Job Interviews a Waste of Time?

Job interviews, resumes, and all the rest are imperfect ways of matching candidates with employment openings.

Susannah Breslin is out of work and frustrated at the process by which one finds same, observing,

I realize every significant professional advancement in my life has been totally random, a result of dumb luck, and had little to do with whether or not I could do actually the job. In fact, at most jobs that I have held, whether or not one can do the job seems to have little bearing on whether or not one has the job. I think maybe this is because the interview process is deeply flawed. That it focuses on abstractions and a piece of paper. That it has nothing to do with who you really are.

There’s a lot of truth here but I think she goes too far.

Given the vagaries of hiring in the academic and creative worlds, I’ve sent out literally hundreds of job applications over the years. There were job descriptions seemingly written for me that I applied for and never heard back on. And I got interviews for jobs where I was stretching credulity even applying.

Of course, I only saw one side of the process and have no idea what the internal thinking was. Sometimes, jobs get advertised and the budget gets cut and the search is canceled–often without a note to the applicants. Quite often, the people doing the hiring have no idea what they’re looking for and so they model the announcement either on the person they’re trying to replace or a dream candidate they have no shot at landing.

Beyond that, in industries where dozens if not hundreds of people apply for a single opening, it’s absurd to expect them to try go get to know who all the applicants “really are.” So, a one-pager summarizing education, training, and experience rather has to do as a culling instrument.

I am rather amused at the interview process she describes:

He wants to know if he hires me, will I watch videos of cats skateboarding while I am at work? I tell him, no, I will not watch videos of cats skateboarding while I am at work. I try to recall if I have ever seen a video of a cat skateboarding. I have not.

The company is run like a start-up. It is expected I will work a 50-hour week. The CEO wants to know if I am interested in a “work-life balance.” I think about saying, “Balance? Ha-ha! No.” But I don’t. I get the impression this is what the CEO wants to hear. That I have no interest in life, only in work, that I am allergic to balance, that all I want to do is edit software-related copy for 50 hours a week. I respond in a way that indicates I have no life, that I live to work, that I am work incarnate.

There is talk of ROIs, whiteboards, and the type of software that this company sort-of sells. The CEO asks me if I am interested in learning more about this certain type of software. For a fraction of a second, I hesitate, unsure if I can convincingly convey that I have an abiding desire to learn more about this certain type of software, that this certain type of software is of great interest to me, of far greater interest than, say, cat skateboarding videos or, say, having a life. I say I am very interested.

Quite a few bosses are shockingly bad at interviewing. I’ve been on that side of the process a handful of times and, frankly, I find it awkward and contrived. But I’ve usually eliminated all but the two or three best candidates (on paper) before interviewing, so am mostly just trying to get a sense of personality and fit.

Further, I’d wager very strongly that Breslin was in fact not a good fit for that job. She’s an experienced writer of obvious talent desperate for work to pay the bills. She could likely do whatever it is the hiree is supposed to do vis-a-vis the software the company is selling. But she’d hate it and be constantly looking for a job more suited to her talents and interests. So, the cowboy-booted CEO in question was smart not to hire her.

UPDATE: Breslin reports she’s gotten the comment, “she should seek a position that requires overgeneralizing from a few personal anecdotes.”

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    or a dream candidate they have no shot at landing.

    Currently having not the most ideal job in the world, I’m constantly looking at job boards to see what other opportunities are out there. I’m always amazed at what some organizations (I generally work with nonprofits) think they can get away with in hiring someone.

    An actual job description (paraphrased):

    Ideal candidate would have 5 to 10 years experience in the field, including at least 3 years in a position managing 10 or more staff members. Hours will be vary, and the candidate can expect the position to not conform to standard 9 to 5 office schedules. Candidate needs to be independently driven, and expected to fulfill his or her task with little to no guidance from superiors. A Bachelors in management, business, nonprofit management, or social work is highly desired.

    This position is considered part time and pay is $10/hour, but a small increase is possible for the ideal candidate.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Alas, we’re frequently able to hire people with master’s degrees from prestige schools for unpaid internships. It’s a crazy world out there.

  3. jwest says:

    I’ve hired a lot of people over the years, but I can’t recall ever hiring someone “off the street” through a resume and interview.

    Hiring is almost always done through personal knowledge of the individual, a recommendation from someone else in the organization, stealing a known quantity from another business or some other connection.

  4. john personna says:

    My real education was being an interviewer. It was difficult for me. I tended to lob softball questions and just try to get a feel for personality. A few people red-flagged themselves to me, but was strange how many were dismissed by my co-interviewers for seemed like odd reasons.

    I agree that randomness is high, and this actually affects my political philosophy. When luck matters, a real safety(*) net becomes a moral obligation.

    * – not the kind we only support in the abstract

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    we’re frequently able to hire people with master’s degrees from prestige schools for unpaid internships.

    This doesn’t surprise me nearly as much as those trying to hire for low wages. Indeed, yesterday I applied for an unpaid internship that, if I get it, I’ll have to live off of my savings for a year.

    Internships, if structured correctly and the applicant hardworking, can lead to bigger career opportunities, better networking, more skills, and an all around better resume.

    A part time job at $10/hour probably won’t, no matter what the organization or how good one is at B.S.-ing a resume.

  6. Perhaps she should seek a position that requires overgeneralizing from a few personal anecdotes.

  7. Another important point is that it is very much a buyers’ market out there right now when it comes to hiring.

  8. john personna says:

    “A part time job at $10/hour probably won’t, no matter what the organization or how good one is at B.S.-ing a resume.”

    Not to mention that low current pay can be a red flag with some interviewers. I knew a guy who would just reject anyone who he thought was making too little. This even when I thought the reason was acceptable (“I transitioned from grad student to working for the university”). Harsh.

    Basically as an interviewee you want to be able to tell a truthful story that shows progress and achievement. IMO it’s fair to be a little selective in your history to achieve that story arc.

    And it may take some independent projects, charity work, or internships to improve the story.

  9. Brett says:

    Quite a few bosses are shockingly bad at interviewing. I’ve been on that side of the process a handful of times and, frankly, I find it awkward and contrived. But I’ve usually eliminated all but the two or three best candidates (on paper) before interviewing, so am mostly just trying to get a sense of personality and fit.

    I wonder if it’s better to have multiple people doing the interviewing. My current workplace did that when they hired me – they had three people (2 long-time employees and the supervisor) sit in on the hiring meetings and ask questions.

    A part time job at $10/hour probably won’t, no matter what the organization or how good one is at B.S.-ing a resume.

    It depends on the job. I’ve seen White Collar Supervisor jobs with that kind of starting pay, and that can get you somewhere – even if it’s just getting hired as an office monkey at a bigger company.

    Hiring is almost always done through personal knowledge of the individual, a recommendation from someone else in the organization, stealing a known quantity from another business or some other connection.

    I think that’s how most jobs at the professional level are filled. You get in either because of an offer from some other company, or because a friend/connection told you about the opportunity.

  10. Jib says:

    I wonder if it’s better to have multiple people doing the interviewing.

    Does not everybody have multiple people do the interviews? My experience is in hiring software engineers. We have one person review the resumes, then another person do a phone screen and then 4 or 5 people interview in 30 minute chunks, one after another, complete with white board coding exercises.

    Interviews can be halted at any point if the person is obviously not qualified. Does not happen often and when it does the phone screener is beaten severally (ok, more like has to buy the team coffee).

    Even with all that, someone has to make a connection with the candidate. You need at least one person who will champion the candidate and no one else raising any red flags to get hired.

    This process is pretty standard for developers in the software industry. I have been on both sides multiple times. The reason is the cost of a bad hire is very high. One bad hire can wreck a whole team and for small startups, you wreck the dev team and the company is out of biz.

  11. george says:

    Does not everybody have multiple people do the interviews? My experience is in hiring software engineers. We have one person review the resumes, then another person do a phone screen and then 4 or 5 people interview in 30 minute chunks, one after another, complete with white board coding exercises.

    Same thing occurs when hiring electrical engineers – and the interviews are important . In fact, its as important for the business, as if you don’t get the right person you’ll not only have wasted a lot of money in the hiring process, but a lot of time and resources spent bringing the person up to speed.

    Mind you, it depends upon the industry. There’s a surplus of potential employees in some fields, in others (many of the engineering fields) there’s a shortage … in which case as often as not the person being interviewed already has several offers, and is just trying to decide which company is the best fit for him and her. This is of course cyclic, five years from now the fields with a shortage will have a surplus, and vice-versa.

  12. Klay Longstreet says:

    When people plan a future they look to gain the skills or education to make that future posible. They interview for a job and look at the benifits, and acsept the job based on the information.
    Then along comes someone that thinks they are so much better than you they have the right to take away your future.

    A new Political Movement
    Cosmopolitan
    Goals
    1. Reduces the size of government
    2. Guarantees of basic human rights (medical, food, shelter, and education)
    Every adult over 18 receives, $750 pr. month to shop for medical insurance, $1200 pr. month shelter, $500 pr. month food every child under 18 receives $200 pr. month in support of family needs
    2009
    2010
    2011
    2012
    2013

    Total Direct Revenue
    3,716 4,283 4,303 4,766 5,152
    Total US in Billions
    3. Improves human rights and environmental concerns world wide
    4. Business pays for the right to access American markets
    5. Eliminates income tax
    6. Eliminates race and prejudice and tares down the walls of class separation
    How is it paid for?
    For about the last 40 years we have experimented with a system of trickle-down economics, free market and trade. In theory a Neoliberal policy that states securing the well-being of all but in reality it has accomplished class separation. Privative investments have not trickled down, In the late 1970s, the top one percent of the US population held 13 percent of the wealth; in 1995 it held 38 percent. (Levy, Frank. The New Dollars and Dreams ). The richest 1% of adults owned 40% of the world’s total assets in the year 2000. The richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of total assets. The bottom half of the world adult population owned 1% of global wealth. (Source: World Institute for Development Economics Research, The World Distribution of Household Wealth, 2006).
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    What I believe in and it is your fundamental right to agree or not.
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    If you have an idea please share it with me
    Klay Longstreet
    Ideology is a guide: it can be a myth, it can be logic, it can be an institution, it can be a social movement, It can be different for each even if the experience is the same for each, the guide that puts things in action, it can be a tool in a mental thought that interprets institutions, it can be a comprehensive belief system composed of social thought-patterns, it can be many things but the most important is how the individual determines its relevance of understanding and were it ends up in the way we make decisions.
    Ideology is a system of concepts and views, which serves to make sense of the world.
    Imaginary is the idea and the rules used, it develops the intellectual inception into the world of everyday life in shaping the ever changing life. The three terms that help understanding imaginary are, Demos; the beginnings of cultural life and the start of reason, Heimat; the land of my ancestors and the beginnings of human rights, and Habitus; the culture and identity of an individual in daily life that makes you how you are.

    The easiest way to combine an example of the Imaginary Ideology is to place yourself and a young child with a coloring book and try to understand the world in their terms.
    Thank you
    Klayton Longstreet
    Duluth MN.
    klaylongstreet@charter.net