The Ph.D. taxi driver is an urban fact, no longer a legend. His problem is that there is no demand for his degree. The flip side of this is the cashier who lacks the degree suddenly required for that job. His problem is that he can’t supply a degree to meet that demand.

An ad specifying precisely that as a prerequisite for a cashier’s job at a Massachusetts McDonald’s franchise recently whipped up a news storm. However, follow-up mass-media reports describe the posting of a B.A. requirement as “misreported information from an independent job offering website.”

Still, even though a cashier may not need a degree to get a job, there are plenty of other job postings with hyper-inflated employer expectations listed.  One  www.addforums.com blog devoted to the issue of unreasonable job requirements is peppered with complaints and speculation about job ads with preposterous expectations, e.g., one that reportedly specified “must have 15 years experience developing apps for Facebook”, despite the fact that Facebook was launched in 2004.

One exasperated poster on that blog bemoaned an illustration of how over-the-top the mind-boggling requirements of a recruiting manager’s job can be: “…For a posted hiring manager’s job, the person must have used this very specific proprietary recruiting software, had 10 years’ experience managing hiring at children’s diabetes nonprofits (or some other super-narrow field), and performed recruiting through social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) for longer than the social media has actually been around. Oh, and the person must also be a marketer, project manager, benefits administrator, and have accounting skills! This just seems ludicrous. It’s like 3-4 different jobs rolled into one.”

The reflex response to such stratospheric hiring expectations is, of course, to wail about how insanely competitive things are for job hunters—that the job market is so tough that employers can be very, very picky; so picky that they ramp up requirements beyond reason. However, our reflexes can lead us astray, e.g., as they do when we scratch a poison ivy rash.

Perhaps there is more to raising the hiring bar than employer out-of-control choosiness in the face of surplus supply.

Pickiness Doesn’t Explain It All

For example, perhaps employers are not trying to attract better educated and trained applicants just because they can. Maybe it’s as much or more a matter of wanting fewer, not better, applicants, in order to ease the administrative workload. That’s the equivalent of raising prices on a high-demand service or product in order to decrease demand, not just to (thereby) increase (or merely maintain) profitability per unit.

“Brob 2”, posting on the forum, echoes this view: “There is also a practical reason; in a soft economy employers get flooded with applications so tightening up job requirements can help reduce the deluge of resumes to a moderate flow. Reviewing scores of resumes is a time consuming pain so it’s easier to post a job for specificity and then if you don’t get a good response, repost and delete a few requirements.”

Compare having too many job applicants with having too many customers. For example, consider an extremely popular restaurant that is too popular and therefore busy—with bottlenecks at the tables, counter and queues at the door. Not only will that irritate customers; it can, through a backlash, also keep them away in the future and hurt the bottom line. It can also create staff morale problems, as they struggle to keep up with the customer traffic.

On top of that, the restaurant may run out of supplies in the midst of a customer surge, again frustrating everybody. So, the restaurant dramatically raises its prices, which accomplishes three things: 1. higher profit per customer; 2. more manageable levels of patronage (and therefore less customer resentment and staff stress); 3. adequate inventory on hand (as a contingency against surges).

This kind of “pricing-to-demand” is not limited to non-professional services: law, accounting and engineering firms may do the same thing if they become victims of their own success and unable to cope with the demand, e.g., by expanding.

Analogous to such increases in prices is the raised job-qualification bar: In requiring a degree for a traditionally non-degree position such as cashier, driver or security guard, an employer may (intend to) reduce the number of applicants to a manageable size. When McDonald’s held a nation-wide recruitment campaign in 2011, thousands of applicants showed up at franchises—individual franchises, resulting in bedlam, and in some instances, mayhem. Beef up the job requirements, to pare the resume pile and storefront pileups to manageable size.

A B.S. B.A.?

Alternatively, many companies may be requiring a B.A. because their management believes that many recent B.A.s are more like B.S and worth less than B.A.s used to be—“worth less” (if not “worthless”) in three senses:

1. Employers believe there are vastly more of them relative to demand than decades ago and are therefore “inflated” in value.

2. Employers believe B.A.s are being granted more “casually”, sometimes in frivolous majors, and therefore in some instances represent less true accomplishment than previously. (This is a claim that would have to be carefully examined statistically and historically.)

3. Employers believe that B.A.s correlate less with high academic ability than, say, 80 years ago, when nothing like half a graduating class would go on to university or college and remedial English and Math were not post-secondary credit courses. (This assumes that improved financial and legislated access to higher education results in lower standards as schools scramble to fill seats that Mother Nature would not, given natural IQ distributions that keep high IQs much rarer than the positions made available through expanded access.) This employer conviction would also be argued and reinforced on the basis of the combination of declining secondary school standards and higher tertiary education enrollments, in both absolute numbers and as a percentage of graduating classes.

Other Possible Explanations

There are, in addition to the foregoing, other possible explanations for unreasonable job requirements, beyond cashier degrees, such as these, cited by others on the ADD forum:

  • “(I wonder whether) these jobs are being filled internally or through word-of-mouth recruiting, and the ads are just posted to meet HR requirements (and waste our time). Or, worse, the jobs don’t actually exist, and the employers are putting them out there to collect resumes…” (“Velvet Tiger”)
  • “The super high qualifications also mean that they can hire someone who doesn’t meet the criteria and pay them less than advertised because of it. The more they list the more reasons they can deduct against.” (“KC Tang”)
  • “What it means is that the job they’re advertising has been earmarked for someone in particular.
    By having a set of specific expectations they can tailor the application so that only one person can qualify thereby reducing the number of applications and appeals they get. Also it ensures that the person that they want gets the job. Even if you did meet the criteria, with something advertised this way you wouldn’t stand a chance.” (“Tudorose”)

One More

One more possibility is that an organization crafts an outrageously demanding job description in an ad in order to impress someone, e.g., investors, government review agencies, job applicants, insurance companies or clients.

Consider a posting that might go like this: “We seek researchers with a substantial corpus of publications in peer-reviewed journals, multiple Ph.D.s, at least two globally recognized research awards, a fruitful history of repeat Defense Department funding—e.g., under DARPA programs, 15 years experience in aerospace and nano-biotechnology, biohazard safety and security certification, 8 years experience as advanced project manager, at least four years experience as a hedge fund manager in an emerging market, and technical writing, editing translation experience in 6 languages, with interpreting experience in more than three.” That would cover all the added bases and be credible, even if the researcher eventually hired were to have only one Ph.D., one language and one publication—since, after all, the ad says only “seek”, not “require”.

However dubious such a job posting may appear, it might be argued that there’s nothing professionally unethical, imprudent, unfair or unwise about trying to impress others that way. After all, perhaps chief among the most popular and strictest guidebook and code-setter of all, the Bible, offers as recruiting guidance only, “Seek and ye shall find.”

Not, “Require and ye shall find.”



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