ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There have been plenty of news reports about labor shortages and businesses unable to fill positions throughout the pandemic. But, there is another side of this story that hasn't gotten enough attention; millions of people looking for jobs and can't get hired because of online algorithms, artificial intelligence, and more.
ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska sat down with St. Petersburg resident Elizabeth Longden. She showed us all of the jobs she's applied for on LinkedIn and Indeed. More than a thousand applications were filed on LinkedIn and more than 140 on Indeed.
"So, business data strategy, talent and culture recruiter, diversity, equity and inclusion specialist, human resources," Longden said as she named off a few of the jobs she's applied for. "There are 128 pages with eight applications per page."
"That's a lot of jobs," Paluska said.
"Yeah, a lot," Longden replied with a half-smile that was more of an acknowledgment of her job woes.
"How do you process 1,000 plus rejections?" Paluska asked.
"It's discouraging, and fortunately, there haven't been 1,000 rejections. Most of the places don't even get back to you one way or the other," Longden said. "So yeah, we're looking at less than that. But it's still a big, you know, it's a big confidence blow, especially when you hear, oh, there's a labor crisis. And nobody wants to work. And like, hi, I would like to work."
According to the Bureau of Labor, a record 4.4 million people quit their jobs in September. That's a new all-time high. So, you would think millions of openings would help Longden. But, that's not the case.
Longden has a college degree, an insurance license, and a decade of work experience in human resources. In May, like many Americans throughout this pandemic, she was laid off from her company. So she took about a month off to reset and started the search in her field as an operations specialist, people ops, HR, and businesses operations.
"Have you ever been in a hole where you lost a job, and you couldn't get another one in the past?" Paluska asked.
"Not where I had lost one and couldn't get another one. I'd had times where I'd moved, you know, and had had trouble finding a job for maybe a month or two. But I was always able to find something," Longden said.
In September, the Harvard Business School released a study called Untapped Workers: Hidden Talent. The study explains this lack of hiring phenomenon. The lead author, Joseph Fuller, estimating millions of Americans are in the same position as Longden.
"So, you have this, this system that systematically excludes people that may not check every box in the employer's description of what they're looking for, but can be highly qualified on multiple parameters, even those the most important for job success, but they still get excluded," Fuller, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School said. "But what happens is, the employer in setting up these filters and ranking systems emphasizes some skills over others, intended to rely on two factors to make a decision."
The job search algorithms and artificial intelligence filter out candidates based on keywords before someone like Longden ever talks to a human being.
"And, the algorithms are unforgiving," Fuller said. "If you don't, if you don't have the right keywords, if you're just missing one of those attributes, you can get excluded from consideration even though you check every box on every other attribute they're looking for."
"Whose fault is that the company or LinkedIn or Indeed?" Paluska asked.
"You know, no company sets out to have a failed hiring process," Fuller said. "They provide the tools that their customers regularly ask for. So I think this is a tragedy, without a villain. It's the way companies have gone about it is optimized around minimizing the time it takes to find candidates in minimizing the cost of finding someone to hire. There's some kind of killer variable that is causing the system to say not qualified or not attractive relative to other applicants. The vast majority of those candidates never hear back anything just ghosted."
Longden has been ghosted a lot. One recruiter called her three times in a week asking for her to apply and when she thought she got the job, radio silence. Longden thought he was dead.
"I even was like, 'Are you alive?' You know, like, I just want to know, you're okay, you've just totally gone dark," Longden said.
Longden's job search hell has her skeptical of the entire process.
"I've also discovered that there's been a huge uptick in companies wanting pre-work from people. So all in all, I've probably done about 25 hours worth of pre-work for various companies, none of which has been compensated, and none of which I've even gotten a roll-out of," Longden said.
"Do you think they are using your work for their benefit?" Paluska asked.
"Oh, I'm sure," Longden said. "One of the things I was asked to create was an onboarding process for new employees. So that's what the role at the company would have been doing was onboarding their new employees as they came in. And so, one of the pre-work examples was to create an onboarding process from the offer to the 90-day mark of employment. And I did that. And I'm certain that they're having multiple people do that and pulling what they like best from everyone."
We reached out to LinkedIn and Indeed for comments but did not get a response back.
"Two or three quick suggestions for Elizabeth, the first is be very, very aware of language terms, and make your submission. Match what's being asked for, to the greatest degree you can with integrity," Fuller said. "The second thing I would say is, go on something like LinkedIn and look at the profiles of people who got the job you want. And what are they saying they do? What keywords are they using? Is there a regularly referenced tool that they claim expertise in that she doesn't have?"