What to wear when the interviewer is a program?

Résumé screening applications make it hard for IT pros to argue their case, even as companies complain about skill shortages

Terri Morgan could sell her talents to anyone that would listen, but software programs used to screen IT job applicants don't hear so well.

Morgan has dealt with more resume screening programs than human beings in her quest to gain a live interview at companies such as IBM, KPMG and Disney. These talent management applications look for key words and patterns but can't, after all, recognize human opportunity.

"I have the skills these companies say they want, but my resume doesn't come out when they apply their sorting algorithms or random lotteries," Morgan says. "They are using software to look for A, B or C, so they are missing the rest of the alphabet in terms of technical skills."

Morgan's experience is at the heart of the industry's so-called labor crisis, with companies shouting about the shortage of skilled workers and out-of-work IT professionals saying shortage claims are contrived by employers who are looking to offer less in compensation, force out experienced workers and hire young or foreign staff in their place.

"Hiring managers are being told by recruiters there aren't any people to hire, and then everyone wants to look to H-1B and other foreign worker programs when there is a whole host of us in this country that have really good skills and can easily learn others," Morgan says.

Stories abound about the IT talent pool drying up as baby boomers retire and college students avoiding high-tech studies, and skilled IT workers say they are being overlooked for these open positions.

"You read all these articles and you want to scream, 'I'm right here!'" says David Currier, a member of the infrastructure team for Perot Systems/Owen & Minor Medical. Currier is working on contract thousands of miles from his Seattle home and continues to look for a position that better suits his life.

"You start to feel invisible," Currier says, "but then you realize companies are looking for an exact fit in terms of skills, experience and salary, and that might not synch up with what you have to offer. I am not at the point yet where I'd lie to get a job."

Experts say the crux of the job disconnect involves three key areas: companies either don't have the time or money to invest in training or don't make it a priority, so employees get out of synch; advances in business and technology outpace the ability of IT professionals to keep up; and salary expectations established during the tech boom of the 1990s can today be considered exorbitant.

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