Shutterstock.com

Demeaning Job Interviews And Bullying Bosses Are Still Far Too Common

The selection process should not be a Darwinian exercise in survival of the fittest.

It is that dreaded moment near the end of a job interview when, having more or less kept your composure for the previous half hour, you are invited to turn the tables and come up with an insightful, pertinent question.

And is there anything you’d like to ask us?

In her recent and now notorious job interview, it is possible that Olivia Bland, 22, from Manchester, would have been tempted to ask: “Why are you such an arsehole?”

We should exercise a little caution before condemning Oldham-based Web Applications UK and its chief executive, Craig Dean, out of hand. Only a handful of people were in the room for this interview. The CEO has apologised publicly for the distress he caused. And the company says it has carried out an investigation into the episode and believes “no bullying or intimidation occurred”.

This is not how Bland sees it. In her account, posted online, she says she was criticised for her posture and demeanour over a two-hour session. She says she was asked intrusive questions about her parents’ relationship. She says she was told she was an “under-achiever” – although she has a first-class degree and is still only 22 years old. When she entered the room, she says Dean was studying her Spotify playlists, passing comments on her taste in music.

This is not normal. This is not how you should conduct a job interview with anyone, let alone a young graduate just starting out in working life. The company says that this was “a robust, multi-stage interview, which included simulating challenging, work-based scenarios, designed to help identify the best candidate for the role. This particular candidate excelled during the interview and responded positively to the feedback.”

Bland says she was almost in tears during this “multi-stage interview”, and was indeed crying by the time she got to the bus stop. When she was later offered the job she at first accepted, but on reflection turned it down forcefully, sharing her response on Twitter and setting off the media storm which continues today.

Serious flaws in the system

Job interviews can be a bit of a lottery at the best of times. Managers still place a great deal of faith in them. But the evidence suggests they are a seriously flawed way of finding out how a potential employee might perform in the future.

Job interviewers are naturally prone to prejudices and biases, being attracted to “mini-mes” who perhaps remind the interviewer of his or her younger self. An unstructured interview might reveal some worthwhile information, but very well may not. Even in a more structured process extroverts may talk a good game but will never amount to anything more once they are in post. Introverts meanwhile may fail to sell themselves, keeping their true abilities and potential hidden.

Dean, it seems, was trying to simulate a challenging, pressurised working environment. But it sounds like it was highly artificial – not to mention weird. For most jobs this method will not really reveal anything useful. Indeed, it has cost him the services of a great person who thought she wanted to work there.

Too often I’ve seen companies that say they seek “resilience” and only want the “strong” to survive as a cover for a culture that treats employees badly. The tough and desperate may survive. But a lot of talented people will not stick around.

Job interviewers should be trying to spot potential and adaptability. A candidate is unlikely to be the finished product. New recruits will take many weeks to adjust to a new working environment before they can perform at their best.

I was struck by something the actor and director Samuel West wrote about auditioning people in a recent piece for The Stage newspaper. He said that when casting a show he did not want “immediate perfection”. What he is looking for are “talent, niceness and rightness for the part, in that order … I can think of nothing worse than casting somebody because they gave a perfect audition, then discovering they’re unable to change it in any way.”

Power imbalance

Every encounter with a boss, whether in a job interview or in the ordinary run of things, has the potential to go wrong. This is because of the inevitable power imbalance between the two parties. Hierarchy is not dead. But jobs can be hard enough without bullying and intimidation. The sort of experience described by Olivia Bland – which the company says it is satisfied did not constitute unfair treatment – is far too common in workplaces.

Millennials, in particular, are at the rough end of this – even as they struggle to pay off student loans and keep up with high rent payments. These pressures combine to produce what some have labelled “millennial burnout”.

Workplaces should be safe and productive – even happy at times. But sometimes it feels as if progress has stalled. It is now 70 years since Arthur Miller wrote his play Death of a Salesman, about Willy Loman, the long-serving but failing travelling salesman. In a brutal scene the young company boss – the son of the founder for whom Loman had also worked – dismisses the old man with the glib observation that “business is business”. Loman, exhausted, protests: “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away – a man is not a piece of fruit!”

Bosses need to understand that it’s not just them interviewing us – it’s a two-way process. Workers who are denied basic dignity will fight back, both offline and online, as Web Applications UK have discovered.

The Conversation

This post originally appeared at The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.