After the first call, Javier was delighted. When the human resources manager phoned a second time, he began to get his hopes up. On the third call, he thought the job was his. But then came a fourth job interview. And a fifth. By then, the 31-year-old marketing expert was frankly burned out. Two months had passed, and the company kept dragging the process out. There was no sixth interview. Nor a contract. “And then I was completely fed up,” says Javier, who prefers not to give his last name for fear of repercussions at work. “I had to seek psychological help because I began experiencing depression and anxiety.” He had been looking for work for almost two years, and in that time he had found himself in absurd situations. But this last one, just a few weeks before he was going to lose his right to unemployment benefits, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
In recent years, hiring processes have been turned into a marathon of questions and exercises that can last several months. While sometimes this is due to local reasons, for example, if there is a high supply of candidates, a company may choose to undertake a longer process to make sure they pick the right one.
But there are global reasons too, and these have to do with technology. On the one hand, video calls have made it less expensive to arrange an extra interview. On the other, online job search platforms, such as LinkedIn, have fostered the idea that there is always a better candidate — an attitude that is also seen on dating apps like Tinder.
Dating platforms try to hook users, so that the process of finding a partner lasts forever. It is the endless search for the perfect match, a toxic mechanism that sociologists such as Eva Illouz have been denouncing for years. This behavior is starting to be reproduced in the selection process to hire employees. Only the situation is worse: the employer always has the upper hand.
Hundreds of people apply for a job, leading companies to believe that there will always be a better candidate out there. It’s like joining Tinder as the only woman on the app. There is an unmanageable amount of candidates, and it’s easy to fall into the temptation of setting up interviews with as many people as possible, and put off committing — i.e. offering a contract. “It’s kind of like dating. When you go on a first date, you need a second date. You don’t need 20 dates to know if you like somebody,” Maddie Machado, a recruiter at companies such as LinkedIn, Meta and Microsoft, who complained about the problem in the online magazine Vox.
In this way, the toxic behaviors of the dating apps have become normalized in the hiring process. Javier was stood up. “Once the interviewer didn’t show up at the scheduled time for the video call,” he says, still angry. “I was waiting for half an hour, staring at the screen.” He was also ghosted, a neologism that describes when a potential partner (or employer) stops answering messages without explanation. They simply disappear. “On most sites, I didn’t get any final response,” says Javier, who says his inbox is full of messages telling him he is still being considered. “Some are more than a year old.” The situation made him so anxious that he ended up uninstalling job search apps from his phone. “Emotionally, it was torture,” he says.
Javier’s case is becoming increasingly common. Early this year, researchers from the University of Georgia warned that ghosting was spreading to the world of work. Participants in the study complained so insistently about the practice that the lead author, Christina Leckfor, set out to study it in a separate investigation that is still pending review. Another study, by the consulting firm Indeed, claims that 76% of active jobseekers experienced ghosting in the past 18 months. According to the study, these figures skyrocketed as a result of the pandemic and the digitization of the hiring process.
The trend seems clear, but there are notable exceptions. Google recently examined data from its recruitment processes, and found that four interviews were sufficient to make a hiring decision with 86% confidence. Previously, candidates had to go through more than 12. According to a survey conducted last year by LinkedIn in Spain, 56% of candidates believe that the ideal selection process should not stretch beyond two interviews. The reality is different, and it’s rare for a candidate to be interviewed fewer than three times.
After a long journey, Javier found a job. Being in a stable situation has given him the necessary perspective to analyze what he went through. Even so, he still can’t explain some of the surreal situations he was put through or how the hiring processes can be so cold and dehumanizing, even if it is done virtually. “Truthfully, I don’t think it takes two months to know if you want to hire someone,” he says. He just hopes his current job lasts him a long time. “The thought of having to start the search all over again makes me very nervous.”
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