Billy Connolly, the famous Scottish comedian, had a joke about buying shampoo. He went into a shop and discovered hundreds of different brands, types and varieties of hair products, and it wasn’t even clear whether some of the bottles were shampoos or not. And he yearned for the days when “you’d go into the shop and ask for a bottle of shampoo, and they would give you one.”This joke tells us a lot about what is wrong with the job market and why it has become such a minefield for job-hunters. The workers and job-seekers are the shampoo, in case this isn’t clear. 50 years ago, a company needed a typist or an engineer, or a school needed a teacher, they would advertise for one. And if you had the right qualifications, you could apply. And they would pick one. And normally that person would do fine. You had a job, the company had an engineer, the school had a science-teacher, or whatever. Everyone was happy.Today, every company is convinced that they are special: “we don’t just need any shampoo, we need a moisturizing, coffee-scented, dark green 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner for brittle shoulder-length blonde hair.”However, since they know that maybe they won’t find exactly what they want, and who knows, there might be one exceptional lemon-scented shampoo that would be just as good as a coffee-scented one, they don’t put all this information in the job-advertisement. In fact, they say something like “we need someone with a degree who is interested in having an exciting career” - although they are not always quite that specific.So everyone reads the application, realises that they may be eligible, and because they are desperate, spends maybe a day applying, writing a cover-letter, filling an online application form, and so on.And so the company gets 231 applications for one job, and the hiring manager simplifies her life by discarding 80% of them based on what are, essentially, really stupid criteria - typos, CV formatting, the first line of the CV, and so on. These are “stupid” criteria because they tell you nothing about the candidate, only about which source of advice the candidate has used to complete the CV, and who has proof-read it for them. If you are looking to hire someone to a senior position, then probably their ability to proof-read their 120th job-application-cover-letter for spelling-typos should not be the first criterion you use. If people have a typo in their CV, maybe that’s a sign that they are trying to optimise it for each specific job, surely a good sign of strategic thinking that should outweigh the negative of slightly imperfect orthography.But there are so many applications that the HR manager needs to find some way to eliminate say 221 of the 231 candidates. And giving serious consideration to the potential fit of each person for the specific role just isn’t realistic. (future AI might change this, even today possibly AI’s ability to sort through vast numbers of applications might outweigh its inability to deeply understand each one).Let’ say that they eventually interview some of the candidates, for the sake of argument, 10 of them. So now, each of these candidates will give up a day for the interview itself and often significantly more time in preparation, reading up about the company and so on. Because to not have researched the company could suggest that the candidate was just applying to lots of companies rather than having a specific life-long interest in this particular company, which would be enough reason to exclude them - after all, if you’re not willing to invest a week of your life for a 1 in 231 chance to work with our company, are you really the type of person we want to hire?But do they really have a 1 in 231 chance? Or now a 1 in 10 chance?Of course not. Because a lot of HR departments these days pretty much exclude anyone who actually applies for many roles, on the Groucho Marx logic that they wouldn’t hire anyone who would want to work for them. Or more precisely, because, by virtue of applying, that suggests they must be desperate (well, at 231 to 1 odds, they have a point), which means their career mustn’t be going very well, so they mustn’t be all that good. Etc.And so, they go and look for “passive” candidates. Find someone who’s happy and successful in whatever job they’re doing, and try to tempt them to come and work for you instead. What a great idea! Literature is full of characters who refused to accept any of the single, available suitors and insisted on chasing people who were married instead. Predictably, that usually worked out pretty badly. And so some genius decided that HR should try the same experiment. It may be in the short-term interest of the hiring manager, a few high-visibility candidates may benefit from it, but the long-term impact is just very negative on everyone, especially on the people who were working with the passive candidate in their previous company.But even more especially on those job-seekers who have put so much time and effort into their application and interview only to find out that in fact there was never any real chance of them getting the job at all.Or more likely, never to find out anything - because these days, rather than sending rejection letters like we got when I was in college and we were all applying for our first jobs (PFO’s and occasionally just FO’s :) ), many companies just ghost - you never hear from them again, you have no idea if the role has been filled, if you’re still a candidate, or whatever. You don’t know if you should apply for other vacancies with that company, for example.You can argue, of course, that the good candidates will eventually find a job. But the problem is that many don’t, and there is no guarantee even for the good candidates. And so the whole process is highly stressful.Part of the problem is with statistics. You’d think that if you’re a good candidate and you just keep applying, one day you’ll get lucky. But that’s not how it works. Let’s say you apply for 100 jobs, and for each job you have a 1% chance of being hired. So you’d think “OK, 100 applications is a lot of work, but I’m pretty sure to get a job at the end of it all, right?” Well, no. Because that’s not how statistics works. Even if you don’t have any systemic problem (e.g. your shoes or your tie or your grey hair or some standard answer you tend to give is putting interviewers off, but they don’t tell you why, so you never find out), lots of low-percentage chances do not ever add up to certainty. In this case, 100 applications with a 1% chance for each one, the odds are less than 2 out of 3 that you will get a job.How can it be right for job-seekers to have to go through this minefield just to feed themselves and their families? How can it be right that experienced, hard-working, qualified people who can definitely do a great job, cannot find a job, even in markets where employers claim there is a shortage?Equally, how can this be right for people newly entering the job-market and desperately in need of income to pay off their college loans? Or for parents returning to work after career breaks to raise a family?How can it be right that so much of the creative energy and intellectual effort of so many people, energy and effort that could be used for so many great things to benefit society, goes into this game of competing just for the right to work, to this charade in which everyone knows that everyone else is pretending, but still the rules state that you must stay in character or you are expelled from the game?How can it be “normal” that the process of finding a job requires so much time and effort and offers so few guarantees?I have some ideas, which I’ll share. But first some personal perspective.From the tone of my answer, you may assume I’m a very angry job-seeker, frustrated at the lack of progress, feeling powerless to do anything. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve been lucky enough to never be unemployed, and when I have, during certain periods, applied for jobs, I’ve found the system treated me very well. Most of my applications got replies, and I got several interviews, in which I met very interesting and friendly potential future-colleagues and truly got a chance to convince them that I was the right person for the job.Any HR people I interacted with were super-helpful. I know I’m part of a privileged minority thanks to my qualifications and experience, but I also truly believe that the flaws in the current system are not the fault of HR managers anywhere - they are victims just like the rest of us, struggling to do a tough job in a system which needs to be re-thought for the third millennium.My real perspective is that I’ve been involved in hiring, both in my previous job (in a multinational) and in my current role (in a start-up). In both cases I’ve been shocked at the extraordinary number and quality of applicants we got for each position, the amount of work they put into each application, and the number of truly great candidates that get rejected for every one who is accepted. I really wanted to write back to the candidates we didn’t hire and tell them that they were really great (well, most of them) - but I couldn’t figure out how to do that in a way that didn’t sound like a very well written but insincere rejection letter (“it’s not you, it’s us!”) …It is so utterly wrong that such qualified, competent people should have to enter such a lottery to get a job.We need a system in which companies stop looking for some needle in a haystack candidate, and instead, to paraphrase Billy Connolly, when you need an engineer or an accountant or a salesperson, you just ask for one, and they give you one. For example, you put your name on a list to which qualified candidates (say chemical engineers) can sign up and be validated, and the next company who needs one takes the next qualified candidate and pairs you up - so that a person putting their name on the list knows that their turn will come and they will get a job.I know systems like this work for jobs like nursing and teaching in some countries, but apparently it’s not appropriate for hiring middle-managers – because obviously securing a 3% increase in sales in North Dakota is far more important than taking care of the sick or educating our children …And sure, if they prove incapable of the job, you can replace them - but mostly they won’t - after a couple of months working in the company, they will fit in fine. In those first months they will have the time to learn 90% of the things that today are on the list of exclusion criteria for HR, for example “no GMP experience” or “familiar with our budget software” – instead of trying to find the needle in the haystack, just train the person up on things like that, it’s not rocket science. The cost of this will be far less than the cost of the HR and recruiting effort to find a candidate who ticks all the boxes. And working with someone for a month will tell you a lot more about them than any interview, no matter how sophisticated.Why will this never happen? Because the idea would scare the hell out of recruiters … and the irony is that they too face the same dilemma that everyone else faces - if the company decides to downsize the recruiting department, then they are forced to re-enter the lottery of applying for one job with 500 applicants if they want to pay their rent or feed their families.Without pretending to know the perfect solution, I think we can say that the current system is just plain wrong.(note: this was mostly posted first as a comment in response to another answer, but I realised it was actually an answer in itself, so I’ve chosen to repost it somewhere where people can actually see it!)PS It is crazy to think this, but I truly did hesitate before posting this, because with the checks that are run on social-media these days, just writing this answer might end up causing me to be excluded if I were to apply for some role in the future. But then again, maybe it will help … who knows?ADDITION/EDIT:One topic that comes to mind reading all the replies: A lot of job-applicants would really benefit from getting honest feedback about why they didn’t get the job. I mean, real specific details, like “you didn’t seem well-prepared, you couldn’t even name two of our products”, or “you arrived late for the interview, that is a no-no for us”, or “there’s a photo on facebook that appears to show you smoking a joint” - in addition to more standard things like “you were a good candidate, but we found someone better, more qualified, with more experience.”Unfortunately, it is very difficult for HR/Recruiters to give a candidate this kind of feedback, even if they truly want to help the candidate. Because in this world of “no good deed goes unpunished”, there is the risk that the candidate will respond aggressively (“that wasn’t me in the photo - so I want you to re-open my application!”) or even make a legal challenge (“you cannot legally exclude me for not having 5 years of experience, that is ageism!”) or whatever. Not real examples, but you get the idea. The result: applicants rarely get useful feedback, and potentially continue to be excluded again and again for the same reason.I have often wondered if there is a solution to this. Especially for cases where the reason is something blatant and fixable (social-media content, inappropriate attire, typos, …), wouldn’t it be good if the person rejecting the application could provide helpful feedback to the applicant with no risk of reprisal.The applicant would have to promise not to use any of the feedback against the employer in any context. Even if they believed that it was discriminatory or unfair or even false. Yes, this seems wrong, but the alternative is even worse - we shouldn’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.Perhaps an intermediate agent (e.g. a state-body) could be involved, could collect the feedback and share it, so that it is not the company who has to deal with the legal and logistical questions.As humans, we learn best through feedback. I believe this scheme would be extremely powerful, and would perhaps even start to help address the problem many applicants feel of being constantly rejected and never knowing what they need to change to get accepted.I don’t in any way think it would be trivial to make it happen - but the problem is big enough that maybe it’d be worth trying.Interested to hear any ideas about this in the comments below!