On the Job Application Process

One of the most stressful occupational experiences often occurs before you actually get the job. I’m talking about the job interview.

When I first entered the job market 40 years ago or so interviewing for a job was a totally different event than what people experience today. Many of the entry level jobs didn’t even require an interview. When a business was looking for help. It wasn’t unusual after being asked after a couple of quick questions to be hired on the spot after turning in an application. When jobs required a more sophisticated skill set, you would be called to come in for an interview. However generally, it was one-on-one. It often took place with a department head, supervisor or somebody of that nature. It was informal and informative. When you left you had a pretty good idea of whether or not you were going to be offered employment.

In the quest for the most highly qualified candidate and I suspect to avoid lawsuits hiring practices begin to morph. First of all, the name of the department that recruited and screened prospective employees changed from personnel to human resources. While I do not think it hurt anything. I am not exactly sure how it helped find the right person for the job.

Second, someone determined that the perceptions of one person are fallible and if you have multiple interviewers,perceptions could be crosschecked achieving a better hire. From my experience, these interviews, while a bit anxiety provoking, could be informative and fun. Laughing and joking were not out of the question. When you left you had a pretty good idea of whether or not you had the job.

Sometime in the 90s the rules changed again. The group interview became more formal. The interviewers asked uniform questions being certain not to deviate from the script; even paraphrasing was discouraged. But that’s not all, interviewers were discouraged from laughing and were encouraged to limit their nonverbal cues. In the name of best practice the interview process was dehumanized.

Sometime in the late 90s continuing to this day it went from bad to worse. Today it is not unusual for the group interview to be the first of several interviews, the candidate has to endure. There often follow-up interviews comprised of interviewers higher up in the food chain, directors, department heads, and the like. Generally, when you leave all you want to do is get out of there; you have no idea whether or not you’re the preferred candidate. Sometimes your called and offered the job, sometimes you receive a letter indicating someone else got the job and sometimes you don’t hear anything at all.

Even more disturbing is “the new group interview”. This is when you are invited into a room with several other candidates for the same job. One by one, your asked the same question, allowing the interviewers to compare and evaluate you on the spot. When you leave, you have no idea who will be offered the job, but you’re pretty sure it won’t be you. There is so much wrong with this “new group interview”, it doesn’t warrant further discussion.

My 20-year-old daughter who is more or less putting herself through university, she recently attended one of these “new group interviews” for a car hop position at a drive-in. After enduring the group interview, she was told a decision would be made later that day; that was 2 days ago and she hasn’t heard a thing. She is a young person used to working two part-time jobs and going to school full-time. She needs additional employment to make it through this summer and save money for the upcoming school year. She has moved on in her job search. I’m sure, given who she is, she will land a job. The “new group interview” will become just a bad memory.

Does it really have to be this way? I think we have lost our way. Interviews should be a two-way street. As it is, this realization is thrown a bone at the end of the interview with the last question being.” Do you have any questions for us?” Engaging in dialogue with the candidate outside of the structure of the designated questions is taboo. Worse yet, the lack of follow-up to people who have sacrificed their time and energy are told to go home and wait. Wait for a phone call that often doesn’t come.

People wonder why being unemployed or under employed is so depressing. Go figure. It doesn’t have to be this way. In New Zealand, there is a tradition of bringing a support team with you to the interview. Before any employer questions are asked each member of the support team is allowed to speak to your qualities both in regard to your skill set, but also to your qualities as a person. This changes the whole atmosphere of the job interview. It levels the playing field. No matter what the outcome, the candidate walks away feeling supported and loved. I wonder how many people could say that about any interview they’ve had in the last 20 years in the States.

In spite of being officially out of the recession, these are still difficult times for jobseekers. It’s discouraging to interview for a job and not get it. It’s worse yet to be disrespected, intimidated and ignored in the process. In the name of common decency. It’s time to stop this trend of dehumanizing job applicants. We can do better.