What Candidates Do in the Face of Impossible Job Ads

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Though by all accounts hiring trends are improving, sometimes the job market seems impossible. For one thing, job ads carry a litany of requirements so lengthy and diverse it's impossible to imagine anyone exists who could take on the position.

It's common to see employers looking for people with an odd combination of rare designations, and compensation packages with little connection to the level experience they seek. What's behind it? Supply and demand. "There's been a certain amount of employers trying to see how much they could upgrade the staff without increasing overhead," says Morgan Nichols, managing partner of Chicago-based Torrey & Gray, a financial recruitment firm. Nichols says the trend has waned in recent months, in part because employers realize they get what they pay for, and have become more realistic after operating on very lean staffs for several years.

That doesn't mean candidates aren't frustrated anymore.

Take Mark Miller, who was laid off in December 2008 from his job as vice president of risk management for an international bank. He's been consulting ever since, though he'd rather find a full-time position. He was bemused when more than a dozen recruiters contacted him about the same job, as the employer sought someone with his background in analyzing credit risk for Latin America. "The real kicker was they wanted someone with two years of experience, bilingual, and they were paying an entry-level salary," Miller laughs. "In banking someone with two years' experience wouldn't be given the responsibility of managing country risk." The position stayed open for a year.

Miller became frustrated when he was rejected for a job that required five years of experience analyzing oil and gas. He had spent far more than five years on energy but not exclusively for a five-year period. Miller blames such absurdities on cash-strapped HR departments staffed by recent college grads with little experience and an inability to interpret a hiring manager's requirements. "They don't understand where the wiggle room is," he says.

Mark Hughes, a Denver based management consultant whose portfolio includes financial services, is one who has taken the bait on low-paying jobs that require a high level of skills. He is always on the lookout for a staff position and views over-the-top job ads as a call to redirect his career to keep up with market demands. Sometimes he accepts projects that are below his experience and pay level, but does so with a calculated risk that he'll learn new skills and make new contacts.

"It's a mental gymnastics exercise. I have to motivate myself when the money isn't a strong enough motivator," he says. Recently Hughes took a project which paid 88 percent below his normal rate to learn about the retail industry. "I got a lot out of it, but it didn't pay worth a crap," he says.

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