Episode 111: Hiring Hell

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This time…landing a new job is often a challenge, but is it getting harder to get hired? 

“I interviewed with a publication where two times during the phone interview, he made a comment about my age – he said multiple times, ‘you’re so young to be promoted this high,’ or ‘you’re so young to lead a staff.’

“The amount of pre-work I was doing for most of these jobs was anywhere from 6 to 10 hours of pre work.” 

“Typically if they're giving you a project or a proposal to work on, they're hoping that you get it right and that they can hire you. I think sometimes candidates are thinking that companies want to rule them out. But they're hoping that you rule yourself in.”

 Coming up – the changing landscape of job interviews.

But first, how much do you think about marketing yourself? Do you squirm at the mere thought?

 The thing is, every decision about you and your opportunities is made in a room you’re not in. 

Which begs the question, can you do anything about the conversation in that room?

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Joanna is on a mission to get us to talk about ourselves in a new way.

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Go to Joannabloor.com and check out her services page to find out more.

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I don’t have great memories of many of my job interviews but they were at least relatively straightforward – submit a resume, a cover letter, have a phone interview, then an in-person interview.

But the whole hiring process seems to be getting longer and more aggravating. When I asked about your interview experiences on Facebook a few months ago I got tons of responses – from the US, the UK, and Australia among others. You vented about being screened by software rather than humans, live interviewers who were digitally distracted and companies that disappear into a black hole after meeting you.

The job website Glassdoor has done some research int o how hiring has changed. According to a 2015 study it’s not just our imaginations – the hiring process is more drawn-out than it used to be. They looked at six countries, the US, Canada, France, Germany, Australia and the UK. In the US the average number of days it takes to land a job almost doubled between 2010 and 2014. But hiring still takes longer overall in Europe than it does in the US or Canada.

In this show I talk to three guests about why and how the hiring process is more involved than it used to be.

But can it be considered inhumane? My first guest thinks so.

Rachel Schallom is a journalist, a digital editor now based in New York. She’s worked at newspapers and digital-only publications…and she was laid off from one of those at the end of last year, along with a lot of other people.

“Most people who were laid off had to be out that day. I was told I needed to work another four weeks, which in the beginning I thought it was really kind, but it’s really not kind to have someone train people to become you, while you can become unemployed.”

In the end she was glad to get out of there. And she was unemployed far longer than she’d thought she would be. Rachel wrote a searing piece about her job hunt and some of the practices she encountered during it – I read it this summer, before I sat down with her. She sent out 71 applications, she had phone interviews at 22 organizations, six in person interviews…and got one job offer. The whole thing took six months and two days. She called it a marathon of wait-and-see.

“When I was a hiring manager I focused a lot on communication. If I said I was going to get back to you by Tuesday I would get back to you even if I said I needed more time. One of the things I noticed through this process was just the power hiring managers have to influence small things in people’s lives, so the time you lose sleeping because someone didn’t get back to you, or the anxiety you have wondering if you should renew your lease or not. The questions I had were not always job-related. I felt confident in my skills and ability to do the jobs…I normally had good conversations feeling like they really liked me. But I realized how much I was thinking and talking about the issues in the hiring process and how it had seeped into every part of my life.”

She spent her days poring over a spreadsheet she’d made of all her job interactions, and, of course applying…and waiting to hear back. She found a lot of jobs posted through social media and Slack…but keeping up was exhausting.

“I felt the need to read every single tweet and every single posting, just to make sure, and I had a lot of anxiety, what if what if I missed the perfect opportunity if I wasn’t following the right people or if I took an afternoon off and wasn’t reading all of the posts? It was something I was doing incessantly because I so saw many postings that way.”

And sometimes she says social media was the only way the job was advertised – someone would tweet ‘we have this job  – ping me’ so only that person’s circle or followers would know about it. It wasn’t posted publicly where the largest number of people would see it. She says that’s contrary to the journalism industry’s stance that it wants more women and people of color in its newsrooms. Journalism remains predominantly white and male.

She says during several of her interviews the interviewer emphasized her youth – she’s 30.

“I interviewed with a publication where two times during the phone interview, he made a comment about my age – he said multiple times, ‘you’re so young to be promoted this high,’ or ‘you’re so young to lead a staff.’ And there was so much emphasis on my age and my ambition that the things I had done were not shining through. And there’s been a lot written about this, that the biggest lie we tell young girls is that your work will speak for itself, and I certainly felt that way during the interviews.”

Meanwhile she often didn’t hear back from a company at all after submitting work they’d asked for prior to an interview – things like proposals on how she’d run a team. Work that took her hours to complete each time. One hiring manager set up a call with her, didn’t call at the appointed time…then never responded to her follow-up email. Someone else made Rachel give a salary range before she’d even tell her about what the job involved. She felt like she was on the back foot right from the start. 

The length of time it takes to get hired these days depends on many factors, the industry you’re in, private or public sector, the size of the company. Glassdoor’s study says age and sex make no difference to the length of the hiring process. But it does point out that the multiple levels of screening many organizations now require does add time – everything from background checks to video interviews to presentations and proposals.

Kristen Shattuck knows a lot about that. Last year she, her husband and their two kids moved from North Carolina to Washington DC for his job. Kristen is a former teacher and school principal, now an education consultant. She says the whole hiring dance had changed a lot since she was last on the market in 2011. The number of hoops she had to jump through had multiplied, starting with interview prep…

“The amount of pre-work I was doing for most of these jobs was anywhere from 6 to 10 hours of pre work. These were for interviews I didn’t even go sit for, they were phone or Skype interviews even though I was interviewing for jobs in DC so I easily could have come in. So they were initial round interviews, and the…work was quite extensive. I was a little surprised, in most instances it was taking me up to a business day to complete the pre work to what I felt was high quality – you want to put your best foot forward. Even though the thing said this shouldn’t take you more than two hours, the kind of questions I was being asked, and the kind of work I was being asked to do took well more than that.”

She was asked to write assessments, prepare proposals, watch videos and comment on them in writing. A couple of organizations even asked her to submit some work she was particularly proud of.

She thought of this project she’d worked on in a former job, an education rubric, she calls it. It was designed to measure teacher effectiveness. It was a real team effort.

“And I was asked to produce it and the first time I did, and then found out later they were using it in the organization, even though I never received a call back.”

So this project she and her team had spent months working on, the ideas were now being used at the company where she’d interviewed…and had never heard from again.

“How did you find out?”

“I had a colleague who worked at that organization.”

“Ah-ha, the onsite colleague.”

“Right, the onsite colleague who let me know how happy everyone was with the rubric.”

That was not the only indignity Kristen suffered on the job hunt. There was this one position she was really set on. She’d made good headway so far – she’d met the team of people she’d work with. She sent off all thank you emails after those interviews…and the team members emailed her back…

“‘Oh, thank you, it was such a pleasure to meet you, really enjoyed talking to you, so happy to move you forward to meet with our partners.’

The partners re-scheduled her interview a couple of times, but when she finally met with them…

“They greeted me by saying how positively I’d been recommended by this team I’d be working with. And I though, oh, this is great, I’m so happy, because I’d really connected with that group and I was really excited about this position.”

But she says as the interview went on it became clear the two women hadn’t even looked at her resume – until now.

“So one person was on the computer, on their laptop, and the other was asking me questions, and she continued to ask me questions but was looking at her screen and it then became clear they were G-chatting eachother. Which was confirmed when one of them turned the screen around to show me a picture of a school I’d worked at and the G chat was all up on the screen! So the one person made no eye contact with me and the other person made very limited eye contact because she was checking her G chat…  and it was very clear that from whatever was going on G-chat wise, the interview was not going well.”

She was told she’d hear back the following week. She didn’t. When she followed up she heard the unsurprising news that she was not being offered the job. The hiring manager said they wanted someone who was more of a math expert – something Kristen says had never come up in any of her interviews.

Like Kristen, Rachel Schallom also has an experience where she came tantalizingly close to success. In fact, she was just one step away.

“I had flown out for an 8-hour interview at an interview, it was very intense, my face hurt from smiling for 8 straight hours. On the way back to the airport the editor asked me when I wanted to start and we’d talked a bit through that. He said, ‘I’ll be in touch early next week.’ Time goes on, a couple of days go by, I sent a follow up email, and he said he’d decided I wasn’t the right culture fit. And culture fit is an extremely lazy answer when you don’t want to actually deal with why someone bothers you. If you’re uncomfortable if someone’s a woman or a person or color or from a certain religion or maybe has a political stance that’s a little bit different it’s really easy to write it off as they don’t fit in our culture, which is against everything as an industry we’ve been talking about in making our newsrooms more diverse…so if you’re just gonna say not a good fit rather than giving anything concrete, why the skills aren’t there, or you’re looking for something else, or anything constructive, it’s a really lazy hiring answer.”

AM-T: “To what extent did you receive any rejection, a thanks but no thanks?”

“I’d say a little under half the time I received a note, sometimes it would take months and months so at that point I assumed I hadn’t gotten it. Some I never heard from at all. There was one rejection I got from a woman who runs a nonprofit journalism organization, it stood out…she wrote to me, it was 4 paragraphs long, they went with an internal hire and she explained why.  And it was really constructive because it helped me frame future applications and also gave a little peak into their mindset.”

That mindset remains elusive to candidates much of the time. So why oh why do we have to go through all this? Allison Hemming runs The Hired Guns, a recruiting firm in New York - where all her clients are digital companies.

“They are looking for more and more out of each individual person that they hire. And this is their way to manage the risk. I think some of it can be ridiculous and too long. I think as a candidate, before you go into a long interview process, if you're working with a recruiter you should ask in advance, ‘How long is the interview process, what goes into the interview process, how can I prepare for this interview process? And either an internal recruiter or an external recruiter can help you figure that out. Additionally along the way, and this is also important, is typically if they're giving you a project or a proposal to work on, they're hoping that you get it right and that they can hire you. I think sometimes candidates are thinking that companies want to rule them out. But they're hoping that you rule yourself in.”

She says do not view this as an adversarial process from the start. If you really want the job, throw yourself in. Just try to get as much information upfront as you can – which of course is easier if you are using a recruiter or if you know someone at the company.

“…but the other part of the process that I think is is really challenging right now is you know so much of the hiring process is actually divorced from the hiring manager.”

She says at her firm they work with the client and insist everyone gets on the same page about what they want from the candidate and what they want the job description to look like. But both Rachel and Kristen described meeting hiring managers who were busy with their day jobs and probably hadn’t been trained in interviewing – or in giving bad news. I asked Kristen about this.

AM-T: “Have you thought about why they were so slapdash about getting back to you. Do you think it’s just that we live in this accelerated age where everyone’s just so busy…why?”

“I mean I think a generous overview would be you know, they're extremely busy. ‘You weren't the right fit. Time's a wastin.’ You know they've got…the organizations that I was interviewing with are organizations that work with school districts that are in high poverty, high need areas. And so I would rather have them focus their time and energy and attention on kids and teachers that deserve a better education than they're getting. So in that instance I would say that the general view is they're very busy with what they're doing. And I think that what they're asked to do, everything is just more dynamic as you said, everything's more accelerated. And so this almost feels like an add-on. It's like something else I have to do, versus how can I attract and retain a talented pool of individuals that will care about the mission of our work and be able to hit the ground running? 

Perhaps a less generous view is, they're disorganized. A lot of them are startups and the nonprofit world can be kind of complex. And so it could just be a level of disorganization in terms of well, that just wasn't the person we wanted. Next. Move on. You know, that kind of thing.”

“So I would say there's two kinds of companies. Right. And you have to decide which kind of company you're going to be working at.”

Allison Hemming again.

“The first company is the company that knows why they're doing the exercise and they have a process in place designed to extract the right information from the candidate and different people throughout the process are interviewing for different things. And collectively they decide as a group, through these various exercises or through a group interview or through you know, a four hour interview process with people asking different things, that you're either great for the team or not. And when somebody has a solid process and you are told in advance what that process is, I think it's a fair fight.

So then there's the other kinds of companies. The kinds of companies that are basically Goldilocks-ing candidates because they have not figured out what they need yet. And that is so many companies, right? The companies that basically steal their competitor’s job description and live off of that because they haven't done the mental math for what their needs are.

So instead they send a candidate on a treasure hunt of multiple interviews that…and if you're in that situation, if the hiring managers and the people that are interviewing you keep asking the exact same questions, it means nobody at the company has really thought about what they need. It's like you're doing your first round interview over and over and over again. It's Groundhog Day.” 

Rachel Schallom says candidates would have an easier time if the department that was hiring communicated better with HR. Multiple times she applied for a job only to find out the position had been filled – but the job posting was still online.

“A lot of hiring managers will blame their HR team, ‘Oh, we let them know, and we can’t do anything about it…’ and I think it’s time to stop blaming the relationship between the business unit and the HR unit and start demanding that we have better relationships because how you hire is huge part of your culture and it’s huge recruiting tool, so if you have a bad hiring process that doesn’t speak well for your culture if I’m talking to someone else who may want to work for you in the future.”

Rachel Schallom is now working at the Wall Street Journal. Kristen Shattuck was offered a fulltime job at a company she had been working at part-time. She said yes.

Thanks to them and Allison Hemming for being my guests on this show.

And I would love to hear from you – many of you hire, some of you are in HR. So what I am curious about is, this way of hiring – with multiple levels of screening, does it work? Does it help you get better candidates than you would have done 5 or 10 years ago, candidates who are exceptionally good at their jobs and stick around longer? Let me know on Facebook, post a comment under this episode at TheBroadExperience.com or email me.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time. This is a Milne-Tyte production – unlike those other podcasts you listen to that reel off a bunch of names at the end, this show is reported, edited and produced solely be me. You can support this one-woman show via the support tab at The Broad Experience dot com – if you can afford to kick in 50 dollars you will receive a Broad Experience T-shirt. And for those of you who have asked I am looking into a Patreon page as well. I’ll keep you posted about that.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.