Why job hunting has become a farce

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business people

Recently, I applied for a customer service job with a large corporation and was shocked by how much effort it takes to secure the simplest of jobs these days. It’s farcical.

In 1979, I applied to be a clerical assistant with this same corporation, although in those days it was a semi-government enterprise with a sensible name and a sensibly laid-back recruitment process.

In fact, my one and only interview was so relaxed that all I had to do was chat with a nice lady in a cubicle the size of a walk-in wardrobe. She spent the first five minutes discussing astrology and how my being a Capricorn and her being a Pisces was perfect because lots of water and earth signs were in the public service and because water and earth make mud this was a good thing because the public service needed strong foundations.

Then I filled out a few forms and she said she’d be in touch. I began work a week later and stayed for seven years.

Fast forward 35 years and the first thing I have to do to get a job with this mob is complete an online application that would be “checked carefully for errors of grammar, punctuation and spelling.”

My spelling and grammar must have been okay because the next day I got a call from a member of the corporation’s “Talent Team”, who arranged a telephone interview for me with one of her colleagues (I’ll call her Amanda) at 2pm.

I wanted to impress Amanda, especially since I had no idea if I was talented enough for her team, so I Googled “what do I need to know for a telephone interview?”

Alison Doyle, from About.com’s Phone Interview Tips, advised that I smile during the interview because it would change my voice tone and make me sound confident. I liked Alison’s advice because it was something I understood, so I practised smiling for the next two hours until my face got stiff and my lips began to twitch.

Alison also said to speak slowly and to have a short list of accomplishments available to review. I’m not all that accomplished, but I didn’t want Amanda to know that so I dredged up a few minor successes from the distant past — so distant that I’m not even sure they happened – and scribbled them on a scrap of paper.

At 1.57pm, I was at my desk. My face was numb from all the smiling so I laughed like a wolf to release endorphins and to stop all the lip twitching. I also did a tongue twister to improve my enunciation.

Amanda was very corporate and efficient and asked questions like “can you give me an example of a difficult situation that you resolved to everyone’s satisfaction?” I glanced at the scrappy paper listing my two accomplishments. Both looked woeful so I dug up something that happened recently and made it sound grand.

Amazingly, I conveyed enough talent in the phone interview for Amanda to invite me to a “Recruitment Experience Day” and she emailed the details.

First, as part of a group I’d have to analyse a corporate customer report and show leadership and initiative while taking “ownership” of the situation.

Then, I’d have a face-to-face role play with a “talent specialist” pretending to be a Customer With A Big Problem who must be placated using the corporation’s “workplace mindset and behavioural guidelines,” after which I must sell them lots of stuff.

Finally, I will be personally interviewed and given sales scenarios to which I should respond quickly and efficiently. If I survive the Recruitment Experience Day, I will then move on to the next stage of the recruitment process. (Yes, I kid you not, there are more stages.)

Eventually, if successful I’ll be stuck in a shop and paid $23.28 per hour.

Anyway, the night before I was expected at the recruitment adventure I had to complete another online behavioural test to see whether I conformed to specific “workplace mindset and behavioural requirements.”

I was cruising along nicely until: “I enjoy listening to people talk about themselves and their problems.” I had five options: “completely untrue”, “fairly untrue”, “neither true nor untrue”, fairly true” and “very true.” “Completely untrue,” I answered.

And the next question that went something like: “I would disregard my personal morals and ethics if they conflict with commercial interests.” “Completely untrue,” I answered, and by this time I knew I was doomed.

I emailed Amanda the next morning and withdrew my application. I told her it was because I lacked the appropriate workplace mindset and behaviours.

She thanked me and said to apply again in the future. I wasn’t sure if she’d read my email properly, but I was too tired to care.

I know times change and that the world is faster and shinier now, but does applying for a basic job need to be so ridiculously complicated? My chat with the nice Pisces lady all those years ago may not have been all that rigorous but its unpretentiousness at least matched the simplicity of the job for which I’d applied.

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About the author

Claire Bell is the health and wellbeing editor of Midlifexpress. She is the author of Stone Age Secrets for Mind and Body and Comma Magic. Print and ebooks available on Amazon.


3 Comments


  1. I was downsized, but the company gave us career counselors (a prestigious firm). They spent extensive time helping us draft resumes. I thought what they taught was tired and out of date. I applied with their version and the online application immediately sent thanks but not qualified response. On a lark, I reapplied using what I learned in a revamp your resume book from the library, it was catchier and omitted stuff like the summary phrase, etc. That I was “taught” was SO important-to that I say bunk, it is outdated, and other stuff on formatting that was obsolete. When I used my new improved resume, I got interviews. I did get MAD at one place as the STAR interview format is all the rage-and we did lots of roleplaying in my downsizing class. One phone interview (that woman was just plain nasty-hated her job-you could tell) told me that my examples were weak, and that I didn’t ace it. But at other places, I was congratulated on my ability to do a STAR format interview very strongly. So I think HR people are EVIL in general, most are BURNED out and most couldn’t hire a qualified applicant if their life depended on it. You see that all over now, the software may screen out some, but it also screens out valuable talent, and many of the applicants are ROTTEN fits and the companies suffer. I think the lady doing astrology probably understood human nature better than ANY of the so called HR specialists now. And really for the jobs that pay next to nothing they spend HUGE amounts recruiting and because it is a lower end job, most leave anyway for better jobs so WHY all the fuss!!!

  2. Agree. Interestingly, a notable exception to this nonsense is a corporate law firm in London who work on some of the most high-profile international legal work in the world and this is their approach:

    “Our recruitment process is straightforward and usually involves one or two interviews with two partners. We do not use psychometric testing and try to avoid form filling and formulaic processes.

    Our interviews are informal and relaxed conversations intended to allow you to perform to the best of your ability and give you the opportunity to ask questions.”

    We need more employers with that amount of common-sense.

  3. Experienced professional

    2017 …and the HR driven recruitment nightmare continues … check the box that applies…
    Intrusive?
    Obnoxious?
    Arrogant?
    Presumptuous?
    Narrow minded?
    Ludicrous?
    Disingenuous?

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