t may be safe to say that job interviews will always be a part of the process of company hiring. However, the way that we conduct interviews, and the people we are letting into companies have changed vastly over these past five or so years. 

Unemployment in the US is facing an all time low, and I celebrate this until I re-enter the interviewee room and find myself re-confronted with the fact that no, this fact is not the sign from God we think it is. And after each strange interview, only more questions only arise. More people than ever may have employment, but is it enjoyable employment? If good, high paying jobs are as impossible as ever to get without very specific qualifications, does this rise in job-holders signify a large portion of our population simply giving up and settling for less? And if more people are holding these typical “high school and college” low-level jobs (which often demand full hours with only minimal pay), does that indicate a greater issue within our job economy–does it tell a tale of desperation, rather than success? The jobs we used to sneer and spit at, dismissed as a high schoolers folly…Are we now seriously turning to those jobs for our main source of income? 

Oh dear. 

Let me just start with the interview itself. 

I consider myself the typical student job seeker. I hold all the amenities in my vocational belt, including: past jobs, past internships, great rec letters, and relative proximity to the kinds of strip malls who might like to employ me at this stage in my career. Not a few days ago, I strolled into my prospective place of work–a company I won’t name here, but one which can be closely aligned with other big-store conglomerates of its type, like Target, Walmart, and Micheals (by the way, it was none of these three).

I felt quite good about this interview for a few reasons. One, I had clearly listed my schedule on the application, having thoroughly learned my lesson after a couple of “mix ups” with previous applications. Two, the place was relatively close to my house and had the exact kind of atmosphere I was looking for: fluorescent lighting, tile flooring, a job at register, and a pay scale that I had found attractive (at least, at the higher end of the spectrum)…What could go wrong? I had lodged my availability, my real availability (for once), applying for a job I knew I could do–I had even listed my desired salary, non-negotiable and on the so-called “high end”–And, yet, they had wanted me! It was a part-time workers, full time student’s real time dream! 

You think you know where this is going. But you don't. Or maybe you do, if this issue is as prevalent as I suspect it is. 

After waiting patiently at the register after the cashier boy I’d spoken to called over the hiring manager via radio, I was ushered towards the back interview room. I was half-introduced to a young employee before both the hiring manager and young woman alike realized that I was not “Aubrey,” and that she wasn’t the one who was going to be interviewing me today. Bummer. 

I chalked this up to either a genuine mistake, or a very klutzy intimidation tactic. Like, “Look. You have competition, even for this small role. Better do well.” Whatever. I discarded it and moved on. 

The back room was nothing special, resembling your typical throwaway “interview room.” It had a strange alignment of chairs, almost resembling a king’s dining table, and a few ancient-looking bags of chips in the corner. 

After a ten minute wait, a balding, middle-aged man in a hoodie entered the room. He thrust his palm into my face for me to shake, looking mildly surprised when I took it with ease. And with that, the interview began. 

Before getting into the questions, he began to rattle off a little rundown of the company and its motives. Except not. Rather than addressing important topics which might be of some concern to potential employees, such as company culture, support systems, and scheduling/break procedures, he fully launched into a college-grade lecture on the HISTORY OF THE COMPANY, as well as ALL OF ITS SIDE PROJECTS (none of which, mind you, applied even remotely to me). I just sat there, smiling, despite myself. 

Just keep smiling. You’ll get the job, I told myself. It’s a good job, and hiring managers are usually a bit into promoting their companies. It shows their enthusiasm. It’s fine. 

Boy was I wrong. 

We got a bit more into the logistical things, and it was then that he revealed to me that the entire availability I had clearly stipulated on my application was not available at their store. For a moment, I was speechless. What on Earth was I doing here, then? Why had they called me in, knowing that they had no place for me? When I asked just these questions, I was met with the response: 

“Well…We already interviewed and hired three other candidates. There are only five positions, and they were hired for the hours that you wanted.” 

Why not cancel the interview then? I quite literally could no longer work this job. A bit taken aback, I balked a bit. Noticing this, my interviewer asked me if I would like to continue with the interview, knowing that anything offered to me wouldn’t align with my hours. Before I had sufficient time to answer, he put forth another idea: that I could work in their warehouse-like space, sorting through items of negligible quality. I quickly nixed this idea, as sorting was not the job I had applied for, and then suggested that maybe we could continue with the interview, and if I did get a letter of offer, I could consider some much, much later hours in my schedule. 

He agreed, and we continued. Meanwhile, my head is reeling. I rely on a carpool situation in order to get me to and from work, and this radical change in schedule would likely not work very well with my current situation–nevermind the fact that no-one wants to work a 3 pm- 8 pm schedule when they’d strictly put in for 7 am to 3 pm. Ah, well. Let's just see where this goes. 

Unreasonable places, it would turn out. 

After a few bizarre hiccups in the interview in which my interviewer tried to sell me on their strange brand of healthcare (“they come directly into your house to x-ray you! Isn’t that cool?”), inadvertently told me that they hired ex-cons (“we have re-education program!”) and implied that I was acting strangely by inquiring as to the general demographic of the store’s employees (“Just out of curiosity, why do you ask?”) and then questioned my requested salary, despite the fact that they had listed it on their ad as being within their range (“I’d have to get approval from the regional manager. Some people have been here for years and don’t make that much”--mentioned several times. Note that “that much” was only $17/ hr)...we began to wrap things up. 

He asked me if I had any questions before I left. I asked him the standard: “So what happens now in the hiring process?” And he mentioned that in a week I’d receive a notice stating if I’d gotten the job or had been rejected and the reason why—

“Why?” I laughed incredulously. “You tell people WHY?” (At this point, I had clearly given up on the interview entirely). 

“Yeah,” he replied, totally straightfaced. “We tell people if the reason is because of their availability, or if we found a better, more suitable candidate,” he emphasized this part just slightly, as though it carried an implication in my case. Ah, well. The dream was fun while it lasted, I guess. 

We parted ways on a high-note. When I inquired as to whether or not my acceptance email would come equipped with schedule and pay, he said yes. But it was a very convoluted yes, as though this was not standard procedure for what you might think to be a big deciding factor in whether or not a person accepts a job to begin with. Why extend only a half offer? More and more, I’ve noticed, companies and hiring managers are trying to hide behind vagueness and terms in order to get people on the hook. They know that quitting a job two weeks in doesn’t look good, and so would rather you sign on, not knowing the terms of your contract, than give those terms up front and spare you the wasted time. 

Ooops! During the time it took you to read that, the interviewer continued to prattle on without your knowledge! I believe he said something about an arrangement with upper management, about scheduling a call with you to discuss, but, again, I can’t be sure. 

“Do you agree?” He asked me. 

No longer really wanting this job, determined to stand strong and motivated by past failures to assert myself in a professional setting, I gave the most straightforward answer I could: “I completely zoned out. I have no idea what you said.” 

And with that, we ended the interview. I didn’t ask for elaboration, I didn’t ask for special accommodations, or agree to a single thing (including their shady healthcare). We just shook hands and parted ways like…that was that.

So what can we take away from this story about the new hiring process, what employers are looking for, and how it impacts us? Well, let’s take a deeper dive into what Mr. Interviewer said. I think it’s fairly important…

“We Don’t have your Hours and/or Position” 

Businesses smell desperation in the applicant pool and understand that potential hires will take any job they can get. At first, this might seem a bit kind of them, as they are still technically offering jobs to those who need them, but in a way it’s a bit sneaky. 

For example, consider the fact that I had clearly stated my strict availability in my application, even choosing “no” when answering one of their “are you available…?” questions, and they either chose to ignore this, or never gave it a look-see to begin with. This utter ignorance of their applicants demonstrates their perception of our “same-ness.” We are an unmoving herd of similar, desperate people. We will take what we are given, and can easily be persuaded away from our demands, surely, if enough pressure is put on us. 

“Our Re-Education Program” 

Where do I start? 

Let me just establish this fact first: Most young high school and college girls don’t want to find themselves working next to what my employer so eloquently described as “ex-cons” during our time together. 

Moving beyond that, this whole rehabilitation program just screams out “scam diploma,” quite possibly louder even than Trump University. Anyone in law-enforcement will tell you that, in many cases, there is no such thing as an ex-con. They will continue to act out, again and again and again. This does not exactly make for an efficient or safe workplace, nevermind a sensible one. 

But for the sake of fairness, and because every generalization has its unaccounted for minority, let’s say you’re a reformed ex-con like Earl Hickey from the popular serial “My Name is Earl.” Let’s say you’re looking for a good job, some cash, and a means of moving up in the vocational world. You want a place where you are seen as more than just an ex-con. You want your employer to see you as a person, with potential. And you want to learn the skills necessary to eventually MOVE ON from said starter job. 

Then they hire you for a position you didn’t want, at hours that aren’t convenient for you, and at a salary that is less than you can live on–but still enough to keep you coming back for more, because, after all, it’s all you can get. Then say that they promised you an education and a way up in the world–but that education consists of throwaway courses that teach you little more than how to stack boxes on top of one another, or how to mop the floor. You’re really no better than where you began. 

Who’s the real criminal here? 

The famous “Do you Agree?”

Oh, boy. How do you answer this one? You’ve known your interviewer for all of twenty minutes, and now you’re being asked to make a damming career-related decision for a company that hasn’t even hired you yet? 

Frankly, I can’t fully attest to addressing this question, as, as was mentioned before, I did technically zone out for this minute portion of my interview–I think I was in shock, or else mulling my (poor) options over and over in my head.

This is a trap often employed by reputable companies looking to rope potential hires into a full commitment before they’ve had sufficient time to mull over their options. My answer, though clumsy, was probably the way to go here. If you’re not sure whether or not to accept one of these: “Do you agree?” questions, just say the words: “I don’t know. I’ll have to take some time beyond this interview to think about it.” The phrase “Do you agree?” in this setting, might as well be said in a lawyers court, for, as far as the company is concerned, a verbal agreement–no matter how noncommittal–places you in the backseat. Now, they can use the “well, they agreed,” excuse in a lot of different, tricky ways. 

Remember: Expressing too much interest in one of these jobs early on, especially verbally, will give your employer the impression that they can “just go forth with things,” overbooking and overriding you at every turn, even if you haven’t fully decided to agree to their terms yet. Always play hard to get when it comes to jobs like these. 

We tell people “Why”

Telling someone the reason for their non-hiring is not bad in and of itself, and can actually be a very helpful practice when employed in the right situation. For example, a person who is keen on using this interview as an opportunity to refine their job-seeking skills, might appreciate a bit of feedback on their code of dress, charisma, and availability. 

However, that doesn’t alter the fact that it’s just WEIRD when taken in any other setting. Most hiring managers won’t tell you why you weren’t hired, instead supplying a generic, soothing response along the lines of “we decided to go forth with another candidate.” This whole “we tell you why” almost implies a more personal level to the interview, as though I should be trying my best to maneuver towards the best outcome. 

Much like a student taking a test, I should be looking to impress, because, heaven forbid I get that bad report card at the end of this. Heaven forbid I know that I’m  bad at interviews, have bad availability, or am just a “not good enough candidate.” Zoinks. That last one’s a bit of an ego hit, and not the least relevant when it comes to refining your interviewing game. It says more about your rapport with the person interviewing you than it says about your true game. 

In Conclusion 

I’d like to cap this article off with a bit of a disclaimer. I’m in the privileged position of not desperately needing a job to work. I’m not an ex-con who has limited hiring options. This means that I am allowed to turn down these small-pay, demanding jobs, which too often discount the personalized needs of the individual. I don’t have to work the night-shift if I don’t want to. I don’t have to stock shoes when what I had actually wanted to do was operate the register. And for this, I am thankful. I know that situations can turn on a dime, and that deliberately fumbling an interview because you don’t really need it is a privileged person’s pastime. My article may stick in the craw of anyone who has had to suck it up at one of these jobs, with a boss who, though not deliberately mean or maligning, finds it “surprising” that you would ever advocate for yourself: for your desired hours, wage, and position. 

In a way, I think that’s the reason WHY I had to fudge this interview so deliberately and perfectly. I wanted, in a strange way, to strike a small blow back at companies and hiring managers who expect nothing but the most prostrate, most willing and supine employees. Businesses which have gotten used to the desperation of their applicant pool, and have started to dig in and take advantage. Businesses who are not afraid to hide behind terms like “rehabilitation,” whilst taking advantage of the entire population of ex-cons who have no hope of being hired elsewhere, teaching them important “skills” that are applicable nowhere else, skills like shoestacking, mopping, and pulling lint off of sweaters. 

The biggest insult that you can ever give a business is walking away from an offer. But here, in this economy, shows of vocational idealism are reserved only for the upper-and-middle-echelons. Those on the bottom have to be less choosy. Employers know this, and deliberately take advantage of it. 

Today, it’s not the most verbose, the most rehearsed, or the most qualified getting these smaller jobs. It’s the most desperate. And while this might sound like a good thing, it’s not. With so much desperation, wages have gone down–because businesses know they can push the bottom line down for people in need of a single dollar. The hours have gotten weirder, because, again, they can. The rate of employment has gone up because people need jobs, no matter how small, and yet all of the benefits of said employment have tanked. 

Consider what type of hire you are: the type who deliberately tanks the interview, because they can, and then goes home…Or, the type that swallows the hours, swallows the wage, swallows the position, because they have to. Then consider what you can do about it. Because something needs to be done. 

A few helpful labor statistics: 

“Gallup found that business units with engaged workers have 23% higher profit compared with business units with miserable workers. Employees who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity, equal to 11% of global GDP”-- CNBC 

“In the U.S. specifically, 50% of workers reported feeling stressed at their jobs on a daily basis, 41% as being worried, 22% as sad, and 18% angry.”  — CNBC (referencing Gallup poll) 

“Bertram said less than 4 percent of formerly incarcerated people have a college degree. Further still, 25 percent do not have a GED, often a minimum requirement on job applications.”--- PBS 

Nov 28, 2023