We Need a Job Search Revolution

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about working in the modern world is that time when you come to the end of whatever it is that you’re doing and you start to realize it’s time to start looking for work again. Perhaps you’ve been on a long project with a company and it’s over now and there’s no more work for you. Maybe you came in to work one day and the company suddenly downsized its workforce, and now you’re out of a job. For many, you’re just tired of dealing with the hassle that is your job and you want to find something better. Whatever the reason, you basically have to take on an unpaid second job in order to find something new.

We live in a time now where it seems completely ridiculous that looking for work should be so difficult. With the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips, you would think that it should be a snap to just post your resume, find a job, and then get to work. Instead, we spend hour after hour reading through job listings, trying to find one that vaguely matches our experience and education in the hopes that maybe the company will bother to even take a look at us. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the same amount of effort that went into amazing search engines like Google has gone into one of the most important searches we ever participate in: the job hunt.

As job seekers, most of us don’t really understand how the internet works, much less the algorithms that run it. There are a multitude of services out there that offer to help you “optimize” your resume, for both human and algorithmic consumption. You see, it isn’t just a human resources manager you’re trying to cater your application documentation to; you have to get through a multitude of automated filters before human eyes ever see what you put to paper. If you don’t have things set up just right, then you can put out as many applications as you want and never get seen in the slightest.

I grew up at the dawn of the true internet era back in the 1990s, long before we really had the insane amount of sheer computing power that we have now. As I’ve continued to follow along while the alternate universe that is our internet has grown, I’ve reached that point where I just feel left behind. There used to be a time when people went out of their way to optimize things to make users the priority and remove as much of the natural error processes from things as possible. These days, it seems like they put up as many roadblocks as they can to make things so difficult that only those who are willing to go get degrees in computer science have a chance of figuring out how these things work.

Like most things in the world, we’re currently suffering from the problem of too many options combined with not enough effort being put into any of the options to make them something that is eminently useful. As a libertarian minded person, I’m all about competition, but just like the streaming industry, we have so many choices out there that there just isn’t enough in one place to get a very good chance of finding something good. Back in the day, Netflix was the powerhouse of streaming, and you could generally find a lot of good content there because it was pretty much the only operation around. Now we have dozens of different companies vying for our dollar, and rather than having one $15 per month subscription, you have to pay for multiple passes to get access to all the shows you want. It’s the same problem we have with the electric car market: all these competing companies want to be the one that wins out so that their proprietary product becomes the standard and everyone is forced to conform to it.

The same problem exists in our job search platforms. Each one of them is trying to make their own version of what looking for work should be, which is great from an ideological perspective, but none of them is really implementing anything that truly makes looking for work easier on both sides of the process. You have platforms like Indeed and Monster and LinkedIn and many others, not to mention each of the individual state sponsored look for work sites, each of which is pulling from a different pool of employers and employees and trying to bring them together. If the job you need isn’t on the platform you’re searching on, you’ll never find it unless you’re on every single platform that’s out there. It’s the streaming problem all over again.

Looking for work in this modern age of information just really shouldn’t be nearly as hard and time consuming as it is. We have the intellect and willpower to create something that truly bring employers and employees together through the matching up of all kinds of data points. Advertisers spend billions of dollars every year collecting data on each and every one of us to make sure they’re putting just the right ad at just the right time to give them the best chance of making a sale. Why is the job search market not treated in the same way? How many dollars are wasted in human resources departments every year trying to fill positions? How many are wasted in unemployment checks for people fruitlessly searching for jobs that those managers never even see?

The labor market is by far the most critical part to any economy, but it feels like we treat it like it’s an afterthought. Perhaps the biggest problem that we face is that the expectation seems to be on the users themselves to figure out how the system works and then conform themselves to it. This is absolutely the wrong way to develop a service that millions of people are going to be using. We are not robots who can be programmed to conform to a system; we are individuals who each have a different way of thinking. Logic demands that any system that we create must be capable of accounting for this vast set of variables by reducing options down to what really matters.

Having developed a few software implementations myself, I can tell you that the most effective way to put something together that is going to be used by many different people is to ensure that what you’re putting together is as streamlined as it can be and forces users to interact with your system in the way that works best for the programming. This means you don’t set things up so that the user has the freedom to do whatever they want. You give them a list of options and constraints that force them to perform inputs that give you the best possible output. It is on the developer to make the system work as intended.

The problem with our current system is that we’re still trying to use old world processes like resumes and then expect the algorithms to pick through all that to find relevant information and match them up with a job. This is the absolute worst way to approach the problem. The correct way is to set up the system with a finite list of options that everyone is confined to, and then use those variables to match employers and employees together based on that information. This way everyone is using the same descriptions of things to come together on expectations, and people have a much better chance of finding a match because we’re all speaking the same language.

In our current system, you put in a vague description of whatever it was you did at your last job and hope for the best that it matches whatever the employers might be looking for. On the other side of the equation, as an employer you put out a vague job description thinking that if you describe it well enough, it will reach the right kinds of applicants. This is a spitting into the breeze approach to filling positions, and it is one of the reasons why there are so many unfilled jobs out there in the world…aside from the fact that many people just don’t want to do a lot of the menial jobs they used to put up with.

Setting that aside, though, we’re suffering from the equivalent of the “illusion of choice” paradox that we live with on so many other things. We get paralyzed by the vast majority of what seem to be options out there, never able to get matched up with an honest to goodness opportunity because the existing algorithms aren’t capable of taking our crude descriptions and turning them into quality matches, on both the employer and employee side. We’re living with that old programming problem of “bad stuff in, bad stuff out”. When you leave it up to a random mix of users to figure out what to put in, you will invariably get bad inputs which result in bad outputs.

In truth, it should never be on the user to have to figure out how your system works to get the best results. It’s the same problem many content creators like myself have with platforms like Google, including YouTube and the search engine and many other things. These are not designed to allow the average person to just get on and output content. You have to learn how to trick it into actually getting your message out there, which is frankly ridiculous with so many people wanting to participate. Our focus should be on making our content the way we want to make it so we can focus on quality, not conforming it to match what the algorithm has decided it needs to be.

We’re living in a time where programmers have become extremely lazy, refusing to focus on things like interface optimization and ensuring that making their systems work is falling on their shoulders rather than the customer. The job search market is just another example of this rampant problem of pushing responsibility onto someone else. This certainly isn’t the only area of our lives where this is happening, but with job security being such a rare thing these days, it is absolutely one of the most important places that needs to be shored up if we are to have a solid future.

What we need at this point is a “hero” company to step up to the plate and design something that takes all the work out of looking for work for both employers and employees, making it incredibly simple to just input a few variables that actually mean something to both sides of the hiring process and be rapidly matched up with companies who are looking for what we have to offer. This means that making it simple for users will require gargantuan efforts by developers to organize it in such a way that it is truly usable, but that’s their job and they really need to start doing it. It should never be on the user to do work that should be done by programmers.

It’s time to get it done.

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