Just Give Us Your First Born

Sometimes you come across an article or story that just generates a visceral reaction. And this seemingly innocuous article on Vox titled ‘Job interviews are a nightmare — and only getting worse’ was one of those articles. I have some thoughts and opinions.

The article is talking about the sheer absurdity that job interviewing has turned into. And honestly, this is not a trend or a situation that has just materialized recently – it has been a slow burn that has gotten impossibly worse over the past 10-20 years.

Job-seeking can be a real exercise in immersive futility. It often feels like you’re tossing your resume into the abyss and praying to the recruitment gods for a response. If and when you get that response, the landscape doesn’t always get easier. Companies are seemingly coming up with new, higher, and harder hoops to jump through at every turn. That translates to endless rounds of interviews, various arbitrary tests, and complex exercises and presentations that entail hours of work and prep. There can be good reasons for firms to do this — they really want to make sure they get the right person, and they’re trying to reduce biases — but it’s hard not to feel like it can just be too much.

Emily Stewart, Vox Media

As illustrated in the article, the pervading trend from companies big and small includes meeting 10-20 people over the course of several weeks, having marathon all day interview sessions where you sit in a room and deal with a cattle call of different ‘team members’ and ‘stakeholders’ from across the organization you’re interviewing with. And logic just tells you that there has to be an inverse relationship with the liklihood of being hired relative to the amount of people you meet during the process. In every organization, each individual has their own agenda and priorities that is in part dictated by the role they hold. So when those people are meeting candidates – for their direct team or for teams adjacent to their own – those folks evaluate the candidate relative to what their goals and priorities are. So it makes logical sense that with so many competing agendas, with so many individual personalities, the chances that a candidate satisfies every single one of those people gets lower and lower with each interview. And add on top of this, the absurdity of some of the questions, requests and ‘assignments’ that some comapnies ask candidates to partake in, and you are left with an impossible labyrinth to navigate. From the article:

Reporting for this story, I heard anecdotes about hiring processes that ranged from irksome to hellish. One recent graduate described having to take a series of intelligence tests, go through two interviews, and provide five references — all of whom were asked to complete a 15-minute questionnaire — for an entry-level position at a nonprofit he was told he didn’t get two months later. One woman’s job offer was contingent on her getting a reference from her current manager, who wasn’t aware she was on the hunt for a job.

Another man was told to start looking for apartments across the country after being flown out for a final interview, only to follow up a couple of weeks later and learn that the recruiter simply forget to tell him he hadn’t gotten the job. “My interviewing experiences have been worse than dating, with the ghosting and non-responses,” he said.

Among friends and colleagues, swapping interview horror stories can turn into a sort of sport. One of my former coworkers was asked to build out an entire content strategy for a popular financial newsletter and work with the team in the office. She was unemployed and scared, so she felt like she had no choice but to sign a waiver agreeing for her work to be used for free — work that was apparently good enough to be sent out to their readers but not to land her a position with the company. Looking at the company’s Glassdoor reviews, it’s obvious she’s not the only one who’s been subject to this sort of treatment.

“There’s a fine line between appropriate and inappropriate,” said Sondra Levitt, a leadership and career coach with Korn Ferry, an organizational consulting firm. For example, it might make perfect sense for a company to ask a candidate, especially at the executive level, to do some sort of presentation about their vision and what they want to accomplish. Where it gets hairy is when the company asks a candidate to create, produce, and submit a full-blown marketing campaign, which happened to one of Levitt’s clients recently. “The candidate felt like they were just trying to get free information and free work through the interview process,” Levitt said.

Emily Stewart, Vox Media

I’ve been out of work a couple of times in my career and reading this article just made me shudder as I recalled similar nightmares – from being ghosted after several interviews, to organizations failing to inform you they have gone in a different direction, to being asked to pull together strategies and presentations to illustrate how you would tackle a problem. Probably the most frustrating aspect of the way interviewing is handled today is the fact that the organizations will just not tell you why you didn’t get the role – mostly because they are afraid of violating laws (which, to be fair, does have some merit). They deliver some generic bs line or a 3 line auto generated email from Workday saying ‘Thanks for visiting but you didn’t get the job’ that leave you questioning your sanity when you know you were qualified or even over-qualified for the role. You almost have to be a unicorn to survive the process and actually get hired. Many times, after the fact, I would call the recruiter and/or the hiring manager and ask them directly why I didn’t win the job or ask them to explain to me where my experience fell short or which of my responses to interview questions didn’t hit the mark, all in an effort to self-improve and get better at how I approached the interview process. It was rare when I got an honest answer.

As a company, you clearly want to ensure that you make the right hiring decisions and develop a strong and positive working environment. What is clear from reading the article, and from personal experience, is that companies have taken this to an extreme that results in everyone losing. We’re all adults here – we all have our own jobs and lives. I’d much rather be told early on that it is not a fit, so we can all move on. Dragging the process out by having useless additional meetings, or ghosting candidates with no explaination or update is just unprofessional and in poor form.