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In the market for a con job


In the market for a con job

Jane Stephens is concerned that the hoops applicants have to jump through these days may not lead to finding the best person for the role.

Once upon a time, individuals applied for a job in person, presenting their printed resume detailing experience and expertise to a prospective employer, while shaking hands and making eye contact. Not anymore. Once upon a time, a person was promoted at work with a rise in pay as a surprise reward for impressing their boss or otherwise doing good work for the company. Not anymore.

The modern job market is a kind of warped space, where a person must twist words and self promote, gather evidence of their own excellence and apply only for jobs they have already demonstrated they can do. Most often involved in the process is setting up an account, filling in the company’s form, submitting a purpose-crafted resume and completing skill or personality tests – some of which extend to a hundred questions. All of this is done without actually laying eyes on a human. Not until very late in the game is consideration given to whether the applicant is a good human fit for that office.

Employers and applicants find the process demoralising and time consuming and the madness is now standard across the board for all but the most basic of starting-level, unskilled positions. Overwhelmingly, the word wizardry required is gobsmacking.

An applicant must marry the company’s mission statements with the selection criteria, weaving in key words featured in the ad – all while actually saying something. Worst of all, an applicant is forced to dress up ordinary abilities as superhuman feats.

If one of the selection criteria was showing initiative, a person could include the weekly sorting of their rubbish into the right bins: conducted regular content analyses and ranking elements according to value; efficiently applied skills to redistribution so as to maintain systems flow; introduced concepts to community, streamlining collections processes and expanding uptake of practices.

It is madness. If a candidate is lucky enough to make it to the human part, they get asked such things as: “What motivates you at work other than pay?” – which is like asking someone with a broken arm what has brought them to a hospital emergency department apart from their wrist pain.

Sadly, too often the rubric applied to applications will find the best contortionist or embellisher is the best fit for the job.


Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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