Every once in a while, I am surprised by the existence of some element of our culture that everybody seems to know about except me. I put this down to my relentlessly advancing age. Whereas I am not old, I am old enough to contain quite a large amount of information in the data base of my brain, some of which I am happy to have and some of which I would have preferred to remain ignorant. I quite agree with Sherlock Holmes that the mind is like an attic, with a limited capacity, and that one should choose carefully what goes within.
Unfortunately, one doesn't always have a choice.
Fridays are the day when my company's human resource department, consisting of one nice lady who giggles, interviews prospective employees. The interviews take place at my office, and I have always enjoyed the show, not the least of which is the fashion sense of the human resource lady. At least I enjoyed it up until last Friday, when I was learned from my boss what was really going on behind the closed door.
The "nice" lady was conducting stress interviews.
For those of you who don't know what a stress interview is, it is an interview where the interviewer makes the interviewee "uncomfortable" so that the interviewer can get a measure on how the interviewee handles stress.
And I thought that the reason why HR Lady made the poor job seekers fill out another three-page application and wait for 30 minutes past the scheduled interview time was because she was a ditz. Given that she wears stilettos and chandelier earrings to work in a doctor's office, it's a reasonable assumption. Little could I imagine that it was a gateway to hell.
The "hell" in this case consists of an hour-and-a-half long interview during which the HR Lady asks needlessly difficult questions and expresses - through body language and general rudeness - disappointment in the answers of the applicant.
Upon learning this, I - as a member of what I had previously assumed was a civilized society - expressed the following reservations:
- Job seekers are already under tremendous stress, especially in this economy where this is probably the hundredth interview they have been through and they are desperate. If they are coherent at all, they demonstrate that they can handle stress;
- Pointless cruelty is bad karma;
- What kind of person would even want to do this sort of thing in the first place?
In short, I was appalled.
But I did some research on the Internet, and I learned that stress interviews are actually common practice. The whole point is to find out how a person operates under duress. No, a doctor's office is not a combat zone, but one does deal with the public and dealing with the public can be stressful. (The ideal employee, when dealing with difficult people, should just cave-in with a smile and give the difficult person anything they want, thereby rewarding their difficult behavior and making sure they continue to do it. This is why there are so many shitheads in the world, but let's leave that for the sociologists.)
So, upon further reflection, I decided that I was overreacting. In fact, I thought that maybe the stress interview didn't go far enough.
Dealing with the public is not just stressful. Based on my experiences in over twenty years of retail, the stress interview should also contain the following components:
- The interviewer should scream at the interviewee. Even better if the interviewer manages to get red in the face, in a very scary way, and call the interviewee a bitch;
- The interviewer should steal something belonging to the interviewee;
- The interviewer should make sexual advances towards the interviewee;
- The interviewer should take off his or her shoes and sit on the floor to conduct the interview;
- The interviewer should eat during the interview, making sure that they spill something, and put their food or drink down on the interviewee's notebook or portfolio, especially if it is good leather;
- The interviewer should also chew gum, and stick it somewhere on the interviewee;
- The interviewer should physically threaten the interviewee, producing a weapon, if possible;
- The interviewer should make it clear that they can get another interviewee somewhere else, for cheaper;
- The interviewer should be actively engaged in a slightly distasteful cell phone conversation throughout the interview, pausing only long enough to bark questions at the interviewee;
- The interviewer should borrow the interviewee's pen and not give it back.
After reacting to the above situations with nothing more than a gentle, vacant smile and an "I'll get the manager," and without even a shred of self-respect or human dignity, then, and only then, can we be truly sure if an applicant has what it takes.
Which is what? I shudder to think.
By the way, one of the caveats of the stress interview, according to my research, is that a goodly number of delightfully mentally healthy applicants will choose not to work for a company that would subject them to such an experience. So the process can backfire by weeding out normal people.
Actually, that explains a lot.