Job seekers are accustomed to applying for jobs and never hearing back from employers, even if the candidate is well qualified for the job. Since the Great Recession, however, recruiters and hiring managers are now not even bothering to let interviewed job candidates know they hired someone else.
After laboring through more than 20 interviews in the past two years, I’m firmly convinced that the job selection process has little to do with finding the most qualified candidate, but more to do with finding the most accessible candidate who has ties to the organization. Many recruiters are only filling their allotted number of interviewees to say they considered a certain number of candidates, when they never seriously considered the “outside” candidates. Most recruiters and hiring managers already have an idea of who they want for the position before the interviews begin.
Still, this process does not excuse recruiters from their unscrupulous attitudes toward job candidates they “string along” with time-consuming interviews, “job fit assessments,” reference checks, and online profile tests. They give the external job candidate the impression they are seriously in the running when they are not; provide barriers that internal candidates are not subjected to; and provide no feedback about how the candidate did in the interviews or the dubious online exams. Nowadays, a job candidate can expect to spend more than 12 hours in online applications, interviews and testing with one company without ever hearing from them again (and that’s excluding the time spent researching the company). Often, a candidate can spend several hours taking online assessment tests and personality profiles without even interacting with a real person.
I’ll give one recent example. In April, the hiring manager of a large healthcare organization in Louisiana contacted me about my resume and told me to apply for a Director of Communications position online. After filling out the extensive application, her assistant called me to set up a 45-minute interview. The interview went well, and the hiring manager told me it would take about three weeks for Human Resources to finish the rest of the selection process, indicating that I should be called for a personal interview in Louisiana after that time.
The next four weeks involved some time-intensive tests, phone interviews, and an impersonal “virtual interview” with a machine. Here’s detailed listing of the convoluted and frequently impersonal hiring process:
- The first step involved completing a “career battery assessment” that took one hour to finish. Although several questions applied to patient care and not to marketing/communications, I thought I did well on the test.
- The second step entailed a detailed reference checking process to be completed within 24 hours. “An important part of the hiring process is reference checking. You will be receiving an email with a link to enter in your references: 5 total of which 2 must be current or past managers/supervisors.” I contacted my references and let them know what to expect so they would watch for the web link in their email boxes. One of my references took time out of his busy schedule as CEO of a hospital to complete this reference survey.
- I then received a call from Human Resources to schedule a time to speak with the lead recruiter. The recruiter told me I needed to complete an online leadership survey. She told me I would receive another email from a company called “Skill Survey” that supposedly measured various leadership competencies. This test asked some hypothetical questions for managers and supervisors and took another hour to complete. Again, I thought I did well on this test, although no written test can adequately reflect how a supervisor will perform or motivate his or her employees.
- The Leadership Recruiter from HR then sent me several documents to review about the organization’s benefits, incentive plan, and salary bonus plan. She even told me when I would be paid! By the tone of the email, I thought I was not only in the running as one of the finalists, but was on track for that personal interview the hiring manager told me I would receive.
- At this point, I thought I would get a call to interview in person at the facility’s main office in New Orleans. Instead, I received an invitation to take part in a “virtual interview” via a webcam. The HR coordinator said they recently purchased this software from a company called Interview Stream to save money in travel costs. Since I was asked to use a webcam, I asked if I could interview with live people via Skype or Windows Live Messenger, but she said the organization was not set up to use either of those popular programs (I found this explanation very strange because if they had a webcam, any individual HR employee could sign up for a Skype account). She even admitted that I was the first –and perhaps only job candidate up to this point — who was asked to perform this “virtual interview.” (You’re our guinea pig,” she said). Not a true interview at all, Interview Stream asked the interviewee a set of predefined questions and gave the subject just five seconds to answer each question. At several times during the automated question, I wanted to stop and clarify the questions, only to realize that I couldn’t do so because I wasn’t talking to a live person. Despite my training in television news, I felt I could have performed better in this 50-minute video interview.
- The recruiter followed up with another request for a real interview with a live person (via the telephone). Initially she asked me to interview with this senior leader on a Saturday, but then changed her request to a Friday. The interview was not difficult, but I did find it strange that most of the questions dealt with how I would deal with a “hypothetical” employee who had been sexually harassed by a coworker. After the third or fourth question about this topic, I wondered if sexual harassment was a big problem at this organization.
- The recruiter then emailed me on May 18 to notify that “all interviews have been completed and the hiring manager along with her team are discussing feedback from your interview. Someone from Human Resources will be in touch with you by early next week regarding feedback and next steps.” The next day, she changed her mind and asked me to interview with another senior leader tomorrow. My phone interview with him lasted more than an hour, which went very well.
This was the last personal correspondence I had with anyone at the organization. After 15 days of not hearing anything, I emailed the recruiter a request for the status and received this response on June 2:
“I apologize for the delay in contacting you. The interview process was extended longer than expected. The leadership recruiter has informed that she will reach out to you shortly, via email, with additional feedback.”
It’s been more than six weeks since this email. Needless to say, this recruiter has never contacted me with any “additional feedback.” I assume I didn’t get the job, and that they hired a local candidate, but will never know for sure. Why was I never called in for a personal interview on site? If I didn’t do well on the online tests, why did they email me leadership benefits and continue the phone interviews? Why did they pretend they were seriously considering my candidacy, only to use me as a “guinea pig” for their new video software? After sending me numerous emails, telephoning me, and coordinating my interviews, why didn’t they have the courtesy to at least pick up the phone and let me know the result?
Throughout the whole process, I felt the HR gatekeepers were placing additional barriers in my path that gave them justification for not calling me in for a personal interview where I could actually meet and talk personally with leaders at the organization. I didn’t mind spending several hours preparing for interviews and taking online tests if the process led to a face-to-face interview. What was even more exasperating was that I had to waste the time of my former supervisors who had to fill out detailed reference surveys for naught.
In the end, I am glad I was not offered a job with this organization, whose leaders showed they do not share my values of respect, dignity, and courteousness. If I had one piece of advice for other individuals seeking a professional mangement position, I would suggest avoiding organizations that overly stress written assessments over personal interviews as their barometer of finding the “right candidate.” If the people in that company are so impersonal, then it’s not the right fit for someone in communications.