When is a Company Too Innovative for Its Own Good?

Maybe when it invites you to send a cartoon character in your place for a job interview.

According to Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, that’s basically what employers like consulting firm Bain & Company, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Verizon are experimenting with. The companies are hosting job recruitment events on Second Life, an "online digital world" that’s somewhat reminiscent of the popular "Sims" computer game — except in Second Life, you walk around as your own character, or "avatar," interact with other users all over a huge map (some of which is modeled after real brick-and-mortar places), and spend real money (that's right, like the green kind).

And now, some big companies are playing with the idea of hiring in Second Life, which is kind of like a game, kind of like a culty digital world, and is definitely at least a little weird. My question is, why would you want to recruit employees in a computerized plane, where they "show up" as cartoony characters with funny names and answer questions via IM? Is this really the best way to scout talent and take on folks with hotly demanded interpersonal skills?

A Microsoft interview - WSJ Online

The pros, says WSJ’s Anjali Athavaley, are that it shows the companies' progressive edge, busy execs can "attend," and it's cheaper than setting up real-life events (which I can believe, having attended more than one corporate recruiting event at which mountains of lovely hors d'oeuvres went noticeably uneaten — you can furtively eye the mini eggrolls, but you can't schmooze with one).

Cheap you can't really argue with, but what about the waste of time futzing with superfluous software? Dressing your little avatar in a pantsuit doesn't represent the kind of tech savvy necessary (or even desirable?) for a job, unless the job is … designing avatars. And while it's peachy that execs can "attend" a digital meeting, someone needs to explain to me why companies that staff employees all over the world can't dispatch one to a real-life auditorium for 30 minutes.

There are other cons the article mentions: The cyber interview "isn't as personal as a traditional interview." Oh, really? I think it's slightly silly that on-campus recruiters expect your typical college student to whip out a smart $300 suit for an interview at school, but I'm going to go ahead and say that this is still better than the virtual alternative, in which, for example, you could fish for your resume and accidentally hand your interviewer a beer, as happened to one virtual job seeker.

I promise I have a good sense of humor (I too found the cyber faux pas, like job seekers floating above their chairs air mid-interview, to be hilarious). But it's hard to understand why a company would prefer a digital chat over a flesh-and-blood meeting, even if interviewees are (duh) more comfortable from behind a keyboard.

Athavaley likens companies' use of Second Life to their much reported-on use of Facebook to stealthily scope out possible hires, but it's just not an apt comparison. With 7.47 million (slightly off) users who troll a digital universe, Second Life is not at all a Facebook, on which over 24 million users, mostly college age, post personal information (and often, ridiculously incriminating party photos). Scanning for bad stuff on Facebook profiles is smart for employers, regardless of students' complaints (lock your profile!). Scanning for hires on Second Life is begging for couch potatoes to come work at your firm.

Now, I'm just as techy and progressive as the next gal, but Second Life hiring is really stupid. That's right, I said it — hello, prospective employers, I just called your new hiring practice stupid. See you in the fall.

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