I interviewed with a company in September of this year, and when asked the classic question, “Why do you want to work for us?” I flat-out said that the salespeople are not dicks like they used to be. When the recruiter’s head shot up from her notepad, indicating that I may have crossed a line, I added, “Sorry, my uncle used to work here, and that’s what he told me.”
I say this to illuminate what is wrong with the job process, not what you may think is wrong with me. In this moment, I told the truth, with the absence of “dicks” from the salesforce being only one part of my overall answer. I was, however, almost immediately required to rescind what I had said. I felt the need to explain myself—to explain my authenticity.
You may think that my answer is totally unprofessional and, in some aspects, I would agree with you. But the way I answered the question reflects what I am in everyday life: straightforward and honest. Based on the recruiter’s response, these two characteristics were not welcomed traits. It was disheartening.
In my attempt at getting a more comprehensive and truthful look at the job recruiting process, I interviewed current and former job-seeking students to obtain their thoughts on the process. The first was Daniel Yu, MCAS ’19.
“You say what needs to be said and say what they want to hear,” he said. “In terms of other industries [not finance], people value your input, and things will only get done if intentions are genuine. What they [finance companies] are looking for is someone who can spit information back to them.”
A similar sentiment was echoed throughout the days I collected this data, but this is where I need to draw the line: Employers are interviewing all wrong, and job-seekers, with the ease of electronic resume submission and cover-letter generators, are taking advantage of the process in their attempt at maximizing utility. The individual and the company are both going to end up hurt in the process, and the workforce is going to be worse off in the future: Like-minded people and companies aren’t pairing up anymore because of the overly-competitive nature of the job culture. Isaiah Cyprien, CSOM ’19, offered additional insight.
“In that original moment as you meet the interview team, you decide whether or not you can be your true self,” he said. “It is a gut feeling. In being that true self, you will then understand whether or not that will position you to get the job. Students try to match a perceived gap if they do not align well with the interviewer or company.”
Cyprien reflects another general theme of the process, but he also later touched on the type of questions students are asked now. The basic questions, “When was a time you learned to work in a team?” and “What does [insert characteristic here] mean to you?” convey nothing anymore.
“People are stressed getting a job and will say anything to make sure they get that,” said Kanwal Ojha, MCAS ’19. “In a sense, companies take advantage of that.”
By forcing students to prepare for basic HR interview questions, companies are losing an incredible amount of humanity—the thing that makes companies succeed in the first place.
“A lot of companies will screen resumes through a computer program, but a resume needs to be viewed as a whole thing because it is supposed to represent a person,” Duncan Rowland, CSOM ’19, said.
He finds it especially problematic when he sits across from an interviewer, and they say, “Hold on, let me read your resume.” They end up going through a list of HR questions because they don’t know who you are or what your interests are: The questions should be geared toward whether you are “a fit” for the company, and that is not discovered through basic questions—no company is that simple.
I’m not implying that interviewers should be well-versed in the background of every applicant at all—that is not humanly possible. The fact is that this impersonal, cookie-cutter string of questions shows nothing about who students are or what they can contribute. Nick O’Grady, MCAS ’19, said that huge firms do not have the resources to organize a personal way of vetting the applicants. But if they don’t have time to devote to your initial interview, how much time will they have for you later-on?
I was amazed at some of the experiences my classmates have had. Although I bought into this process for a brief stint of time, I see how little these interview processes offer. There are people like Nicholas Thompson-Lleras, MCAS ’19, however, who have never had to partake in this leg of the rat-race. He has never gone through the corporate HR process because he has volunteered and worked at non-profits.
“There is much less interest in a standardized procedure and a lot more about reading you are and what your values entail,” he said. “At the end of the day, they are not profit generators, so they don’t reduce you to your utility. They want to see how you process the world.”
I was lucky in my job search: My “salespeople aren’t dicks anymore” answer proved not to be a huge detriment: I was offered the job afterward. I’ll state again, though, that I got lucky. The authenticity lacking in the recruiting cycle not only hurts the students applying for the jobs, but also the companies who are hiring. If they continue to take advantage of the desperation—caused in part by the competitive nature of the job market—of college juniors and seniors, who simply want jobs, companies will lose people in the long term. The pressure of the recruiting cycle is functioning as the major factor drawing them to the company to begin with.
Ultimately, the recruiting cycle is what you make of it. Each of us is applying to vastly different jobs, so I have no right to tell you how to achieve your end goal. Nevertheless, I want to remind you to be cognizant of the process and to remain honest in your answers. Do you want to work for a company that would not accept your authentic self to begin with? Jobs are created to fit the strengths of individuals—individuals are not born to fulfill a job.
Featured Graphic by Anna Tierney / Graphics Editor