Recruitment: still a flawed (bullshit) process
About six years ago, when I was desperately looking for work, I became so disenchanted with the recruitment process, I started a blog/website called Even It Up! in an attempt to even up the power imbalance between the jobseeker and recruiter. Here was I: a Masters student with a GPA so good I was awarded the academic prize for that year; was invited to be a PhD candidate; and had years of relevant work experience to boot, but I couldn’t nail a job for the life of me. So I got mad, and I got even, with Even It Up!.
The premise of the Even It Up! blog/website was that organisations managed the risk(?) of recruitment so badly that rather than hiring the best person for the job, they hired the person who (they thought) interviewed the best, or was a friend or relative of someone on the interview panel. I found that winning a position in state government—which was the penultimate employment prize and worth it back then for the benefits—was nigh on impossible; more often than not, the vacancy wasn’t even bona fide*. And private industry used recruitment consultants to screen out applicants, and not very effectively, I might add. I felt disempowered, and Even It Up! was my way of recouping some personal power, albeit in a very public way.
During this time, I learned a few things about recruitment that still influences which positions I apply for, and how I go about it. From my perspective, it’s all about return on investment, with the “return” being likelihood of gaining an interview with the decision-makers and “investment” being the amount of time it takes to go through the recruitment process. Ergo, I never apply for any position (even if it’s my dream job!) that requires me to:
- go through a recruitment consultant – I want to be in the face of the decision-makers immediately, not go through a third party who may or may not be totally clueless.
- answer selection criteria akin to writing War and Peace – if I can’t apply with just a simple cover letter and a resume, I won’t apply for the role. Sometimes I might answer a few selection criteria, but only if it takes me no more than half an hour.
- jump through hoops at an interview – I have a Masters degree in Communication Management plus more than 15 years industry experience and you want me to write a media release? Really? Puh-leez.
- do psychometric testing – I’m an ENFJ and I’m true to type and that’s all anyone needs to know.
- hand over details of referees before an interview – calling a referee before you’ve even talked to me is just not cool, people. And if you talk to someone who is not even on my reference list, well, that misdeed should be punishable by a very public flogging.
I also never apply for a role that has someone already acting in it. Nine times out of ten, the person acting in the role wins it, which means all you are is part of the organisation’s recruitment process. Interviewing you proves that the selection (of the person who is not you) has been made on “merit” because the recruiter has “gone out to the market” and the successful candidate is “the best person for the job”, irrespective of whether this is true or not. Sometimes roles are new and have been specifically “created” for someone. Unfortunately, you won’t know if or when that’s the case (unless the role has been created for you, which has happened for me on a couple of rare occasions).
My rationale is based on brain science and the way the brain is wired—the more something is a “maybe” into which you have invested your time, energy and resources the more you tend to be disappointed when the outcome isn’t in your favour. In other words, the less I invest in the recruitment process, the more easily I can move on from the knock backs. And in the job-hunting world, there are A LOT of knock backs. And it is very easy to buy-in to the idea that a knock back is personal. Because it seems that way, particularly if you invest in the process. So if you minimise the investment, you minimise the disappointment. And frustrations. And unmet expectations.
Fast forward to today, and I am in the process of looking around for another position. I’m not in a hurry—I still have another 10 months to run on my contract—so I can afford to be choosy. But even this early on in the process, I have noticed that nothing has changed or improved from five or six years ago, particularly in state government, where I am looking (although I am casting my net wider into the university, local government and NGO sector). It’s still bullshit because:
- There are minimal bona fide vacancies in state government, which is bullshit – if only bona fide vacancies were allowed to be called in the NOV, there would be about three positions per classification level advertised.
- Applying online has gotten even more bullshitty – it’s just made an unwieldy process more unwieldy. You want me to type in all my employers – and responsibilities – from the year dot when it’s on the resume that I’ve just uploaded? Really? For fuck’s sake… why?
- Interviews are still as bullshit a process as they ever were – why oh why can’t interviewers just hand the questions over a few days before? No one has an advantage if that were the case. Those who like to prepare can prepare, and those who like to wing it can still wing it! What’s the big deal?
- The referee thing is still bullshit – yes, I understand the need to check that I’m not going to go postal or AWOL on the job, or lied about what I’ve done, but what if my (current) line manager (which is what they always ask for) is an unethical tool or an incompetent idiot or both? What’s the point of asking them what I’m like to work with?
And the power imbalance is still there. I would love to flip the process and interview the interviewers, and referee check the CE and organisation I’m wanting to work for. Because—and this is my experience from 35 years of employment—working is more a risk for me and my mental health than the organisation! Bad management; crap leadership; (often) boring and meaningless work; appalling communication; little strategic direction; slashed budgets; poor pay; discrimination and harassment; pointless meetings; (sometimes) nasty co-workers; downsizing; outdated software and hardware; all while dodging sociopaths, narcissists, lunatics and bullies etc. etc. etc.
No wonder I am ready to retire!
The birth of modern recruitment practices can be pinpointed to the WWII, when agencies were used to recruit women into factory positions that had been vacated be men going off to war. These agencies remained when the men returned. The job ad started its life as a bulletin board—not much has changed there, other than form!
And here’s an interesting article from Psychology Today that claims businesses don’t actually want to hire anyone… because people are just too messy and unpredictable (which is why getting a job is just. So. Damn. Hard.)!
*In government – and I’m talking state government here because that’s where my experience is – only around 10% of vacancies are genuine. Most positions are “called” so that the person acting in the role can be appointed on “merit”. If you apply for one of these non-genuine positions, all you are is part of the “we went out to the market” process that “proves” the person currently in the role is the “best person” for the job. It’s a bullshit way to recruit, but that’s the way it is.
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