The HR Department: Perpetuating Mandated Corporate Insanity

Whether by twist of fate or the hand of God, I find myself in the midst of a very long and drawn out job interview process for a position that I was recommended for on Sunday night. Three days ago, I wasn’t aware that it existed, and today I found myself sitting in front of a person who would be my direct superior if I were successful. This is a multi-phase, multi-departmental interview, and specifically designed to weed out people who aren’t serious about the position or are very ill-suited. Since I’m not starving in a cardboard box on the side of the road, nor is there a gun to my head, I have nothing but time, and because my interest in the position is piqued, I can wait it out.

I dislike the “modern-day” HR process of grilling candidates every which way, and then shaking them upside down until their soul falls out. While its beneficial to fulfilling the HR mandate, it isn’t always a positive experience for the candidate, nor does it always determine the absolute best fit for the company. You can have everyone from the janitor to the CFO interview your candidates, hire an outside credential check firm to secure their references, vet them from tip to toe, run them through the aptitude-personality-psyche gauntlet and still come up with duds, psychopaths and poor team fits. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and while I understand why HR has the duty to hose down the inmates before they are incarcerated in a long-term role in the organization, I disagree with the drawn out hoop-jumping process that has become de rigueur.

In the past decade and a half, I’ve been through the interview ringer more than I care to remember. Having worked since I was a young teenager, being a frequent mover, having transferred departments within one company several times, and simply wanting change, I’ve pretty much seen it all. From the “You’re warm and breathing, can you start right now?” to “We have established the most draconian, byzantine process of hiring known to man. When CSIS, FBI, KJB, CIA and INTERPOL are done reporting back on your infancy, we’re going to ask you to come and split an atom in front of the entire management team some time in the next 2 to 10 weeks. We don’t like to rush.” I’m only slightly exaggerating. Have you ever applied for acceptance into officer training in the military? I have. Invasive and purposefully designed to trip you up, questions like “Have you ever felt TEMPTED to steal from an employer” and “Have you ever taken drugs of ANY sort?” come up with disturbing frequency.

On the subject of disturbing, I’m reminded of one job interview I went on shortly after being given my diploma in Computer Programming and Systems Analysis. It was smack in the midst of the DotCom madness, and I was a fantastically fresh and pathologically masochistic Visual Basic/C++ specialist. I was churned out to serve Vancouver’s soon-to-burst tech bubble, and immediately started spamming tech places with my wee resume. Within days, a call came back. The HR people at a local software firm invited me in to interview for an entry-level code monkey/slave job. Psyched, I was SURE that my mad VB skillz were going to nail me a primo job, and The Big Corporate Hotel where I was employed as a food service flunky was going to get the big middle finger from me ASAP. Or at least a polite letter with two weeks notice.

Slicked up in my finest, I arrived at the interview 15 minutes early. Only it wasn’t so much an interview per se. It was more of a Geek Cattle Call. Think “American Idol” audition, but for ultra-geeks. At least 50 programming newbs were milling around in front of the building, staring at their shoes and snarfing down the remains of their Twinkies and Mountain Dew. We were all locked out of the building, and there was a sign on the door that read “Testing at 2 PM in the Parkade.” Um, what what? Shortly thereafter, an HR drone appeared, and indicated that the nerd-herd needed to follow her. So we did. After rounding the building, we were led to a section of their above ground parkade, which was set up with tables and chairs and a large square formation. The code-mutants were then instructed to be seated, two at a table. I was sandwiched between two Asian hacker-type misfits, and given a bubble sheet and a pencil – not unlike final exams in high school. The first section consisted of us viewing snippets of code via overhead projector on the parkade wall. We’d pick the correct fix or missing element for the code shown by penning in option a, b, or c. We were given less than 2 minutes per question, which didn’t bode well with me. After 30 questions, we were instructed to pass the test to the person seated on our left. The answers were read out. Tests were corrected by your seat-mate. When that was finished, the tests went back to their owner with a score out of 35. I had 29. Ungh.

Figuring I was done for, mentally exhausted, I waited while the HR people segued into their next part of the process. “Would everyone with 0-20, please stand up.” Several people rose. “Thanks for coming out. You’re dismissed.” Stunned, the weakest links collected their affects, and fled. “20-27? Please stand up.” The bulk of the people rose. “Thanks for coming out. Have a great day! Don’t forget to leave your pencil on the table on the way out.” I sat there waiting for the hammer to fall. There were about 10 people remaining including me. “The rest of you still sitting, please remain seated. We’re moving into the second part of our interview.” What? Interview? This wasn’t an interview. This was torture.  Out came another test. Ah! A personality test! Sweet! Now THIS was my time to shine. I mean, who doesn’t want someone who is both analytical AND extremely service oriented? A team player who loves people AND can debug vast lines of code?

The HR types retrieved the finished tests, sent us on a pee & water break, and then slunk off to analyze the results.

30 agonizing minutes later, they summoned us into their boardroom, which was a nice reprieve from the parkade. They called out our names and handed us our tests with a color coded sticky dot on the top: red, blue, yellow, white. Mine, unsurprisingly was “do-gooder blue.” A few people had the red sticker of the A-type control freak. Several people had white stickers.  Nobody had the yellow “fun, fun, fun!” sticker. (Not that anyone who would go into coding would or should, really.) HR: Anyone who has a blue, red or yellow sticker? Thanks for coming out. While you have the technical skills to be successful in this position, you don’t have the personality we’re looking for. The owner of the company, Mr. XYZ, only hires people with a “white” personality. Everyone that works here, from the secretary to the accountant is a “white thinker.” He prefers everyone to think like him.”

I was gobsmacked. You’re kidding me! Hiring everyone in a company with the SAME personality type? That’s beyond Loony Tunes and into Twilight Zone. How do you achieve balance in the workplace if everyone is an anti-social, minutia-dwelling, numbers running fascist? Who cares if the guy who sweeps the floor has a propensity to analyze, rather than commit random acts of kindness? Knowing what I know? I wouldn’t want to work at this place if you paid me millions!

As I left the strange, strange “interview” that promptly went down in my books as “the worst one ever” I realized something important: a job interview is as much about YOU interviewing the company, as they are interviewing you. Something can sound great on paper, but when you actually dip a toe in the environment? The water may be toxic.

A valuable lesson was learned that day, and 10 years later, I keep it in the forefront of my mind when I go out to interview my potential boss about a position I may not really want after letting my Spidey Senses run rampant.


8 thoughts on “The HR Department: Perpetuating Mandated Corporate Insanity

  1. Ah yes the dreaded job interview.

    A one page resume decides if you get the cherished interview

    A one hour interview decides if you are a good fit for the position.


    Best interviewing I went through had me take company documents home and develop report that I would give on documents to board (hypothetical) it was an example of what I would actually be doing – bringing a copy of presentation for each member of board helped.

    Worst? had a 4 mos process once:
    First interview with head hunter
    Second with senior management and subordinates
    then decides they wanted to redesign position, but would keep me in loop
    2 mos later 3rd interview with same people
    4th was another week and a half later – essentially a rehash of 3rd interview. They were shocked when I gave them an ultimatum of 3 hrs later for an offer. They called with one the next morning. I turned them down ( they have gone through multiple people in the position since then)

    And you’re right – always trust your instincts!

    • I’m afraid the 4 month process is more common than it should be. When we last moved back to BC in 2004, I went the headhunter route, because I didn’t want to pound the pavement, and I’d had good luck with headhunters. Promptly, I was sent out for a quasi-accounting & benefits position with a consolidated restaurant group. All went well. I went for two interviews: my immediate supervisor and the controller. I was immediately called back by the headhunter who said they loved me, wanted me and thought I was a great fit. But there was a glitch! They couldn’t hire me without the owner meeting me first. The owner? Just got married and ran off to Indonesia for over a month. That month became two. I shrugged and found another job. By the time the owner was ready to meet me, I’d almost forgot about the position. They were “very disappointed” that I didn’t wait. Pardon me?

  2. Yeah, I probably should have known things weren’t going to go well at Unnamed Audiobooks Company when my “interview” took two hours, consisted of (among other things) me asking 10 random employees and writing a short story with them, being interviewed by the CFO, having to do a practise round of customer service and then still needing a second-round interview.

    Of course, I got dumped because I “didn’t fit their corporate culture”, so clearly their clever little system wasn’t so great.

    • The case example of Unnamed Audiobooks is a fantastic example of why the overnight DotCom revolution ate itself for breakfast. Talk about special snowflake entitlement there! I cringe every time I hear about them.

      • Just remembering them angries up my blood, especially considering my department was the least-well paid and got to make use of the company amenities the least, despite wide recognition that my department’s work was largely responsible for their success.

        Oh well. I bet they still don’t have someone with a turnaround time even half as good as mine. Losers.

  3. Your months-long wait sounds like my epic interview process. Ridiculous.

    My old supervisor gave me the same piece of advice re: you’re interviewing the company, too, and once she did, I went in with a different attitude/confidence – it felt more like a first date (I can turn you down if you turn me off) than a ZOMG! I need a job! interview.

    Good luck!

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