I’m thinking back to the recruitment process when I started out. It was so much easier.
When I was a teenager finding temp work in the holidays was effortless. You could register with a recruitment agency or two and get a phone call on a Thursday afternoon to ask if you could work Monday. Getting a good job, temp or permanent, was still difficult, but you have to find the proverbial ladder to get a foothold on it! The temp work was junior; filing, answering phones, sealing envelopes, but it didn’t matter. It was experience and it was money. For most people getting their dream career doesn’t happen in the teenage years (if at all!), but sometimes being realistic is about looking at your local area and what work is available. With a bit of work experience on your CV, you can then at least say what you definitely don’t want as well as what you do.
Take my first “proper” job. I address it this way because I had finished college and wanted a job more than a university application pack, at the time. My first role was working as a junior in an estate agent. I hated it. The people were rude and dismissive of me. I spent all day, every day printing window cards of the properties we sold, and then standing at the photocopier printing the house details once the window cards drew in a potential customer. I lasted just over a year before I decided I’d had enough. I handed in my notice and spent the summer temping. The work was mixed, but at least it was a change. By the way, when I left the estate agents I was given a £13 voucher; such was their appreciation of me!
But recruitment agencies are strange places. At the time there were about five in the town, far to many. They were all chasing each other’s vacancies. I registered over time with all of them. They all shocked me. There was one that wanted a photo of all the applicants. Apparently this was used to judge who got put forward for a role not on competencies, but on looking the “right way”, the one that quite frankly disgusted me showing off with his extra large desk and made me feel like I was being sized up for something sleazy, the one that took several hours interviewing me and then had no work whatsoever, not even a bean. One day I walked past the one that had put me forward for temp work, sold as general admin for a month in a local firm. It turned into one week filing serial numbers for an engineering company. Just filing, nothing else for seven hours a day. No one bothered to “talk to the temp” and I left there with quite a migraine from my efforts. On that particular day the agency wanted a skilled PA with two years experience, fluent in Polish, Russia and Portuguese! Guess what the salary was for this rare individual? £12k! Even twenty years ago this was laughable. For those three languages you could become a translator and earn much more money!
Even the main recruitment agency behaved very badly. I knew a girl who had been put forward by the agency in question, for a fantastic role. Having secured a second interview, she was put against the recruitment consultant’s friend for the job. This was the part when she was “accidentally” given the wrong time by the agency, and turning up “late” for the interview, lost the role. When she approached the agency after, they were dismissive of her claims, but she knew the truth.
But even at their best recruitment agencies are awful. They think of themselves in a lofty manner, professional at all times, despite keeping you waiting in reception; talking to their colleagues in front of you when your appointment with them was twenty minutes ago. If you’re there for work, they automatically assume it is because you are currently unemployed, which means you have nothing to do, so why rush. When you do get taken in they bombard you with typing tests, which don’t carry any weight with the next agency who do the same, and don’t even serve to save any hiring companies the time, who also have been known to test your typing speeds and accuracy again.
Their general modus operandi seems to be to try and put ten people up for every role they find. The applicants are evenly split between overly qualified, on the right level and under qualified, or as I think of them; slave labour, right for the role, no chance in hell. The first are the ones who have already either worked in the same role for years and need a progression, or have been working in a higher up the ladder role already. They will always get an interview but only given the role if the job market is currently struggling and the company know they will struggle to find other work. The middle category are the right ones, the ones who deserve and will get an interview, as long as they are not overshadowed by the first category. The third people are the juniors; the ones who are no way qualified or experienced to even get an interview, but it looks good for the agency to put more people forward, makes the first two categories really stand out, and makes the juniors feel good. The juniors feel like the agency is taking them seriously and seen something in them, or at least for the first few times, before they wizen up to the truth. It also looks like the agency is being proactive in their capacity to find you work.
At one stage in London I had thirteen agencies all trying to find me work! Am I that unemployable, you’re thinking?! No, just every single role seems to now be through an agency and as Sod’s Law would dictate, each one is a different agency. Eventually one gets you the job, but the times I was out of work it felt like a full time job checking in with each of them!
So, what’s finding work like now? Well, it’s virtually impossible! There is very little out there, most of the recruitment agencies have gone (small mercies!) and we now have two new things to halt us finding work.
The first is the rise of the multi interview scheme. Why have one interview when you can have a whole host of them? I’ve experienced this myself in London. I was first interviewed by one guy (I say interviewed, he was hopeless. He didn’t know what to say to me and I only got the job because I said on leaving how great it must be to work there! Yes a bit shameful but it worked!) I was then invited back to see him and the director. I got the job but still had to return for a third interview so the HR director could say hi! One of my friends fared worse. He was interviewed by an American firm who made him come back for eight interviews; each stage the applicant numbers whittled down until there were only two and the other guy got it. My friend spent several months hopeful and taking time off work to attend each level. In the end it would have been quicker to win the Apprentice!
The next impossible hurdle is the rise of the application pack. Run a mile if you see one of these. Incineration of the pack is not enough! They take hours to fill in and immigrating to Australia would be easier! They are so personal! I started filling in one for an NHS admin worker and an hour later I was still no way near finished. I was asked whether I was “male, female, transgender, transsexual, or other!” Now backtrack for a moment! First off what comes under “other?” and surely we don’t need so many categories for a job! The next page it asked my religion, my ethnicity, even my sexual orientation! WHAT? In the end I gave up on applying as I’m sure many others also did.
It made me start to think about how ghastly the whole recruitment process now is. The fairest way to assess which candidate to award the job to has always been a case of the best applicant. The CV says they are capable of doing the role, the letter confirms they are professional enough, the interview proves they didn’t get a friend to write it and they would fit in with the team. Now it seems most likely a role is given based on the company being seen to have the right quota of men, women, age, race, religion, sexual orientation, special needs etc. How is this fair on anyone? If I get a job I want to know it is because I am the right applicant, not because I tick one of these boxes. Whatever next?!