June 03, 2009

When Job Interviews Get ... Interesting

AS A JOBSEEKER, I was rather stunned at reading this great story in the Wall Street Journal about the lengths to which certain companies will go when it comes to interviewing prospective employees. The more novel tactics reportedly include:

-- requiring a prospective employee to provide 12 references
-- requiring applicants to bring their own lunch -- and three years' worth of W-2 statements
-- having prospective employees pitch other applicants as best for the job
-- performing a play with other applicants ... on the side of a highway.
-- asking inappropriate questions, such as how an applicant would react to the boss's gay son making a pass at them during an office Christmas party.

What, exactly, are these companies thinking? If you don't treat people with respect when you're in the process of hiring them, how do you expect them to treat your business? Let's say a company, XYZ Widget Corp., hired five people after subjecting them to a particularly cruel interview process, and interviewed a total of 50 applicants during that time frame. What would happen?

Well, at the very least, you can be sure the 45 people who didn't get the jobs would complain in most unflattering terms about XYZ Widget -- and to pretty much everyone with whom they came into contact. There's an old theory that says the number of people who know any given secret is the square of the number who have been told about it. So if that held in this case, you'd have 2,025 people who weren't all that fond of XYZ Widget Corp. Arguably, that could be broken down into the following subgroups:

* The 45 rejected applicants, who now hate the company and have secretly vowed revenge on its operation.
* The friends and family members who know the applicants well -- we'll call this number one-quarter of the remainder, or 495 people -- who now find the company appalling and make a point of studiously avoiding its products and services.
* The remaining three-quarters of the pool, totaling 1,485 people, who will remember the applicants' stories and make a point of discreetly avoiding doing business with XYZ Widget, much less apply for a job there.

Now, let's take the five people XYZ Widget actually did hire. It could be they end up loving their jobs, and become valued, productive employees. But it's a fair bet to say that XYZ Widget might not be the best place to work, based on its interview practices. Accordingly, two or three of the employees might jump ship once the economy improved. The fourth might end up performing at marginal capacity -- good enough to keep on, but not good enough to really sparkle or shine, which is ideally what you want from an employee. As for the fifth employee, well, he's probably a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Besides, what happens when the economy turns around? XYZ Widget's reputation -- which will stay with it -- will undoubtedly hinder its attempts to find qualified applicants when the available labor pool is small. That will accordingly mean lost opportunities in future for the company -- especially if applicants XYZ would have wanted for its team join the competition.

Now, this is not to say there aren't places for being tough during the interviewing process. Speaking personally, I don't mind a good challenge and would take a tough line of questioning as a chance to give as good as I got. But if faced with some of these questions, I would be inclined to ask some of my own. Like, "Are you well?"

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at June 3, 2009 03:50 PM | TrackBack
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