At some time in the future you will probably be looking for work.

That statement isn't intended as a political theory, an economic forecast, or even a threat. It's just a plain fact. It recognizes that the meanings of common words like "work" and "job" have changed, and some of those changes mean that it's very unlikely, whatever it is you do or plan to do, that you'll go your whole career from now on without at least one job-seeking experience.

And that's when someone just like me comes in. It's unlikely to actually be me, but you never know. See above. "Someone like me" for the purposes of this essay, means "a human resources drone". Digression: if the singular for human resources person is "drone", then what is the collective noun? I like to think it's "borg". A borg of HR drones. But maybe that is just me...

The other side of the desk.

One of the (several) interesting things about your interactions with human resources is that, for the majority of you, this will be one of the only times in your life where you are interacting with a system that is intended to make someone else's life easier. Think about that for a minute. The way you pour your coffee; pack your luggage; organize your desktop; arrange your financial affairs; all these systems are designed by you for your personal convenience and/or enjoyment. Even when you stand in line at a supermarket; fill in your tax return; engage in online banking; interact with wait staff; all these systems are designed (some well, some poorly) with an often very deep level of thought having gone into maximizing your convenience, or at the very least minimizing your inconvenience. You are the customer / you are your own customer.

Not so the process of applying for a job, or jumping through the various hoops that exist between your application and your failure/success at getting hired. This is because those processes, in their entirety, have been designed for the convenience and the efficient operation of the human resources department.

You are selling yourself to us. We are your customers, and you want us to buy.

When you understand the above, several things will go easier for you:

  • The filling out of the idiotic web form? It's a filter to make our jobs easier. You need to fit through the holes in the filter. Show us you can communicate clearly and in brief while you're at it.
  • The ridiculous questions you're asked in the interview? We have one shot to assess your ability to work when you're having a bad time / don't have enough information / are under stress / wish you were sailing. Do you actually think we're not going to use our one shot?
  • The dumb group interview? Ah, how to put this without sounding insulting? You realize, right, that you won't be working alone all the time? And that the interactions you have with others in highly formalized environments will almost certainly determine how good you are at whatever your job is? You can tell us you're a people person, but how do we know?
  • The rambling anecdote-without-a-question that ends with the interviewer looking expectantly at you? Cue Admiral Ackbar: "It's a traaaaap!" Can you get a meeting back on track? Do you know how to steer a conversation? Can you make someone you've never met before feel like you are interested in them? Are you actually interesting and interested in others? Do you, in short, party?
  • The dreaded "salary question"? Do you know what you're worth? No? Find out.

I don't want to give away the farm entirely, but look back a paragraph: you are enmeshed in a system that is not designed for your convenience. It's designed for mine. And that's exactly how it should be. Make me your customer. Make me buy equity in you.

And please don't send your resume.

I don't care what school you went to. I don't care how much college you endured, or what geography that college occupied. I don't care how many years you worked at your last company. I also strongly don't care (and in fact I am legally required not to care in most countries): how old you are; what sex you are; what race you are; what you believe in your free time; or indeed what you do in your free time. So, following on just one step from this: I don't care about your resume; I don't want to see it. Why would I want to see a document that simply has a list of things I don't care about on it?!?

I care about two things, and two things only:

  1. Your ability to do the job we are hiring you to do. I will determine this by calling the person you worked for, and a person who worked for you at your last job. I will determine this, depending on the job you are going for, by your performance in various kinds of tests. I will determine this by having the person you will be working for talk to you (if you get this far) and ask you specific, hard questions about how you will solve some of the problems you'll actually be solving if you work here.
  2. Your ability to work with the other people who work here. I will determine this in a number of ways, mostly involving the way you interact with me and the others in your interview/s. We work here. You'll be working with us if you work here. Do we want you to work with us? It's literally that blunt a determination.

It's design. Not incompetence. Not malice.

Being on the other side of the desk, the focus of a system that is trying to exclude you rather than include you is unquestionably stressful and draining for most people. A metaphor I often use is the Torture Cabinet. In high-quality manufacturing plants, somewhere in the QC department, will be a cabinet known as the Torture Cabinet. In it, finished products are placed and subjected to extremes of heat and cold, and extremes of moisture and dryness, in all the possible combinations. This is done to attempt to replicate the conditions those products will encounter in the real world over years of usage. Is it as accurate as actually using said products for years in the real world? No, of course not. But it's pretty darn close. That's the job application / selection process in an insert corporate sporting metaphor here. It's torture designed to find out in as short a time as possible how you will "perform" in the real world.

Is there a better way? Let me say just this: if you invent a better way, please contact me. We'll develop it together and license it to every company in the world. Until that time, prepare for torture. But now, at least, you know that it's not incompetence, and it's not malice, and it's certainly not a lack of humanity that defines the current system. What defines the current system is that I've designed it to help me do my job as well as I possibly can. Good luck, as we HR drones are wont to say, in all your future endeavors.

NB: Of course, different HR departments and drones will have different systems, and some of them will, naturally, still include submission of a resume. That fact doesn't change a single thing I've written above.

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