What’s the weirdest thing you’ve been asked to do, when applying for a graduate job? Do you think some recruiters are going too far, treating candidates like performing seals? Have power-mad recruiters turned into Simon Cowell?

A growing number of young job-seekers are complaining that in 2010, the application process for a regular job — or even an internship — at a regular company is starting to feel more like the gruelling, humiliating audition rounds of X Factor, when contestants are asked to do whatever it takes to impress the judges.

In a fantastic article for the Work section of this weekend’s Guardian, journalist Lucy Tobin explored this growing trend.

She met graduate Ry Morgan, 22, who was made to jump through hoops for an employer. His first task was to make a four minute video about one of his passions (he chose basketball) — followed by several rounds of interviews. Shockingly, this wasn’t even for a permanent job – Ry’s prize was a 10-week internship for an advertising company.

When Tobin called to ask for my thoughts on this (thanks Lucy!), I agreed that this trend worries me. From what you lot tell me, in a time when employers know it’s a “buyer’s market”, to many of them have let the power go to their head and are using the number of applications they receive for each graduate vacancy as an excuse to waste your time with time-consuming, gimmicky tasks in which you are asked to dream up new ways to ‘stand out from the crowd’.

I’m definitely getting the sense that a job is something you ‘win’ if you’re the last man standing in what is often an arduous application process. The person still hanging in at the final stage is declared the winner and awarded the job as their ‘prize’. In the worst cases, applicants are definitely being asked to leave their dignity at the door- and basically do whatever it takes to ‘impress the judges’ (the interview panel).

But I told the Guardian that it could be recruiters who miss out, in the end:

“Employers are stupid to make applicants audition like reality TV show contestants,” she says. “It isn’t the way to get the best out of people, and the last man standing isn’t necessarily the best person for the job.

“Fantastic candidates will often drop out because they’ll be working full-time while they job hunt and simply don’t have time to complete a 20-page application form, especially if they’re applying to lots of other jobs as well. At such an early stage in the recruitment process, I just don’t think it’s reasonable to ask for that kind of time investment.”

And I questioned whether recruiters should spend less time dreaming up new ways to waste your time – and more on sharpening their own powers for talent-spotting which is, after all, what they’re hired to do:

“Employers say making applicants take part in this sort of lengthy talent show is necessary because they can’t pick the best candidates otherwise. This is pure laziness. It’s their job to spot potential, so why aren’t they prepared to put more effort in and do what they’re paid to do? A really good A&R person can spot potential in a busker. Why can’t recruiters do the same?”

Happily, Carl Gilleard, big cheese at the Association of Graduate Recruiters and friend of Graduate Fog, backed me up, saying:

“In the graduate marketplace there is scope for using technology in attraction and selection processes — Generation Y are comfortable with it. But employers should always ask themselves, is what we are doing appropriate, relevant and fair? There’s nothing wrong with the traditional interview and there never has been.

“Businesses should also remember that the candidate experience should be positive even if they are unsuccessful. Someone who has a bad experience is likely to share it with their peers and this can damage the employer brand.”

As I’ve said before on this blog, I also feel there’s a real lack of respect for young job-seekers’ time – it’s as if employers are saying “We’ve got what you want – so impress us”.

Application forms are often 20 pages long, assessment centres can last two days, and then there may be several rounds of interviews. If you’re working, you have to take annual leave to attend assessment centres and interviews. Does anybody thank you for doing this? As if.

In fact, at any stage in this lengthy process, a jobseeker can expect the line to go dead – and just never hear back from the employer, even a rejection letter. Employers claim that they don’t have the time to respond to every application – but that is insulting. Job seekers have spent hours of their time – sometimes days – spread across months of their life. And the employer is saying they don’t have five minutes to send you a quick ‘Thanks but no thanks’ email? I think it’s an outrageous way to behave.

(This is one of the reasons I’m so proud of the Graduate Fog Job Board, which only runs ads for employers who promise to respond to every application that comes via me).

And then there’s unpaid internships, which are undoubtedly the most extreme form in which employers wield their power over you. Several of you have described them to me as “the job interview from hell” that goes on and on, often for six months.

Interns feel you are constantly on trial, which is a horrible feeling. One wrong move and you know you’ll be out of the competition. Having briefly felt like a ‘somebody’ you fear being thrown back into obscurity, back to your old life of job hunting and being a ‘nobody’. (Which is obviously nonsense but that’s how it feels, and again I’m getting shades of X Factor here…)

The fact that an unpaid internship is effectively a months-long ‘audition’ for a job is even explicitly stated in advertisements for unpaid internships. They’ll say “This six month position is unpaid but could lead to a paid position, depending on results.” Just that statement says it all: “We have the power, we can make you a somebody – or a nobody.” Nice.

So yes, I am concerned about this trend. I’m worried that employers are losing their humanity – and becoming divorced from reality. Their attitude towards unpaid internships issue is a clear example of this. Time and time again, they tell me that their six or nine month unpaid placement is in fact a fantastic opportunity – made even more so by the level of responsibility they are ‘offering’ this person. All I want to do is yell ‘Do you work for free? Pay your staff properly!’

Click here to read the full feature in the Guardian

Has the power gone to recruiters’ heads?
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve been asked to do when applying for a graduate job? Do you agree that applicants are asked for too much investment, too early in the ‘competition’? If you’re working full-time while applying for jobs, how do you find the time — and do you resent being asked to jump through hoops to get a job? Or are you happy to do whatever it takes?

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