My Unemployed Life: Have Online Interviews Gone Too Far?

online interviews

A longtime friend of mine recently joined me in the glorious and ever-growing ranks of the U.S. unemployed. As a newbie, I think he looked to me, an old hand at unemployment, to show him the ropes.

So when I came across an online job posting that looked ideal for him, I sent it his way. He agreed it had potential and applied. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks later, he received an autogenerated "thanks, but no thanks" rejection email from the company. Getting this news via form-letter email took my friend aback. "I may not be the right candidate," he emailed me, "but at least I'd like to hear back from a real person."

I laughed to myself at his unemployment naivete. "Welcome to my world!" I wrote him back. "You expected to hear from a live person?... You have a lot to learn about the demoralizing process of job seeking today."

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My friend's experience and especially, my reaction to it, made me wonder: How have I gotten to the point in this process where I expect to be treated like a piece of meat and accept it? Why is job hunting so dehumanizing? Does it have to be?

There's very little human interaction in the job-application process. You email your resume to hiring@abcfirm.com or painstakingly complete a time-consuming, excruciatingly detailed online application. Either way, you usually receive an auto-generated "thank you for your interest in employment with our company" message.

Then, I would say 7 times out of 10, that's it. You never hear anything else. I mean, nothing, not even the auto-generated "thanks, but no thanks" email that my friend got.

Oh, sure, all the job search advice encourages you to follow up on your applications and you can do that, if you have the name of a real person at the company, which frequently you don't. Even when you do, and you contact that person, they either a) aren't in HR, b) don't know anyone who is, c) don't know anyone in the department to which you're applying, d) say they'll see what they can find out but never get back to you or e) never respond at all.

(When job hunting, you quickly learn to develop an extremely thick skin.)

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In the one time in 10 (or is it 20?) that you do get a nibble on your application, it comes in the form of a phone call or email from someone in HR who'd like to set up a phone interview. This is somewhat more humane since you actually do get to talk to a person, but you don't see them; you can do a phone interview in your jammies and they won't be able to hold that against you. After the phone interview, if you aren't chosen for another interview, then again, don't expect to hear anything.

It's ironic: it seems to me that Human Resources has removed humans from just about every step they can in the hiring process these days. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a company that congratulated me for being selected for a "video interview." Before you think this was done via Skype with a person whom I could both hear and see: It wasn't.

It was, literally, interview by computer. I logged into a system that presented me with one question at a time on my computer monitor. After each question, I had a few minutes to answer while gazing into the pseudo-eye of my webcam. The whole thing took about 30 minutes and was recorded for review by the company's hiring powers-that-be.

And in case you're wondering, I didn't send a thank-you note for this computer interview. To whom would I send it? I also didn't ask the computer about "next steps" or how long it would take to make a decision. How could I? There were no actual people involved. (I haven't heard anything since, though, so maybe my bad manners offended the computer.)

Even when you're lucky enough to make it to an actual in-person interview (with a person), if you're not ultimately selected for the job, it's very unusual to learn this voluntarily from anyone. Just because you now have a name, email address and phone number doesn't mean that the interviewer or HR person will respond to your follow-up emails or phone messages. (I guess no one likes to deliver bad news.)

Now you might think that you could at least use your unsuccessful job interviews as learning experiences; next time, you'll be able to handle things differently because you'll know why you didn't get the job. This is yet another naïve belief of the uninitiated.

No one will EVER tell you why you weren't selected for the job. If you ask for feedback, you might possibly be told something very general, like someone else's "skills and experience" were a better match; but more likely, you won't hear anything. You're just left to wonder if there was something you could have done differently.

I'm not an employer or recruiter, so I don't know what the rationale could possibly be for treating job applicants like indistinguishable slabs of beef in a meat market. I can't believe that it has to be this way.

I understand that there are too many applicants for each job opening, but we are still accomplished, talented people, caught up through no fault of our own in this mercilessly bad economy. We're individuals with dignity who deserve to be treated respectfully.

We shouldn't have to figure out how to thank a computer for its time.


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14 Comments

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randinoel

I cannot express the grielf, sadness and fears I experience at the prospect of NEVER being able to find stable work. 4 years of this garbage, of temp jobs, of very part time jobs, of minimum wage work, of food stamps, etc not being able to take my son to the fair, etc. This depression kills me. I want to provide for my son. I miss living my dreams and digging deeper into debt! I'm tired of those who have jobs that complain- and most of all, I'm tired of losing my dignity, to strip to make pennies, while nasty, ugly eyes scan my body up and down!

July 31 2012 at 6:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Eric

As an individual who is in charge of hiring for his department, you have to understand that there are two sides to this. When I put out an ad to fill a position, I get hundreds if not thousands of resumes. It takes a full work day just to do an initial runthrough, and another to narrow it down to 6-12 candidates to interview. Each interview then takes another 30+ minutes to conduct. So now, I've spent 24+ hours attempting to find a good candidate, while having to not only do my job, but work to fill the shoes of the person I'm attempting to replace. I'm already forced to work 12 hours days and weekends, but now I'm expected to personally call and write everyone that didn't get the position?

As for explaining to someone why they didn't get the position, that has a number of problems. First, saying the wrong thing could lead to a lawsuit. Second, when you attempt to explain to someone why, their response isn't to listen and learn, it's to argue with you about it or try to convince you your opinion is wrong. At best it's uncomfortable, at worst it's infuriating.

The person hiring is just doing their job. They aren't making millions while working a few hours a week and laughing at the applicants. They are trying to fill a position with the right person as quickly as possible so they can go back to being able to work a honest number of hours while having some time left in their day to spend with their families.

July 25 2012 at 5:12 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Eric's comment
C*

Eric this Is your job description is it not? As a blue collar plant worker in the `80's` we also received in person from over an hour away Hundreds of applications. I spent several hours 3 days in a row interviewing with management and boss's who were in no hurry at all. Up to 20 or so were hired on at a time. The respect and dignity in which we were treated during these interviews i only could wish this generation could experience. A plant with 300 plus employee's and 3 shifts you were called by name with a smile by those who sat behind a desk in the front of the building but chose to take time to walk through several times a week and talk with us. Not only was the business extremely successful but we benefited as well.
The character and dignity of a person was extremely important to them with the exception of those 10%. Well, back then.
Many articles i read such as this and on major magazines i find myself re-reading to find the intended joke. However; in my 50's now i find this very attitude in the 5 minute Doctor's office, and just about anywhere else i go. I know what changed, it would be good for this generation to try and figure it out.
wish all the best
Cj

August 28 2012 at 4:59 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Michael

Please take heart and be encouraged! There are real human beings out there facilitating hiring: Executive recruiters (aka Headhunters). Admittedly, companies don't pay search firms to find candidates for every level, but increasingly, search firms do assist with professional positions below the $100K/year threshold - don't let the word "executive" in "executive search" throw you off.

While the stereotypical candidate for a search firm is the $100K+ manager who is currently gainfully employed, I know unemployed and sub-$100K professionals that have been placed by these firms.

One can proactively reach out to search firms via their websites, complete their intake profiles, and upload a resume. In addition, headhunters (and internal company HR reps that attempt to operate like headhunters) conduct advanced searches of one's LinkedIn profile. Having a robust and up to date profile (and some change or update every couple of weeks to keep catching those searchers looking for recent updates) is probably the best way to "get discovered" by headhunters and HR departments alike.

The "real" pros are "retained", ie, paid by the companies themselves to find candidates and are compensated either upfront or upon hiring/retention of the candidate, or some combination. NEVER pay a headhunter to represent you. I've never encountered a legitimate situation where job hunters pay the headhunter. If you do, it's almost certainly is a scam - run!

In my personal experience, executive recruiters treat candidates very fairly and respectively. They are very busy and will not waste your, their, or their clients' (hiring companies) time. They are likely to tell it to you like it is...even if that's not what you want to hear. They are usually more forthcoming about things like the job's compensation and timing than if you are dealing directly with an HR department. The more honest you are about your interests and motivations, the more they can help you. That said, don't think of them as your personal agent. They work for the hiring company and you should assume anything you tell them can be repeated to the hiring company.

HR departments are often overwhelmed. In some cases, posting jobs (internal or external to the company) is as much about checking some sort of policy compliance box than hoping a great candidate wanders into their net. Don't make company websites the only leg of your job search.

Lastly, don't stop these good practices once you do land a job. There is no better/easier time to find work as when you are employed. Employers ideal candidate has good career momentum. Unexpected things do happen in a career, but, to the extent you can, be proactive, and take opportunities as they come...before you absolutely need them.

July 25 2012 at 5:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Michael's comment
Fran

Michael, this is very usefull and encouraging information. I don't suppose you could name a few recruiters you'd recommend -- are there national firms you could identify? This might help many of us. Thanks.

July 26 2012 at 3:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cindy

I feel for you Fran. I lost my job of almost 11 years for a non-profit. Three months of online AND in person applications and not one call for a interview. Finally I got a call for a part time position in retail. I hope and pray it turns into a full time position. I thought I was the only one who felt overwhelmed and tired from being unemployed. I was starting to question myself, thinking what's wrong with me?! I shouldn't be like this! I guess I'm not alone. Thank you for the validating experience you shared with us!

July 25 2012 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cindy's comment
Fran

Hi Cindy! I'm really glad this helped you. The longer I've been unemployed, the more I'm discovering that there are many others like you and me everywhere. People don't always talk about being unemployed; I think we often feel ashamed about it, as if it's our fault. I find that, once I let people know I'm "between jobs," suddenly other people will acknowledge that they or their spouse are too.

July 25 2012 at 2:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
James

As someone who is currently in the recruiting world I feel compelled to put in my two cents. I can completely understand your frustration with receiving automated responses, but you have to understand it's the only way. In this market, HR is receiving literally THOUSANDS of applications daily and it would be nearly impossible to respond to them all. The worst part is, most of those applicants have little to no background in the job they're applying to. Please don't take this the wrong way. but HR personnel have many more pressing matters to deal with than sending personalized rejection letters.

In response to your issue with rejections being vague about why you didn't get a job: companies have to be vague to avoid lawsuits. I'm sure you would never do such a thing, but there are plenty of people out there who will try to sue a company for not hiring them, regardless if its legitimate claim or not.

I apologize if this came across the wrong way but I just wanted to give some honest insight.

July 25 2012 at 1:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to James 's comment
Fran

James, thank you for this, and no need to apologize! Your perspective from a recruiter's point of view helps explain "the rest of the story," as Paul Harvey used to say (I know, I'm dating myself!). Thanks for sharing this information.

July 25 2012 at 2:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dee

Couldn't agree more with this article. Another piece of ignorance is paying mind to vacation/personal time a prospect must take to attend an interview. A friend of mine was asked to come in 3 different occasions to interview, taking 3 personal days and then told "We have decided to hire someone internal." REALLY?

July 25 2012 at 11:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Dee's comment
Fran

Dee, after three interviews, your friend's disappointment must have been painful. On the plus side, though, it sounds like she already had a job, which makes many of us envious! Still, if you need to make a change, a rejection after multiple interviews is hard to take.

July 25 2012 at 2:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Garfield Odie

Fran,you seem to be quite a likable person. I would suggest doing something noone else has done or does--go directly to the office and stand outside of it and ask for a personal meeting with an exec. You will be shown the door 10 times in a row but the 11th time someone will let you in!.. Trust me it works..i'm an example of it!!!

July 24 2012 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Garfield Odie's comment
Fran

You may be right, Garfield Odie! Nothing else has worked so far, so maybe I should try something different. That's great that it worked for you! Thanks for the advice.

July 24 2012 at 3:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Fran

You may be right, Garfield Odie! Nothing else has worked so far, so maybe I should try something different. That's great that it worked for you! Thanks for the advice.

July 24 2012 at 3:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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