Ask a stupid question….

Applying for jobs is hard work and particularly so if you’re graduating in the current environment. It is hard for other groups too, I know, but it isn’t that many years since I was coming out of University and trying to get my foot on the career ladder. So I have a lot of sympathy.

Job seeking is a pretty soulless process. Time consuming, expensive, depressing and often fruitless. But you have to keep going and you have to keep positive. Despite the stupid application forms you need to complete, the ridiculous processes that are created, despite the, oh so clever, questions you have to answer.

Because yes, that question that you wrote that you thought would sort the creative wheat from the non-creative chaff is being met at best with an eye-roll and at worst with utter contempt. As one job applicant said recently to me, “[it] makes me feel like I’m not being taken seriously as a hard-working student who wants to show my skills and talents”.

Seriously, have you looked at your recruitment process from the other side of the fence? Sure there may be more candidates than there are jobs, for now. But does that make the applicants less human? I’m not talking about candidate journey – there are recruitment bloggers out there who will cover the subject much better than me. I’m talking about common decency and respect.

If you ask a candidate to complete pages and pages of answers as part of their graduate application, don’t you think you should show them a little respect back? If you’re going to ask them question after question, then at least make them relevant to the applicants and respectful of the time, hard work and financial commitment that they have already put in just to be deemed worthy to complete your process.

We all need to make selection decisions, of course. But can the candidate see the relevance of it and do they feel that they are being judged on criteria that feel fair and transparent?

“Describe a unique experience you’ve had over the last year” (are you testing me on my descriptive abilities or the quality of my experiences?)

“Where would you like to be in 5 years time?” (geographically, existentially or financially?)

“Why do you want this job?” (because medical science rejected my body and a corporate career was all that was left open to me)

So yes, ask questions, pull your application processes together, design your assessment centres, do the do. But try to put yourself in the candidate’s position too. This probably won’t be the only job they’re applying for, they’ve seen hundreds of similar processes. Make it relevant, make it easy for them to shine and make it reflect well on you, both in the short-term and for your longer brand perception.

I still have all the rejection letters that I received, somewhere in a file….I’m not against grudge bearing….I know who you are…..


  1. Lola. · February 6, 2013

    Reblogged this on She Blogs HR.

  2. vickedness · February 7, 2013

    Reading this was like taking a quick journey in the past, when i was applying for jobs in IND ;o)

    • Neil · March 10, 2013

      I take it HR stupidity doesn’t recognise international boundaries then!

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  4. Linda Aspey · February 28, 2013

    I agree Neil. Having come from a recruitment consultancy background some 25 years ago (and fired for spending too long with candidates on their career discussions!) I think the whole recruitment process is frequently disrespectful, even humiliating.

    Would we go up to a stranger at a party or business meeting and ask where they wanted to be in 5 years’ time? Of course not. Even if they told us they were looking for a job. It’s intrusive.
    Stupid question anyway. I haven’t got a clue where I’ll be in 5 years’ – why should I expect anyone else to? Fine maybe if I’m hiring the next visionary world leader, but let’s face it folks, most of the time we’re not.

    And as for employers that somehow have the budget to advertise jobs at great expense or hire in innovative assessment processes yet don’t have the decency to put a system in place to respond to all applications, not just the ones they select for interview – well they infuriate me. I’ve sat with many a dejected, frustrated, demoralised job seeker just desperate for an acknowledgement from, well just ANYONE, that they’re a real human being, worthy of a reply. It costs so little in comparison to the value that a sensitively, well wriiten reply gives to the individual – and to the reputation of the organisation.

    So please employers do as Neil suggests – put yourself (or your partner, son, daughter, parent, or best mate) in the shoes of the hopeful job seeker. Take a look at your recruitment interactions through their eyes. You might find it really enlightening.

  5. Rebecca Summerson · March 3, 2013

    This is me now applying for undergraduate placements! All questions are similar and stretch on for four or five pages!

    • Neil · March 10, 2013

      And then you just get a standard letter if you’re rejected? Because that’s fair…..

      • Rebecca Summerson · March 10, 2013

        Oh no, I went to assessment centre and other people didn’t hear a thing, then got an interview and people from assessment centre didn’t hear anything then I haven’t heard from the interview, so if you’re not successful through each round or at all a lot of places don’t even say anything so you just have to wait around then assume you weren’t successful!

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  7. Rachel · July 28, 2013

    This is why I never apply for jobs through any company’s HR dept. They’re generally staffed by people that don’t appreciate the difference between recruitment and selection. Their whole outlook is that hiring is just just one-way traffic, and that the only party that has a decision to make is them. In their mind, you will of course just gratefully accept any job the may choose to offer, and will put up with any amount of presmptuous and idiotic questioning to allow them to make their decision. “Where do you want to be in five years’ time?” is a classic example of the sort of unimaginative and meaningless brain farts these people come out with. “Tell me all about yourself” is another. Generally speaking, I find it better just to apply for work through agencies, and then only if any interview is with the actual hiring manager that I would be working for. Anything else would only be a waste of my time, and would merely represent a test for the ability to tolerate fools that I’m happy to admit I don’t have.

    • Neil · July 28, 2013

      That’s putting it mildly…..thanks for the comment!

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