Thursday, June 4, 2009

Are Employers Being Too Picky?

This WSJ article confirms what's I've been hearing from job seekers over the last few months: Employers are getting too picky in their hiring.

Here's the introduction to the article:

Melissa & Doug LLC, a fast-growing toy maker in Wilton, Conn., puts applicants through an interview process so grueling that one job seeker says she left in tears and felt psychologically traumatized.

Candidates must bring their lunch -- plus three years of W-2 statements. They spend hours on simulated work tasks, several with tight deadlines. They complete a lengthy survey, where they rank their interest in chores such as fixing a leaky faucet and changing the fax machine's toner. Some prospects walk out right after the all-day screening starts.

I'm hearing of employers letting positions go unfilled because the perfect hire is always right around the corner, and the applicants they do eventually hire are being put through interview after interview. What's interesting to me is that companies don't seem to realize the extent to which applicants are assessing them, too.

Years ago, I went through rounds of interviews for a sales job at a small firm. It was a job that would have offered me a terrific starting salary that was more than I'd ever earned in my life. On the surface, the job seemed like a hard one to turn down, if it were offered to me.

My first stop was an interview with the hiring manager, who I knew tangentially through a mutual friend. It went well. A few days later, I was asked to come back to meet the head sales manager in his office. I sat across from him as he asked me general questions about my sales background while simultaneously scanning spreadsheets for each sales person's up-to-the-minute metrics. I got a weird feeling.

Next, I was asked to come to the "Fun Day Monday" meeting the following Monday at 7:30 a.m., where I sat through the weekly staff meeting with my potential coworkers. It was an odd experience to sit with people I've never met, but might work with. The owner and his wife, who also worked for the firm, were both there, too. I remember them saying how important it is to get an early start to the day. There was an awkward silence around the table. The stress level was palpable.

Afterward, I was told to shadow one of the sales guys, who seemed very nice. I sat with him in his cubicle and watched him make cold calls. It turned out that on Monday mornings -- er, "Fun Day Mondays" -- the sales team had a cold call competition. A manager kept a running sales tally on a big white board, and walked around encouraging people to make more calls. The manager rang a bell every time someone made a sale. The salesperson who made the most sales in a two-hour period won something. I don't remember what, exactly.

What I do remember is watching the sales guy I shadowed. His cheeks were red and sweat dotted his forehead. He talked about how he had brought work home that weekend so he could have leads ready for Fun Day Monday. He mentioned, almost in passing, that his wife had hoped he'd take care of some projects in the yard instead of working on his prospect list. His right leg bounced up and down nervously as he made calls. He left a lot of voice mails. I didn't ask if he liked working there. I already knew the answer, and I didn't want to add to the poor guy's stress level.

I was offered the job the next day and I turned it down. The hiring manager seemed to think I was crazy for walking away from such a great opportunity. I know this because our mutual friend told me. Later, I heard things about this company that confirmed my doubts.

Applicants are observing a workplace in action when they're put through these multi-stage interviews and they're looking for anything that doesn't add up. While employers are busy pondering fit, applicants are busy wondering, "Would I really want to work here, based on what I'm seeing?" As I found out, sometimes it's the things that aren't said that offer the most insight.

Multi-stage interviews actually open employers up to a higher level of scrutiny, and employers who use this hiring strategy would be wise to think about the vibes they're giving off.


  1. I myself have noticed that during a couple of recent interviews, I could sense that the expectations where larger then what the position really required. These are jobs that in the past I would have nailed, but I can't compete with ex directors applying to management positions or people with 20+ years experience in my field that are still relatively young. (I'm young too but with an average amount of experience). I'm also noticing that the employer, instead of interviewing a top 3-4 candidates, is interviewing closer to 10 people, knowing that during a recession, they can find their ideal person..whoever that is.

  2. I don't normally reply to people's blogs that I do not know, but the previous post seems dead on. I've been on several interviews...really good interviews that I thought I nailed for entry-level positions. Since they were all relatively well-known and successful companies, I got a strong sense they were looking for people way way above and beyond what the position actually required. Like the previous poster said, these are jobs I was somewhat perfectly qualified for and would have got say, maybe 2 or 3 years ago. But today... I'm not exactly sure what exactly employers are really looking for anymore.

  3. ...nor should be give two s$#ts.

    Once the recession ends and employees start moving within and around other jobs these picky employers worlds and companies will come crashing down around them and all because they were too fussy and had the upper hand during a recession.


  4. So true..I completed a phone interview with a "bailed out" bank and was told that despite my qualifications, the fact that I didn't have X Y and Z reporting experience..I was told that my candidacy for this opening was done. What amazed me more in the end was that this reporting experience was the only reason why I was passed up. Of course the fact that nowhere in my resume were these reports listed and I was given the false hope interview ---really steamed me as to the pickiness. Also on more entry level positions that would usually go to high schollers or college students, there's a fear that "professionals" applying to these positions will leave the next day because of our credentials, so therefore we are passed up yet again. As much as pundits make it look like we're asking for hand-outs --the more stupid they sound. All we want is to make a living so that we can meet our obligations, but when lower level employers fear the exodus of professional candidates and get passed up for more lower flight risk candidates and on the other side we can't get hired because of something that's as silly as asking for a left handed candidate and disqualifying all right handers --where are we to find a wage to get us through these tough times. I've seen re-posts of positions where I've recieved the ususal "thank you but no thank you" response to my job applications. --Can't figure this job market out.

  5. June 21, 2010 anonymous: Hang in there! I wish you luck in your search.

    It will be very interesting in a few years to see how companies pay for the ways they dealt with applicants in 2009-10 (not getting back to applicants, multiple rounds of interviewing with no job offer at the end, etc.). After all, the hiring market will pick up at some point and swing back in favor of employees, forcing companies to scramble to fill seats. But will applicants who were treated badly circle back around? I'm not sure, but I can't wait to see how companies address their past hiring sins.

    1. I have only been unemployed for 2 months, but I've had 3 interviews where I was a more than qualified choice for the desired quals, and I've been passed up.
      The writing is on the wall--I am giving up on this currently ridiculous game. I am working for myself.

      I have Googled and reviewed the Linkedin profiles of people that have interviewed me. They are judging me much harder than they were judged themselves to work there.

      Some truth I've never shared in an interview:
      People hire people like themselves, and that's why
      (a) truly diverse workplaces don't actually exist
      (b) when companies go down the toilet it's all their own fault for rewarding bad behavior and abusing productive people.