When the story of one woman’s humiliating and tortuous two-hour job interview began doing the rounds last week, it got me thinking about the whole awkward and often drawn out process of looking for a job.
Graduate Olivia Bland had high hopes about Web Applications UK. She’d survived stage one of the interview process and was about to embark on stage two; a face-to-face interview with CEO Craig Dean (I was going to link to Mr Dean’s Twitter account here, but he’s unsurprisingly, deleted it…).
The questioning was uncomfortable. The probing, unnecessary (reviewing her Spotify playlist?). He called her an underachiever and subjected her to two hours of pointless character assassination that left her feeling as if she’d spent that time sat in the company of her ‘abusive ex’.
Astoundingly, she was offered the job. Un-astoundingly – she turned it down. I’ll openly admit to being in awe of her bravery when she chose to put her experience out there; it’s my firm belief (or would be if I was an ounce religious) that there’s a special place in hell reserved for rampant narcissists who take pleasure from the discomfort of others, and aren’t qualified to own a pot plant, nevermind run a company.
Whilst I’m fortunate enough to have been in the same job for almost five years, and to work with people who I consider to be my work family of sorts, my work history hasn’t always been sunshine and roses. I can recall with toe-curling accuracy my experiences of job interviews prior to joining my current agency.
One look at Glassdoor tells you all you need to know about the modern-day interview process. It’s a tough old marketplace, and it seems the hoops through which candidates are forced to leap are now tantamount to craters.
From multiple stages, to presentations, and ‘competency-based questions’ (the mainstay of larger organisations), it would be fair to say you’ve got to really want a job to endure it all.
So, without further ado, here’s a list of all the things that (in my opinion) are flawed about the interview process…if you’ve worked in an office setting, you’ll undoubtedly recognise some of these…
The very first hurdle at which interviews seem to fall is that it’s virtually impossible to be yourself with a person you barely know, who’s main interest appears to be wielding authority over you as you prostrate yourself before the employment gods.
Any interviewer with any sense or experience will want to know three basic things – whether your experience fits the role, whether you’ve done your research on the company you’re interviewing with, and crucially, whether your personality is the right fit for the existing team.
How they choose to tweeze this information out of you will often give you a good indication of what they’re like as a person and a colleague.
As a down to earth type, a huge bug bear of mine is people who are unable to crack a smile, break down the barriers of formality, and just be human beings. It’s hard to relate to the robotic, ‘Stepford wife’ approach taken by some employers in the interview room, which only serves to make a candidate feel uneasy.
Many moons ago, I turned down a second stage interview with an agency due to this very approach whilst being interviewed by three women for a junior position. Warmth goes a long way!
The ‘Dragon’s Den’ factor…
Who doesn’t love a good Dragon’s Den style panel interview, where you’re seen by an unnecessary number of people at once, who all ask you various iterations of the same question whilst giving each other sideways glances?
My guess would be, everyone.
I can picture the conversation that was had before businesses decided this was going to be a strategy:
“You know how people are generally nervous at job interviews?
“And trying to project their absolute best selves whilst simultaneously remembering every scenario that’s ever occurred in the workplace, across every stage of their career?”
“Well, wouldn’t it alleviate that pressure somewhat, if they were to do that in front of a larger group of people who if they’re hired will most definitely be at least three rungs their superior?”
“That my friend is an excellent idea.”
My first interview for an account manager role was accompanied by this very scenario and, keeping in mind that an AM position is a fairly junior one in PR, having a panel of four directors in the room whilst I gave a presentation ‘about me’ seemed like overkill.
Being familiar with what the organisation does, and what’s going to be required of you during the day-to-day is – jobseekers are told – an essential part of any candidates interview preparation.
Experience tells me, this is viewed as a one-sided requirement.
Having now been in the interview room as an interviewer, I can’t stress enough how important it is to show that you have at least a modicum of interest for the person coming in to see you.
Keeping in mind that this person has likely had to book time off work or at least find a reasonable circumstance in which they can take time out of their day to travel to meet you – which may not even lead to them getting the job – the very least you can do is take time to read their CV.
Asking a person to repeat what’s in front of you, rather than going beyond what you already know to ask insightful questions demonstrates indifference on the part of the interviewer, which can be infuriating for candidates – and not an attractive trait for someone looking to work for you.
Admittedly most of my knowledge of this field comes from having a husband who works for a large organisation for which this style of questioning is the norm.
In this situation, the interviewer will ask you a number of questions relating to different ‘competencies’ required for a specific role. Typically, this covers things like teamwork, leadership, decision making, and other such balls that is virtually impossible to demonstrate with any degree of accuracy in an interview room when faced with a ‘What if?’ line of questioning.
Everyone knows that you learn by doing. It’s the unexpected challenges we face while performing our day-to-day jobs that give you the experience and knowledge to deal with these situations as they arise.
Until you’re living that scenario and are armed with all the facts, how are you supposed to give anything but a formulaic response to questions such as ‘What would you do if faced with a challenging client?’ or ‘How would you manage a crisis?’
If you were living this scenario, you’d have to think on your feet and the way you’d tackle it would also depend on who’s involved, the background, time pressures, and a multitude of other factors.
Don’t expect to hear anything other than meaningless fluff in response to this line of questioning.
Fuckwit based ‘character-building’
As Olivia Bland’s experience demonstrates, being ‘firm but fair’ and being an outright arsehole to someone who’s just trying to find a place in the world, are two very different things indeed.
After Olivia’s interview disaster made the headlines, Jeremy Vine (or rather, the producers), decided to hold a phone in about job interviews and whether or not Craig Dean’s technique was character-building or outright bullying.
Some of the responses were pretty much what you’d expect from people who have the time to write into or phone Jeremy Vine at 2:30 in the afternoon. Not only was it infuriating, it gave me the fear that some of these people are managing others and wielding their own special brand of narcissism in the workplace on a daily basis.
Let me clear something up for anyone who’s unclear about this interview ‘technique’ and whether it has any place in business whatsoever:
- There’s a way to challenge someone on their ability and experience and it doesn’t include calling them an ‘underachiever’ and making them cry.
- A person’s relationship with their parents and the contents of their Spotify playlist has zero bearing on their ability to hold down a job in IT. It’s also none of your business.
- Pushing someone to the brink of tears says more about your need for control than it does about a normal person who expected a job interview and instead ended up trapped in a room with a sociopath for two hours.
- It’s time we stopped excusing this sort of behaviour as ‘The real world’ and started holding people to account who treat other human beings with utter disdain. You’re not an example of a ‘real world’ scenario. You’re a bell end, who’s just been outed as such to the world.
To all the jobseekers out there – stay strong; and don’t let the bastards grind you down.