My Unemployed Life: Have Online Interviews Gone Too Far?

online interviews

A longtime friend of mine recently joined me in the glorious and ever-growing ranks of the U.S. unemployed. As a newbie, I think he looked to me, an old hand at unemployment, to show him the ropes.

So when I came across an online job posting that looked ideal for him, I sent it his way. He agreed it had potential and applied. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks later, he received an autogenerated "thanks, but no thanks" rejection email from the company.Getting this news via form-letter email took my friend aback. "I may not be the right candidate," he emailed me, "but at least I'd like to hear back from a real person."

I laughed to myself at his unemployment naivete. "Welcome to my world!" I wrote him back. "You expected to hear from a live person?... You have a lot to learn about the demoralizing process of job seeking today."

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My friend's experience and especially, my reaction to it, made me wonder: How have I gotten to the point in this process where I expect to be treated like a piece of meat and accept it? Why is job hunting so dehumanizing? Does it have to be?

There's very little human interaction in the job-application process. You email your resume to or painstakingly complete a time-consuming, excruciatingly detailed online application. Either way, you usually receive an auto-generated "thank you for your interest in employment with our company" message.

Then, I would say 7 times out of 10, that's it. You never hear anything else. I mean, nothing, not even the auto-generated "thanks, but no thanks" email that my friend got.

Oh, sure, all the job search advice encourages you to follow up on your applications and you can do that, if you have the name of a real person at the company, which frequently you don't. Even when you do, and you contact that person, they either a) aren't in HR, b) don't know anyone who is, c) don't know anyone in the department to which you're applying, d) say they'll see what they can find out but never get back to you or e) never respond at all.

(When job hunting, you quickly learn to develop an extremely thick skin.)

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In the one time in 10 (or is it 20?) that you do get a nibble on your application, it comes in the form of a phone call or email from someone in HR who'd like to set up a phone interview. This is somewhat more humane since you actually do get to talk to a person, but you don't see them; you can do a phone interview in your jammies and they won't be able to hold that against you. After the phone interview, if you aren't chosen for another interview, then again, don't expect to hear anything.

It's ironic: it seems to me that Human Resources has removed humans from just about every step they can in the hiring process these days. A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a company that congratulated me for being selected for a "video interview." Before you think this was done via Skype with a person whom I could both hear and see: It wasn't.

It was, literally, interview by computer. I logged into a system that presented me with one question at a time on my computer monitor. After each question, I had a few minutes to answer while gazing into the pseudo-eye of my webcam. The whole thing took about 30 minutes and was recorded for review by the company's hiring powers-that-be.

And in case you're wondering, I didn't send a thank-you note for this computer interview. To whom would I send it? I also didn't ask the computer about "next steps" or how long it would take to make a decision. How could I? There were no actual people involved. (I haven't heard anything since, though, so maybe my bad manners offended the computer.)

Even when you're lucky enough to make it to an actual in-person interview (with a person), if you're not ultimately selected for the job, it's very unusual to learn this voluntarily from anyone. Just because you now have a name, email address and phone number doesn't mean that the interviewer or HR person will respond to your follow-up emails or phone messages. (I guess no one likes to deliver bad news.)

Now you might think that you could at least use your unsuccessful job interviews as learning experiences; next time, you'll be able to handle things differently because you'll know why you didn't get the job. This is yet another naïve belief of the uninitiated.

No one will EVER tell you why you weren't selected for the job. If you ask for feedback, you might possibly be told something very general, like someone else's "skills and experience" were a better match; but more likely, you won't hear anything. You're just left to wonder if there was something you could have done differently.

I'm not an employer or recruiter, so I don't know what the rationale could possibly be for treating job applicants like indistinguishable slabs of beef in a meat market. I can't believe that it has to be this way.

I understand that there are too many applicants for each job opening, but we are still accomplished, talented people, caught up through no fault of our own in this mercilessly bad economy. We're individuals with dignity who deserve to be treated respectfully.

We shouldn't have to figure out how to thank a computer for its time.

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