Liability is a challenge for the professional, liability as it relates to the hiring process. We have all been there. After months of trying to identify the perfect new opportunity, or as perfect as you may be able to find, one comes to your attention. You carefully craft your credentials package. Sometimes we rewrite our cover letter, sometimes we reach out to a contact in the organization or an affiliated organization to have them put in a good word. You go on an interview and it seems to go exceptionally well. You go home and wait, and wait and wait. Maybe you reach out to the hiring manager or HR professional you met. Sometimes you get an ambiguous response, sometimes they don’t respond at all. You know things aren’t looking good. Next thing you know, you get the letter or email. “Thank you for applying, but the position has been filled. We wish you the best in your future career efforts”.
For most professionals today who don’t possess a credential in tremendously short supply, which is most because as a class we have been trained to have a broad skill set, not getting the job is not necessarily a soul crushing thing because we are used to it. In fact as we all know getting a job is a numbers game and you have to go on many interviews to land a job. Still it’s always a little disappointing to not be picked, but that’s not the worst thing. The worst thing is that we don’t usually know why the other guy/gal was picked. Did we say something that didn’t quite connect with the interviewers? Did we come off as haughty when we were told to be confident by our interviewing advisors? Did we seem quirky to them? Did they not like our physical appearance? Maybe they went with no one at all because of some management change or budget issue.
This got me musing. What if interviewing and the deliberations that happened afterwards were completely open. What if interviewing was like open source software everyone could see what was going on during the development process? I got this idea from the movie Tootsie – or I think it was Tootsie, I know I saw the movie a long time ago. I remember a scene when one of the characters, a female actress, auditioned for a role and afterwards leaves her purse in the room with the recorder on so she could hear the directors debating her audition after she left. They decided against her because she was overweight. As someone who has spent a lifetime battling with my own weight I made an emotional connection with this scene which I guess is why it stuck with me. I know from personal experience that it takes time, sometimes decades, to find the right motivation and tools to change on a big life issue like that. In the case of this character, if it was a real person, this would have been one more bit of motivation to find the internal discipline to lose weight, or only look for roles that asked for larger women. The point was if she hears that again and again, she may be motivated to make the change needed. But most of us don’t get the opportunity to leave the purse in the room. To hear exactly why we didn’t get the part.
Bringing this back to interviewing for professional jobs we are qualified for: Too often we just get the letter, the formal ‘this position has been filled’. We never get the why. For instance they don’t say “we really wanted someone who was strong in areas other than the job listing area because in a year we plan to consolidate a bunch of jobs that we expect this new person to do.” or “your tattoo’s, while legal and mostly tasteful, tell us you may not fit in with the office of 60 somethings ”. There is also the forbidden sexual, racial, considerations, even if they were based in the reality of the culture of the job.
I have one -go to- example that’s true but mostly benign. In telecom hiring managers for sales organizations would fall over themselves to find competent and attractive female sales reps. The reps were calling on a mostly middle class older white male workforce. Generally married guys who are tied to their desks and rarely come up for air. These females always landed the appointments.. Always. Therefore they were always the first considered for the sales jobs.. Always. If there was an attractive female in the interview pool the male telecom sales rep rarely stands a chance, no matter how many years experience or how technically proficient they are.
There are other more popular examples. For instance, what about the candidate who has a wedding ring on and drives up in an SUV or a station wagon? That screams children, and a company that expects 80 hours a week out of their professional individual contributors would decide on the unmarried 20 something who has no kids over the middle aged mom/dad nearly every time. Politically correct? Nope. Legal? Nope. Realistic? You betcha.
And that brings us back to the first line of this post. Opening up the actual decision making process for the candidates will never happen because of liability. There is a hugely complex system of employer and employee regulations at the federal, state and local levels. Many of these decisions, especially the ones based in the reality of the culture may be technically illegal. If not illegal they are in many cases highly subjective and open to debate. As long as our employment and related benefits is so aligned with meeting basic life needs, the decisions on who is chosen to get the job can become a big potential mess. Let’s also not forget the fact that these decisions can be so emotionally charged. So in the face of this we have developed a SOP of secrecy when it comes to the hiring process. In many cases even people who work in the office don’t know what’s going on or who is going to get picked.
But what if we could wave our wand, and you could hire an individual for any reason, but you have to have all of your deliberations in public. After the shock and awe of it, I think professional job seekers would all benefit from it. The reality of this theory is that we would know where we would stand more quickly. As professionals we have the ability to pivot to better meet the needs of the market. If someone else got the job because they had physical presentation we don’t have, if possible we could change, or just enhance our offering to overcome that limitation. If the employer advertises a salary of 50K a year but always hires the person who wanted to take 25K a year we can adjust our expectations accordingly. If the employer wants someone who has less potential for family interruptions to their 24/7 work demands, we can share how we have put controls in place to mitigate the personal life from interfering with the job if that is what we are willing to offer. If we come off as too ‘eccentric’ we can work on our personal presentation.
There is definitely a conversation that can be had discussing the best ways to really inform job interviewers on how they are vetted during the interviewing process by the recruiting employers. I can think of a few things like randomizing feedback to a questionnaire after a certain number of years or instituting a statute of limitations for both the employer and employee. The latter would be a delay in relaying the information but at least the professional would eventually get it. While these and other potential solutions exist, their adoption would have to be legislated. Yes there will always be interesting solutions to problems like these, but they are going to be more the extremely rare experiment than the reality of the hiring process.
Yes, we can do mock interviews with friends and get feedback, read blogs with interviewing tips, go to the career centers to attend a seminar on presentation techniques. All of these are interview prep options and many others exist and are readily available but every single individual is different. We all have unique aspects to our personalities. Every single hiring employer is different as well. We will only be able to truly understand the trends in how our own specific presentation and skill set is perceived if we can hear the conversation that happens after we leave the room. Right now the idea that we will be able to do that is only a pipe dream. Employers are scared of the liability inherent in their sometimes illegal, and often times irrational decision making process which is why the culture of recruiting is shrouded in secrecy. We are left with just trying to think about why we don’t get the job we are applying for, and trying to spot trends.
In truth the only way to really get an idea of what’s going on is to be the one doing the recruiting, and unless your HR and know the dirty secrets, the only way to be in on that conversation is to actually have secured one of the increasingly rare management positions. But if you were there long enough to become a manager, why would you be interviewing anyway?