The fake job dog & pony show just nailed me again

It’s time American business and government leaders addressed this unethical hiring practice.


Friday afternoon I submitted an application with a company we’ll call “BoughtOne” This morning – barely more than one business day later – I receive this:

Hi Samuel,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider you for employment. After reviewing your resume, we’ve decided to move forward with a candidate whose skills more closely align with our needs at this time…

They’re going to “move forward” with “a candidate” – singular.

In other words, this appears to have never been a real job. An actual hiring process doesn’t get from application stage to one candidate this quickly. An actual hiring process, at best, brings in two or three candidates for interviews, then makes a call.

This, then, was probably another fake job dog and pony show – which I’ve written about before.

Oh, there’s a job. They’re accepting applications and everything. But the truth is that the job is already filled, usually by an internal candidate. The only reason they posted an ad is because the company has an HR policy requiring them to. These policies are standard in government organizations and just about every corporate entity of any size does it, too.

These policies are well-intended, but in practice are unethical in the extreme.

If you don’t know why companies behave this way, the answer is actually fairly noble. I’m sure we’re all familiar with good old American know-who – the old boy network, it’s not what you know it’s who you know, etc. We’ve seen people handed opportunities based on connections and relationships despite the fact that others might be more qualified. To some extent this is natural – I don’t bid out every possible project when I have a vendor that I know I can count on, for instance, and there are companies out there who know that when they call me they’re going to get everything they need and more. When we have professional relationships with friends, that exaggerates the effect.

Smart companies want to make sure that they’re getting the best candidate for the job, though, and not just the one with the best pre-existing relationship with the hiring manager. So they institute policies that require an open search, that three candidates be interviewed, and in many cases that a minority candidate be included. When managers in the company need to hire an agency or a vendor company for a project, the same kinds of strictures apply – you may have to solicit bids from three providers, etc.

All of which is appropriate – organizations with processes that lead them to retain the best talent are going to have an advantage in the marketplace.

The problem is, as we’ve already noted, the policies don’t work. They don’t keep Director Bob from hiring his old buddy Fred, they just require Bob to put on a good show before hiring his old buddy Fred.

It’s pure corporate Kabuki. And it takes a human toll.

Meanwhile, several hundred people took the time to apply. Many of them are currently unemployed. Many of them are working full-time trying to find work, and there are opportunity costs associated with the application. It takes time to send off a résumé. Depending on the application process (which with some companies is simply ridiculous anyway) it can take an hour or two to do it right. Really dedicated candidates, the ones doing it the right way, take longer, customizing cover letters and the rez so that their application materials speak directly to the company’s needs. It’s not hard to imagine that in many cases, these are the ones selected for the fake interview, which means the Dog and Pony process victimizes the best and most dedicated the worst.

For all these applicants there is an investment – in time, and in hope. When the unemployment rate is 10%, hope is about all some people have, and few things are crueler than fostering false hope in those who need opportunity as desperately as so many in our society do.

Only-Post-JobsI wonder – how many hours do job seekers waste each year in good faith pursuit of fake jobs. Millions? Billions? I wonder how often people lose a shot at a real job because they prioritized the fake job – there isn’t enough time to apply for everything, after all. So you say Job X looks like a better fit than Job Y. Except Job Y actually exists while Job X was essentially filled a month ago.

To be clear, I’m not saying I would have gotten the job in a fair contest. BoughtOne probably got hundreds of applications, and for all I know dozens of those people might have been better suited to the position then me. And if they did have an internal candidate already slotted for the gig, that person may in fact be the best of the lot. All I know is I wouldn’t have applied if my qualifications and experience hadn’t been aligned with the posted requisite. I invested time and energy trying to make sure I was presenting my value in a way they would grasp and appreciate. Hopefully BoughtOne hired a winner, and best of luck to the company and the person who landed the job. I think I’d have been awesome for them, but who knows?

Assuming I’m right about what happened here, I don’t really blame BoughtOne. They’re the case before me at the moment, but they’re playing the game they have to play.

But. This sort of behavior – by corporations, by non-profits, by universities, by government organizations – isn’t simply unethical – it’s immoral. It toys with the lives of people who desperately need a fair shot. People with mounting stacks of bills. People with families. People without insurance.

The problem is the law, which needs to be amended so that it actually works as intended. I’m not an HR pro, so I don’t have a working solution in hand. But there are people out there – business leaders, legislators, industry analysts and journalists – who know the terrain and I’m confident it’s a problem they can solve.

The bottom line is that America’s employers shouldn’t be allowed – or worse, required – to jack job-hunters around. Let’s get on it.


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