More Nonsense in the Press About Hiring as War ....

March 28, 2008

One of the reasons that hiring is so frustratingly difficult is the enduring view that it is a zero-sum game of war between employers and candidates where the spoils go to the most cunning and devious.

To illustrate, last week the Globe and Mail’s Career Section published a feature article called “The Enemy Across the Table’ in which ‘career coach’ and author Cynthia Shapiro provides strategies for candidates to outsmart interviewers. A former HR executive, Ms. Shapiro argues that because personnel managers (her term, not mine) are swamped with resumes they look to reduce their work load by quickly and efficiently eliminating unwanted candidates. They make hiring managers complicit by training them “to be friendly and smile and pretend they are the candidate’s best friend in order to get them to open up and reveal anything that can disqualify them”. She also cautions that many employers have biases and ‘secret criteria’ for the kind of candidate they want and don’t want. As she explains, ‘Potentially interview-ending revelations are whether you have kids or plan to have them, whether you have health issues, and whether there is a termination or major bad work experience in your past’. Since employers cannot legally probe directly on these issues, they bait and/or trick candidates to volunteer the information. They plant family photos on their desks to stimulate discussion, or casually comment on their own sore backs in an effort to ‘out’ candidates who empathize by commenting on their own health issues.

Ms. Shapiro argues that the only way to counter these conniving employer tactics is to beat them at their own game. She advises candidates to ‘only put your best foot forward’, and to never say anything ‘about anything that might raise an issue’. She goes on with other nuggets such as, ‘make sure everything you say has a positive spin’ and ‘always have a happy ending to any story you tell’. Candidates should furthermore always stay on message and if they do not know the answer to a question, they should change the subject. Finally, candidates should never, ever admit they were fired. They may well have been ‘resigned’ from their last job but the focus should always be on the lessons going forward.

It is disappointing that the Globe and Mail considers such a perspective worthy of the front page of their career section, if for no other reason that so many people will read it. This overly simplistic, negative drivel is a bookstore staple of the same self-help genre as ‘Secrets to Landing Your Dream Spouse’. In both cases, while the lies and deception may get you to the altar I would not bet on your living or working happily ever after.