Need Good Help? Try A Job Auction
October 20, 2003
time or another, nearly everybody has heard people complain,
"You can't get good help any more." They claim to
have tried to hire people time after time, and they would not
work -- at least not satisfactorily.
and dance is sometimes true. We occasionally see people on
roadsides holding signs that say, "Will work for food."
Researchers have done experiments with these people and have
verified that only about one in ten is willing to do much work;
the rest just want money to buy cigarettes, beer, drugs, or
tricks with prostitutes.
the other hand, there are many other people who are serious about
working -- if they can find opportunities.
last two years, this problem has become much more acute with a
nationwide unemployment increase of 50% -- from 4% to 6%. And
that's just the people who are officially unemployed -- the
ones drawing benefits. The actual number of people looking for
jobs could very well be three or four times that
channels for finding work are not very effective. Many people
spend a great deal of time and money sending out resumes; some
send out hundreds. Obviously, the vast majority just get thrown
into the trash. A few get a quick lookover. Once in a while,
somebody gets lucky and lands a job. But the odds are not much
better than buying a winning lottery ticket.
strategy is to go to businesses and ask for work. An applicant
can do this for months and never find an offer, even one for
minimum wage. Employers who have had their fill of lazy and
incompetent workers are usually reluctant to hire anybody they
don't already know very well. Some establishments even put up
"No Help Wanted" signs to discourage floods of
through want ads is nearly always fruitless. Although there are
usually many "jobs" offered, they nearly always fall
into one of four categories:
1. Distant locations that either
exceed reasonable commuting or re-location costs or have high
2. Risky "business opportunities"
where each job-seeker must put up a thousand dollars or more up
front to "invest" in a highly speculative
"business" that is almost certain to fail;
3. Door-to-door sales or telemarketing jobs that pay no salary --
only small commissions on how well the applicants can slick-talk
unsuspecting people into buying overpriced or useless products;
4. Jobs offered by employment agencies that normally charge
stiff, up-front fees (typically about 10% of a year's salary)
that are due as soon as the applicants accept the
people look to the federal, state or local governments for
employment. This seems logical since most governments typically
pay anywhere from 10% to 100% more than the private sector pays
for the same positions, and on top of that, the holidays, fringe
benefits and retirements are usually much more
Applicants normally apply for government jobs by taking
written examinations. But if one has any illusions that making a
high grade -- or even the top grade -- on one of these is a
ticket to a good job, he is in for a rude awakening after
repeatedly making scores in the 90's for years and never once
getting an offer. Of course a high score has weight in an
employer's decision, but the sad truth is that other hidden
factors carry much more weight and usually make the decision on
who gets employed. I have been told that an applicant for a state
job must be one of the top ten scorers, BUT the functionary who
does the hiring can choose any of these top ten and frequently
chooses someone other than the top scorer. What are these
"other hidden factors?" I have been told that the
courts have imposed certain racial and ethnic mixes, and anybody
who is not either a buddy of somebody in a high place or a member
of a "preferred" race, ethnicity or sex is out of luck.
And because government jobs pay so well, the competition is
majority of jobs -- especially the better and higher-paying ones
-- are obtained through family members or close friends. The only
problem with it is that many people have no families or friends
who are in positions to offer anything. Many of them are no doubt
looking for jobs themselves.
thing that makes getting a job such a difficult task is that the
decision to hire is made by someone else. A person can literally
spend years of his time and labor just to get a suitable person
to make a simple decision, "You're hired."
Unfortunately many employers frequently use illogical critera in
their decisions to hire. This is evidenced by the sizable numbers
of ill-suited and incompetent employees we see all too often and
equally sizable numbers of bright, educated, skillful and
dedicated people who are either looking for positions or working
at menial alternatives just to survive.
is the solution? It can be done with a job auction. It will
provide good workers at reasonable rates, and best of all, it is
totally free market.
auction can fill nearly any kind of position -- specialized or
unskilled -- permanent or temporary. A job auction can be held at
any auction house willing to give it a try. Most auctioneers
should have no problem with it since it will generate extra
alternative, an employer can hold his own auction. He has the
advantage of controlling the auction. A disadvantage is lower
visibility, and fewer job applicants are likely to see the job
offers. The employer would have to do some extra
a job auction work? In an ordinary auction, an auction company
allows various people to bring their stuff to be sold at whatever
prices the top bidders are willing to pay. Many companies allow
each seller to put a "pinch" or a reserve minimum price
he is willing to accept on a few of his choice items. The
auctioneer gets a percentage of the selling prices as his fee
(typically 15%), and the sellers get the rest.
auction would be a bit different. The people who want to hire
workers would bring in descriptions, expected salaries and
qualifications of the jobs they are willing to offer. These would
be posted on a bulletin board at the auction house for a
reasonable length of time for job seekers to look
auctioneer's fee could be paid by either the employer or
employee and determined by prior agreement. Since selling jobs
costs the auctioneer no more than two or three minutes each, he
can make good money with very small commissions -- $5, or at most
$10, per job. Once established as a good job auctioneer, he might
later command $15 or $20 per job and make selling jobs the most
profitable part of his auction.
time to run the jobs would be at the beginning of the auction,
since many applicants would not be willing to wait for hours for
other things to be sold for a shot at one or two jobs.
job auction might have 10 or 20 jobs. The auctioneer would begin
by announcing the jobs available and the order they are to be
run. He would describe each job like he describes any other item
arrangement is to start with the highest-paying jobs that have
the most stringent qualifications. This gives the applicants
opportunities to bid on alternatives if they miss out on their
could be expressed as per hour, per week, per month, or per year.
Temporary or short-term jobs would normally be expressed as per
applicants will bid on salaries, the bidding would go downward
rather than upward. The bidding would begin at the highest salary
the employer is willing to pay -- or if bidding is sluggish, at a
higher level where the employer can "reserve" a lower
maximum salary. Once a bid is made, the auctioneer asks for a
lower bid and continues until no more people are willing to bid.
The lowest bidder will get the job and will be paid the wage that
offered salary is initially too low to generate an opening bid,
the auctioneer can ask the employer if he might want to start at
a slightly higher figure. The employer can then decide if he
wants to offer a higher salary or re-run the same job at a later
date when a bidder might be willing to settle for his original
think that a person who is willing to work for a lower salary
than one who wants more would not be as capable an employee. That
might be true in a few cases, but if somebody is willing to take
a job for a lower salary than someone else, he obviously has a
greater need for the job and its salary, and he will therefore
work as hard or harder than another person who needs it
be tempted to ask how employers can expect to get qualified
employees. The obvious answer: Any serious applicant is going to
read the job qualifications and know what he can and cannot do.
He is going to bid on jobs he knows he can do. He knows that if
he gets a job he cannot do, he will only founder after the first
day or two at work, and the employer will not keep him. The
employee will gain nothing but embarassment and ridicule. The
same applies to anybody who has no intention of working and just
wants a free paycheck. Nearly all applicants will be serious
since there is nothing to be gained by doing
should allow all interested people to bid on their jobs. They
should not reject or screen applicants. If they want specific
qualifications like non-smokers, they should state these on the
job descriptions and let the bidders know they will not be kept
if they are hired and don't maintain these requirements.
Paperwork should not be required until after one is hired, and
even then it should be brief and simple. Employers should never
ask personal questions or demand excessive or frivolous
qualifications that have little or no value in their work
should not demand work experience or require employment
histories. Instead of so much "experience," they should
look for what the applicants can actually do. The applicants
know, and the employers should trust them to bid accordingly.
With occasional exceptions, they can expect winning bidders to be
competent and do satisfactory work. An employer can turn away any
applicant if his performance is anything less, and they both know
an employer will be willing to pay a higher salary to get the
very best applicant. This can also be done in the manner of a job
auction. In this case the employer, at his own place of business,
gives all the applicants a written test, a practical test, or
both. These are much more effective in determining potential
performance than typical time-consuming job applications that
demand all too lengthy lists of previous employers, dates, and
does not have to be complicated. For example, if somebody is
applying for a job as a carpenter, give him a circular saw and
let him cut a few boards; give him a hammer and let him drive
some nails, etc. Any employer -- large or small -- can devise and
administer suitable tests at little or no expense. Test all the
applicants, and the one with the best score and best
demonstration of performance gets the job.
auction has the advantage of changing turnover from a liability
to an asset. Employers who hire through the usual channels
dislike it because it consumes a great deal of time to interview
new applicants. But job auctions make turnover a breeze, and an
employer with an unexpected vacancy can hire a new hand at the
next week's auction.
is also advantageous to the employees. High turnover allows them
to more quickly gravitate toward the positions for which they are
most qualified and best suited.
advantage of a job auction is that it is discrimination-proof. It
has no favoritism for race, age, sex, national origin, or any
other trumped-up factors bureaucrats might conceive. It is equal
opportunity at its zenith. Every bidder gets a fair and equal
shot at a job, and the one who actually gets the job is nearly
always the one who needs it the most.
auction is a win-win situation. The employer gets a first-rate
worker at an acceptable wage with a minimum of time and expense.
The job-seeker has a stronger voice in the decision to hire and a
better and fairer opportunity for a good job with a salary he
personally approved without the fruitless searching through ads,
knocking on doors, filling out paperwork, or putting up with
overpriced, time-consuming employment agencies.
John Martin writes from Elmore County.