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Why Is It So Hard to Get a Low Paying Job?

Dear Evil HR Lady,
I would like an insider like yourself to answer this instead of getting my info from crazy internet conspiracy theorists. You give wonderful advice to working professionals, but I'm wondering if you won't take a moment to give a hand up to us "regular Joes."
Why is it SO hard to find a JOB? Just a regular job? Do you know of anyone who could entertain that kind of opportunity AND pass the UNICRU test honestly? "Leave It To Beaver" intelligent, honest, friendly, and yet unambitious? Why are these employers so full of themselves and out-of-touch? This isn't Lockheed-Martin, it's a GROCERY STORE. I know... "In the ultra-competitive modern market we have to make even the mundane exceptional." Yet every time I go into one of these places I can't help thinking "THESE people are what they're screening so hard to find?" And YES - I don't WANT to work there, but I must work SOMEWHERE. Even before the economic crisis hit, this was unnecessarily difficult.
I hate to admit it, but your line of "THESE people are what they're screening so hard to find?" had me totally agreeing with you. And it reminded me of a story. The summer before my senior year in high school, I set out to get a job. I applied first to the local Wendys. The interviewer looked over my application and resume and commented, "That's a really high GPA."

"Thanks," I said proudly.

He closed my file. "We're not really looking for people who focus on academics. We want people who will be more devoted to working here."

I wasn't sure whether I should be upset that I didn't get the job or thrilled that I was deemed too smart to work there. But, I went down the road and applied at Burger King and got the job. I ended up working there for almost two years. I have a feeling that the people who were ready, at 17, to devote their lives to fast food didn't stay quite so long at Wendys, but I have no hard data to back it up.

While most companies aren't as stupid as that particular hiring manager, the reality is, they would make the same decision, but not tell you about it. Companies want to hire people who want this job, not just a job. If you have candidates with job histories making $50,000 per year (or more) and say they are now interested in a $7 an hour job, you know that these people are desperate and will walk about the door as soon as they possibly can. If that's not true, you need to make that clear when you apply.

I know, I know you can't make that clear when you're filling in the application at the kiosk near the customer service desk. That's why, it turns out, you may need to network yourself into a minimum wage job, the same way you would into a higher level job.

But, let's talk UNICRU. It's a test designed to make the hiring process smoother and better. At the end of the day, Kronos claims it can deliver better employees than you could get just by interviewing. I admit a health sense of skepticism on these things, but also know that very few people are good at interviewing.

I spoke to a retail executive whose company uses UNICRU. He said that it absolutely lowered their turnover and increased the quality of their workforce. Given the customer service in some stores, it makes me wonder what it was like before they got the test. "Are you concerned about people cheating?" I asked. I mean, if you Google UNICRU you come up with about a zillion test sites and Kronos (who owns the test) doesn't even mention it by name on their website. It seems it would be easy to cheat.

His answer actually surprised me. "The types of people who apply to our stores aren't generally the types that do research on the internet before applying. They just come in and fill out an application."

Ahh, so perhaps the test is calibrated to show that too many "right" answers are outside the norm for their workforce and are, therefore eliminated. Otherwise, they can pretty much trust the responses because the people taking it haven't researched the issue and answer either honestly or how they think the company wants them to answer.

I explained your situation and asked what you could do to get a job. "Come in and talk to the store manager," he said. "Tell the manager how interested you are in working for that store and what special skills you could bring to the table. Tell him that you will be applying on line, as requested, but you wanted to make your name known."

So, you see, it's about networking again. Candidates who take these tests are given green, yellow or red light status. Managers are free to hire anyone with green (after the interview), but needed more careful examination and permission from higher ups to hire a yellow or a red. The only way to get that type of exception is to network your way in.

But, the reality is, if you're being screened out, it means the test is doing its job. Not that you're not fabulous (of course you are), but you aren't looking towards staying with a low level job. They want to lower turnover, and this is helping them. So, go convince them that even if you only stay 6 months you'll be more valuable than someone who stays two years. It's absolutely possible.

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Photo by Håkan Dahlström, Flickr cc 2.0