two english bulldog with their backs to each other in an argumentMeet Sharon.

Sharon is a 27-year-old employed adult actively looking for a new job. She has a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university, graduated in the top 10 percent of her class (with honors), and has worked in the same role and field for the past five years (she has the same job she landed post-graduation).

Although Sharon has a lot of PR and marketing experience, she also handles social media for her firm—we’ll say her job duties are 60 percent PR/marketing, 40 percent social media.

Sharon applies for a social media coordinator position for a non-profit organization, as she is eager to transition into the non-profit arena.

The hiring manager immediately interviews her, saying how impressed he is with her extensive media background. Although she hasn’t handled social media communications for non-profits before, Sharon is confident her “for profit” skills will benefit the company in this arena. Plus, while in college, Sharon interned in the communications departments for two non-profits, and she has researched the field extensively before her interview.

A connection at the organization informed Sharon that the non-profit was interviewing her and another woman for the role. After her interview, Sharon is confident she will be chosen. The conversation went well; the hiring manager was impressed; and Sharon made sure to highlight how both the non-profit and she would benefit from her being selected for the role.

Sharon expects a callback soon because the hiring manager explained that, “We needed to fill the role yesterday!”

And Sharon does receive a callback—but not the type any job seeker anticipates.

“You’re very talented, but we’ve decided not to move you forward in the hiring process,” the hiring manager explains.

Sharon is crushed, immediately thinking that the other candidate must have been a social media guru, and therefore, a better selection for the role.

Yet, imagine Sharon’s surprise when one month later she learns that the position is still unfilled.

“They still haven’t hired anyone for the role,” her connection at the non-profit explains.

Now, Sharon is confused. The organization was looking to hire someone immediately, had two qualified candidates yet did not select either one?

And all of that time Sharon was left thinking, maybe it’s me, when truthfully, it wasn’t her after all.

Although Sharon is fictional, this story and many more like it are not. Candidates go into job interviews everyday thinking they went well, only to get rejected and the position remains unfilled.

When I first heard “Sharon’s” story, I immediately began to wonder, maybe it’s not the job seekers (me); perhaps it’s the organizations (you).

We’ve all heard about the skills gap. In fact, CareerBuilder’s The Shocking Truth about the Skills Gap report revealed that, “More than half of employers nationwide have an open job for which they cannot find qualified candidates, and 8 in 10 have difficulty filling positions altogether.”

Yet, many people have wondered if the so-called skills gap even exists.

In her INC.com article, “Is there Really a Skills Gap?” Cait Murphy states that the skills gap is non-existent. She writes:

Yes, there are issues finding people for specific jobs in specific industries; for the labor force as a whole, however, the skills-gap “crisis” is no such thing. And to the extent that your business is having problems, to a large degree, the solutions are in your hands. (bold emphasis added)

Murphy follows the “it’s not me, it’s you” notion by saying one of the reasons employers are having difficulty filling positions is because they’re too picky. She explains:

Simply put, employers pile on so many requirements that finding a match is like hunting for a white elephant: They do exist but are vanishingly rare. Employers, in fact, are not shy about saying this is what they are doing. According to a 2013 Career Advisory Board survey of 500 U.S. hiring managers, 67 percent said they “don’t feel like they have to settle for a candidate without the perfect qualifications.” So if they don’t find the white elephant, they will keep hunting–even though there are willing elephants ready to do the job. (bold emphasis added)

Peter Capelli, Wharton management professor and director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, agrees with Murphy that the pseudo skills gap begins with employer practices. In his e-book, Debunking the “Skills Gap”: Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs, he specifically focuses on problems with the hiring process:

Automation, while saving companies money and making the process easier for workers and employers, has resulted in a number of unintended downsides, including massive numbers of applicants and the need for employers to create overly-specific job descriptions. One job seeker tells Cappelli, “I was just denied a placement with a company because although I had what it takes according to the human resource [manager] who handled my file, I didn’t have the exact same title on my résumé. This specific title is something only that company uses. They are [still] looking to fill this position.”

And writing for labornotes.com, Tony Gilpin also points the finger at employers in his article, “Skills Gap a Convenient Myth.” He explains that 1) there is no such thing as a skills gap but a jobs gap and 2) employers cry about a skills gap while simultaneously laying off workers.

In fact, the real deficit we face is a jobs gap. There are still many more unemployed Americans, across every sector of our economy, than there are positions to put them in.

“Unemployment is high,” one analyst notes, “not because workers lack the right education or skills, but because employers have not seen demand for their goods and services pick up enough to need to significantly ramp up hiring.

He calls for employers and job seekers to “mind the other gap.”

 It’s hypocritical, to put it mildly, for employers to bemoan the shortage of skilled labor while they lay off workers (including skilled ones) and pay less to those they retain. But their whining deflects attention from record profits and lavish executive compensation.

Gilpin uses an example of Boeing threatening its skilled workers to move its new 777X plane out of state if the workers didn’t take concessions.

“‘Capable’ workers were not Boeing’s goal,” Gilpin writes. “Cheap and compliant ones are what the company was after. Reflect for a moment about which sort of people you prefer to build the airplanes you travel in.”

The existence of the skills gap can be debated, but what is clear is that there are millions of skilled, yet unemployed workers out there. So, the next time (or if ever) you find yourself in Sharon’s situation, don’t immediately question whether or not your talents and abilities measure up. Things are not always what they seem to be, and it may not be your “lack” of skills but the company’s “lack” of recognizing top talent.



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