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Who is your customer?

Do unto others as you would have others do unto you

It’s probably no surprise, bearing in mind what we’ve been through in the last few years, that I’ve got several friends who are looking for jobs.

And the hoops they have to jump through to get, in most cases, absolutely nowhere, makes me wonder what happens to normal, sensible people when they go into recruitment mode.

I have one friend who was asked to either cancel his holiday or travel back from it for a day in order to attend a first interview.

When the company finally gave him an alternative date, he was kept waiting for 20 minutes then effectively locked in a windowless room for 90 minutes to work on a proposal – something he’d not been warned about – which was then ripped apart by two interviewers who seemed to be having a contest between themselves to see who could be the ruder.

Another was given 24 hours’ notice to come up with a 35 minute presentation and then asked for the copy of the presentation plus all the notes at the interview – free consultancy!

One friend attended three interviews in London – one of which involved preparing a 30 minute SWOT analysis and presentation – forking out for three sets of peak travel train fares, only to find out that the role had been ear-marked for a friend of the line manager, long before the interview process actually started.

Another was told that the role was “absolutely, categorically yours. We definitely want you to do this job for us. We just have one person that we need to see, but that is just a formality. You’re definitely the man for the job.” Eight weeks’ later, he has yet to hear back from the company, and there’s someone on LinkedIn with the exact same job title.

The words “You are our preferred candidate” have rather lost currency with another friend who says she has heard them so often to no avail that they are now meaningless. She’s also got a phone call from the recruitment company at 5pm the day before an interview telling her that the job had been pulled and the recruitment process halted.

Of course, you’re not supposed, these days to ask people how old they are, nor whether they plan to have children, but that doesn’t stop the questions being asked.

I once berated a chap who told me that he really needed to ask women candidates between the age of about 24 and 38 whether they were planning to leave and have babies. I asked him if he ever asked male candidates if they planned to get a better job and leave him in the lurch having taken a load of accounts to a competitor. He changed the subject.

There’s a school of thought that says that treating people badly at the recruitment stage will sort the wheat from the chaff and that if you can’t handle a bit of pressure at interview stage then you’re not the right person for the job. Which is nonsense, of course, since there are very few situations we come across in our working lives which replicate an interview situation.

These particular crimes have been committed by companies themselves – I’m not even going to get started on the number of recruitment companies that never return calls or emails – and it makes me wonder something. If this is how some companies treat prospective employees, how on earth do they treat their customers?

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there are companies out there who are so focussed on the “real” customer that they forget that there can be internal customers.

I should be at pains to point out that none of these people have been actively seeking jobs in construction or manufacturing or builders merchants, so maybe this industry is different.

Maybe this industry really does think how it would like to be treated and treats others accordingly.

I’d like to think so.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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