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.
After spending nearly two years unemployed, I may join the ranks of those long-term unemployed individuals who ‘give up’ on their job search. After this long struggle, I now understand why qualified professionals reach the end of their ropes. I may be at that point.
In this blog, I’ve highlighted some of my frustrations with the way employers treat prospective candidates. I’m lucky. I get calls back. I get interviews. I’ve networked with colleagues, friends and associates. I’ve filled out hundreds of applicaitons and sent more than 600 tailored resumes. For a long time, I felt it was something I did or said in those interviews that was the reason I did not get an offer. The reality is that employers already have someone in mind for these jobs, and there’s nothing the candidate can do to overcome that mindset.
Let me give two examples. Late last year, I had a recruiter call me back about a management job in Colorado. During our conversation, she said I was a “perfect match” for this job and she would be in touch after looking at other candidates for the employer. She called back and conducted a long interview. We emailed each other several times and she indicated to me that I was a top candidate. Finally, she said the employer would select the top four canddiates to fly them in for an interview.
A few days later, I receive this curt email that job seekers are all too familiar with:
“Thank you for your interest in the XXXX position at XXXX. Your resume and accomplishments are impressive, and have made the selection of our initial candidate pool a difficult choice. At this stage, only a limited number of candidates for the position will be moved forward in our process. The client is focusing on candidates who are in Colorado or have a connection to the area. Should that change, I will be in touch to discuss next steps. I have enjoyed our conversations and hope that you have found them productive as well. I look forward to working with you again in the future.”
Of course, I felt like responding: “No, I did not feel our conversations were productive, and why did you waste my time? Why didn’t you know that your client only wanted local candidates? Is it because you’re paid to select a certain number of candidates to present to your client?
A few weeks later, I receive a call from an HR director of a local company (in a nearby county). She schedules a phone interview with me and conducts a very detailed, extensive interview. She calls me back and wants me to interview with the hiring manager. Excited, I research the company, prepare my portfoilo, and arrive at the facility, where the HR director conducts another interview with me. She tells me the pay scale and gives me the company’s benefit summary for managers and directors. Now, all I have to do is seal the deal with the hiring manager.
When I meet the hiring VP, I discover she hasn’t even bothered to look at my application in depth. Instead, she spends the first few minutes asking me to wait until she looks over “my file.” She takes two phone calls during the interview. She focuses more on why I was let go of my last job (I was downsized in a corporate restructuring effort that included the CEO, COO, and CFO), so I try to discuss my achievements and successes and what I can bring to the table. I know my chances are lost when she says ‘Well, we were really looking for someone who does not have experience in this field because we want this candidate to think out of the box.” Uhh? She wants someone who is NOT qualified? Clearly, she already has someone in mind for this position.
All job searchers read about “expert” advice from headhunters and recruiters designed to get you in the door; to get noticed by the employer. But the rules of the job market since the recession have changed. It doesn’t matter if you get your foot in the door, because in this economy the hiring manager has someone else in mind for the position. I had one recruiter conduct an extensive background check on me; interview my references at length; interview me twice, and pump me up about my candidacy, only to fail to get me “in the door” to interview with the hiring manager. What’s worse, she wouldn’t even let me see the results of the reference checks so I could use them for future job searches: she said that was “proprietary” and not releasable (I later had a reference fax me the sheet she said was “confidential”). Why do recruiters go through this exhaustive process of background checks and reference interviews if they fail to land you the real job interview?
I understand why people are giving up their job search in this market. To read what it feels like for older, experienced workers to be ignored by hiring managers, see this poignant letter in the Dallas Morning News:
INTERVIEWS & REJECTION – INTERNAL CANDIDATES ARE FAVORED
I always thought interviewing was one of my strengths. After all, I’ve interviewed thousands of people in my life as a journalist, so interviewing comes naturally to me. Plus I have some school training in acting, and a job interview is about you perform before your peers. I’ve also been told that once you land a job interview, you are on an equal footing with the other candidates.
Unfortunately, reality is much different than the career advice forums and columns. After more than 15 interviews during the past 17 months (I stopped keeping count earlier this year), I now realize that your performance in a job interview means nothing. All the interviewing advice from the HR and recruiting pundits about what you wear, how you shake a hand, and how you make eye contact often make little difference in the final outcome. I’ve left job interviews with the feeling that I “aced” the interview only to receive a rejection in the mail two days later. Some don’t even bother to send you a rejection letter. In one long five-hour interview I had in a nearby city, the employer bought me lunch with the staff I’d be working with, sent a realtor to pick me up and show me the homes in the nice neighborhoods, and had the top administrators meet with me –who said I “spoke their language” and gave me good vibes throughout the process – only never to hear back from them. After a thank you letter, an email and a phone call asking about the status of the position, I gave up trying to figure out what happened. One year later, the job was still posted by a different recruiter.
Another employer paid for my flight to Washington, D.C. and reimbursed me for parking the day of my interview. I never heard back from them, either.
The majority of employers do send an automatic rejection letter that doesn’t give you a clue about why you didn’t get the job. But sometimes you do discover why with a little persistence. When I do dig, I find out that the employer has hired an internal candidate. After receiving one such rejection letter from an employer that interviewed me for a job that fit me like a glove, I boldly called the hiring manager and was told I didn’t get the job “because I didn’t live in the community” which was 46 miles away. She said the position required someone to be on call and involved in community groups. “You were number three among the final candidates, though.” The other two candidates lived and owned homes there.
I felt great about this last interview, too. After being complimented on my work and my skills, the hiring manager told me the next step in the process would be for HR “to vet” the final candidates, implying that my references would be getting called. The other staff member on the interview panel also told me to expect to hear back within a week. Neither happened, and when I sent more follow-up correspondence than usual I discovered they “made an offer to an individual who has a long working history with our organization.” She adds: “We all enjoyed meeting you and recognize your many talents…you certainly have a lot to offer.” This missive was followed up with a rejection from the original recruiter, who wrote: “We had many good applicants. Please apply for others.”
Well, if my talents are so impressive and I have a lot to offer an employer, then why can’t I land a job in my career where I have 20 years of experience?
That brings me to the question many unemployed want to know: Why even post the position to the public if the department wants to hire someone within? If they are legally obligated to post it, then why go to the trouble of interviewing external candidates you have no intention of hiring? Is that fair?
Advice to hiring managers who know the person they want to hire: don’t waste our time or yours.
Unemployed or underemployed and need a place to share your stories? You’re welcome to comment here. There are also some larger unemployment forums that are available online. They include http://www.firedfornow.com/forums/ and http://www.unemployed-friends.com/ .