Recently I began a new position at an awesome company. They were quick to make a decision, transparent during the application process, and smart and strategic in the way they handled the interviews. Their actions told me they valued me and my time. So when the job offer arrived I didn’t need to inquire about the company culture. I could already tell it would be a great fit.
Why is this remarkable? It follows a string of less than stellar experiences with potential employers whose exhausting applications made me think twice about working there. Numerous friends have also recounted their job search woes, investing huge amounts of time and effort in interviews, only to be ghosted by the company or discover the open position had been eliminated.
Searching for a job can be torturous during normal times. Adding the pandemic to the mix didn’t help. It’s a lot easier to ghost someone who you’ve never met in person. And with large numbers of candidates vying for increasing numbers of remote postings, competition can be fierce. The privileged position of employers has made too many companies tone-deaf to the realities of the current job seeker. Many companies demand drawn-out, multi-step interview processes that seem like a job in and of themselves.
Job seeking during COVID comes with an increasingly convoluted and sometimes lengthy hiring process. Although many hiring managers adopted virtual strategies to reduce the length of time to hire over the past year, they’ve added tasks and tests to the evaluation process. In addition to standard interviews, common requirements include skills and personality tests, group panel interviews, candidate presentations, and background tests. So if you feel like you’re jumping through more hoops to prove yourself than you had in the past, you’re not imagining it.
And that’s if a real job even exists at all. Some industries are required to post job listings for the sake of transparency even though they already have the desired candidate in mind. Some companies hedge their bets or go through the motions whether or not they are actually serious about specific candidates or the hiring process. Job seekers, too, can play the game. As one recruiter recently put it, the job interview process has become a kind of “employment theater” with interviewers asking scripted questions to a candidate waiting to give performative answers. Honesty and human connection often become casualties of this process.
Over time I’ve come to realize that how a company treats you during the interview process shows a lot about the company culture.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you go through the application process.
Does the company value your time?
Whether or not you are currently employed, you have better things to do than create presentations for non-existent or irrelevant positions. Recently a company recruiter asked me to propose a new branding strategy before even setting up an interview with the hiring manager. During the interview, the manager admitted she’d only glanced at my CV and it was clear she had specific requirements in mind which differed from my own experience. Had she taken a few minutes to review my background, she could have seen this wasn’t the right fit. But because she prioritized her own time, she had no qualms about wasting mine.
Are their expectations reasonable?
You can tell a lot about a company from the length and complexity of the hiring process. Some places take several months, requiring candidates to interview with multiple people, prepare a business plan/presentation, as well as to pitch and explain their work. While there is no hard and fast rule about a reasonable process, if the application process feels like a second job, you can bet the company leaders’ expectations are over the top. Not to mention the fact that requiring excessive homework penalizes people with kids and/or day jobs who may have less time to prepare. Often these are older candidates with more experience and may put them at a disadvantage compared to younger peers.
What do they do with your ideas?
Job interviews are totally unregulated. When potential employers ask you to make a presentation, offer feedback, or express your opinion they enjoy the advantage of a hivemind feeding them valuable ideas. These are free for the company, whereas they represent your sweat equity. But there is nothing to stop a company from using or implementing the best ideas, whether or not they actually hire the candidate.
There are a few ways for companies to ease your mind. One is to ask you to solve a previously solved problem. Not only can this ensure that employment tests don’t become free labor, but it can initiate an interesting discussion as they compare your solution to theirs. Another method is to ask you to critique an existing solution, rather than fully redesign or suggest an alternative. A related strategy asks you to submit rough ideas or sketches, or offer general direction to solve a problem, rather than creating a finalized presentation. The overall scope should feel like you are showcasing your thought process, rather than doing the work for them.
The interview process is a direct reflection of company culture. Other, seemingly small details speak volumes.
- Did they ask when you have time for the assignment, or did they drop it on you suddenly, with a tight deadline?
- How clear and communicative are they?
Do your homework before you apply
Respectful organizations clarify the steps of the interview process, as well as how long each should take. They offer salary ranges upfront, so you know if the role is even relevant. Companies that require a great deal of prep work upfront while regularly withholding job offers may have a bad reputation. Make sure you check social media and review sites to ensure this is not a company technique. If you have the ability to choose, look for companies with timely and transparent practices that acknowledge your time and efforts, and offer constructive feedback to improve your performance next time.
Always remember that interviews are a two-way street. Job assignments are your opportunity to assess the company as well. You need to figure out if you want to devote the bulk of your waking hours to this new company and team. And while you’re the one in the hot seat, steering discussions to be more conversational can go a long way towards creating an atmosphere of mutual respect.
If enough candidates approach the hiring process this way, companies may begin to shed the theatrics and restore much-needed authenticity to interview processes.
Jenny Drezin is the VP of Marketing at Inception XR.