Employers…Shut Up & Listen!
A funny thing happened to me about a month ago while applying for a position for employment (not ha-ha “funny” but what the ****? “funny”). Theoretically, it could have been any position but as it happened was one in the social service field, an area where I am experienced, feel very competent, and where I feel compelled to make a social difference in the lives of individuals.
During the application process, I was subjected to 2 different interviews by 2 different sets of individuals. The first 2 individuals were eager to hire me, as the organization was short-staffed and I obviously had had the experience needed to fill the job description. The second 2 individuals were harder to convince of my experience, desires, and/or abilities. For whatever reason, the opinions of the second set of interviewers—those who proved harder to persuade—won out over those who wanted me to be a part of their organization (this has happened to me on several occasions). The difference in how 2 groups of interviewers can view the same person as both a potential organizational asset and an undesired candidate is what I found to be “funny” to me, and left me thinking, What the ****?
As am American citizen, one cannot help but be thankful that we have a great many freedoms, including the freedom of employers to choose whom to hire. But as a social critic, I have to say that there’s something to be said for dictatorships; individual liberties are sacrificed for greater order and general consistency.
As I’ve witnessed firsthand, individuals routinely make questionable choices when allowed to freely choose between what makes sense and/or what is right and what simply feels right. Setting aside the fact that I obviously did not agree with my personal experience with a prospective employer of their not hiring a clearly qualified person based on impressions, I have concluded that people quite often have to be told what’s right and what makes sense, instead of putting faith on the hopes that individuals can make rational as opposed to emotional decisions. It is this level of thinking which compels me to impose my thinking on American employers, and tell them how to apply critical thinking—as opposed to blindly sticking to the old ways for continuity’s sake—to creating a constructive labor environment for all concerned (and say what other employees want to say).
1. Let’s go back to paying people weekly instead of that biweekly (or even monthly) crap…
…especially if people are earning only a subsistence level of pay. Yes, I hear that it’s expensive for companies to cut payroll checks on a weekly basis. But that was mostly during the good ol’ days when people stood in line waiting to be handed a paper check from their supervisor. Today, the majority of payroll funds are transferred electronically. What’s more, even for the few companies which still process paper checks, new federal regulations have made processing by banks near instantaneous. The bottom line is that costs have been reduced to the point where it should be no longer a concern for employers. For employees, since we know that our personal financial obligations are not tied to our biweekly pay schedules, creditors would not be forced to wait to be paid (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people tell me in one form or fashion, “my bills don’t wait, so why should I be forced to wait?”). A secondary advantage of weekly pay schedules is more frequent/weekly pay means more spending. More spending means more buying. More buying means more money put into the economy. More spending, buying, and available money means businesses will get the confidence to invest more. It’s a win-win idea.
2. Don’t hold your (potential) employees to a standard you yourself are not holding.
In the past, I’ve had the misfortune of having worked with and for institutions which simply were flying by the seats of their pants insofar as organization. But I knew good and damned-well if I (or any other non-management) employee had engaged in the same level of disorganization, we would have been given 30-second contracts. If you’re going to use the excuse “we’re only human,” then be willing to accept your employees’ humanity. Absent of out-and-out incompetence, the reality is that people are going to make mistakes. Once again, acknowledge our shared humanity. You as an employer create (and maintain) the type of work environment which is reflected in the employees who work for you. You want good employees; be good employers…it’s that simple!
3. Have some scruples…treat people with respect!
Let’s face it…in the current employers’ market, employees are treated like commodities instead of people. And it’s assumed that people will do what they’re told, no matter how unreasonable and/or questionable, just to hold onto a job…that is until they become the type of ticking time bomb who turns a job site into a crime scene. Employers, treat your employees with respect. Although this is a given, you’d be amazed—or maybe you wouldn’t—at the number of your ilk who treat their pets better than their workers. Acknowledge employees who have the fortitude (not to mention patience) to put up with long hours, hard work, and not-so-always-pleasant circumstances to stick you for years. In other words, show some loyalty to those who are loyal to you! Believe it or not, a “thank you” goes a long ways toward cementing a feeling of appreciation by your employees.
Finally on a side note, acknowledge people who take the time to apply for a position with you. Yes, I know you may receive 500 applications and resumes for a single position. But as people take the time to apply, take the time to thank them instead of ritualizing the rudeness of no reply or response (after all, time is such a precious commodity for everyone)! It takes very little time to set up an e-mail account to give an automatic response to resumes. Use your human resources personnel…have them e-mail acknowledges to faxes or other inquiries.
4. The “Job Interview” is a joke…find a real way of assessing potential employees’ skills!
Question…if you wanted to buy a car, do you simply ask the seller questions about it, or do you get in and take it for a test drive? What about buying a pair of shoes? Do you ask the salesperson about the shoes, or do you try them on before making the purchase? Would you marry someone after a one hour “interview?” If you take the application process to its irrational conclusion, that’s the logic you face.
The truth of the matter is that “job interviews”—as I found out last month—are nothing more than personality assessments…how else could anyone think asking questions and evaluating answers is indicative of (potential) job performance? Think about it. Job seekers send their resumes to prospective employers, who then compile a pool of candidates with similar skills and experiences for a particular position (or two). And the only questions routinely asked during “interviews” (for the most part) are those related to hypothetical scenarios and/or those about previous jobs held. What does any of that have to do with the position being sought? The outdated interview process focuses on abstractions, and has nothing to do with assessing skills; inexplicably, it’s about answers, which never quite seemed to make sense to me. Sure, falling asleep, talking about how one despises his/her mother-in-law, or wearing plaid pants and checkered shirts are signs that one may not quite fit into an employers’ team-building efforts, but what about the individual who fails to pass mustard simply because of some perceived slight or idiosyncrasy which an employer cannot even articulate, but is ruled out for employment out-of-hand anyway? Irrelevant assessments like those by “interviewers” seem to run counter to what should be occurring…hiring someone who’s skills are what the employer needs, and not based on whether two (or more) people can strike up a rapport. As an example, I cite a personal instance a few years back when I was told during one job interview, “I see you’ve had three years of experience doing this same exact (emphasis mine) type of work when you were in college. Well, this job requires more than experience.” What the ****? Experience is not the most important factor in a potential employee? The answer I wanted to give her was, “What more does the job requires then? Kissing your a**?” Again, personality/impression assessment, not skills assessments.
Some interviewers seem to think that they have infallible powers of observations. Reality check…you’re not The Oracle of Delphi, nor are you Jean Grey from the X-Men…you cannot read minds! Just because you’ve had training doesn’t mean that you have superhuman powers of observation. Just because a perspective employee could not form a rapport with you doesn’t mean that he/she could not make another individual fall in love with them. In essence, your personalities are not representative of those of everyone in the world. Nor are they even representative of those of everyone in your organization.
Whether or not a potential applicant for a janitor’s position can give you “great answers” or is personable is no indication that he/she will not leave streaks on your windows or sweep dirt up underneath the carpet instead of throwing it in the waste can. Would not an actual demonstration of their abilities to clean be more relevant? Granted, it would not be the most practical given that currently, there are anywhere between 3-6 applicants for each open position in America, but it certainly makes more sense than “answers” being your primary determinant factor as to whether or not you are truly getting the best (wo)man for the job. Consider tours for perspective employees of your facilities’ physical plant, while prompting in-depth conversations and/or exchanges about particular aspects of the job to see if someone truly knows the job they are applying for? Though not as accurate an assessment as a real demonstration of skills and abilities, it makes more sense than seating someone in a room, asking them indirect and irrelevant questions, creating an atmosphere of artificially-generated nervousness, while someone who’s in all likelihood ill-equipped to “read” someone tries to play Hannibal Lecter, trying to instantly psychoanalyze them and connect how the small, barely noticeable run in her stocking is a positive indication that they will likely lead their company to potential financial ruin (a-la Enron).
Granted, interview workshops and/or classes may improve interviewing skills, that’s about all they do. They do not improve a prospective employee’s sense of responsibility, level of competency, their honesty, ability to be punctual, or their ability to endure managers without diplomatic skills. Nor do interview improving courses change gender, ethnicity, eye color, height, or anything else of substance; they only change the perception of the employer. This seems to indicate that how an employer sees a perspective employee is more important than the actual skills and abilities people bring to a job. Talk about making bad decisions…
And on a final note, please stop expecting people to travel hundreds of miles for an "interview" for a position that they may or may not get. That takes too much time, effort, and money. With gasoline being at upwards of 4 dollars a gallon, that's money that desperate job seekers must chance taking out of their limited household budgets...money which is no doubt earmarked for bills or other (necessary) household expenses. In the current job market, using household funds to travel to distant locales for an "interview" for a position which one may or my not get is tantamount to going to a nearby casino and indulging in games of chance; its a gamble either way. Just as employees must adapt to the new harsh economic realities, so too must (or rather, should) employers. Be willing to consider a telephone interview. After all, you're getting the same person, regardless of whether you imagine them in a Brooks Brothers three-piece suit, a Versace business dress, or a rain barrel (in other words, stop making interviews about image rather than substance. Ted Bundy had charisma. So did Hitler. See the logic?).
The bottom line is that there are no universally personable people in this world. In fact, my father used to tell me that the only universally personable people in the world are usually con artists. And it’s their job to get everyone to “like” them. That’s how they manage to successfully to do their jobs, which is take from you, instead of give to you. As I often tell the at-risk children I work with, decisions should be based on facts, not feelings. If I were an employer trying to choose the best person for the job, what do I care if you don’t like your mother? Are you competent enough to actually do your job, not cause trouble among your fellow employees, educated enough to engage different types of individuals from different backgrounds, and keep my company productive without costing more money? That’s all I’m concerned with, and that’s all you should be concerned with!
See also: "A Criticism of Employers in America")
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