Does anyone actually know how to look for work?

Being in the business of looking for work, and writing a blog about the possible future of work, I feel compelled to read articles about employment and job hunting when I see them in the various news services and magazines that I read. I do this even though I believe virtually none of it: almost all job hunting advice I see seems to be a mishmash of unsubstantiated and sometimes contradictory assertions about where jobs might be found, how to write resumés, or what (not) to put on your social media pages. One article might assert that job seekers need to show something special to stand out from the crowd of skilled applicants, while the next asserts that businesses are desperate for talent.

Of course job hunting isn’t the only poorly-researched advice to be found in the news; the opinion pages of newspapers and web sites are full of writing barely up to undergraduate standards for argumentation or evidence, and no newspapers and few web sites seem to have heard of referencing. Still, news outlets and opinion pieces do at least occasionally make reference to reports and surveys carried out by reputable researchers, and sites like The Conversation make it a specific goal to provide this sort of rigour, while I’m hard-pressed to think of job-hunting advice based on any identifiable evidence at all.

One of my particular bugbears is the frequently-made claim that businesses are desperately short of technology workers. If I receive a reply at all to the enquiries that I make about technology jobs, it’s most often an auto-generated e-mail telling me that the recruiter is unable to respond to individuals due to the large number of applicants. Of course it’s not possible to generalise from my individual experience to exactly why employers are alleged to be desperately short of workers to fill positions for which there are alleged to be an unmanageable number of applicants, but Robert Charette did the work in the United States a few years ago to conclude that The STEM Crisis is a Myth. The salaries reported in IT Professionals Australia’s recently-published 2018 ICT Remuneration Report also show little evidence of the sorts of salaries that I sometimes read about in articles remarking upon how richly rewarded workers with computing skills are (this is not to say that computing professionals are poor—their median salary is reported to be somewhat above the median wage of Australians in general—just that having such skills is neither so rare nor so astronomically enriching as unresearched commentary suggests).

I don’t have any explanation for why job hunting advice should seem so poor. I suppose I ought to ask the people who write job advice columns why they believe the things that they do, and if they have an explanation of those auto-generated we’re-overwhelmed-with-applicants e-mails. Maybe recruiters are themselves suffering from a lack of skilled workers able to sort cover letters and resumés, or to write commentary on how to make them. Maybe no one really knows how to match jobs to applicants and the writers of jobs advice columns are just filling up space with whatever comes into their minds. Or maybe being unemployed a decade ago just left me bitter.

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