Rude Employers: Yahoo fires CEO Carol Bartz, phones it in

You know that rude behavior employers dish your way when they recruit you, cajole you, try to woo you, impress you, and interview you — then won’t return your calls, much less decide whether to hire you?

Now it’s happened to a C-level executive, CEO Carol Bartz, who was just fired by Yahoo. While Bartz’s performance, and Yahoo’s justifications for firing her, will be debated, what’s clear is that Yahoo’s board of directors is a bunch of wussies. They fired her on the phone. (For more details, see my column on CMO.com, Stupid HR Tricks: Yahoo Phones It In, and join me in the discussion.)

Gimme a break. Say what you want about Bartz’s performance at Yahoo, the former CEO of AutoDesk never “phoned it in” during her stellar career. She deserved better.

So what’s the point? The point is that Yahoo’s board just sent a loud signal to the community from which the company recruits: We behave without dignity and integrity. Don’t bother seeking a career here, unless rudeness and disrespect are high on the list of attributes you’d like in an employer. Worse yet is the signal to investors and customers: “A reputation that attracts top talent isn’t on our agenda.”

Yahoo Finance just featured an article titled, “Tech Jobs Plentiful, Talent Is Not.” Gimme a break. “While the tech sector remains one of the few bright spots for the U.S. job scene, firms are having a difficult time finding qualified people to hire, a new survey says.”

No kidding. I hear Yahoo’s HR department is crying, “Talent shortage!” But who wants to work for a bunch of rude wussies, to whom “phone it in” suffices for “executive action?” Go ahead, laugh your ass off. What goes around, comes around. Trouble is, when companies start doing it to C-level execs, that’s a clear sign it ain’t gonna get any better.

Tip to companies that operate with integrity and treat people with respect and dignity: You have no competition when recruiting and hiring.

Message to “the talent” out there: Those good employers are out there. You’ve just gotta look harder today.

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Rude Employers: Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m

Rude employers who don’t bother to follow up with job candidates after interviews, even after promising a hiring decision within X number of days, are a staple topic on Ask The Headhunter. And it’s no wonder — job applicants are fed up with, “Hurry up and submit your application! Hurry up and fill out the forms! Hurry up and show up for an interview! Then hurry up and wait while we contemplate our navels!”

Comments on I really, really want this job, a discussion about frustrated job hunters, turned back to the problem of employers that fail to display the most basic courtesies.

Reader LT commented:

Back when HR was “wages and benefits”, management made darn sure there were hoards of fresh-faced stenographers and typists to crank out correspondence of all types, including but not limited to “We thank you for your interest in XYZ Company, and will have a decision by Friday next.”

But, complains LT, after you do all that HR asks of you, “the next sound you hear is utter, complete rude, deafening silence.”

Were companies better citizens then?  I don’t know.  I do know that, at least form a potential employee’s perspective, their “corporate culture” is so blatantly demeaning that it is beyond comprehension why anyone would care to work there.

LT raises a very good question. What changed?

Is it the lack of support staff to write thank-you notes? I think it’s a far more serious and systemic problem. In many companies, HR doesn’t behave respectfully any more because it has boxed itself in.

As a profession, HR has created a monster. While some HR departments actually recruit, HR on the whole funds job applicant sources like Monster.com, CareerBuilder, HotJobs, TheLadders to the tune of billions of dollars a year. For what? To ensure a massive, untenable, unworkable, impossible-to-process pipeline of incoming job applicants.

When HR got into bed with the databases, its standards slipped, and thoughtful, careful recruitment turned into a mindless, sloppy, “volume” business. Sorry, LT, but there is simply no way for HR to process all the incoming “applicant” crap it pays for, much less send out nice notes to people it interviews. Personnel jockeys are drowning in the drek gushing out of the job board pipe. They have no time to actually deal with candidates.

The good HR folks out there know who they are. They’re selective. They’re respectful. But the rest of HR has made its bed, inviting too many to jump in. Today, Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’m is how HR does it, and don’t expect a call tomorrow.

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Presumptuous Employers: Is this HR, or Proctology?

In the March 29, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader complains that employers’ demands are very inappropriate. She says she’s applying for a job — not a loan. What’s up with consent forms to access personal credit records and other private information?

I had a good phone interview for a job that seems interesting. I’m visiting them next week for an interview. Today, they sent me an e-mail application (a wee bit premature… I’m not sure I want to apply until after the in-person interview) and, more shocking, a consent form to check my credit report. I think this is beyond inappropriate, not to mention the fact that my report is locked because my husband had his identity stolen a few years ago, and we have no idea where it was swiped from.

So, my question, how do I politely tell them I’m not filling out the forms until after the interview, and until I’ve decided to move forward? Do I even need to explain about the credit report? Is this a new thing? Why on earth would they need my credit report in the first place? They’re not loaning me money.

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

Proctology?Imagine being asked to fill out a marriage license and to take a blood test before you have a first date with someone. Or to hand over your credit report before visiting a car dealer? Or to bend over for an exam before going on a job interview?

The explanation for this is simple. The HR department at this company doesn’t recruit or impress. This company’s HR department practices Pure Bureaucracy. Clueless about attracting talent, it serves warrants for information instead. I’m surprised they haven’t asked you to provide a urine sample yet. (Don’t laugh.)

You are right to question the request, and to decline to provide the information until after you have met with the hiring manager. If the company doesn’t have adequate information on which to base an interview, then it should not be talking to you.

Will saying “No” result in the interview getting cancelled? It might. There is always the chance that a company will dump you if you don’t do what it asks. On the other hand, most such requests are routine, and when people ignore them, companies often don’t even notice until it’s “too late.”

Here are your options:

  • Politely tell them you’d like to meet with the manager first. “If there’s mutual interest, then I’d be glad to fill out the forms. But a meeting is necessary to help us both decide that.”
  • Just ignore the request, show up, and do the interview. If they ask where the paperwork is, don’t pretend you forgot or were too busy. That would make you appear irresponsible. Instead, use the statement above. By then, you’re there, and they can deal with it.
  • Give them what they want. I don’t think this is a good option, because as you point out, it not only puts you at risk, it’s inappropriate and it’s a waste of your time.

I would not provide consent for a credit report, or even fill out application forms, until after you decide you’re really interested… [The rest of this advice is in the newsletter. Want more? Subscribe to the free newsletter, which will tell you more each week.]

If they press you, and you’re still interested in talking to a company that funds a bureaucracy, I I’d be frank: Your credit is locked because your identity has already been stolen:

How to Say It
“Many companies rely on third parties to perform credit and background investigations, and I know some of that checking is done overseas, in countries with no privacy protections. Having been seriously burned, my policy is not to grant consent unless I know exactly who is doing the checking, who will have access to my private information, and what will happen to it afterwards. I don’t permit my private information to be stored in anyone’s database. My lawyer would slap me if I did otherwise — this has already cost my husband and me a lot of money. I’m sure you understand.”

You could also ask the employer to sign a letter accepting liability if your information falls into the wrong hands. Then ask for a list of names of people who will have access to the information.

How to Say It
“I’m sure you realize… [Sorry, you’ve gotta get the free newsletter for the rest…]

Invasions of privacy by employers who have no vested interest in you, and that have not put their own skin into the game yet, are common. This is not a new thing… But again — taking a strong position could cost you an interview or a job. It’s up to you how far you go…

Sometimes you’ve got to wonder which department you’re walking into when you appear for a job interview. Is this HR, or Proctology? If people keep letting employers, investigators and background checkers poke around where they don’t belong, can the doctor be far behind?

Do companies seriously believe they’re recruiting when they tell you to drop trou and stand for inspection? Even before an interview? That’s not recruiting. It’s a joke. How far will HR go to abuse people before it tries to attract them? How impressed are you with a company that behaves this way?

And HR wonders why there’s a “talent shortage.” The only shortage is of common sense when recruiting and hiring. What do you do when employers want to check your teeth before they make you smile? (In case anyone got offended, I switched metaphors… so please post your comments and share your stories and suggestions.)

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Work for free, or no interview for you!

One of my favorite job-advice pundits is The Evil HR Lady, Suzanne Lucas, who calls ’em as she sees ’em. In her current post, Job Interview or Bake-Off?, she deals with the subject of employers who tease job hunters with interviews… if only they will do some free work first.

Say what?

It happens more often than you’d think. The employer wants to see samples of your work. Well, not just samples, but, Here’s an assignment that will take you a few days to complete. Bring us the results… heh-heh… and we’ll see which “candidate” did the best job.

Then it’s off to the bank with your work… while you cool your heels “waiting to hear back.”

ConmanI’ve known a handful of people who have actually worked for a few days at no charge, to show an employer that they are really expert at the work. (In every case, the person got the job, and also got paid for the time they invested. Why would anyone even try this if they weren’t 100% confident of the outcome?) But it wasn’t because the employer asked them to — it was because they suggested it. It was never a case of, Do the work, or you get no interview.

My bet is that the “creative” job hunter in the Evil HR Lady’s column is being scammed, whether intentionally or not.

While I advocate “showing the employer what you can do,” I draw the line at doing free work, unless the integrity of the employer is beyond reproach. This reader wouldn’t be asking the question if it were.

If the employer here is merely naive, I’d like to know whether “the work” to be delivered is something the employer can actually use and profit from, or is it merely a demonstration of your skills? Even if there’s nothing in the work that the employer can profit from, the problem is that “2-4 days of work” is going to cost the job applicant a lot.

It’s simply unethical (and perhaps illegal) to ask job candidates to deliver actual work like that. But it’s not uncommon. It’s part of Deceptive Recruiting, a topic I’ve already covered in its myriad nasty forms.

If I were the applicant, I’d offer other means of demonstrating my abilities. If the employer insists on a bake-off, I’d submit a bill in advance for my time and ask the employer to pay it prior to submitting anything.

What if the employer says no dice, as the job applicant in this story fears? Then I’d submit a detailed non-disclosure agreement for them to sign — along with an agreement that they will not use the work product in any way, shape or form except to evaluate you.

Let’s see how ethical they really are.

There’s nothing wrong with showing an employer what you can do, and the extent to which you do that must be based on the employer’s integrity. And there’s nothing wrong with walking away from jerks who want free work. Because, what do you think they’re going to want from you if they hire you?

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TheLadders’ Marc Cenedella: Burying the pig

Not content to promise more than he can deliver, and still happy to charge money for nothing (that you can’t get elsewhere for free), TheLadders’ CEO Marc Cenedella conducts an inspection of his members with his latest missive:

“So my colleagues here at TheLadders and I want to make your job search strategy as attractive as you are as a professional. We want to help you emphasize what makes you a better person for the position than all the other applicants — your search should be as special as you are.

“Are you doing the most to make yourself stand out? Are you taking the right steps to make yourself more attractive?”

Translation: Why haven’t you turned yourself out as a job slut, using the visual aids we recently put on TV?

PigBut then Cenedella pushes them into a big, dark, deep hole in the ground:

“If you’ve been looking for a job recently, you’ve discovered the ugly truth: job boards are broken.

“They don’t work, they don’t help, and they aren’t getting you where you need to go. Sure it sounds nice in theory — making it so easy to apply to jobs for anybody from anywhere at any time.”

Gimme a break. TheLadders is a job board! Cenedella smears lipstick on his customers and tells them to whore themselves out, tries to paint his own job board another color, then he tells you he’s the one honest pimp on the street, but don’t mind the kaka on his shoes while he steps all over his competitors… and shoves your job search into his money pit. Keep reading his e-mails and you’ll get used to the smell… Hey, many in HR have gotten used to it. That’s how TheLadders survives.

I shouldn’t waste my time (or yours) on TheLadders, but The Cynical Girl (aka, Laurie Ruettimann, who started, then killed, the provocative PunkRockHR) just slapped TheLadders silly (TheLadders is the single biggest piece of crap) on her new blog, and she sticks the pig with panache. Laurie sez:

“If you are a recruiter or HR professional who cannot find talented workers without using a chump-ass job board like The Ladders… If you are a job seeker and you want to earn $100,000 or more, don’t throw good money after bad… skip The Ladders… don’t be a dumbass.”

Sorry, M.C., but no matter how you try to dress it up, your pig is just another job board.

Who else is calling out TheLadders, and calling out the dumbasses that use it? You might wonder why few pundits are talking about what TheLadders is doing. It’s simple: TheLadders buys their silence with sponsorships and ad campaigns.

Example: During a radio appearance in March, 2010, I had a candid conversation with Brian Lehrer on New York Public Radio about Job-board scams, and we pointedly discussed the angry dissatisfaction of Ladders customers. Brian got a little nervous and suggested that he should bring TheLadders on the show to defend itself.

(In 2009, I appeared on WNYC several times, including for a weekly special summer series about job hunting. The series was so successful that WNYC rebroadcast the “best of Ask The Headhunter” while the Lehrer show was on summer hiatus.)

WNYC never got around to that debate between TheLadders and me, but I was never asked on again. Coincidence? Maybe. I do a lot of radio, and I know that scheduling is affected by all sorts of things. But, earlier today, an Ask The Headhunter “regular” pointed out to me that TheLadders is now a sponsor of WNYC public radio. Coincidence?

Maybe. But when I see almost 100 comments posted on an article about TheLadders: Job-board salary fraud?, and over 200 comments posted on an article about The Dope on TheLadders, and when Ladders customers clamor for investigations of the company by states attorneys general, I’ve gotta wonder… just how long can TheLadders keep the lid on this controversy and stay in business?

The answer to that is: Personnel Jockeys. Corporate HR departments continue to dump untold millions into TheLadders, mindlessly seeking “ONLY $100k+ candidates,” even though any sixth-grade math whiz could tell them that the baseline odds of finding such people is so small that dumpster-diving for them at TheLadders or in any other job board is a waste of money. (Actually, an experienced CFO has tried to explain this, too. But HR gets its advice from high-priced HR consultants who really, really believe in online job boards.)

Grave

Laurie Ruettimann is a respected, no-holds-barred practitioner, observer and critic of the recruiting/HR world who calls it as she sees it. But there’s little competition on the topic of TheLadders. The pundits who might speak up seem either reticent or terrified. Some of them have already been bought and shut down.

Then there are the “HR experts” — apologist fans like Kris Dunn, who regularly tout TheLadders as the second coming of True Recruiting: True Confession: I love TheLadders and The Ladders: Now Providing a Free, Continuous Posting To Every Recruiter In the World… But I think TheLadders is digging its own grave. (Sorry, Kris, but not every recruiter in the world wants to be buried in that database.)

So, Cynical Girl, welcome to the fray. This is actually an easy public service. You hold the bright light of public scrutiny in Marc Cenedella’s face, and watch the HR profession hand him the shovel while he digs this pig’s grave.

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We pay bonuses for showing up!

A reader sent this along today:

In an interview the other day, I asked about performance measurement and review.  The HR rep said salary (increases) is not for rewarding good performance.  Is this standard HR thinking? How and why?

Not everyone in HR deserves to get tarred with this story. But HR just amazes me. A few months ago we discussed, Why HR? We could start a list…

RaisesThis is another example of how the HR function is increasingly devoted to dumbing down the organization. To HR, salary increases are routine, based on longevity. You might as well be working for the government.

All I can say is, a company where the HR rep explains to job candidates that salary increases are not used to reward good performance is not a company I’d want to work for. I wonder if the board of directors is aware HR is handing out extra cash to people, just for showing up. Great way to “make your plan.”

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REJECT! How HR engineered its own funeral

We’ve been talking about the goofy behavior of HR departments in your favorite companies, and its counterproductive consequences. This topic seems to expand the more we talk about it.

In a recent thread reader Nic raises a fundamental question and puts a sharp point on the stick:

What I see taking place in these idiotic HR departments, especially during this economy, is the finding of every excuse under the sun NOT to interview someone. What is really going on?

It’s a simple thing, and it escapes virtually everyone’s attention. In companies across the country, HR is no longer in the hiring business. HR is in the rejection business, and for a very good reason:

HR solicits millions and millions of irrelevant resumes for a handful of open jobs.

Of course HR spends most of its time rejecting applicants. That’s because HR spends virtually all of its recruiting budget soliciting applicants who have no business applying for these jobs — except that HR asked them to.

RIP HRHR has planned its own funeral by engineering itself out of the recruiting and hiring business. HR is now all about picking millions of burrs out of its ass after sitting down in — no, change that, after buying its way into — the job-board weed patch. HR has surrounded itself with everyone it doesn’t want, and now it’s spending precious corporate dollars to get rid of what it bought.

HR’s chief function in corporate America has become to fund the job boards and the recruitment advertising industry. That’s why HR is in the rejection business. There is no other way for HR to deal with the masses of irrelevant, wrong, useless resumes and applications it pays billions of dollars to collect.

HR does indeed find every reason under the sun not to interview someone.  It must. What else is it going to do with the millions of zombies it invites to apply for jobs? This is a corporate funeral parlor, not a hiring office.

If you don’t want to join the walking dead after you submit your resume, don’t wander into the HR weed patch. Don’t let this be your funeral, too.

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Pissing on the applicant

In a private response to HR’s #1 job: Poisoning the well?, a reader sent me this question:

Is there any point in attempting to negotiate with thug companies that agree on a rate, say they’re going to extend an offer, then the offer comes in at 66% of what you thought was a done deal?

Forget about companies that poison their own well. That’s bad enough. This employer is pissing on the applicant.

My response:

If you are really ready to walk away anyway, push the paper back at them and say, “I’m ready to sign for the amount we agreed on. Not a penny less.”

You’ll learn quickly whether they’re really thugs. Then consider the rule my mentor taught me years ago: Never work with jerks.

I deleted a couple of more choice sentences in my reply to this reader, because I believe that no matter how ticked off you get at an employer or a headhunter, don’t ever go off. Bite your tongue. Swallow your bile. Until you get a chance to tell the story to someone else who might consider working for the jerk.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

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Readers’ Forum: HR’s #1 job: Poisoning the well?

In the August 24, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader says:

After being tested and interviewed by the senior vice president of a local company for a senior executive assistant position, they dropped off the planet and made no contact with me. I sent an e-mail to the VP enquiring why there had been no contact and the HR manager responded to me:  

“Your e-mail below was forwarded to my attention as [VP] is away.

“Please be advised that we had not yet concluded our recruitment effort for this position. I appreciate that waiting can be frustrating and you may have preferred more frequent contact during this process. It is our practice, however, upon completion of the interview process, to contact all applicants either once they are no longer being considered for the position or to make an offer. You had not been contacted yet because you were among those being seriously considered for this position.

“We have made an offer to a candidate today; therefore, this opportunity has now closed. Thank you for your interest in employment with [the employer]. We wish you well in your employment search.

“Thank you,
[HR Manager]”

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

If by employers you mean hiring managers, I think sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But what really matters is that hiring managers relinquish to HR their front-line interface to the professional community they recruit from (that’s you). In other words, hiring managers let HR make them look bad. They let HR make their company look bad.

This dismissive attitude — and this kind of behavior — is just one of the Stupid Hiring Mistakes employers make. Employers take note: How much time would it take an HR manager (or the hiring manager) to return a call from someone who took the time to apply for a job, attend an interview and take a test? Very little. It would have been a good investment for either manager.

It’s a safe guess that, like disgruntled customers who have been treated poorly by your company, this disgruntled job applicant will invest a bit more time — to poison your well by sharing their experience with others in the business. Including your customers.

Good luck with your next applicant, and with your next sales prospect. And good luck to the sucker that accepts your job offer, because bad behavior is pervasive, and Death by Lethal Reputation is slow and agonizing.

And to the reader who submitted this story: If the candidate who received the offer rejects it, and the company calls back to offer you the job, What’s your poison?

The person whose story is featured in today’s Q&A asks a very important question: Do employers know what HR is doing?

In general, I think not. I think the problem is pervasive. Does the board of directors know what HR is doing? Does the Public Relations department? Companies spend enormous sums to create good PR. Meanwhile, on a daily basis HR provokes the professional community from which a company recruits. Today’s Q&A is just one example. Maybe HR should report to PR for a while, until HR learns the impact of its behavior.

You’ve no doubt seen employers thoughtlessly poison their own wells during the recruiting and hiring process. Please share your stories. I think employers just don’t get it. And they need to hear it.

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Stupid interview animals: No soap, RADIO!

MediaBistro led me to the latest career advice in Fortune.com’s Ask Annie column: Employer’s Wacky Interview Questions. I don’t know what’s wackier: the questions, or that Annie Fisher really believes that the mission of career advisors is to come up with clever answers for them.

Get this question from an Ask Annie reader:

Yesterday an interviewer asked me, “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?” I was so surprised that it took me a few minutes to come up with an answer. I said I was like a dog, “loyal to a fault” — which made sense, since I stayed with my last employer for 17 years, despite having had other offers — but I couldn’t really tell from his reaction if that was a good response or not.

A good response? About what animal you would be?

Fisher answers with an anecdote to encourage confused job candidates to play guessing games:

J.P. Hansen, president of Omaha-based Hansen Executive Search, was once asked the Barbara Walters-esque what-animal-would-you-be question in a job interview. His answer: A jaguar. Why? Hansen explained that “the jaguar is very versatile, able to patiently wait for its prey for hours on end, then pounce with lightning speed and grace. Plus, it’s a cool car!” The hiring manager who was quizzing him smiled, reached into her purse, and pulled out her car keys — with a Jaguar emblem on the key chain. Hansen got the job.

What luck! Another winning answer to one of the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions!

Next, Hansen explains the “strategy” behind these idiotic queries:

“The job market is so tight right now, with so many candidates available whose backgrounds and qualifications are so similar to one another, that some hiring managers try to find an ‘aha!’ moment where they can trip you up, or get you to reveal something you didn’t plan to say,” he says.

Aha! The interviewer doesn’t know what the F she’s doing, so she tries to trip the job applicant with… Do you walk to school or carry your lunch (heh-heh…)?

Since there is no way to predict what you might be asked, how do you prepare? Hansen… says job seekers need to go into interviews with enough confidence to handle any wacky question that might come up. The only way to get that confidence: Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Prepare what? A Noah’s Ark of rejoinders that might reflect the pets (or cars) that some wacky interviewer owns? Fisher wraps up the article with a plug for Hansen’s book about interview animals. The caution to job hunters is clear: You’d better stock up on interviewer-approved answers to dumb-ass questions, or you’re not going to get hired. And here’s a book full of ’em…!

Is it any wonder employers think there’s a talent shortage during the biggest glut of unemployed talent in American history?

  • There just aren’t enough job applicants who know what animal they want to be!
  • Today’s job hunters just haven’t got a heh-heh clever explanation for their greatest weakness, and,
  • They can’t tell you where the hell they see themselves in five years (as though the company in question is likely to be in business in five years…)

Like most of life’s mysteries, Why should I hire you? has a Zen sort of “best answer.” That is, another question: The most important question in an interview:

“Would you like me to show you how I can help increase your profits if you hire me to do this job?”

If the interviewer doesn’t get that, you walk. Imagine taking a job with a dope who hires you because your answer is a match to the keys in her purse. Lotsa luck. My good buddy Nancy Austin explains it simply: Beyond the Trick Question. (Her article includes a hiring manager with a lu-lu of a Stupid Interview Question of his own.) Nancy’s article is all you need to know to interview like an adult.

But Fisher and Hansen need to consult the nearest ten-year-old who knows the joke about the trick question. (HR execs, please pay close attention.) Most kids are exposed to this famous childhood gotcha, and are thereby innoculated against embarrassing themselves later in life. This joke is told in a group, where one kid is set up as the sucker by the others, who all know the story:

The Joke: Two elephants are sitting in a bathtub, scrubbing away. One elephant pauses and cries out to the other, “Pass the soap!” And the other elephant shouts back, “No soap! RADIO!”

All the kids burst out laughing at the hilarious rejoinder and they slap one another on the back with glee. The sucker in the group cracks up, too and exclaims how funny it is — only to be mocked by the rest because there is no joke.

The story and the rejoinder are nonsense, of course; designed to determine whether the kid is so desperate to “belong” that he’ll suspend his common sense, his honesty and his integrity. Just like the foolish job applicant who goes along with the even more foolish hiring manager — both suckered by some “career expert” who is clueless about how to have an intelligent discussion about the work at hand.

Even ten-year-olds get it. An entire industry — the career industry — continues to embarrass itself by trying to con job hunters and hiring managers into pretending they’re silly elephants sitting in a tub.

This is no joke. It’s time to grow up and interview like adults.

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