Work is Still Broken — The Hiring Process

Matthew Oliphant
Dec 18, 2018 · 7 min read
classic.

Last night, I got an email from a hiring manager. It was the dreaded, “thanks, but no thanks” email. Here’s a rough timeline of what led to the email. I note it here, because I was very surprised to hear anything at all.

  1. Apply for position, early November.
  2. Get interviewed, mid-November.
  3. Email their internal recruiter a few hours after my interview to say I wasn’t interested.¹
  4. One month later (last night), get email from hiring manager, turning me down.

I don’t know about you, but being rejected for something I wasn’t interested in caused a weird experience for me. And, for the record, I use that word “experience” on purpose. That email made me feel bad. All rejection does. I mean, who enjoys that?

But rejection is part of putting yourself out there; it’s part of the job search. That said, there has to be a better way to manage this whole process for all the people within the system of work.

The hiring process is a system. It has people, touchpoints, systems, policies, metrics, critical moments … if only there were a helpful way to map this out coughcough Service Design. That might be a good idea for your organization: map out the hiring process to see how it might be improved. Because I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Work Is Broken

Ten years ago, ChangeThis posthumously published a “manifesto” by Marc Orchant titled, Work is Broken.

I think about it from time to time. A lot of the article still resonates with me. There’s a lot about the way we work, by and large, that doesn’t make any sense, yet we still go through the motions because … well, lots of reasons; some of them are good ones, most of them are not.

There’s a lot to tackle under the heading Work is Broken. I suggest reading Orchant’s article as a start. Here, I want to talk about the hiring process. The impetus for this comes squarely from the trying-to-get-the-job perspective, but I also want to cover a bit from my trying-to-find-qualified-people perspective.

Trying to Get the Job

While 2018 was a decent year for Studio VO, I’ve been missing working with people on a regular basis. I get the opportunity to do it with my clients, but then the project is over after a week or two. Sometimes we do another project together, but it isn’t the same as working with a team on a product/service over a long period of time.

Because I’ve been missing people, when I see an in-house position that interests me, I apply for it. Most of the time I don’t hear anything at all (that’s one broken thing). Sometimes I get an automated email telling me how great my application was but that they are moving forward with other people, usually anywhere from 4-to-6 months after applying (also not optimal). Sometimes I get an email from the hiring manager (what prompted this post) and that’s usually the best way to be let down (but it still isn’t great).

I usually don’t hear why I’m being turned down. I’ve heard twice this year the reason why.

  1. The hiring manager didn’t see the word “Ethnography” on my resume. I heard this second-hand via the recruiter. This is patently dumb.²
  2. Something changed internally and they pulled the position. This is reasonable and I was thankful to the hiring manager who sent me a personal email about it.

Overall, the feeling I get from the experience of trying to find a job is, in the vernacular, suck-tastic.

Trying to Find Qualified People

That was my fifth experience this year where I got an interview with the hiring manager and the role (Director or Manager) was subsequently pulled after the interview. But, me being me, I kept an eye on the open positions at the company in question. All five times there popped up a Senior position with essentially the same bullet points.

My impression during the interviews was that they were looking for an Individual Contributor, not a Manager or Director. Turns out, I was right.

I get it. Hiring people is hard work. But, regardless of it being a Buyer’s or Seller’s market, everyone should want to do this better. To quote from the link in this paragraph, “I heard you’ve been having trouble hiring for all those open positions.” I keep hearing things like “tight talent market” and it occurs to me that companies are still functioning like potential employees need to be the ones jumping through the hoops.

That doesn’t make sense to me. Remember, I used the word Experience above on purpose. Your potential employees are like customers. Would you treat your customers like they owe you something? I mean, besides the money you want them to give to you.

I’m not saying that job seekers don’t need to do their part of the work to get hired, but you’re the one getting paid to participate in this.

An internet-age ago, when I worked at an agency, I wrote about how we hired people. I was in a position at that company to hire people and did so on a number of occasions. It wasn’t the best process, and I could have done better (we can all do better), but we all did our best to make sure the connections we made with people were positive. Because if we weren’t going to hire them now, we might want them in the future. And we’d want them to still want us.

My Offer to You

I have a new service I’m offering via Studio VO. You might think I’m joking, and I doubt anyone will take me up on this, but I want to put it out there in case someone who reads this is in a position to be able to (and, ideally, want to) fix things.

If you are hiring for a position that’s in any way, shape, or form related to UX (all the X roles, any level), you first hire me to interview for the position. Yes, you pay me to go through the application, interview, and post-interview process.

Then, when all is said and done, you’ll have either:

  1. Validated you know who you’re looking for, or
  2. Realized you have no idea what you’re looking for and will revisit the core need.

I feel like, for a reasonable price, I could help managers better understand what they are looking for. Helping people better understand things… Classic UX³.

Broken, But Fixable

There is a lot of work to do and I don’t see many people doing it. But I can’t see everything, so if you know of someone (a person, a company) doing work to make work better, I’d love to hear about it.

In the meantime, there’s my new service. And I’m going to start being more constructively critical of the process as I experience it. If no one fills out the complaint form, these companies are never going to change.

That’s the main issue really: there’s no incentive to change. Just like with my regular work, and how it can be hard to convince a company who is already making money on their sub-optimal product/service that they could be doing so much better. “But we’re making money!” What they really mean is they don’t want to upset the “balance” they’ve found.

And that is likely why the hiring process is so broken. Companies get resumes, people get jobs. This is how they’ve always done it. The process works! Well… it functions. Well… it’s all broken.

And it’s all fixable.

It just takes more than one Matthew to get to work on it.


¹ I didn’t just write to the recruiter to say I wasn’t interested… I reviewed their process. Roughly 600 words on what wasn’t working and specifically why I wasn’t interested in the position. And also that I thought they were hiring for the wrong role. We’ve got to fix this shit, people. Gotta start somewhere.

² Most of us in the Experience-related professions do not do Ethnography. We like to call it that to sound cool. Well, I don’t. I prefer to call it Contextual Inquiry. Which is what is on my resume. The idea of a hiring manager who is in a position to hire someone as Director of Research, who doesn’t know the difference and that, in-application, is actually what they are looking for … FFS, people. Read an effing book. Or at least a Wikipedia page.

³ I should have said UX Classic. This New UX crap tastes funny and is also broken. But that’s another diatribe for another time.


Hi, I’m Matthew. I run Studio VO.

Studio VO. People are weird. We figure out why. We help you focus your time and money on doing the right work well. Ask yourself, “What’s the cost of focusing on the wrong work?” We identify the root cause of what’s keeping your product or service from reaching its full potential; for you and your customers.


Matthew Oliphant

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Matthew has been getting people from WTF to FTW since 1999. Find him at studiovo.co.