We’re all human. If I ran a company, I, as most recruiters are reported to do, would start with people I know and work outwards. Advertising for applicants is the last resort.

The questions you ask in interviews can clinch the deal. If your aim is to find out if the company you are applying to will be a good employer, this puts you in the power seat.

I got this info from a 6 month career development course I did, during which they revealed to me how and when I would hear about vacant positions. After graduating from art college into the recession of 93, I would scour the creative jobs pages of the Guardian, most of which stated criteria which put these opportunities out of my reach.

Getting paid work seemed like getting an Equity card for a recent drama graduate, in a very saturated buyers’ market. I set up my own childminding agency, with a creative twist, then my first job was commission only sales.

The purpose of this rant is to show how unhelpful and misleading recruiters are when they try to hide the real reasons for turning someone down after interview.

People are told:

  • You don’t seem to want to work for us.
  • The other applicant has more experience.
  • We think you might get bored in this role.
  • You’re over qualified.
  • You’re under qualified.
  • We will keep you on file as something more suitable for you is likely to come up.

Notice that none of these include:

  • We don’t think you can do the job.
  • We have doubts that you would show up for work.
  • You seem dishonest.

These, according to research carried out when I worked on careers magazines for graduates from under-represented groups, are the 3 things that employers want in a new recruit.

A story. My CV always got me a high percentage of interviews. Following my first ever interview at Conde Nast (successful) I continued to get worse and worse at job interviews, until I invested £1000 in relearning the skill of job searching.

Shortly after moving to North London, where I signed onto jobseekers allowance at age 23, I got a hand-delivered letter through my door from the MD of a company enthusiastically inviting me for an interview. I went along. The job involved some design and some sales work for a packaging company. I had experience in both these areas.

At the end of the interview, the company MD said I would hear from him in a week and to call anytime for feedback. I got a standard rejection letter in less than a week and called up. I could not get through for love or money (not that I offered either). Feedback was absolutely withheld in such a way that I thought I must have been so dreadful that the guy had eloped instead of delivering the reason for not giving me a job. Eventually the receptionist told me in exasperated tones to give up and he would contact me if he wanted to.

This experience had a massively detrimental effect on my next interviews. It created huge doubt and anxiety in me, which increased the more I wanted or thought I could get a job.

People told me I should have a Valium tablet before interviews, I would get that stressed.

With the new universal credit, all the government’s attention and pressure is focused on the job-seekers, not the gate-keepers who get to choose who finds employment. Interviewers can be as discriminatory, unprofessional and biased as they please, when choosing employees.

When I went to the Employers Forum on Disability to report for the Arberry Profile a careers mag for disabled graduates, they revealed how applicants will avoid applying to companies or for jobs when they sense they will be rejected out of hand or unfairly.

If people trying to find work, on benefits, have to spend 35 hours a week applying for jobs, this gives them no chance of practicing the skills they have paid so much to the education system to learn. What good does that do the economy?

I’ve ended up being mostly self-employed during my career as my experience in job interviews has shown how personal and not economical the selection process is. The choices I have made about which jobs to apply for has become increasingly personal too.

At a friend’s 30th birthday I met the graduate recruiter for a city trading firm. He said that he knew most people could be a trader. He said he had no university degree and described himself as a barrow boy. In terms of selection, he said it took hours to read CVs so he would whittle them down by graduates only and, if there were too many, by Oxbridge only. Although he knew this was unfair, it was a real economic factor in his selection process.

Applicants have to look smart, they often get vague information about the role they are applying for and there is a steady growth in use of assessment centres for selection by large recruiters.

If the Department of Work and Pensions put their attention on the selection process to make it fairer, the change in power balance between those giving their services and large proportion of their waking life and those needing them would even up very quickly.

I think the most important revision of the recruitment process has to lie in better communication and much more respect to applicants. Companies that pride themselves in their fair recruitment policies have shown economic benefits and greatly improved working environments. People will be anxious and distracted if they don’t know how they are doing.

Anyone starting a new job has to find their feet and navigate any number of personal agendas held by their work colleagues and managers. This, to me, is a separatist and one-on-one battle between people in the same company, engendered by the competitive nature of our education sector, that doesn’t breed the ability for teamwork. This flaw, I think, is evident in shows which pretend to use teams such as the Apprentice.

I’ve never been recruited by a woman. I have only worked in companies of 12 people or less because of this characteristic. I am financially effective for any company I work for, am a natural peacemaker and good team player. I focus on getting the end best result, not in doing better than my colleagues. If I am doing well, as I have done, it is for the good of the company. However I’ve found job interviews to be a land-mine of ego and underhand deviousness.

When a company has said I’m over qualified, I’ve learned to ask why. I’ve been told, and this seemed fair, that at my age and with my journalism postgraduate, that an editorial assistant job – after climbing for assistant to associate editor in a job of 5 years – would not challenge me. In feedback, I am told things which do not give me any idea on how to improve my chances or make me more employable.

We all have a price and that is what we need to live on. I’ve never wanted very much but found even that hard to achieve. The increase in awareness about disabilities, such as hearing loss or Dyspraxia – neither of which I’ve allowed to effect my work performance – just seem to give employers more excuses not to employ me. Even Hearing Concern and Defeating Deafness thought it better to recruit a hearing person from another sector without relevant evidence of results in their portfolio, rather than me, with personal experience and documental evidence of my ability to do the job.

The government continues to pile unrealistic pressure on the jobseeker, while allowing companies to be as unprofessional, unfair and personal in their selection as they please, as this shows.

The least we could ask for is that recruiters are advised on what selection criteria they should focus on and to encourage them – as if the savings aren’t enough in doing this – to operate on a more first-come-first served basis.

Powers to let go of employees who do not pull their weight ought to be increased, as it always drove me bonkers when I was unemployed and faced with a jobsworth. People who take a regular income for granted who have started to rot in their position could have new life breathed into their performance with a spell on the dole, while giving other more enthusiastic people a chance to prove themselves.

A one-in-one-out door policy on employment would give the economy, I think, a huge boost. I recommend applicants making just as personal choices about who they would like to work for, as employers do on who to take on. Recruiters should need to show every potential employee references on how they do as an employer.

When you go for an interview, why not ask questions to find out all you can about how good an employer the company you are applying to will be? What you will find is that the interview will feel in the hot seat and start offering more and selling their company to you to want to work for. This psychology pretty much puts the job in the bag for you.

Confidence given in strictest confidence.


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