Employers that Abuse Job Applicants

We have all read about the self-defeating mistakes a job applicant can make at a job interview.

The woman who brought her toddler. The guy who took the phone call from his wife. The girl who wore a revealing T-Shirt and flip-flops.

It is less well understood that this is a two-way street. Employers make “mistakes” too.  Some employers use tactics that are abusive to potential employees, who often have no recourse to complain.

A potential employer is in a power position. The employer has what the applicant wants – a job. For that reason, most job applicants seek to please. However,  some employers seem to feel that by consenting to an interview, the applicant has forfeited his or her right to be treated with dignity, respect and fairly.

The Society for Human Resources Management exhorts its 250,000 members to abide by a Code of Ethics that includes: “Encourage my employer to make the fair and equitable treatment of all employees a primary concern.” That tenet should be broadened to apply to job applicants also.

An applicant found her dream job at a non-profit organization halfway across the country. She was offered the job and moved there with her children. However, in the month between the offer and her arrival, there was a management shakeup. When she arrived, her job description had changed and she was reporting to a new supervisor who had not participated in her job interview. Furthermore, the new supervisor was 20 years younger, far less experienced, and was hostile from the start. The applicant estimates it cost her about $8,000 to relocate for the job, and that it will cost her many thousands more to relocate again – not including lost pension benefits and the emotional distress.

In another instance, after meeting with the Human Resources person, a job applicant for a position in Long Island  literally waited six hours sitting in a chair outside the boss’ office. At one point, he heard the boss  talking on the phone, laughing, and making plans for dinner.  The interview was finally conducted at the end of the day. It lasted about ten minutes. To add insult to injury, he was stuck on the drive home in Long Island’s infamous rush hour traffic for about two hours.

One applicant, an unemployed father of two, says he was strongly encouraged to fly to Philadelphia to meet with a prospective employer, who indicated he was a finalist for the position but could not be appointed without a face-to-face meeting.  This was a job at a state agency that, he was told, had no travel budget.  Upon arrival in Philadelphia, the prospective employer administered the equivalent of a standardized test  that he said he was giving to all applicants.  The “test” could easily have been conducted over the phone. The applicant, who didn’t get the job, advises:  “Never pay for travel!” (Suggest Skype – it’s the equivalent of a  face to face interview and it’s free.)

Finally,  an attractive woman in her mid-50s recalls a job interview in Connecticut with a direct supervisor that was going well.  The supervisor said the company president planned to stop by and say hello.  At one point, a man in his 40s walked briskly into the supervisor’s office, took one look at the applicant, and, wordlessly, turned on his heels and walked out. There was a long  and awkward silence.  After a few moments, the supervisor,  a woman in her 30s, left the room. When she returned, she said the boss wouldn’t be able to meet with the applicant after-all.  The applicant suspected the man who entered the room was the company president.  She was devastated. “I guess I was too old?” she says.

When a prospective employer makes a mistake or uses abusive tactics, more often than not, the job seeker pays the price. You may not get the job. If you do, you may end up feeling used and abused. And you have little recourse.  The woman at the Connecticut interview might argue she was the victim of age discrimination but what she wanted was a job, not a costly and time consuming lawsuit (assuming she could get an attorney to take her case).

Of course, an abusive employer may lose a valuable potential employee and engender ill will that could cost the employer business in the long run.  And, what’s the point?

Suffice to say that it is amusing when a job applicant makes a snafu but it is troubling when an employer does. The employer exerts power and control over the interview and a bad employer can wreak both emotional and economic hardship on the applicant.

These are difficult times. An unprecedented number of Americans are out of work and ripe for exploitation. A job advertisement for a menial position can precipitate a line of hundreds around a block.  Job applicants need to beware and employers need to insure that their processes accord dignity and respect to all job applicants.