That Which Contains the Human Capital

When I was in 6th grade, my classmate Ellen S. once told me that according to her grandmother, “There are no ugly people. Only less beautiful ones”. That struck to me as something true and it appealed to my empathic nature. I adopted that philosophy until my adulthood and was happy with that reconciled thought.

The first time my husband heard me say that, he laughed so hard because he thought I was being sarcastic. After a few dates and several encounters with the “less beautiful”, he finally realized that I meant it.

So, what does it mean to be ugly in the realm of human capital?

What is Beauty? What is Ugly?

Beauty, according to sociologist Jean-François Dortier is a debatable topic for all eternity because ugliness is indisputable. Allow me to disagree. The concept of ugliness is just as subjective as that of beauty, making it susceptible to disagreement and justifications. What’s more, if people and societies have a clear idea of what is pleasing to the eye, then they must have an equally decided criteria of what is not. However, he argues, there are constant elements present in every idea of beauty across time and continents. For instance, badly placed teeth, weird spots on the face, grimace-like facial expressions or stains will hardly be found in those considered as canons of beauty.

Dortier, in his article “The Tyranny of Beauty”, says that ugliness in a person is a heavy handicap when brought into the markets of marriage and labor*. I will not disagree. But allow me to focus this post on how physical beauty plays an important role when buying and selling (workforce) in the labor market.

I believe that the idea behind this discrimination is caused by the unthinking mammals in us, who uses its instincts to survive. In the animal kingdom, the ones who are successful in mating are the more beautiful samples of their species. Why? Simply because it denotes HEALTH and thus, STRENGTH. An animal’s only role is to procreate and who better to multiply one’s race if not the best and the most likely to survive of the lot? The equation is easy to infer:

Beauty=Health=Strength=Breed=GOOD

With regards to human capital, somebody who looks good (well-proportioned body, bright eyes, good teeth and pinkish complexion) is certainly a sign of having been well-fed, a smooth skin on the face signifies not much exposure to external or internal stress and of course good grooming is very much attributed to a good upbringing in the family.

The relationship then, is easy to establish: somebody who is properly nourished, who did not experience much stress and who was brought up well must belong to a family with enough resources: resources which sufficed not only to make the person survive, but to develop him into a citizen able to participate in the community. Thus, the better-looking a person is, the higher value is attributed to the talents and capacities he was able to build up through his lifetime. The equation could then be modified into:

Beauty=Health=Learning Ability=Developed Talents=GOOD

Sadly as time passed, this equation has slowly been overly simplified as:

Beauty=GOOD

Sadder still, the concept of goodness has been generalized to being good overall: good worker, good person, good team mate, etc… Only time will prove this notion to be untrue, after all that’s been said and done, spent and consumed- leading to realizations and regrets.

For instance: 13 years ago while spending my summer holidays in the Philippines I overheard a friend complaining to my mother. Apparently in all the job interviews she has been to, the requirement “Must have pleasing personality” was always being equated to “Must be pleasing to the eyes”. In short, the job applicants must respond to a certain beauty standard established by the Human Resources (HR) department.

Now, I admit that for jobs requiring a brand representation or corporate delegation perhaps being easy on the eyes increases sales and improves financial results. I also know that HR staff cannot waste their time interviewing candidates just to check whether they meet the physical requirements they’ve imposed (in those cases where a photo was not included in the resumé). But demanding someone to have a pleasing personality when what they meant was for the candidate to be a certain kind of pretty… is just plain deceiving.

Anyway, who was the authority who declared that a beautiful physique is equal to a pleasing personality? Above all, whose claim made it a fact that a beautiful façade always holds a great talent?

In fact, below is Eduardo Gómez Manzano, famous Spanish actor. He is very well-appreciated in his job. He, along with the other beauty-lacking actors have opened up this generation’s minds and as well as this century’s entertainment industry that talent is not always contained in a lovely package.

Image courtesy of: http://www.fotoshumor.com

Boosted Brands but Talents Trashed

Studies have shown that other job types where no “representation” of the firm is needed, hiring teams still tend to favor beautiful applicants. Again, why? Because it’s good for the company’s image. It boosts the brand. It matters little if another candidate was more competent or skillful- human nature just can’t help but lean towards company that could offer pleasure to its vision.

It’s a pity though, because can you imagine if the Futbol Club Barcelona (FCB) refused to hire Ronaldinho because of his looks? Having said this, can you now picture just how many people lost their opportunity to contribute to an organization’s mission and vision just because they didn’t qualify physically? And can you imagine how much potential is currently being left unused just because of this terribly absurd bias?

I have stopped being a football fan more than a decade ago, but I admire how the sport’s values are consistent to their branding strategy. A football club must be composed of the best players it could hire (pay for) without regards to whether they would look good or bad in front of a camera (although I noticed Ronaldinho seemed to have had something done to his face).

In an ideal world, banks and/or banking groups would hire the brightest analytic minds, research organizations would employ the smartest and most focused among the pool of candidates, schools would choose their teachers according to their capacity to diffuse knowledge and infuse curiosity, shops would enlist salespeople with charm and wit to engage customers, and so on…

This way, demand for a specific qualification would be met by the satisfactory supplier; competition among various suppliers would rise, pushing more and more suppliers of talent/labor/workforce to be better qualified than the rest and prices (salaries) would adjust accordingly.

dream

Image courtesy of: http://www.fastcompany.com

(In the least ideal world, we’ll have what I call “Pippas”. Pippa* was my college teacher in Economic History. Not only is she the opposite of beautiful, she also taught horribly! in short, ugly and incompetent people.)

Ugly ≠ Unkempt but Unkempt = Uninterested

While conducting a very modest research on this subject, I encountered quite a number of online fora exhibiting questions such as, “Are smart people ugly?” or “Why are smart people usually ugly?” (For the sake of simplicity, we shall assume that being smart equates to being competent in any given job.)

As someone who is more appreciated for her smarts, I believe I am at the position to respond. And my answer is that most (not all) smart people find it more important to strengthen their brains than to embellish their physical selves. There are so many books to read, so many people to talk to, so many things to ponder and many, many more things to (literally) take note of that a normal person’s waking hours are not enough**. That is why they make it a point not to “waste” time doing something not so gratifying to them.

The point is: One can be as ugly as far as ugly goes and admittedly, not all can afford cosmetic surgery to modify their genetic legacy. But I believe that a person’s appearance is his presentation card (especially in a job interview!). As such, one cannot care too less because first impressions do last. Besides, in the context of hiring, interviewers would actually imagine themselves working with you, travelling and attending meetings with you and perhaps even having to defend any future blunders you might commit. Do you think they would want to do all those things with a sloppy-looking colleague? Accordingly, one can and must appear neat, pleasant, motivated and ALWAYS COLLABORATIVE. Here’s why…

An Unexpected Twist

According to an article from INSEAD Knowledge, “… the type of expected relationship the decision-maker will have with the new hire is very much a consideration, consciously or not, when selecting candidates for the job.” Although the results of the experiments were more conclusive for men than women, it’s interesting to note that when the hiring personnel perceive that the attractive candidate could be a potential competition (read: could be a threat on their own promotion) the less attractive applicant would be chosen instead.

“Members of the same organisation are often mutually interdependent, for example they may cooperate for shared rewards when they work for the same team, or compete against each other for recognition, promotions, commissions, and bonuses. In many organisations today co-workers are included in the hiring process… Similarly, professors at universities often selected professors they are going to work with. When this occurs, the type of expected relationship the decision-maker will have with the new hire is very much a consideration… ”

A twist within the twist

On the other side of the Atlantic, Debrahlee Lorenzana sued her employers for having fired her because she was “too hot”. Thinking about it and as the Newsweek article pointed out: “isn’t it possible Lorenzana’s looks got her the job in the first place?”

Yet, did you know that some studies even show that attractive women may find it hard to be hired? supposedly if the employers are females, jealousy may arise.

∼sigh∼

Are We Doomed?

I would sincerely like to believe that we are not. Yes, it would take years of education and enlightenment before people get to terms that unattractive people can be competent, good team players, efficient leaders and desirable work mates. However, the diversity of human nature provides for adjustments such as:

  • The belief that beauty automatically translates to competency is compensated with the view that attractive people could deter the employers’ own progress or,
  • That beautiful people are just dumb.

Such absurd conclusions may be the exceptions to the rule, but I would like to believe that there is a balance being struck somewhere.

In a world where being beautiful is being sold as a choice (just Google how many $$$ the cosmetic industry cashes in per month), those who are not might be deemed indifferent or inflexible. But this is the same world where information is the most important resource for production, so it will just be a matter of time before everybody- even the unbeautifuls- find their place in it.

 

*Name was changed
**Personally, I prioritize hygiene but I don’t find it practical nor worth my time to wake up 30 minutes earlier just to apply makeup and fix my hair. I clean, I moisturize, I tie my hair and I brush my teeth. And I smile.

-the end-

 

Now, just because it’s summer in this part of the hemisphere: join me by putting your speaker volumes to MAX and enjoy the un-beautiful BUT DIVINE, JANIS JOPLIN!!!

(THANK GOODNESS THEY WEREN’T TOO SHALLOW BACK THEN)

 Disclaimer: I do not own this video. Video courtesy of Zuzuking Youtube page.

Sources:

  1. “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful”, available at: http://www.economist.com/node/21551535
  2. “The Beauty Advantage: How Looks Affect Your Work, Your Career, Your Life”, by Jessica Bennett, available at: http://europe.newsweek.com/beauty-advantage-how-looks-affect-your-work-your-career-your-life-74313?rm=eu
  3. “The Beauty Premium”, by Schumpeter, available at: http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter/2010/11/good_looks_and_good_jobs
  4. “La Tyrannie de la Beauté”, par Jean-François Dortier, available at: http://www.scienceshumaines.com/la-tyrannie-de-la-beaute_fr_22384.html
  5. “A New Twist to the Beauty Bias”, by Stefan Thau, available at: http://knowledge.insead.edu/talent-management/a-new-twist-to-the-beauty-bias-4004
Advertisements

Things I’d Tell My Career Coach (if I had one)

One of my greater weaknesses is that I don’t know how to express my professional achievements. In some way, my cultural background might have had a little influence on this defect.

As I was growing up, me and my peers were discouraged to mention any praise towards ourselves and we were careful not to sound too boastful about our qualities; lest we wanted to be branded as airheaded kids. The expression in Tagalog literally translates as “Don’t carry your own bench” (“Huwag kang mabuhat ng sarili mong bangko”).

Apparently this saying is derived from Proverbs 27:2 which means “let not your own mouth praise you”. This passage was supposed to teach humility but I guess the elders of our yesteryears weren’t keen on differentiating between self-praise and self-esteem, both of which I believe are healthy practices, given that they are done in moderation.

If I listened to that kind of advice, then who will carry my own bench if not me? isn’t that why it is referred to as “my own”? Therefore, the responsibility clearly falls upon me. The bench of course, is a metaphor of one’s qualities and good traits and to carry it means to lift it higher from everyone else’s perspective so it could be seen and maybe even appreciated.

In my opinion, as long as truths are being told, there should be no harm in letting people know what a good-quality bench you own. Who knows? upon seeing it, others could be inspired to improve themselves and achieve the same things…

Old habits are hard to break but I believe that technique and practice could overcome any kind of quirk. I’m coming up with an actual list of achievements with which to further attract recruiters.

Another thing I’ve been bothered about is the dichotomy of Competence and Warmth. I mention this in relation to the job interviews I’ve recently had  (and did not pass- tee hee!) and which of the two aspects I tend to project more.

Ever since I read this article from the INSEAD Knowledge page, it has been months since it got me to thinking about my own “communicator profile”. Although I don’t believe in the strict definition of people’s personalities, the content of that post has helped me better understand my own self.

What has been an eye-opener is that during an experiment, the research team found out that listeners- or those on the receiving end of a communication- with a feeling of high power lean towards messages emphasizing competence and skills. While “low-power” audiences prefer those which projected warmth and established connection.

Looking back, the interviews I’ve had were for jobs which demanded high level of competence and efficiency. The interviewers were, consequently people who perceive themselves powerful. However, in all of them I gravitated towards projecting more warmth than competence.

As in the case of self-esteem, this could also be a product of the different “happy” and “warm” cultures I grew up in… which is a very safe and comfortable reaction, if you ask me. But realistically, there comes a point where the individual makes the choice of acting a certain way or another.

In my situation, it was my conscious decision to show competence and warmth at the same time. But being a naturally warm person, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up projecting more of the latter than the former.

The reason for all this is that I’ve learned to value good companionship over competence through the years. This is not to say I don’t value competence. Simply put, I find that competence is already measureable by various technical assessments. If the recruitment team wanted to test my knowledge on a subject matter, they would find ways to subtly or openly do so. The results would then speak for themselves.

On the contrary, good characteristic traits, one’s quality as a team player or an open attitude for learning…? 30 minutes is not enough to display all those! Such a feat would require a good grasp of some tough interpersonal skills. Personality tests can only reveal so much…

Before any misunderstanding takes place, let me clarify by saying that I do not consider myself able to demonstrate all those qualities in my past interviews. What I’m trying to say is right now, I’m working towards achieving it. Hence, another reason for the higher warmth-competence projection ratio. Given that the technical part of the jobs I apply for is already familiar to me, I have decided to allot more time and resources in bettering another set of abilities that could also enrich me as a person in the meantime.

I must be doing something wrong, though. Because I never got a call back from the interviewers.

Finally I would like to let you know that ever since Brexit, I’ve been itching to write to this Senior Researcher from one of my job interviews to tell her, “I told you so”. She asked me about my opinion on the EU and if I believed it would stand the various crises it is facing right now. I told her I didn’t think so.

Yes, I admit that I lacked eloquence at the moment but I would so terribly like to ask about her opinion on the EU now. Her nationality of course is a tell-tale sign that she’s pro-EU. She wasn’t convinced of my response as to why I wasn’t optimistic about it, yet when I returned the question her answer was even more vague. I was thinking: perhaps in the light of the recent events she could find better words to defend her stance.

Would you advise me against it, or should I follow my heart? (or instinct, or thirst for knowledge, or that part of me that wants to tell her “neener neener neener”)

 

A short note on: A materialistic society

The other day, I was chatting with a friend about my impression that being a mother to a baby affected my chances of being hired. Super A, as I lovingly call her, was quite unbelieving in an indignant way. She said that this “peak would be hard for me to climb” because I’m midway into building a career and simultaneously a first-time mother.

After airing her frustrations about this “macho” attitude, she suggested that the next time I go to an interview I should mention how I was able to develop certain qualities thanks to my baby: empathy, patience, multi-tasking, organizational skills and time management. I was delighted at this idea (now you know why I call her Super A), but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the majority of hiring teams are not yet prepared for this kind of idea. I don’t say this because homemaking results might seem “silly” when presented as achieved objectives (such as: able to establish a routine with baby by 4 months of age, or could cook baby food while cleaning the house and keeping baby entertained, or refrigerator does not go empty for more than 24 hours, etc…). I say this because there is no monetary value assigned to such achievements. Certainly, when a candidate tells an interviewer that he was able to raise sales up to 5% in a quarter, or he was able to save 10% of last year’s operating costs it’s easy to imagine the amount of money those efforts translate to.

In the event where I could measure certain milestones as: able to sit up straight for 3 minutes without support (8% increased time compared to last month), 10% increase in attempts to crawl or perhaps 30% increased sleeptime at night, could anyone honestly tell me that a hiring team (any) would attribute these achievements to my newly-developed skills? Would anyone consider hiring me as Project Manager because I am being able to run a house and care for an infant with a little help? Would anyone employ me as a Research Assistant because I tirelessly read about a baby’s development, research about a baby’s nutritional needs, look for varied playtime activities and interview fellow mothers to learn about their experiences?

My baby is a happy, healthy, strong, active and well-behaved tot and I am proud of what I have contributed for him to be. Many of my friends and relatives have also done good, if not better jobs in raising their kids too- but how does society interpret that? Would women be considered as tougher leaders because they are able to “deal with” stubborn children who are more difficult than stubborn adults? Would women’s salaries at some point equate that of men’s because their emotional intelligence give them skills and talents comparable to those that men have?

Oh, Super A! our world has yet a long way to go…

Unsolicited Advice on: Job Interviews

“It’s a job interview, not a rocket science exam. All the best.”

– Wishesmessages.com

Not one, BUT TWO job interviews!

Ver imagen original

Sometimes life does suprise us with the unexpected. This is a major breakthrough in my 4-month long jobhunt: to be called in for interviews twice in 25 days! Since this is wonderful news (and the experience still fresh in my memory), I decided to celebrate by writing a post about it.

In contrast to what most of you might expec,t this post will not tackle: neither the “Top 10 Questions Asked” in a job interview nor “What to wear to impress your interviewer”. I believe there are people more qualified than me to give advice on those areas.

What I will deal with however are two main lessons I’ve learned from this month’s job interviews:

  1. A good physical and mental rest is a much better preparation than any amount of reading, rehearsing and strategic planning (Eg: What will make them want me, projecting warmth or efficiency? See Sources).
  2. Even if the end goal is to get the job and selling oneself is the object of the interview, turn the table a different angle and make it a point to have fun at the same time.

The need for R ‘n’ R

In the first of the interviews, I had time to prepare and plan for the d-day. I decided what to wear in advance, coordinated with my husband and searched for a sitter to care for the baby, I researched the latest happenings in the company and most of all I rehearsed by answering the Top 50 Most Common Interview Questions (Forbes). I had one week to do so and I had a schedule laid out before me to answer a number of questions per day. I worked hard, read a lot and reviewed my professional history enough to write a memoir. I saved the day before the interview to take a rest. Wrong, because the day I intended to rest, an unexpected event forced me to redirect my attention to more pressing matters. I’m not talking about the public transportation strike; it was more of a sleep-depriving, concentration-demanding type of affair. That is to say: I was not able to sleep the night before and no amount of makeup or tropical-girl smile could hide that I was only a breath shy of looking like the Corpse Bride.

Nevertheless, the “show” went on. No matter how literally heavy my head felt, I struggled to make my interviewers see that I deserve the job. Adrenaline helped of course, but it can only last so much, because soon enough I started experiencing a lack of eloquence in any of the languages I swear I could speak.

This is very important because as the interview was closing, one of the senior researchers asked whether I think the European Union would withstand the crises it is currently going through. I thought, “This could be the type of question with no right or wrong answers- the one where the way I answer matters more.” So I geared up and took a deep breath… (wrong again!)

For the first time, I experienced flickers of mental blockage (you see, sudden intake of oxygen could make a person dizzy- oh, Bikram!). Extreme fatigue began overpowering me; only the cold temperature in the room held me up and prevented me from dropping fast asleep on the floor. What I answered then is not relevant for today’s topic, but I could have answered it better if only my mind was strong enough to formulate intelligent arguments. (Thinking back, perhaps the fact that my opinion is contradictory to that of my interviewer’s might have a tiny, little influence on their final decision… but I cannot deny that I didn’t exactly shine while trying to explain my part.)

Ver imagen original

Image courtesy of: http://www.thinkstockphotos.fr

Enjoying the moment

The second interview was the complete opposite of the first one: I had exactly 36 hours to prepare, the subject matter was something I had only studied back in college and the very name of the organization is even more intimidating. The only thing they had in common was I was still lacking sleep.

Unlike the earlier interview, I decided to read only what I could; and this means being content with just one or two good documents I could find about the job post. The rest of the time, I just tried to sleep or at least relax.

I met with my interviewers in the cafeteria and after a few courteous greetings, started recounting my skills, my educational background and why I applied for the job. They asked me whether I’ve had any experience on certain tasks and wanted to know if I was familiar with the subject to be treated by the hired candidate.

This was when the “fun” began… and what I meant was having the ability to genuinely take pleasure at the opportunity of being considered for a job.

Ver imagen original

Image courtesy of: http://blog.yapjobs.com/blog/pre-interview-checklist-for-job-seekers/

So when the supervisor inquired about my knowledge on the project to be managed, I was confident enough to admit that I have never worked in that field and everything that I knew, I learned in college. I proceeded to explain exactly what I learned back then. I was even asked to propose a recommendation! It felt right. I felt that I was really making a case for my candidacy to be considered.

Still, I noticed how the mind could play tricks if not given enough rest: one of the directors asked if I have ever done “X”. The truth is I have, but somehow I wasn’t able to find the precise memory in my mind. Then I realized that I have indeed executed “X”… in Spanish! and because we were speaking in English and the preparations I’ve done were also in English, my fatigued brain divided my professional history into: Spanish, English and French. It was a good thing I did not panic. I simply acknowledged that I don’t lack experience in “X”, but such experience is limited within a Spanish-speaking context.

It was a good interview: I was contented with what I have done because I was able to relax hours before, thus allowing for better predisposition (not to mention a more agreeable facade!). Most of all, I was very pleased with the inquiries, with my answers and how I delivered them… even my own curiosity was satisfied as to the details I wanted to know about the project.

For next time…

I suppose that the intention of this post is to serve as testimony that a job interview does not have to be a battlefield. Not among the different candidates- each one has his unique set of skills and competencies. Even if one does his best to outshine the rest… well, who among us mortals could really discern the criteria applied by a hiring team?

Definitely, it is not advisable to treat an interviewer as an adversary. Remember, you want them to want to work with you!

In my opinion, a job interview should be a time-space interval where talent and opportunity meet. This is why the talent has to show not just capacity, but also a palpable eagerness to do the job.

Lastly, having “fun” during a job interview will help you look back at that moment with more ease. Why would you want to look back? you ask. Summoning past experiences is important because it could help detect one’s strengths and weaknesses. Keep in mind that self evaluation is highly beneficial to everyone and who better to evaluate our past actions than our present (wiser and more matured) selves?

Author’s note: The author still has not found a paid employment as of this date (because believe me, taking care of a growing infant is a serious job!). To the skeptics- I understand your hesitation to consider my word as something to take note of, and good luck! To the optimists- thank you for your agreement, and good luck!

Sources:

  1. “How to Ace the 50 Most Common Interview Questions”, available at: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/#5e7f111b4873
  2. “How Communicator and Audience Power Shape Persuasion”, available at: http://knowledge.insead.edu/strategy/how-communicator-and-audience-power-shape-persuasion-4554#XxwqmPlKhIGTkXrs.99

 

To see is to (dis) believe

Ver imagen original

Image courtesty of: http://www.wsj.com

Disclaimer: the purpose of this post is to satisfy the author’s curiosity about the difficulty of finding a job in Paris. Due to limited resources, it has been restricted to briefly discuss whether the huge cost of hiring is causing the apparent “disfavor” of foreign candidates. It does not intend in any way to explain any socio-economic-political problems faced by the country today. Neither does it propose any solutions.

The conclusions presented do not reflect the French population’s opinion. They are solely the author’s point of view basing on her own experience and situation analysis.

A light, leisurely tour in the net…

I had started to write about my previous post “A color for disbelief” ,when I decided to do some light research online. I wanted to find out just why it’s so hard for a non-French to find a job in Paris. There were soooo many blogsites and fora about this topic. I did find many helpful ones and so many whiny ones, too! But for the purposes of this post, I would recommend a couple of articles available at:

These statements partly answer my question. Plus if I add this information to my own experience and other people’s stories, I could say that when we look at the supply side of the labor market it’s not a matter of foreign applicants presenting a lower-level training. It’s more a question of the selective process candidates undergo and the criteria being used when choosing the finalists.

What about the demand side? This made me think about the employers and the price they have to pay to acquire labor. It occured to me that perhaps this is one factor that’s discouraging hiring in general. And if we include the economic crisis in the picture, it could explain why the French are more favored by local companies when seeking to increase their staff.

By the way, no matter what they tell you: it’s the companies that demand work and the employees that supply them. Even if the ads announce “JOB OFFER”, technically they are the ones that need the labor to do such job.

What is the cost of hiring?

The cost of hiring basically includes: salaries and wages plus various expenditures such as payroll taxes and cost and benefits to be paid by employers- not to mention the operating expenses (setting up a computer, telephone line, in some cases a mobile phone, company vehicule, etc…). In France, social taxes (paid by the employee) average up to 22% of the gross salary, while the costs and benefits paid by companies average to 42%.

If a company decides to hire a foreigner, it has to take charge of organizing the person’s work authorization. This is a pre-requisite for anyone who wants to start processing his visa/residence permit and would raise the hiring cost. This is not only measured in terms of money but also in terms of time spent, effort exerted and those “things left undone because of having to allocate money, time and effort in applying for a work authorization”. The latter is what economists love to deal with and they call it opportunity cost. We’ll get back to that later.

As for EU nationals: technically they’re still foreigners but they have the liberty to move about and work within the EU zone. Because of this, French companies have theoretically started to widen their search; they are not anymore obliged to hire French candidates first. In theory. But with the high unemployment rates (10,5% for France and 8,4% for the city of Paris), it shouldn’t be surprising if candidate searches are still leaning towards French citizens. Here we can also insert the opportunity cost of not hiring a French national.

The opportunity cost is defined by Investopedia as “the cost of an alternative that must be given up in order to pursue a certain action. Put another way, the benefits you could have received by taking an alternative action.”

On one hand, in the case of using a company’s resources to prepare a work authorization: this would mean hours of an HR personnel’s time invested in the said task instead of, say, interviewing candidates, helping out in a team project or simply archiving letters and documents (the French are still big, big fans of hard copies of documents and snail mail). On the other hand, the opportunity cost of not hiring a French national is simply passing up the chance of employing a more competent and brilliant worker, compared to the foreign one (I really have the impression that the French take a lot of pride in themselves- which is good! I mean, why not?).

Is the cost of hiring affecting companies’ decision to employ?

You’ve probably heard about the protests in France concerning the employment reforms to be applied by the government. (I actually bumped with the protesters a couple of weeks ago, while I was taking my son for a walk. The demonstration took place in a roundabout 2 minutes away from our house. Ah! to live in Paris…)

Part of the agenda include lowering hiring costs. The idea is that once these costs are lowered, firms would have enough resources to boost their manpower. In fact, some of the proposals regarding hiring costs are:

  1. Part-time and full-time workers could be paid less for over time
  2. Less compensation for workers fired due to sickness or accident (as long as the company is not seeking replacement for the said worker)
  3. A firm- as per agreement with the labor union- could lower employees’ salaries and increase working hours even if it’s not undergoing financial difficulties (the changes could take effect for a maximum of 5 years)

It is widely known that France is a good place to be an employed, no matter how big-time or “small-time” the job is. In the short span of time when I worked, I noticed that the contracts promote the workers’  (ergo, the society’s) welfare: one is assured against accidents or sickness, there are compensations for unemployment, there’s a lot of vacation days, the company sets up a pension plan, the company also usually sets up a private health insurance to top-up the public one, etc…

(Thanks to this, the quality of life in France is among the highest in the world- there is relatively low level of inequality prompted by a generally high level of well-being. The proposed reforms are supposed to boost employment rate and consequently, the country’s economy. But it would also clearly lower the standards of living of an average Jean-Pierre.)

All of these mechanisms propped up to protect a worker generate certain costs shouldered by both employee and employer. But as I’ve mentioned earlier, employers pay an average of 42% of an employee’s gross salary in costs and benefits. That is an important chunk of enterprise money that could go to a “better” use.

Could this really be the reason? is labor really “too expensive” for employers to purchase? And thus when they could purchase it, they choose their countrymen so they don’t incur in unnecessary additional costs? In this sense, it apparently seems so (although it would not explain why other EU nationals have a hard time finding a job).

What do the heavier research materials say?

According to on OECD review dated a year ago (April 2016), France should “take measures to make employment contracts more flexible”. This translates to simplifying layoff procedures.

Now, does this mean that the problem lies in the costs of firing employees?

Pausing to think about it for a while, it does make sense: if a company cannot easily get rid of an inefficient worker who has been with them for a long time, there’s little incentive to hire a new one (firing could be much costlier than the profits a new employee could bring). Particularly in the French case, laying off employees is really hard. France seems to take the OECD’s word for it because if we go back to the Labor Law Reform agenda, we may find articles such as:

  1. An employee dismissed without justifiable cause is not legible for any compensation from the company
  2. Permissive dismissal of employees in case a company sells all or part of its economic activity
  3. An employee who refuses a modification in his contract (usually to lower his salary or increase his working hours with less compensation) following a deal with the labor union could be dismissed.

… all of them geared towards cheaper staff cutback to facilitate hiring.

Reading through other research materials, I found answers as varied as the schools of thought where the authors come from (some of the reasons presented were quite off-topic for the content of this blog). Though I came across a very interesting report from McKinsey (2012), which not only suggested reform on labor market conditions but also other mechanisms such as supporting “job-creating growth for the high- and low-skilled alike”.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a very englightening and practical response. While it may be true that French Labor Laws are strict, perhaps the reason why companies are not hiring is because they simply cannot create jobs and thus have no need for additional staff…??

So why is it so difficult to find a job in Paris?

While I actually enjoyed the brief research I did for this post, I’m not so sure I could say the same about the reader. Either you are pulling your hairs by now, ready for the big punchline or you simply stopped reading right here.

Bear with me because you see, a company owner was interviewed by the Financial Times (FT) in early 2013 and according to him, he’s doing his best to keep his staff below 50 persons. The reason is that he doesn’t want to “exceed a threshold under the labour code which imposes an increase in obligations in terms of worker representation, redundancy procedures and other costs to the employer.” I’ve inserted a chart* below from l’Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques (INSEE). The Gross Domestic Product’s growth rate (GDP) over time will help get my point across:

GDP and its main components

(Note: GDP growth rate tells us how much an economy has grown from one period to another. A negative growth rate means a decrease in production; a lower but positive GDP growth means an economic slowdown.)

Notice how in Q1 of 2013, France’s economy was still on the uprise- the same period when the FT interview took place. My point is, if employers (whether from small- or medium-sized companies, they are still the ones hiring!) were already having this kind of thought during prosperous times, imagine their reaction during an economic downturn!

The same company owner also stated that he has to “employ people with ready-made skills who you are sure will fit straight into the job”. Going back to the case of foreigners applying for jobs in Paris, this seems to explain why they are not easily hired. Recruiters simply cannot afford to risk engaging someone who will make them incur in increased training costs.

In my particular situation, the simple answer is: I came in the right place at the wrong time. It was 2014 and the economic crisis was at its peak in Spain. In the meantime, my husband and I believed that France was doing just fine. It was not after our arrival when we realized that crisis was already budding in the neighboring country.

If we look back to the chart and take the middle block of data (Q1, Q2, Q3 and Q4 of 2014), notice how the GDP growth just dropped from the end of 2013- which was when I started looking for a job in Paris- and did not recover until the end of Q2 in 2014. It’s also important to consider that this recovery was a slow, small one which was not enough to replicate the features of a more booming Q1 2013.

(Facepalm)

I don’t believe that hiring costs hugely affect employment decisions by companies. In my opinion, if there’s need for personnel and there are resources available, a company will hire. And if a person is the right fit for the job, he will be employed even if it meant a little more effort from the recruiting side. That’s why negotiation was invented.

The complicated answer? Well, I’d like to invite you to review the literature along with me and perhaps start a debate? The more varied the schools of thought, the better!

Thoughts to ponder

I truly like ending my posts with a moral lesson or some inspiring anecdote- anything to leave the reader with a nice, feel-good vibe.

Unfortunately, economic analysis doesn’t allow much for that luxury. At best, we could count on an optimistic (albeit unsure) projection in the future and a very clear vision of what happened in the past. In the case of this post, I’ll stick to the latter…

There was really no way for me to know that France was already suffering from a sharp economic decline during the moment I decided to search for a job. The kind of chart I presented above doesn’t get “done” until a certain period of time has passed. Meaning, that the earliest I could’ve known about the French economic crisis was at the end of Q1 2014, and by then I was already working in that 5-month contract outside of Paris.

This is the beauty of economics- it makes you learn the lesson the hard way but also gives you an understandable image of the past so you won’t commit the same mistakes in the future. It allows you to (dis) believe in what you know for yourself.

 

*Chart contents:

Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4- 1st Quarter, 2nd Quarter…

GDP- Gross Domestic Product

Consumption- household consumption expenditure

Inventory changes- Goods produced minus goods sold. (An excessive increase in inventories may signal aggregate demand is slowing down as there are more goods produced than sold.)

GFCF- Gross Fixed Capital Formation (investment)

Net foreign trade- External balance (Export-Import)

Sources:

  1. Eurostat
  2. INSEE
  3. Investopedia
  4. “Comment calculer le coût d’un salarié”, available at: http://www.petite-entreprise.net/P-3848-88-G1-comment-calculer-le-cout-d-un-salarie.html
  5. “French Attempt at German-Style Labor Reform Flounders”, available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/french-attempt-at-german-style-labor-reform-flounders-1417684679
  6. “French Labor Law Reform not supported by Economic evidence”, available at: http://cepr.net/publications/op-eds-columns/french-labor-law-reform-not-supported-by-economic-evidence
  7. Loi travail, available at: http://loitravail.lol/
  8. “OECD: France must Reform Labor Market and Cut Spending”, available at: http://www.euractiv.com/section/social-europe-jobs/news/oecd-france-must-reform-labour-market-and-cut-spending/
  9. “France battles with labour market reform”, available at: https://next.ft.com/content/05b54c84-5a63-11e2-bc93-00144feab49a
  10. “Unemployment and Labor Market Rigidities: Europe versus North America”, available at: https://wwz.unibas.ch/fileadmin/wwz/redaktion/fai/EIB_Arbeitsmarkt_HS08/Nickell.pdf
  11. “Does Employment Protection Inhibit Labor Market Flexibility? Lessons from Germany, France, and Belgium”, available at: http://www.nber.org/chapters/c11255.pdf
  12. Defition of “inventory changes”, available at: http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~nroubini/bci/inventories.html
  13. “French Employment 2020: Five priorities for action”, available at: http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/employment-and-growth/french-employment-2020

A Color for Disbelief

Before coming to Paris, not only did I learn the language: I watched the news and read Le Monde regularly to keep up with the current events, I was in constant communication with friends and peers from the French community and I even hired a personal tutor for mock job interviews. I immersed myself in the culture in any possible way I could (eating French food, buying French clothes, going to France or francophone areas for holidays, etc…). I watched video after videos of songs, tutorials, movies and talk shows just to get the “feel” of it. I also researched about the French job market using job-searching sites and other articles I’d find online. I felt great when I aced an interview and got hired for a temporary contract. Until I realized that after having applied to an average of 200 jobs in 4 months, only 2 companies called me for an interview and none of them was French.

Image courtesy of http://hotclaws.livejournal.com/

I was lucky enough to have gotten a temporary contract for 5 months, but I had to keep on looking for a job to be able to survive. My son wasn’t born back then, but we had a cat to feed too (He he)! So I kept on searching and while receiving negative replies (some just right out ignored the application), I never stopped working on my CV and cover letter. All the while going through the different stages of applying for a job in Paris…

Stage 1- Wonder

WHATEVER HAVE I DONE WRONG?

Was that wrong?, Should I not have done that?Image courtesy of http://diylol.com

I actually asked people about this: I asked a friend who has been living for 8 years in Paris, a Senior Head Hunter, a Senior HR Officer at my past workplace and one of my husband’s French buddies. Here’s what they had to say:

My friend who’s been living for 8 years in Paris (age: early 30s)

(According to her experience) The French hiring system is very protective of their own. Among a roster of candidates, usually they would get CVs of people who graduated from French universities*. And by chance, if a non-French candidate with a degree from a non-French university is considered for the job, more often than not this non-French candidate would be offered a different salary (read: lower) than the French ones**. Finally, if a non-French candidate is lucky enough to get hired, this person can only get promoted as far as company policies allow***. That is to say that for foreign employees with degrees from outside of France, there’s a limit to where they could go up the company ladder (again, this means a lower scale compared to the French). She used to work in a consulting firm.

*Especially those who graduated from the grands écoles.

**According to her, there was actually a published sheet of salary equivalance for each “type” of employee.

***Just like with the salaries, her company also showed her a published sheet about this.

Senior Head Hunter from a known agency (age: mid-40s)

Considering that I asked her last year (2015), her answer was plain and simple- it’s the crisis that’s hindering French companies to hire as much as they used to. I just had lunch with her not long ago and she says 2016 must be a better year for hiring. But she didn’t say for whom. *snicker*

Senior HR Officer from my past work (age: early 30s)

The French hiring system is very protective of their own (repetition intended). There is a general belief that if you hold a degree from a good French university, you must be without a doubt someone who is “performant”. Foreigners have it tough if they want to apply in a French firm, but international firms based in France are more open to a wider variety of suitable candidates. It has been like this since she can remember and she doesn’t foresee any change soon. She’s half-French and is currently out of job.

My husband’s French buddy (age: late 30s)

The French hiring system is very strict and recruiters filter candidates’ CVs according to where they got which degree. It’s easier for them to hire like this because a good French university is known for producing quality graduates. They’re not fond of taking any chances.

Current research is being made on the subject of the French labor market and its rigidity. Please standby for a related post!

Stage 2- Annoyance

 

Angry Guy Meme (01)Image courtesty of http://memesvault.com/angry-guy-meme/

 

DID I NOT MAKE ENOUGH RESEARCH?

WHY DIDN’T ANYONE WARN ME ABOUT THIS?

DID I NOT TALK TO FRENCH PEOPLE BEFORE COMING TO FRANCE?

WHY WAS I NOT BRIEFED ABOUT THIS?

Stage 3- Frustration

This is an understatement. I truly felt my heart break when I learned about all these things and I realized I can never compete with a French diploma. No offense to my alma mater, but let’s be realistic here… la Sorbonne vs la Complutense? *insert ironic laughter*

Stage 4- Discouragement

I entered into a state of depression for some months. I was getting sick all the time and all I wanted to do was go back to Spain, to my old job- to my old life! The feeling of uselessness and helplessness were everyday companions for me. And I was not used to having them around all the time.

Stage 5- Acceptance

After some time, I learned to accept that this is just how things are right now. And although there are moments when I give in to the temptation of regretting my decision to live here, there isn’t much I can do about it, is there? I am here, so I might as well take every oppportunity I have to live and learn.

By gaining hindsight, I was able to re-think the questions I had asked myself during the Annoyance Stage. I made the best research (and soul-search) that I could about them and here’s what I found out:

DID I NOT MAKE ENOUGH RESEARCH?  Clearly, the answer is NO. On the one hand, I was not interviewed for half of the jobs I applied to because they neither fit my educational background nor my professional experience no matter how much I tweaked my CV. The French hiring system is very rigid and it really adheres to the principle that the candidate for a post must have been trained for that purpose. Meaning, a Marketing graduate with experience in advertising will not be interviewed for a post as Office Manager. Furthermore, applicants for internships must be students. My husband was accepted as an intern in Paris 5 years ago because he applied as a student, even if he was enrolled in his university in Madrid. (Yes, I admit I also applied for internships!)

On the other hand, for those jobs fitting my qualifications… I just embraced the reality that there is so much competition, my CV didn’t even stand the first elimination round. This would explain why my friend helped me structure my cover letter so much that it covered the job description point by point (see my post: The “ray” in Gray”). It’s important to make the recruiter see that you can do all that they need for the job post.

WHY DIDN’T ANYONE WARN ME ABOUT THIS? Of course, I was referring to the French people I’ve talked to ranging from my private tutor to our friends and acquaintances. For this one, I believe the answer would be that some things seem so obvious to some people, they find it impossible for you not to see it. I mean, it is their system after all and they’ve lived their whole lives knowing these facts. For them it simply turned out to be within the realm of “common sense”.

I can imagine them thinking, “Who would not tweak their CV and cover letter to respond to the needs of the job post from start to finish?” or “What type of a professional in his right mind would apply for an internship post?”.

DID I NOT TALK TO FRENCH PEOPLE BEFORE COMING TO FRANCE? Yes, I did. I just talked a lot more about other things and left some-sigh!- essential topics behind.

WHY WAS I NOT BRIEFED ABOUT THIS? The answer is simple: I did not ask the right questions. I simply assumed things would be just as I know and just as I imagined they would work.

Stage 6- Action

When I was finally able to answer my questions and calm myself down, I decided it’s time for action. The second step I took was to improve my French. I realized I wasn’t going to land on my dream job any time soon, so I applied as an administrative in the same company that hired me for 5 months. I was shifted to another department and I changed status from cadre (equivalent to manager) to agent de maîtrise. (It meant lower salary, lower level of responsibility, but strictly 35 1/2 hours of work per week! An hour more of work meant an hour more of pay.)

It was the most difficult transition I’ve ever experienced but then I was “rewarded” with an excellent Operations Manager. She speaks English but her French is so good that even the French people themselves acknowledge it! I learned so much on how to communicate (from colleagues of our level to directors and exclusive clients), I truly improved my ability to write emails and even if each day ended with my head as swollen as a  balloon, now I could proudly say that I have “Full Professional Proficiency” in French. Ha!

Eventually, I landed on a Research Assistant job in the same company (yes, ladies and gentlemen- 3 different contracts in 20 months). By the time I was settling in to the new job, I was already warmly welcomed and genuinely at ease with the rest of the team who where mainly French. They saw how hard I tried to communicate in their language and in return, they showed me great consideration and understanding. They were very protective of my interest and well-being, they would give me all sorts of advice (especially when I got pregnant with my son) and they never shut their doors anytime I needed someone to talk to.

I still feel a tiny pinch in my heart whenever I think about some of my rejected applications. Mostly because in some of them, I discovered they actually preferred someone who has a French degree even if experience-wise perhaps we were equals. But that’s okay. I really live by the saying, “It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey that counts”.

Greatest lesson learned on transferring to Paris:

Make sure you have a job before buying your plane (or train) ticket.

 

 

 

 Note:

Please refer to the post, “To see is to (dis)believe” for further discussion on looking for a job in Paris. Thanks!