In Search Of Job Application Middle Ground

I’ve been filling out a lot of job applications for a while now. While I have been to the odd job fair or other event where I hand out resumes and try to meet face-to-face and maybe fill out a quick application by hand, let’s get real – 99% of it these days is done online.

What I’m seeing is two extremes, with damn little room in between. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I can’t help but wonder if the place I’m looking for to get my foot in the door isn’t a place in that sweet spot.

On the one hand, there are plenty of places (through Linkedin or any of the dozens or hundreds of job search engines) where it’s not much more than a one-click  submission. Attach a PDF copy of your resume and click the button. Presto-chango! You’ve applied for the job! You may or may not (bet on “not”) even get an email acknowledging your submission, and 99% of the time you’ll never, ever hear anything back. I have gotten actual responses and even an interview or two from these, but they’re few and far between.

Out at the other extreme, there are places (usually national, big-name companies) that have the most long, drawn-out, odious application processes known to man. These things aren’t job applications, they’re endurance tests. In almost every case I’ve seen, the exact same form is used whether you’re applying for a CFO position or for a graveyard shift janitorial position.

Let me be blunt – that’s a joke. It means that someone in HR isn’t doing their job, or the HR department has been taken over by a deadly infestation of lawyers.

Inevitably these ordeal applications have questions which are totally inapplicable to anyone looking for a management position. I had one for a major hotel chain that wanted to know my high school GPA, the names of three teachers for references, and so on. (I graduated from high school over 40 years ago, I’m not sure how many of my teachers are still alive, I’m not sure how many live ones would remember me, and since I haven’t been in contact with any of them in over 40 years, how could they be a reliable reference?)

Next they wanted to know all of the details for my last five jobs. The assumption here is obviously that everyone moves from job to job every year or so, if that. But I was at my last job for 27 years. To get to my fifth job back in time, you’re talking about the part-time job I had as a junior in high school, busing tables and washing dishes at the Howard Johnsons off of I-89 in central Vermont. Who was my supervisor and what’s their current address and phone number? How in hell should I know?

Best of all, these kinds of applications from hell usually won’t let you put something in such as “Not Applicable” or “None.” The form has spaces to be filled in and damn it you can’t go on to the next page until it’s all filled in completely! And don’t try to put 555-1212 or 867-5309 in there for the phone number…

So in order to simply move forward in the process, there’s no option but to make up answers and try to make them convincing. Or at least, convincing enough to fool the ‘bot running the program. I guess it’s sort of like a CAPTCHA system for job applications, but with a sadistic twist.

And then they want you to swear that everything’s accurate and true, because if it’s not and they find out, they’ll fire you!

If you don’t realize that there are different questions for different types of jobs and job applicants, you’re not living in the same reality I am. It’s not a matter of discrimination or profiling or equality – it’s a matter of common sense. When your last job had a mid-six figure salary and you can only answer the question in terms of “how much did you make an hour and how many hours a week did you work” and there aren’t “legal” answers that fit, you’re doing a lousy job.

Which brings me to my final point on the application from hell procedure – do I really want to work for a company where the first contact I have with them is this kind of nonsense with zero flexibility or common sense? There are only about six places that I would answer “yes” to that question. NASA. JPL. SpaceX. The KC Chiefs. The LA Angels. Virgin Galactic.

Somewhere out there is that middle ground. More than just point and click, less than the Bataan Death March. A way to get a decent first estimate on the question, “Could this person maybe do a good job?” If no, then a polite, “Thanks, but no thanks.” If yes, then a follow-up, with some personal contact, common sense, and the flexibility to ask intelligent questions which could vary depending on the job, the applicant, and even the answers to the earlier questions.

I know there will be folks who say, “You can’t do that! There are too many applicants! You must have a computer or a system to quickly cut down the firehose of applications to a trickle of good candidates!” Perhaps, but if you’re going to do that, maybe you could get a program or system that isn’t totally useless, inflexible, and

Get to know me. Let me get to know you. Maybe the job is so over my head that I don’t stand a prayer. Maybe I’m so overqualified that it’s a waste of my time to show up every day. Maybe I’m perfect but you can only pay 1/3 of what I made before. Maybe you want me to move to Texas or Syria. Maybe you’re a startup with a bunch of millenials in their 20’s and an old fart like me wouldn’t fit in. Maybe you’re a startup with a bunch of millenials in their 20’s and you’ll be amazed that I love Amanda Palmer and EDM and Linkin Park and you need that old fart with decades of experience to give you a heads up when you’re going off the rails.

None of this means that either of us will find each other perfect, or even acceptable. But it might.

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Filed under Death Of Common Sense, Job Hunt, Paul

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