EBA Opinion

Emily Dickson

Dear Interviewers.
Please don’t say that to me.

“Treat others as you’d like to be treated” is something our mothers told us all the time – even when we came home crying, and wishing with all our heart that we could take revenge on the school bully. But as distraught as we were, most of us kept to these deeply-ingrained values of mutual respect and kindness. Yet, as I’m starting to realise, there’s something sinister that can come out in people when they see someone else at their most vulnerable point.



As a job seeker, we (literally) put everything on the line in the hopes of getting that big break. Countless hours are spent searching for positions, even more time researching each company to respond to their unique forms and requirements, and not to mention the time taken to write perfectly crafted cover letters to appeal to each and every individual organisation... We all know the drill. In fact, the average candidate spends 3-4 hours on each application, according to a 2016 CareerArc study.

So, when we finally make it to the interview round (yes!), we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, at the very least. And not, heaven forbid, to be made to feel like a spectacle on show for the sole purpose of entertainment, or to be unknowingly enlisted to provide fresh business ideas - when they were never going to give you the job anyway. I’m not sure which of these is worse. Are you angry now? I am.

While dozens of people I know are smart, fiery and determined, and put time into their applications, whether it be internships or paid roles, I do know there are lazy candidates out there. But this blog... ok... this rant, is about showing respect to your selected talent, especially when you are face to face with them in an interview.

Next year will be my last year of university, and I’m seeing my friends and peers graduate. I am so excited for them as they enter the workforce. What I didn’t expect to hear, however, was stories of my friends being made to rap, dance or record a voice-memo of themselves pretending to be excited that they got the job... Yep, you heard right.

The fake phone call

My best friend’s brother applied for a tech graduate position at a well-known, established Australian employer. One of the application questions required him to record a conversation “between him and a loved one, sharing the good news that you got the position.” Sigh. Some people may think this is no big deal, and in the scheme of things, that’s true. But, on top of this being ridiculous and slightly embarrassing for anyone participating, I take issue here for two reasons. Number one: How does this assess technical ability? Number Two. How does this assess technical ability? My friend’s brother laughed it off, saying it must be an experimental modern-age HR Manager, and went ahead to record a strange phone call between him and his mum. He opted to be his normal and relaxed self, and not an over-the- top-ecstatic-I-won-the-lottery- kinda guy that the employer was presumably dreaming of (or were they? Who knows?).

The Dance Off

In another story I heard last week, a family friend who just finished high school had applied for a job at a very well-known hospitality franchise. She found herself jumping through hoops just to get to the final interview. After a discussion over the phone, she was invited to a formal interview in which she was probed for ideas on smoothie recipes and theme days. Of course, this is an easy way to test someone’s creativity, and to see if they understand what the brand is all about. But the majority of the interview was spent talking about these ideas... And with thousands of similar interviews conducted across the country every year, it’s hard not to suspect that the company has a smart marketing ploy in which they use young candidates as free ideas people. Nod. Take notes. Send paperwork to head office. And this wouldn’t be so bad, except that when my friend made it to the final round of interviews, it was a five-hour workshop. Five hours! It turned out to be a dancing competition. (Queue Macklemore’s Dance Off).

You may say that asking young people to dance to YMCA is a way to get an idea of their spontaneity and sense of fun, but, from experience, I can tell you it simply does not bring out the best in everyone. In fact, the young lady who applied to the position is a well- rounded, driven and bubbly individual. But she found it humiliating to suddenly be thrown into a dancing competition when she had expected a job interview. She headed to the back of the group and tried her best, but needless to say, a staff member stopped her halfway, offered her a ‘failed voucher’ (as my friend likes to call it) for a discounted smoothie, and was told to head home.

Another friend applied to a bookshop at her university, only to be unknowingly entering a rap competition. She said it was humiliating. And so it goes on.

The “Trial Shift”

Another friend told me she got passed the interview stage and was offered trial shifts. She worked for about three days, unpaid, before being told she was hired. Sweet! But guess what? All the other candidates were completing their “trial shifts” too, so my friend didn’t get her first shift for another 6 weeks. Where’s the Fair Work Ombudsmen when you need it? Oh - here’s the Fair Work Ombudsmen’s take on trial shifts: “Any period beyond what is reasonably required to demonstrate the skills required for the job must be paid at the appropriate minimum rate of pay.” But unfortunately, these sweet, sweet words are open to interpretation.

A Day “On the Job”

Another lady got in touch with me to say that she had applied for a Marketing Executive role, and was told she would shadow the Marketing Manager the following day. She turned up the next day, ready to learn all about the role, only to find herself walking the streets “doorknocking to get people to change energy suppliers.” Sigh again.

We love it when you wear our clothes to the interview!

Another frustrating one. On a well-known clothes retailer’s website, it reads “We love it when you wear Activewear to your interview!” Again. Not a big deal, and they might argue it’s about passion for the brand, but this puts pressure on the best job hunter hopefuls to deck themselves out in the employer’s gear in order to give themselves the best chance. “What if I didn’t get the job just because all the other candidates wore their stuff...?”. At the time of writing, this retailer’s cheapest pants online were $90 - on sale.

Unpaid Training

Don’t even get me started on unpaid training shifts. I recently discovered that a high profile Australian jeweller refuses to pay workers for training. Not only does this bother me because workers are clearly missing out on pay they are entitled to, but refusing to pay for training implies that workers are expected to be knowledgeable about the organisation’s products and processes - without support from management. That’s just unreasonable, and quite frankly, insulting. There’s more to my life than studying the intricacies of South African gold in my free time, and yes, I would like to be paid if you’d like me to learn about it. Please and thank you. A review on Glassdoor about this place reads, “They try and get you to work for free hours with unpaid training, meetings and staying late.” Another worker commented, “Always keeps you back without pay (and) expects you to work free after-hours to set up new sales but it’s ok - you get lollies or pizza! Not!” Tut tut.

One last thing

It may seem like job seekers are in a powerless position because they want or need the job, and because they have come to YOU to assess THEM and determine their future. But not so fast. If they are applying to you, they are also applying to other organisations, like yours. And, if by a stroke of chance, you DO offer them the job, they may just say no and take a better offer with a company that didn’t make them bend over backwards to impress you.

Remember, it only works in your favour to treat candidates right. A 2016 study by CareerArc found 60 per cent of job seekers have had a bad candidate experience and 72 per cent of those share that experience with others in person or online. Consider what it means for your employer brand if your talent pool shares your behaviour to your future target talent.

Rant over

This isn’t to single out these employers. There are many organisations I could point the finger at. But, by the same token, there are also companies doing the right thing and treating candidates with fairness and respect, simply because it is the right thing to do.

This blog entry is a cry from candidates and new hires from around Australia for fairness and integrity from organisations who could be doing (a lot) better when it comes to recruiting, and welcoming staff.

Outstanding candidates are aspirational and relentless, and they will go places. So maybe, one day, the tables will turn, and they could be interviewing you. Don’t worry though, we won’t make you sing, dance or walk the streets. We’ll treat you with respect; our mothers told us to treat others how we would like to be treated.


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About the Author:

Emily Dickson is Employer Branding Australia’s Content and Digital Media Manager. A creative marketer who never says no, she specialises in content and social media and loves bringing your talent stories to life. She’s also multilingual, an incredible multi-tasker and better than most at keeping Mark in check.

About Employer Branding Australia:

We exist to help you attract the best talent and keep them engaged. Together, we’ll create and promote your 'Why work for us?' and turn your authentic people stories into your most powerful marketing tool.

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