Question

human resourcesI am so glad someone has finally called out the Human Resources (HR) department on its disrespect for job applicants. The sentiment seems to be that they can waste your time and keep you on hold indefinitely simply because — after all — a job hunter has nothing better to do. You’re unemployed (maybe) or in any event you have come to their company to be emotionally abused.

I am both surprised and appalled at companies that supposedly pride themselves on “great customer service” and then treat job applicants like simpletons. Don’t they realize those applicants are potential customers and can influence other potential customers and every other individual who will listen to the horror story of how poorly the applicant was treated by the company?

Sorry for venting, but I’ve got a few bones to pick. An HR manager just handed me a “dispute resolution agreement” that she requires me to sign before even considering me for a job. I am not questioning the legality of this screening method. I am asking your opinion of what type of company would demand this from an applicant even before an offer is made?

Then there are all the other types of corporate coercion that job seekers put up with, including credit checks, background checks, and other invasions of privacy, when no job offer has even been made. What happens to those credit reports and background summaries that companies require? This material stays on file. Who has access to it, and who is maintaining security?

If I am being hysterical needlessly, please let me know. In any event, I think it’s time someone addressed the invasion of privacy that applicants are subjected to.

Nick’s Reply

Gee, you’re opening a can of worms, aren’t you? My compliments. I’d love to hear from employers on this subject.

Human Resources screening job applicants

You raise good questions about Human Resources practices in screening job applicants. The problem is, companies will do all sorts of things to a job candidate if they’re permitted. As you point out, the poking and prodding is all the more bizarre because employers do it before even making a bona fide offer.

I can understand a “contingent offer,” where a company makes an offer first, and the checks and tests are done after the company has put its money where its mouth is. If the applicant declines the checks and tests, the offer is withdrawn. But to demand so much before offering anything is ludicrous — yet it’s done all the time. (Employers will explain that this approach saves them time and money. But what of the candidate’s privacy if an offer isn’t extended after the kimono is opened?)

Companies are relatively free (until someone stops them) to ask job applicants to do cartwheels, pee in a cup, submit to a background check, expose your credit record, or take a cut in pay for a new job. But the decision — really – is yours.

Question authority

What to do about all this? Question authority. Voice your opinion and decline whatever you don’t want to do. Perhaps more important, consider what it would be like to work for a company that wants you to sign a dispute resolution agreement in advance of a job interview. Why would you sign a “condition of employment” before you’ve seen the enticement of a job offer?

Are you worried about who will see your confidential credit report if you agree to release it, or the background check? Say so, and ask the company to sign an indemnification agreement stipulating what will happen if the company divulges your information to the wrong people. Talk to your attorney if necessary.

If a company can’t justify — to your satisfaction — a requirement of its applicant screening process, it’s your right and responsibility to walk.

Where do Human Resources screening practices come from?

The most honorable companies are doing nothing more than trying to protect themselves. You should do the same. In many cases you will find that the Human Resources department’s requirements are somewhat arbitrary and management has little idea what’s going on.

Why do employers do this stuff, especially in an economy where it’s hard to find and hire the right talent?

HR screening practices are often adopted from “advisory publications” that are circulated among companies by industry associations and “HR consultancies.” HR departments frequently adopt these without much consideration for their impact. I sometimes wonder how much an engineering or marketing department knows about the hurdles HR has set up for hard-to-find applicants. Do department managers realize they may be losing good candidates because of unreasonable and presumptuous application policies?

Talk to the decision maker, then decide

My advice is this: Make sure the decision maker — the person you would report to — understands what HR is doing and how you feel about it. The manager’s response will tell you whether HR’s presumptuous attitude is pervasive. But you may have to make a judgment and a choice. Then you can decide, do you go along, or do you walk? (Remember that if you go along, you may have to live with these people a long time.)

It’s important to note that not all HR people (and policies) are inconsiderate of job candidates. A good HR person will serve as an advocate of both the company’s interests and the candidate’s.

I’ll never forget the seasoned HR representative who stood up to make this very point in front of her company’s entire HR team in a workshop I was conducting. A junior HR rep had just upbraided me for saying essentially what I’ve written here. The seasoned HR person announced that in her 27 years on the job she never asked applicants to fill out forms in advance of an interview — even though failure to do so violated company policy. “It’s rude and it gives candidates the wrong message,” she said. “They are our guests and I treat them that way. If we need forms to be filled out, I do it after the interview process reveals mutual interest.”

Does HR have anything to say?

I don’t think you’re being hysterical at all. You’re calling HR out. Some HR folks may have good reasons for their application policies. My question is, do they really understand the implications of these policies out in the professional communities they recruit from? Especially in these times when employers cry they can’t get the talent they need?

I invite HR and other managers to comment.

Use your judgment before you agree to anything during the job application process. Keep your standards high and let others know you expect them to do the same. Avoid people and organizations that don’t.

[Note: This column appeared in different form in Fearless Job Hunting. It summarizes several complaints I’ve received from job seekers — and my advice remains the same.]

Have a story about how HR went too far when “screening” you for a job? Did you feel coerced? Did you give in? What was the outcome? What can job seekers do to get more respect from HR?

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91 Comments
  1. “Employers will explain that this approach saves them time and money.”

    If you get 50 applications, interviews ten and hires one – how is doing a lot of checks on at least 40 people you are not going to interview anyway going to save time and money?

    • Bingo.

    • @Karsten: You’re making too much sense! :)

      I think some HR depts. do this so they can say how “busy” they are (look at all the references we have to check, even if we’re never going to interview 40 out of the 50 applicants) and thus justify their jobs.

      I’ve often thought the same thing: don’t ask me for my references upfront or before I’ve been interviewed and there’s serious interest on both sides. My references are busy people, and between the ghosting and canned questions or automation, it becomes a waste of their time (and then they’re less likely to be enthusiastic about providing references the next time).

  2. Not too long ago, I was starting with a new company. As part of the onboarding process, they used an external company to verify a candidate’s employment history. One of my previous employers was a professional service company. For what ever reason, this particular firm chose not respond to the request for employment verification.

    The background checking company then tried to force me to sign a form, which would have given them cart blanc to ask the IRS for any, and all, of my tax returns. At no time did the background checking company provide an explanation of why they wanted this information, nor provide any alternatives. Both they, and the company HR representative treated this as a perfectly sane approach to hiring, and were quite frustrated with my refusal to sign the form.

    Fortunately, when I contacted the hiring manager, who was a senior director, he was as appalled as I was. He lit a fire under the HR person about the request, and it was then that we found out why they were asking for my tax information.

    Once I knew what they were trying to accomplish, I was able to provide them with an alternative contact, who sent them with an email assuring them that, while I had been working with that company, that he had been my manager, and he verified the timeframe that I had worked that particular company.

    The irony was, that this particular individual no longer worked at that company, so the email address that he responded from, wasn’t from the company. He provided no bona fides that could have established his employment history. But, the background company accepted the email, sent their report, and the HR department closed the case.

  3. Applied for a job on Indeed.com clear back before Christmas 2020. These folks had just acquired this “division” in a merger, and were restaffing the office. Initial contact by employer was the middle of January, 2021, which was an email written by their recruiter. After four back and forth emails, a phone screening was conducted (recruiter), two more emails (recruiter), an “assessment” test (I don’t do these–EVER), two more emails (HR person in charge of hiring Admins), a phone screen (HR), a VIRTUAL interview (HR), silence for a week, another back and forth email (recruiter), two more “assessment” requests (did not do them), and finally a face-to-face interview that two people flew in from Chicago to participate (one left “I have to take this call!” and never came back). By the time the interviewer had gotten to the point where I was supposed to ask questions, I didn’t have a single thing to ask. I had been SCREENED TO DEATH. I had already dazzled three other people with my knowledge/research of both the companies involved in the merger, the merger itself, and frankly, I felt like a wrung-out sponge.

    I was pretty fed up at this point, and stated that this all seemed rather extreme for a $15 an hour position as an admin asst., in a two-person office, which was in a REALLY sketchy part of town. The only thing I said in the interview (since I really didn’t have a single thing to ask) was, “I would NOT feel safe walking out to my car at the end of the day. This is a really bad part of town.”

    I did not get the job. And for some reason, I’m completely okay with that.

    • @DL: Think of all the people who are making a living off your experience!

    • DL Megli, I loved your response at the end of your interview, which reminded me of one of my interviews.

      Many years ago I was interviewed for a Federal job as an editor at a U.S. Army research institute. During my interview, the hiring manager, a senior [civilian] research scientist, talked for more than an hour about the Institute and its research areas.

      At the end of his long talk, he eagerly asked me what I thought about the Institute and job. (They must have been desperate to hire someone–fast.) I was tired of sitting there, listening so attentively, that I said, “Well, I’m tired and want to go home and think about it.”

      I did accept that job and stayed for 2 years; however, the commute was terrible, and I later transferred to a similar Federal job that I could walk to from my house.

    • Great story. Good for you for refusing assessment tests. My policy as well. I’m surprised you made it through the additional rounds of interviews by refusing those awful assessment tests. I’ve always been immediately disqualified myself when doing this.
      All this “jumping through hoops” for a $15 per hour job, and in a rough neighborhood to boot. Mind numbing to say the least.

      • Honestly, I have over 20 years admin experience, and was only considering this position because it was a few minutes from my house (was making $30+ an hour previously, working in another state–but COVID), and to ask me to do a assessment test on my ability to use Excel and Microsoft and Outlook? Nope. Insulting. I will also not do those “personality” tests.

        Actually had one employer that contacted me to ask if I was still available/interested after I had flat-out refused to their testing. I politely emailed him back and said I did not do those tests, and although I understand that it’s used to “weed out” applicants, it also “weeds out” EMPLOYERS. The guy said, “I didn’t even know Indeed had sent that!”

        Found out during the interview process, though, that I should have gone with my first instinct about this employer–at one point, he said, “We don’t do any of that ‘under the table’ stuff here!” and his father (the other interviewer, and owner of the company) chimed in and said, “Well, not anymore!” I got up and walked out. I have better things to do with my life than to work for someone that would put me in a situation where the “Treasury” guys come in with guns drawn because someone didn’t declare a cash payment. BIG Nope.

        • I flat out refuse to do the personality profile tests as well.
          You bring up a point of “walking out of bad interviews”. More candidates need to do this.

          • AZ: “You bring up a point of “walking out of bad interviews”. More candidates need to do this.”

            Yes.

            And then, also, share the company name around in person-to-person meetings for “plausible deniability” so that the company starts suffering the reputational effects. See Nick’s piece:

            https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/halethalrep.htm

            Be sure to couch such statements with “in my opinion” and “I feel” and so on.

            Understand this clearly: there are back-channel, no-documentation communications between companies in an area. People get tagged with NO HIRE designations – I know this because I’ve been told so by a couple of recruiters. One said one job seeker had been blacklisted and had to relocate to another state; they described HR conferences where the gaggle of HR people shared names of people that shouldn’t be hired. All off the record of course.

            Do the same to them. Job seekers should share names of companies with bad actors and poor hiring practices and tell other job seekers to avoid them.

          • Seriously–who even has the qualifications to “administer” these? Yeah, I know it’s some rubric, but I think, as job seekers jumping through hoops of fire, we should require THEM to do these tests. Do you know how many sociopaths and narcissistic employers this would weed out?

            • You hit the nail squarely on the head. How can armchair psychologists determine your personality, or potential for success vs failure, with these silly and time wasting tests. All they do is disqualify potentially good employees.
              My late father, a WWII era guy, and a journeyman machinist, referred to HR as “frustrated psychologists”.
              These personality profiles should be illegal.

        • @DL Megli:

          “The guy said, “I didn’t even know Indeed had sent that!”

          Sheesh. I didn’t know Indeed sends tests to applicants without knowledge of the employer. But not surprised. It must be a “feature.”

  4. Any company asking for a “dispute resolution agreement” is looking to do one of two things:

    1) Use arbitration to avoid going to court. They’re also looking to brow-beat employees and candidates as such agreements almost certainly say the costs will be split. Guess who has plenty of money to spend on arbitration and who doesn’t?

    2) Screen out candidates who know their rights and refuse to sign.

    • For years, I’ve had an unfulfilled fantasy of firing back with my own battery of BS requirements and documents. “Yes, I can certainly provide my salary history. I will forward it to you as soon as I receive your CEO’s tax returns and your company’s private accounting records, and the salaries of all your current employees. I need to know that you’re a stable, well-run company if I’m going to join you.”

      • @Different Nick: Hey, I already invented that!

        https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/8878/new-grads-send-robo-dog-job-interviews

        But I’ll cut you in. We can call the biz Nick & Different Nick. “We make a difference!”

      • I actually did that in 2003, which started my own whole AskTheHeadhunter pen pal journey. They wanted information they had no right to ask for, I basically told them “sure, but you’ll have to sign this release form and do the same for me, sharing YOUR personal information.” Now I have a templated response to those clowns: “salary data and other employment records are company confidential and I am not at liberty to share without violating that confidentiality agreement. I’m sure you understand it would be an inappropriate breach for me to answer, and that you would expect me to honor similar agreements if I were in your employ.” Also, GFY.

      • There are, actually, methods of finding out such information. If you are considering working for a non-profit, they have to (by law) post their tax forms, and you can find out who makes what. They ALWAYS poor-mouth when it comes to salary offers, but if you can come back with, “Well, so and so made blah blah blah.” Even if you don’t verbally state this, YOU will know if they’re low-balling an offer.

    • Exactly.

      And, there is likely a third and fourth reason but you certainly nailed the top two.

      Definitely “brow-beating” and an insult on top of that.

  5. I recently had a company demand that I do a video interview with some kind of artificial Intelligence program (HireVue. You set this call up and it measures your eye contact, voice and facial inflections to determine,,,,I don’t know what, exactly.

    I asked what would happen with the results (i.e., are they collected? kept on file? destroyed? what?) and questioned how effective it was. The answer I got was that they had run it past the lawyers, and they OK’d it, and that it was mandatory. They had no idea how it worked or whether it was effective or not.

    Their lawyers protect them, not me. I didn’t take the interview.

    • Remember, the “HireVue” system is set up so that a company can legitimately say, “we interviewed 100 candidates for this position – 52% were women, and 37% were people of color,” ….and meanwhile back at the old ranch, er, company…. the person they want for the position is talking to a live person and negotiating the offer. If that is all a company thinks of me, I won’t interview with them.

      • There’s a long discussion over at LinkedIn about these so-called interviews. I don’t refer to them as “interviews” as that implies there’s a two-way conversation taking place. I call them “intoviews”—you talk into a computer and get no feedback. More likely than not, your session with the computer will be mined for information just as your clicks on the web are.

        I seem to recall from an article a year or so ago that an executive at one of these computer-based interview vendors stated that he’d never want to try interviewing for his current job via computer/webcam. It sure seemed like he knew he’d perform terribly and probably never be considered as a viable candidate.

        What are the HR folks who foist these things on candidates doing all day? First they force candidates into an ATS so they don’t have to deal with resumes, then they turn the initial interview over to a computer and an AI so they don’t have to deal with you at THAT level, either. Shees!

        • Ha! I was looking for a word to describe these things, because interview doesn’t fit.

          • A couple of times, in an in person interview when I was at the white board, I would ask the other person a question – in part to show teamwork. They both responded angrily: “We are interviewing you – you are not interviewing us.” I got neither job. Good riddance!

            • Wow. I’ve never seen any company say that openly, even if most of them probably think it. I’d probably answer, “No, you and I are discussing whether or not we want to work together. Thank you for helping me learn the answer so simply.” And then make my exit, having found out as much as I needed to know.

    • @Brian: As Kevin points out, this is how employers can interview hundreds of candidates without lifting a finger. Only stands to reason that there’s a big business in enabling a candidate to interview with hundreds of employers:

      https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/11783/interview-for-1500-jobs

      • Oh, I get that.

        But I don’t know how it can be effective, and even if it was, how would you measure it?

        And it opens up a world of privacy issues. They didn’t seem to know or care about how it could be mis-used. Or else, they knew exactly how it was going to be mis-used, and didn’t want to say.

        Suppose, for instance, the software was wrong in such a way that it branded random people as dishonest. Is this going to escape the confines of the companies databanks and brand those people as thieves for the rest of their lives? How could this be corrected? how do we know this hasn’t already happened? what protections are there against this? we only have the word of the potential employers lawyers that it complies with all legal requirements, but not that it works as advertised. And HR didn’t care enough to find out.

      • This makes me wonder what they think they’re accomplishing by interviewing thousands of candidates.

    • When I was driving a taxi (just before the “covid” destroyed that job), one of my rides was a gal who worked for HireVue. She gushed on and on how video interviews were such a great idea – eliminate bias, save time and money, etc. I politely pushed back some, but of course she was absolutely convinced that the supposed benefits outweighed any potential drawbacks.

      I refuse to do any type of video “interview.” I am the type of person who prefers to stay on the safe side of the lens, and I am sure that I would come off badly, especially in a contrived situation such as a video “interview”…not to mention that a REAL interview involves at the bare minimum give and take in the form of an actual dialogue, not staring at a camera lens and giving canned responses to canned questions.

      • The idea that AI will eliminate bias is deeply flawed. Machine learning models are trained on data sets, and the data we generate is informed by — and reflects — our biases.

        There’s a good essay on this topic here: https://excavating.ai/

    • I’ve just had two experiences with a “one way video interview”.

      One of them, I had a personal contact get ahold of someone in the company to let them know she knew me. Well, I’m assuming it worked, but I got an email to do a one way video interview. Since this was a personal contact I hedged a bit, but ended up not doing it and never responded to the email. I then happened to bump into the contact quite by accident and I told her thanks for the referral and I got that video interview request, but I really didn’t want to do those type of interviews. She understood.

      In the other one, I had contact with an HR recruiter and talked to her on the phone and it went positive. But, she said the next step would be to send me a one way video interview. I told her I really don’t like doing those, but I would be happy to have a video interview with one of the hiring managers. She was nice about it and said she’d let me know. Well, I did then have a video interview with a live manager and it went quite well. I’m not really sure what their motivation was with having that step in between the two live interviews, but if you ask, they might oblige.

    • @Brian: There’s one concern I have that’s never been addressed by the HireVues. The answer is probably in the docs you have to sign before you do your one-way.

      You apply for a job at company A, which uses HireVue. You agree to whatever terms pop up on the screen and you do the “interview,” which is of course recorded and “analyzed.” HireVue (or whatever vendor it is) saves your recording.

      Next month, you apply to job postings at companies B, C and D. You are rejected or ignored by all 3, no reason stated. If these companies subscribe to HireVue’s services, can they search HireVue’s “applicant database” for you, watch the video you made for company A and review the “analysis” about you? I think this should worry everyone.

      I see no reason why a HireVue would not further exploit your video and sell it again and again and again.

      I have no hard evidence that the HireVues of the industry do this. But I’d be really surprised if they don’t. Check that user agreement. I’d love to know if anyone turns up wording that suggests this is a practice.

      • yes, they absolutely share it. They have to, it’s the only real way to monetize it.

        And who knows if it actually works as advertised? and maybe it is tuned to filter out…workers that are too qualified (i.e., old), or disqualifies people with brown eyes? the people paying hirevue and the like have no way to know if this voodoo works or not, they just have to take the witch doctors word for it.

        or it is all a smoke screen to show they are interviewing all types of people, and still picking whomever they wish.

      • Of greater concern to me are the implications of applying machine learning (ML) to candidate screening. ML models, when “trained,” are black boxes — nobody can examine how they work to ensure they’re doing what we want. In theory if it gives the correct outputs for your sample inputs then everything is fine, but in reality the training data and sample inputs are built around deeply flawed assumptions. At worst, this is a way to sweep illegal decisions under the rug of, “the software said so.”

        I linked to this above, but in case you missed it you might want to check out the essay at excavating.ai for more information.

        Your idea of sending a robo dog to do the interview is brilliant. How hard would it be to design a deep fake personality that ticks every box in HireVue’s machine learning model? I don’t know, but if there’s a company that accepts any and all applicants with a HireVue screening as a first step, I’d be tempted to give it a shot.

        • “Your idea of sending a robo dog to do the interview is brilliant.”

          Great idea. I think Nick mentioned this in his initial article on
          virtual/automated “interviews”.

          Love your thinking too…

          However I’d wouldn’t be surprised if the fine print
          you are required to sign ahead of time for this circus
          clearly states that YOU (no alternatives) are to physically and
          authentically be in front of the camera for the interview and that
          any perceived deviation would be considered gross manipulation thus
          disqualifying you from further consideration.

          • If a potential employer thinks so little of me that they cannot commit a person to talk to me in person, then I probably do not want to work for such an employer…..besides, while I’m talking to their robo-human, the candidate the employer wants is probably talking to the manager – in person.

          • Oh, I’m sure they include such a clause. But the idea isn’t to get someone a job, it’s to figure out what the machine learning model wants by throwing data at it and seeing what sticks.

            You could try this with a real company, but you wouldn’t get good data to train your candidate generation algorithm. Ideally you would pay HireVue to “screen” a couple of thousand “applicants” and then use a genetic algorithm to generate the perfect candidate.

            Genetic algorithms are famous for giving technically correct but hilariously (or terrifyingly) wrong results:

            https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/robots/a19445627/the-hilarious-and-terrifying-ways-algorithms-have-outsmarted-their-creators/

            so you’d almost certainly end up with a freakishly inhuman “candidate” that perfectly conforms to whatever HireVue’s machine learning algorithm thinks is the most employable person possible.

            • In summary, it’s the realization of George Orwell’s 1984 and the movie of the same year – Terminator.

              Remember the 1987 market crash (Black Friday?) that was caused
              by unchecked software selling off positions?

              In four words – “Rise of the machines”.

              …and it’s not gonna be pretty.

            • I would be tempted to sit my upright vacuum cleaner in a chair in front of the camera. The two of them could commune on a “deeper” level.

            • @DL Megli- Have you ever watched some online videos of one bot “talking” to another? Mildly entertaining ;)

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnzlbyTZsQY
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vphmJEpLXU0

  6. Recently, I participated in a Skype interview (Skype failed due to my company’s inadequate IT department so I used FaceTime), and I was impressed with the candidate – she has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in two different areas of engineering. My assessment? She is underutilized in her current job. I told her I would be forwarding a positive review to HR (which I did) and to my boss. I have heard nothing from either source. If I asked my boss, he would tell me. At the same time, there is privacy to be concerned about. The thing is, I don’t think I will hear about her again unless she hires on. I don’t feel like I am in a position to ask – my company is a very traditional company with strong chain-of-command protocols. Keeping your head down is the name of the game. That said, those of us on the hiring side are not always in the know. Lack of communications from HR cuts both ways. PS: I have a great boss.

  7. I just tried to make a comment on “HireVue” and I got a reply from your automated system that said “Duplicate comment detected – it looks like you have already said that.” So….Nick, are you testing things out for HireVue? :-)

    • @Kevin: The comment system will block duplicate comments so you can’t post the same comment twice. But you should be able to post comments about HireVue all you want.

  8. 5 years ago I applied online for an IT job at a local community college. They asked for names of references on their application system. Their HR app then immediately sent out notifications to the people I named asking for detailed reference letters from them. It really pissed me off that they did this. I did not get an interview out of this despite my friends and former co-workers spending the time “helping me get a job”.

    Just a few days ago I applied for a lead IT position at my local hospital. A day after completing their online application process they came back with 18 questions they wanted answered on an HR website. The questions were very specific, required a lot of detail and it took me 2-2.5 hours to answer these questions. I think I am very qualified for the position but I have my doubts about them contacting me for an actual interview. I had an interview with them for a different IT position 3 months ago. Lately I hear the have high turn over in the IT department things a very political there.

    • I put “Reference 1” and “Reference 2” and so on. I do not give out references until I’ve interviewed and they seem to be serious about moving forward.

      I’ve gotten a couple of angry emails from HR people INSISTING I cough up that information. I tell them point blank “If you want that information, you interview me. Otherwise no.” No answers of course.

      The arrogance, the WE ARE THE MASTERS DISPENSING CRUMBS FROM THE TABLE attitude is disgusting.

      Speaking of arrogance…

      A few years ago, thanks to my late father’s connections, I got some time with a BIG NAME in the HR industry, a Harvard Business School HR Professor. We had a cordial conversation, but he said that my essays and such (and, at the time, posts on LinkedIn) about hiring practices and employer abuses of employees were “problems.” He said I needed to deep six them.

      I said “Am I wrong?” Silence. “Is what I am saying untrue?” Silence. “Where is the counter argument? What that I wrote is not accurate?” Silence. Just staring at me. Then, “Just take them down.”

      They’re the naked emperor. They know it. But the cone of silence descends to protect the guilty.

      • Regarding the professor, I agree that he should have given you more of an explanation. That said, I am wondering if an academic research paper on this subject would carry more weight – I don’t know what research is out there that would support your assertions, but if you could find some and write about it with those citations, there would be little this professor could say.

        I do, however, agree that what you say is true.

      • HBS has a reputation among the other Harvard schools and colleges that I would describe as solidly mixed. Clearly they are at the top of their field, and no one would disparage the quality of their product or the importance of the connections one may acquire there. But, even among other Harvard schools, they are aloof. I might even say “reclusive.” Heck, in another context I might use some less flattering language.

        I would expect any professor to engage with your questions and use the opportunity to educate their interlocutor. (I hereby award myself a vocabulary point for use of the word “interlocutor.”) For HBS, his response is both disappointing and unsurprising.

      • “They’re the naked emperor.”

        Exactly just one reason “cancel culture” is SO popular now.

        They can’t handle the truth/facts, much less opposing opinions
        and expect the rest of us to just “Go along to get along”.

  9. This makes me think of several hoops that I jumped through 12 years ago. I was employed with Company T and after 21 years left to join Company M. (My commute changed by 1 block). My new supervisor said I could answer questions and provide some assistance to my old supervisor; I shared my contact information and answered questions and stopped by for a couple meetings.

    My old supervisor then asked if I could return on an hourly basis as a contractor; I figured I had some time available in the evenings so I said yes. But I then had to complete the entire application process, agree to credit checks, and a bunch of other “why do you need this” type processes. Remember, they asked me to work for them, but made me go through their full hiring process. It took almost a month for everything to be completed. By then, I was ready to just drop the whole thing. I even told my old supervisor that if I had known the full process when he asked for my help, I would have said no.

  10. @Steve C#: It’s a common problem.

    When to withhold your references:
    https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/10515/withhold-references

    Before you risk your references:
    https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/15129/before-you-risk-your-references

  11. Working as a headhunter in Germany, I am frankly quite horrified by what hoops companies in the US are allowed to make applicants jump through. If a HR department here tried to do this, data protection (thanks to the GDPR), employment rights specialists and (if they’re big enough) the works council would be on them so quickly that it would set their heads spinning.

    • @Svante: Yah, we are the old world over here. There is no real data protection.

  12. Years ago years ago I was hired by a company as a mathematician and software developer and after about a month on the job one of the secretaries from HR came in with a contract form for me to sign that assigned all discoveries and inventions Etc and Etc and Etc. I might come up with to the company. Not a single word was mentioned about this before that time and not in the interview obviously. I said I’m not going to sign might life away. They came back and everybody all the way up to the company owner and got all excited and ferocious with me. I decided I’d start looking for a new job, and this was one month into the job. Fortunately the other companies that were interviewed me and not hired people yet and so I had a lot of choices

  13. These companies must be large & with flush pockets. I worked last for a small company and we didn’t invoke background screens or reference checks (one needs to respect the time of references as well) or anything that took time & money unless we were serious about hiring a person.

  14. If you are going through HR for your job, you’re doing something wrong. I don’t let HR dictate whom to hire. I do let them run through the legally required checks. I tell them I want to hire “Mr X” or “Ms Y” and its their job to get them onboard.

    Your friends and professional colleagues will find you your next job. Don’t succumb to HR being the gatekeeper.

  15. @Wes:

    In my first job out of college I reviewed the employment agreement and had to get it modified. I was writing a lot of poetry at the time and the (engineering) company would have owned it if I hadn’t had it changed to “work related” creations.

    More broadly, while this hasn’t happened to me, a good friend had this kind of agreement with the company he was signing on to (had to, he had no job – and from Day One was looking for a new job):

    * They could contact any past employer at any time for any reason, and all liability was waived on the part of any past employer’s statements
    * If my friend changed jobs, the company could not be held liable for anything they said to any future employer

    Basically, IMHO, and I’ve said this for years now: If, per Abraham Lincoln, the test of a person’s character is how they treat those over whom they have power, most companies fail.

    • @Dave Hunt. Good point on Abraham Lincoln.
      A few jobs back, I worked for my current employer’s competitor. Their HR Department was comprised of three women referred to by the employees as the “unholy trinity”, the “coven”, and other names I can’t mention in good company.

    • > had to, he had no job

      This is a big part of why I keep my expenses as close to $0 as possible. I never want to be in a situation where I can’t say “no.”

      • Congrats Dan,

        Expense (cost) discipline is a decision most Americans fail
        at given they have an average of $8k+ on their credit cards
        and live pay check to pay check.

        You’re well ahead of the pack who unfortunately tries to
        “keep up with the Joneses” while “living large” which
        mortgages their future away.

        • That’s part of what the marketing industry is for. It’s only partly to try and make direct profit for the individual company being advertised. It’s also, more generally, to try and encourage the culture of spending and debt overall, so that most of the people available to hire at any given time are in desperate need of any job they can get and therefore in no position to negotiate a fair deal with anyone.

          I’m not trying to say it isn’t individuals’ personal responsibility to ignore the marketing BS and control their expenses in the first place — it is. I’m just pointing out that companies don’t leave this to chance. It is worthwhile to them to put considerable collective expense into making certain that the cycle of debt and urgency continues.

  16. Dispute agreement BEFORE interviewing???

    Screening method? Nope, it’s a form of “cancel culture”
    designed to effectively silence you from the get-go. And
    what do you bet the agreement’s only option is for
    arbitration…which usually is in favor of the employer.

    Have fun signing your rights away.

    In other words, it’s their way or the highway. In this
    case, I’ll choose the highway and ride the fast lane to
    the competition.

    • @Chris S: What you get in the interview is what you’ll get on the job.

    • You’ve brought in the term “cancel culture” twice now, but the way you’re using it isn’t actually what the term means. It’s the same thing as the now-discredited term ‘political correctness,’ and they’re both just ways to mean “people who dislike bigotry and choose not to interact with bigots.” Except that by pretending it’s a form of attack or “cancellation,” this form is designed to trick people like you into thinking that there’s actually something *wrong* with declining to interact with bigots.

      The reality is that nearly every case of what is commonly referred to as “cancel culture” is simply a matter of individuals exercising their private rights of free assembly, and deciding they don’t wish to hire, or nominate for an award, or continue employing, or watch on TV, or invite to speak to their organization, or in some other way interact with someone whom they have discovered to have said or done things which demonstrate bigotry against a group they care about. This is what the people who oppose “cancel culture” are really trying to protect: not individuals from corporate dominance, but open bigots from having to face the routine social and economic consequences that happen when, well, people don’t like you.

      • Thanks for the diatribe professor.

        You’d make the perfect emotionally triggered HR manager with your constant purple-squirrel search for “bigots” under every rock and ensuing power hungry firings of personnel that don’t subscribe to your politics.

        Since your love pontificating, go back to the lab and continue “working” on your elite “hypothesis” of wokeness so you can enlighten us about diversity in the workplace and how it has put identity politics miles ahead of competence and on-the-job performance as the determining factor on who gets hired and promoted.

        Like your king LeBron James recently tweeted, “You’re Next”…or didn’t your notice, “cancel culture” has begun cancelling some of their own since they’re not radical enough?!?

        Yep, I agree, “people don’t like you”…with “you” being anyone that refuses to follow authoritarian HR departments and their propaganda marching orders. Nor will I
        work for or with the dictators therein.

        While you bow down to HR totalitarianism, I proudly accept the “consequences” of not being a subservient robot.

  17. In my previous Corporate life, I was a Director of Finance and Administration and unemployed many times due to the meltdown of the mini-computer industry in Massachusetts. Because there was a recession in Massachusetts, many Human Resource recruiters felt they had a right to abuse applicants as well as some owners in small businesses. I once had an interview with a small company and the employer was so insulting that I got up out of my chair and said “It is obvious that I would not be a fit in your company and walked out the door and left him stammering to himself”. It made my day. I am now retired and started my own tax and accounting services business. Best thing I ever did. I enjoy going to work everyday in my home office and like my clients. In addition, I have always encouraged my son, who is in Information Technology to start his own business and he did and it is doing great. This makes me so happy that he did not have to work in Corporate America and be abused as an employee. It seems some Corporations respect you if you are Consultant, but as an employee, especially accountants, you are considered overhead and do not contribute to the bottom line, therefore, your work is neither valued nor respected.

    I hear a lot from Recruiters than they can’t fill jobs because there is a lack of talent. The lack of talent in the Inhuman Resources Department.

    • The “Inhuman Resources Department” – LOVE IT!

      My wife wants me to find a new position as an employee somewhere. Never mind the fact that, for multiple reasons, I’m pretty much unemployable in the area (my reputation as a snarky trouble-maker precedes me)… she’s finally got a career going that, together with my consulting income, permits me the flexibility to handle the kids myself.

      At the risk of shameless self-promotion, here’s an article I wrote some time ago:

      Employers: choose your words carefully – or face the consequences
      https://40pluscareerguru.blogspot.com/2013/10/employers-choose-your-words-carefully.html

      As the language of how employers refer to people has changed, it’s gotten bad. Very bad.

      • I got a new job in April 2020 (and it’s a good thing – soon after that my previous company started cutting and announcing a move out of the area). I like my new job and have an awesome boss. Even so, I got a call for a promising interview the other day. Of course I participated! My wife doesn’t want me to change jobs but I would rather change jobs than get laid off. I am always looking.

        Today’s employment relationship is that any given day could be your last day – even in California.

        Now marriage is different – my wife and I just celebrated our 20 year anniversary and we also promised a lifetime commitment.

        Maybe the employment relationship would be better if both parties had more of a commitment than they do now. At the very least you should be guaranteed an income until you find another job! (PS: In my last job my boss had already told me he really could not use me so I had plenty of warning.). I have not been laid off in many years.

        • I equate looking for a job to looking for a spouse. You, sometimes, have to go on a lot of horrible blind dates (interviews), and kiss a bunch of frogs (bad situations), before you find someone to commit to/with. I thought I had found mine, but unfortunately, there was a separation (laid off) and eventually a divorce (they closed that division permanently).

      • Nice article at your link, David.

        • Thank you. And in general Neil’s got some great stuff – and not just the articles of mine he’s republished. ROFL!

    • I had an interview like that once, and as I was pushing my chair away from the interview-table, I said, “It’s obvious I wasted a quarter in the parking meter…” LOL!

  18. In 2020 I was unemployed for 7 months due to COVID. It was a brutal year to be job-hunting but most of the companies I dealt with seemed rational. I finally got an IT job with a local government. Their initial application was intense, wanting long paragraph style answers to several questions. I spent hours writing answers. But in the end I was hired, and I completely believe I am the right person for this specific job. They did give the job offer contingent on a detailed background check; but only after they gave an offer and I accepted it with that contingency. I’m fine with a background check ALONG WITH the job offer.

  19. I have some comments on a similar note. Why do some recruiters waste a candidate’s time only to string them along for a while and then ghost them? I interviewed with two major tech companies in the last few months.

    With the first company, I had four different recruiters follow up with me for the same job (but they didn’t follow up with each other so I kept answering the same set of questions multiple times). Finally they asked for available times for a phone interview with someone from the team and then scheduled one without informing me (the interviewer called me out of the blue). When we rescheduled, I found out that the interviewer had absolutely no idea about my job and was only interested in understanding how he could work with me. So he couldn’t answer any questions I had for him. What was the point of this silly interview then? The guy couldn’t understand the significance of my accomplishments nor explain to me anything about the actual position I was interviewing for. The next day they informed me that my interview stopped there, and that they wouldn’t give me any feedback. Then they have the gall to follow up with me two weeks later to ask me for feedback on the interview process. Seriously?

    The second company (one of the largest in the world) did only marginally better. I cleared two rounds over the course of 3-4 weeks. Then… Crickets. Literally no word. A month later, they schedule a practical test via a video call. There was an interviewer I talked to, but there were definitely a few more people who were invisible (I could see their actions on a shared document). After that round, I never heard from anyone in the company for 2.5 months. Not even from the recruiter, who’s been super friendly the entire time. And sure enough, when I do hear from them, it was from their interview feedback division that was following up with me to get my inputs on the interview process. So am I to assume they didn’t want to proceed further? How about an actual communication to that effect, when they were practically nagging me to send them the information and work samples they wanted?

    Do recruiters have no regard for a candidate’s time or sincerity? Just very frustrating that you can be a great fit for the job but you have to endure a disrespectful interview process first.

  20. Do recruiters have no regard for a candidate’s time or sincerity?

    No.

    I am reminded of a line from the movie Predator. “You’re an asset… an expendable asset…”

    This is what people are in these days of HUMAN CAPITAL and TALENTS.

    My friend, whom I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this thread, now views employers as interchangeable paycheck generators, nothing more. Any loyalty to his employer has been cast aside.

  21. Always looking for a job was how I became a Consultant specializing in the implementation of Internal Controls to prevent fraud and made more in 6 months than I made for the entire year as an employee, Director of Finance and Administration. Awesome!
    Congratulations on your 20 year marriage. Corporations have always stated they are committed to Shareholders and not employees. Employees are the ones who create the profits while the Corporations pay their CEO’s 400 times what the average employee earns. This seems to be a holdover from the late 1800’s where Shareholders/Investors received all the benefits and still do. Capitalism has got be adjusted to reflect and acknowledge the significant contribution employees make. This can be done in numerous ways which I will not get into here.

  22. “Capitalism has got be adjusted…”

    That has been under way in the USA for many years now.

    It’s called “redistribution of income”…socialist ideology
    couched as “democratic socialism” (to make is sound good) which
    history proves doesn’t end well.

    “Taking other people’s (the “rich”) money only works until
    you run out of their money” – Margaret Thatcher

    Just like how the US tax system started and the current AMT
    provision operates…both originally designed to tax “only the rich”
    but now grabs $$$$$$$ from almost everyone.

    • There are plenty of capitalist systems that differ from the one we have today in the US, but which are not socialist in any way. Many of them have similarly been proven by history to not work very well. As an example, I doubt you would be eager to bring back the slave trade despite the incredible capital gains made by those who exploited the practice.

      (I freely admit that slavery in the agricultural sector was made obsolete by advances in technology, so it’s not the best example to use in this context. But it’s a form of capitalism that we can all agree is bad.)

      Speaking of Democratic Socialism, though — did you know that Sweden is more democratic than America, and has been a democracy for longer? I didn’t believe it at first!

      • “Democratic socialism” is, for some reason, the term Bernie&co like to use for the Nordic countries. It would be better to use the term “social democracy”. True, we have higher taxes, bigger governments and single payer health care, but we are also vibrant capitalistic societies.

        My home country Norway is no 9 on the Ease of doing business index, Sweden is 10 and Denmark a nice 4 :)

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ease_of_doing_business_index

        • I took a business class with a woman from Denmark who now owns her own clothing line =) I think it’s a great example of how you can have both a social safety net AND a capitalist market at the same time.

          After all, who is more likely to take the risk of starting a new business? The person who may end up homeless if it fails, or the person who knows they will be okay even if they go bankrupt?

          Even leaving aside issues of unexpected tragedy, a safety net for everyone means more people are free to be entrepreneurs.

  23. I do not intend to get political on ATH; but it can be relevant to discuss how different labour markets work, e.g. relating to unions and economic policy, and understanding the Nordic countries “way” may give some input to how it can be done.

    (Not that we are short of stupid HR departments here, either!)

    • Despite the utopia you speak of, the Nordics…specifically Norway, took the middle road on the refugee crisis. Straddling the fence on works so long.

      As you know, politics has a direct effect on the employment market virtually everywhere in the world and Norway is certainly no stranger to politics.

      “However, also in Norway signs of an emerging coalition on reforming refugees social rights were strong in the early stages, but the government failed in sustaining a coordinative discourse over time.”

      So, some things never change. Big talk, little action, and plenty of protectionism that is only called “bigotry” when it allegedly happens in America.

      Source:
      https://comparativemigrationstudies.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40878-019-0169-8

  24. Here’s an HR horror story: a young man I know is looking for a job. Email from HR: We’d like to have you in for an interview. Are you available Monday at 1 p.m.? Applicant: Thank you so much. I currently work M-F 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Could we schedule one on any weekday in the morning? HR: OK. Thank you for your application. We wish you all the best in your job search. Applicant: Maybe we misunderstood each other. I’d love to have an interview, but was wondering if we could schedule one before those hours. Or I could do a Zoom interview. HR: Usually applicants take time off for an interview so frankly I don’t understand the issue. (No, he will never work there now.)

    • My company is in a major crunch and we are on mandatory overtime, so even though many people would like to go on interviews, we can’t get time off! :-) At least we work with amazing technology.

      • If the crunch has an end date, plan accordingly. If this crunch is “forever” MAKE TIME and get out. All the technology in the world doesn’t matter.

        I remember reading about google’s phone development. IIRC it was over a year of 80+ hour weeks, mandatory.

        Screw that. A year apart from my family – which is what it functionally boils down to – and there was no overtime, no bonus that I heard of, and no “Hey, thanks for the effort, take a week off on us.”

    • I, as I suspect most, have similar horror stories. Rather than relate them specifically, let me take a step back.

      This is typical of today’s corporations. You have to be “dog-panting eager” for the job. You have to be SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!! eager for the job. You have to be loyal to the core, willing to put up with insane demands, to get the job.

      And in return? The company will dump you in a moment.

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