why don’t hiring managers look for potential in people?

A reader writes:

In November, it will be 5 years since I graduated, with a Bachelor of Science degree and a 4.0 GPA. I have experience, though most of it has been volunteer, trying to get more experience as I don’t know what else to do.

Regardless, my experience has been in my field, and paid experience in other fields. I have been able to complete advanced training in my field. Not to mention the international experience, broad knowledge base, wide range of interests and abilities I have. Heck, I was even elected president of a radio station (equivalent to CEO), in another western country last year, with no prior experience. Yet I was very successful, and completed my term in June this year, but it was volunteer, despite being basically a full time job. (I was gone from the U.S. for a year due to a medical family emergency.)

Yet here I sit, not even able to get an interview. My resume is good, I know it’s not that as it was just reviewed and deemed quite acceptable.

So, what do people in my position do? I’m either overqualified or still don’t have enough experience, apparently even if paid training is advertised as part of the position.

I have student loans to pay — I can’t defer. I have no money, no unemployment benefits, kids to look after and I am very highly frustrated and getting very depressed.

Do hiring managers and HR people even look at potential? Do they glance over someones resume and not actually “see” it properly, or do they just not get that some people can literally walk into a job and hit the ground running? Do they look at what the candidate has done and actually comprehend it, or honestly, do they just not “get” some specifics?

Why do they mention entry level and training if they are not willing to take someone who is entry level? And why, when someone may have potential, and has applied thinking they would be trained and therefore have a chance, do they not even look at that candidate? I do understand that hey, if they can find someone with experience and doesn’t need training.. but how much experience are they wanting… is a PRESIDENT of a radio station not considered good enough? My gosh, how much higher do I need to go on the spectrum?

Well, it sounds like you’re looking at it from your perspective without thinking about the perspective of an employer — and that’s key to understanding what’s going on.

Yes, employers may be willing to take someone entry-level and do some training — when they first advertise the position. But when they get flooded with applicants who do have experience and wouldn’t need training, some of whom are quite good, it makes sense that they focus on those people and don’t spend time with others.

You asked why they’re not willing to consider people with potential. But from the employer’s side of this, “potential” often means “unknown quantity,” which means “risk.” And when they have candidates who have already established a track record, there’s no real incentive for them to take a risk.

There’s another piece of this too:  You say you’re confident that your resume is “quite acceptable” — but having it deemed “acceptable” isn’t good enough in this market. It needs to be great. And you need engaging, compelling cover letters too. (And maybe “acceptable” was just a bad choice of words in your letter — but if it’s not getting you a single interview, it’s worth considering that it might need another look.)

I also wonder if you’re possibly shooting too high in the jobs you’re applying for. I don’t know what types of positions you’re targeting, but you might need to aim lower. I know that’s hard to hear, but I suspect that your expectations aren’t quite aligned with what the market will hire you for. For instance, you seem shocked that being president of a radio station isn’t getting you interviews … but based on the info we have here it probably isn’t the sort of thing that’s going to really wow employers. It was less than a year, it was volunteer, and you got the job without prior experience, which says that it probably isn’t really CEO-equivalent, despite your description of it that way. I don’t mean this to be harsh at all, but if you’re applying for jobs assuming that you’re bringing a certain level of qualifications, and employers see it differently, you’re better off realizing that so that you can recalibrate your approach.

It’s hard to give you more specific advice without knowing more specifics, but these are the things I’d start looking at.

It doesn’t do any good to be annoyed that employers don’t see in you what you see in yourself. Your job is to find ways to make them see it — whether it’s through a better resume, or an awesome cover letter, or starting lower than you want and working your way up. If they’re not “getting” what you have to offer, that means that you need to revamp the way you’re selling it.

Of course, none of that is intended to discount the role that the crappy job market is playing here. It absolutely plays a role — a pretty big one. But that doesn’t negate anything above; in fact, it makes it all the more important.

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