aplenty

Because of the aforementioned low opportunity cost of trying for the brass ring, the barely-qualified-to-work-at-all candidate is given as much first-round consideration -- and man hours of processing interview notes and scheduling emails -- as the ones who actually have prior experience that will get them into the second round of interviews.

Allowing these minimally qualified individuals to interview is a waste of resources because they are not selected vis-à-vis the more qualified applicants, due to having never been hired for those positions that could potentially involve the duties necessary to qualify into the presently desired employment.

There’s even more cost to the interviewers when written essays are scored in a highly regulated fashion prior to commencement of first-round interviews. And while no real “cheat sheet” or “brain dump” exists for a given Wisc.Jobs civil exam, it would be mighty helpful to know which positions track well into the ones advertised. For example, which jobs best prepare a candidate to be a serious contender for Level 1 University Services Associate?

It pays $14 hourly and seems to be the most entry-level position -- even lower than the $15 hourly University Services Program Associate (note the USPA vs. USA designation) -- but there aren’t any obvious stepping-stone opportunities listed, such as $10 hourly office positions, on Wisc.Jobs.

“Good luck” interviewing an incumbent for a potential revelation. Informational interviews are increasingly difficult to get as you get older because people just don’t trust career-curious guys in their early-to-mid adulthood. Maybe when you’re old enough, you can pull off a grandfatherly vibe to loose their lips, but it is always a tough sell. It’s not like you can just walk into ShopKo and talk yourself into a job! (One woman at a job center claimed to have done this, but then why was she hanging out in a job center? I smell a twinset-wearing rat!)

Working in government doesn’t mean a person is public about his or her work history; in fact, most seem to be embarrassed by it, much as they would hide a tumor! I am happy to say that I’m proud of my work and proclaim my employment history wherever possible. Ninnies need not apply when they’re up against me in the candidate selection process!

[Optional Rant: Show]

Good luck trying to weasel that information out of the minds of HR. They “cannot disclose because it would give an unfair advantage” and, “We cannot identify which positions the chosen candidate held previously because it would violate applicant confidentiality.”

The right to keep private one’s trade secrets for getting a particular job apparently supersedes the whole “atmosphere of learning” -- the latter just isn’t important to the university when you’re trying to persuade them to pay you a salary instead of you paying them tuition!

Universities are so selfish, that I refuse to donate even if I somehow end up earning a lot of money. I’ll invest in blue-chip stocks and advertise against universities generally -- but promote a university? Not unless they pay me good money to do so!

And yet, universities are similarly bound by civil service exam guidelines for most of their non-student positions. Obligated to interview all who surpass the minimum threshold -- but by which regulations?

No one seems to know. The closest I got was a red herring, when “LVT” in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at UW-Madison blamed my February 2013 non-selection for Level 2 Financial Specialist on the 2011 budget reconciliation bill, claiming the position remained vacant after interviews of multiple candidates.

“It was Governor Walker’s fault!” Yeah, right -- and every executive officer in the United Council of UW Students is always “in a meeting” and can therefore never discuss policy over the phone. LIES!!!

Having read the entire JSR1-2011 legislation -- something I highly doubt LVT did, as hearsay seems to be her preferred method of learning about issues -- I pressed her for further details. LVT then copped out by saying, “I don’t know specifically. I’d have to ask my steward, but she’s busy.” Another lie! How wonderfully poor of an example set by UW staff.

But in the cynical minds of many HR henchfolk, it would be a greater evil to let me enjoy the fruits of professional employment, so the end justifies their means. Whatever they can legally do to ensure I’m never hired, is precisely what they will do.

And lest none dare call it conspiracy, what is to stop the following scenario? “Welcome to our HR Conference of Evil. Your job is to prevent Joe Ohler from getting any job, even the LTE laborer ones. If he rises to prominence, then our status shall be jeopardized.” [In unison] “Yes, master!”

[/Optional Rant : Hide]

Half-Baked Decisions Waste Dough

Now the same under-qualified guy, having accrued perhaps another half year as self-employed policy analyst, recurs in your ATS. If you’re in the private sector, then you say, “Hey, I recognize him. He has nothing to offer, despite his claims. Next!”

If you’re in the HR department of a municipality, then you say, “I don’t recognize him, so we can’t trust him. Let’s get one of the children of the Common Council members to fill this position.”

If you’re using the federal ATS, then you don’t say anything because an algorithm scores résumés and determines which are “most qualified.”

But if you’re in the HR department for a state agency or for a business unit within a UW System campus, then you say, “His name gives me pause, but he qualifies minimally, so we’re obligated to ask him whether he wants to interview.”

I applied for LTE agency positions but was never granted a first interview. This most evidently is because those rely upon a different type of confidential evaluation and not upon the “write essays about your job history”-type civil exams used for permanent state-funded positions.

Although 4 LTE vacancies were posted, I was not interviewed for any. Nonetheless, some mirth is appropriate to cleave the clouds of job seekers’ gloom: Read my cover letter for fraud investigator!

I’ve devised the perfect solution to the dilemma of when less-than-best-qualified people -- who are no good at getting any job experience involving the duties of the jobs for which they apply -- come knocking at your door at an organization where your operating rules prohibit an instant write-off of such folk:

Why not a “candidate consideration” fee to absorb some of the cost?

The Penultimate Solution to Undesirable Job Candidates

Barring an applicant altogether would be the last resort; discrimination complaints could be costly, even if you prohibit someone based on “poor organizational fit.” And how do you know for certain, without granting another first-round interview for a future vacancy, whether the candidate who was merely minimally qualified last time has not become the best qualified in the interim?

Rather than risk a move that critics might call discriminatory, you should charge an employment application fee to every applicant for a given position! Make this a universal policy to minimize the chances someone could claim discrimination based on anything other than skills and job experience (which are associated with income, but not to the point of “disparate impact”). Why not raise the stakes by assessing a fee every time someone wants to be considered for a job?

Let’s face it: White-collar employers already discriminate against blue-collar workers for not having relevant experience, so additional discrimination based on inadequate income to afford a bunch of job applications won’t really harm applicants as much as it would help organizations recoup recruitment costs.

It’s really no crueler than not hiring someone who drove 100 miles for a job interview; and human resources personnel are already divorced from their humanity anyway; so why not give this policy a whirl?

Although the amount levied would depend on the compensation and duties of the vacancy, such an additional investment on behalf of applicants would further force candidates to prioritize which positions they pursue. The partially qualified candidate will not even bother this time if s/he is low on cash and doesn’t already know someone in the organization advertising the job.

Internship Surcharge and Job Placement Fee as Business Model

More profitable than an unpaid intern, one who pays your organization on a daily basis for work experience is definitely a way to boost your company’s bottom line -- or to offset public expenditures if you’re a government agency. The applicant pays for his or her own background check in addition to the daily pay-to-work fee; I explain in the section “Benefit to the Candidate” why a job seeker would do this.

Insurance costing you $50 a day for an untested temp or idiosyncratic intern? Charge $100 per day, to cover the daily insurance premium, in addition to the candidate paying the entire cost of the background check ($15 for the State Department of Justice report and $X for any other credential checks). In other words: Organizations have more to gain financially from my proposition than they would lose, both in the short-term and long-term time horizons.

What about protecting against people who hate your organization, such as irate interviewees who were not hired? The job experience placement fee / internship surcharge would be sufficiently expensive to cover the cost of liability insurance, dispute remediation, and/or conflict resolution for if / when your existing employees find the intern to be annoying and file a grievance. And if your employees find the pay-to-work person intolerable, then you can dismiss him or her without a refund.

Require every paying intern or pay-to-work temp to pass a pat-down inspection and bag / briefcase search for weapons whenever entering the building. Most big firms have security guards for this purpose, and the worst that can happen is that a very strong temp hurls a desk at someone or dumps a cup of restroom juice into the water cooler.

Benefit to the Candidate

A vacancy isn’t really an opportunity if you’re one of the last people one imagines when thinking “ideal person to fill this job,” so save your hard-earned dough -- obviously earned at some palooka job, due to your inability to get anything better, despite your yeas of tertiary education, student government budget work, and other accolades -- and write another blog post in the time it would have taken you to perfect another résumé and cover letter. You’ll have more to show for it!

It is only fitting that I first proposed companies begin charging a job application fee. It takes someone who’s interacted with literally hundreds of organizations’ candidate selection processes to understand how badly such a fee is needed before you'll see fewer people pressing their luck with so many opportunities!

I also recommended organizations charge interns and potential employees for the privilege of working there, as the value of on-the-job experience could potentially outweigh the application fee presuming the company lets the person observe and question others in the job instead of just being stuck in the peanut gallery.

Conclusion: We Have a Winner!

I cannot over-emphasize the utility of the position-oriented or department-specific job application fee or candidate consideration surcharge. Under the status quo, it seems many organizations spend way too much time inviting marginally qualified candidates, only for both sides to be disappointed. Why?

The job application fee would provide incentive for a candidate in low demand by the labor market to decline consideration. Candidates in high demand from the labor market are more likely to forgo an opportunity, irrespective of an application fee, because they're just that skilled at making the right connections at the right time.

The present tendency, without charging the fee, is to end up with even more minimally qualified job candidates than you would if you were to charge a job application fee; the surcharge moderates this “natural” imbalance.

Remember the cost table from the start of this article? Here is a net revenue table demonstrating the fiscal benefit of a candidate consideration fee / internship surcharge / pay-to-work fee / whatever you want to call it your organization:

Cumulative Search
Cost (All Candidates
Number of ApplicantsDaily Fee per ApplicantDays on JobApplicant RevenueProfit

As calculated above, the break-even fee in the minimum-recruiting cost scenario would be around $75. But that’s if you have enough applicants paying the fee; a smaller applicant pool might be charged more to compensate with larger margins for the smaller volume.

Even if the prospect of a consideration fee scares away some candidates, these are unlikely to be the best qualified; those who are doing well in their careers would think nothing of plunking down a Benjamin or two for a chance at higher earnings in a better job.

And there you have it: I have solved a problem for human resources! Call me a corporate hero.

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