A reader writes:
I’m curious about your experience with the trend of longer and longer job applications. I’ve completed plenty of applications lately, and I’ve noticed that the online applications have grown quite a bit.
At first, you would just copy and paste your resume into the tiny form fields. Tedious, but okay.
Then came the 45-minute personality-behavioral tests. Pretty worthless when everyone knows the “right” answers. (“I never steal!” “I love working late!”)
Now I’ve had several applications with essay questions. Some are stolen from college essays (“What was your funniest moment?”), some are psuedo-philosophical (“How would you describe customer service?”), and some are trying to interview before the interview (“What is your greatest weakness?”).
Have you ever used the essay question format? Does it have any real purpose, or should employers be saving these questions for the interview? What do you think?
Ugh. Not a fan.
If I'm hiring a writer, I'll definitely have them do a writing exercise, but it would be later in the application process, not right up-front before any initial screening has even been done. And the exercise would be representative of the type of writing they'd be doing on the job, not the type of writing they had to do to get into college. (Good call there, by the way -- that's exactly what that reminds me of.)
There are multiple problems with the approach you're talking about:
1. It's inconsiderate, because it wastes the applicant's time. The majority of the people sending in an initial application aren't even going to get interviewed (or might not even get the courtesy of a rejection letter). Do some initial screening and determine that you have an interest in a candidate before asking them to spend their time like this.
2. It's rude. It reeks of "we're doing this just because we can, because look at this economy! You can't say no and we know it!" There's a reason you didn't see as much of it in a good economy.
3. It's silly. It really doesn't get at how well the candidate will do the job, which is what this stage of screening should be about.
4. It's not particularly useful for the employer. Who's to say that the candidate wrote the response herself, rather than having it composed or heavily edited by someone else? (Or, as we learned this week, the whole application could have been filled out by a spouse.)
At the initial stage of contact, what I want is a cover letter and a resume. Period. And I am suspicious of an employer who wants anything more before they've even determined if the candidate is a match at the most basic level.