Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Should unsuccessful job applicants be given feedback?

In the past year or so I've applied for precisely 111 jobs. Thus far I've managed to secure interviews with three of these - the Navy, RAF and, er, Asda - and been offered a position with the former, albeit with an expected start in around three year's time. It's only slightly ironic that I secured my current soul-destroying 9 to 5 via a recruitment agency and not by direct application.

By far and away the biggest object of my professional affections is the BBC, with the organisation accounting for around 10% of those 111 attempts and many more before that. All - bar one back in around 2006 I think - have been completely unsuccessful, not even getting past the initial stage in the recruitment process.

Like so many employers the BBC is incredibly reluctant to offer any semblance of a reason as to why a particular applicant has been rejected. Below is a fairly typical response:

The key get-out clause being: "...we are unable to provide more detailed feedback on individual applications at this stage in the process".

Now I've never been one to challenge what is a fairly typical shirking of care by an organisation towards those with a desire to work for it; because recruitment at the BBC - like so many other places - is utterly opaque I've always been worried of any repercussions should I choose to challenge these blanket rulings. Being seen as a troublemaker is not a good way to convince a prospective employer to take you on at a future date.

But, 111 applications on, I'm starting to get fed up spending several painstaking hours filling out forms only to be rejected without being told why. General frustration aside, it strikes me as simply being bad manners not to include any sort of explanation. Even a single sentence along the lines of "You don't have the required amount of experience" or "You have an inability to form coherent phrases" would suffice.

So after receiving the latest round of rejections from the Beeb - this time for the excellent Aim High Scheme which I would have dearly loved to have been considered for - and despite being told that feedback would not be offered I decided to ask for some anyway. I figured that since I clearly wasn't offering anything that might interest the Corporation in any meaningful way I didn't really stand much to lose by asking.

To the BBC's credit I received a response fairly soon afterwards. No, they wouldn't be able to provide any feedback. Too many applicants, you see. OK, I said, given that this Scheme is run in conjunction with external stakeholders would they be able to make an exception in this case? No, came the reply. My suggestion of initiating a system of feedback on demand also fell on deaf ears. They categorically refused to say why I had not progressed to the next stage.

So I decided on a change of tack. I asked to see the criteria used in making their selections; it occurred to me that I could at least try and work out by a process of elimination where I had been found wanting. Again came the prompt reply, this time with the original job application attached. I was informed that this was the only criteria used in selecting candidates.

It didn't take much to realise that this was complete nonsense; if it were true all applicants that met those criteria would at the very least make it through to the next round of the process. And there was nothing on the attached form to say how individuals would be scored or compared to each other. In short I felt like I was being fobbed off.

So yesterday I emailed back with these concerns. The following is the reply that came back this morning:

Essentially it's stating that any and all criteria used to discriminate between candidates that does not feature on the job description is confidential - a surprising admission for an organisation that prides itself on transparency and accountability. It's not that I'm not aware that recruitment is a select and secretive world hidden from the eyes of those that seek employment and based on the discriminatory whims of HR, it's just that I expected more from what is by a long shot the foremost and most desirable employer in British media today. I genuinely can't understand why this information is being hidden unless there's something untoward to hide. Needless to say I'll be emailing back with some feedback of my own.

Of course the great irony in all this is that it would have been far quicker to simply tell me why my application was rejected rather than engage in a monotonous dialogue for nigh on a fortnight. As I pointed out in one of these emails even the smallest amount of feedback would mean that any future applications would be a lot stronger and that the BBC would receive a consistently higher grade of applicant - a genuine win-win situation. It would also make for a much more positive experience for those on the receiving end of rejections.

I also have to admit that I've never really bought the 'excessive number of applicants' excuse so beloved of the BBC et al and trotted out whenever they can't be bothered to tell an applicant that - in their opinion - they aren't good enough. By way of example I received a rejection letter from the British Transport Police only yesterday, in which they state that they had over 4,000 applications. They've also included a four page document detailing exactly what criteria were used to select successful candidates and how they were applied.

Now it seems fairly obvious to me that if an organisation wants fewer applications to sift through they should openly apply more restrictions at the point of advertising the role in question. In fact I would go further; there needs to be complete and utter transparency in all aspects of recruitment so that everyone knows that their applications are being considered equally and fairly. Anything else is just darn rude.

I'll still keep applying for jobs at the BBC; I've no idea how much this recent exchange will have damaged my future prospects but given that I've nothing to go on in terms of feedback I guess I'll never really know. I desperately want to work for the BBC and as such I want to be able to submit the best applications that I can. It's just difficult to know that I'm doing so without being told where I've failed previously by the very people I'm trying so hard to impress.


Tom Ruffles said...

I really do sympathise, Keith, this is a very frustrating situation and involves a huge amount of time and labour. I think partly it is about time pressure, mainly because they don't want to say anything that might escalate into a lengthy dialogue. But really, as your example suggests, they are trying to make the process seem rigorous and objective when in reality there is a huge subjective element at work when many candidates on paper are well qualified. No employer wants to have to air these issues when they don't need to. The best answer you will get is that there were other candidates who were better qualified than you, and you can't argue with that, not having access to the details.

radical royalist said...

A pretty impressive documentation. I know how you feel, although I did not manage to send out 111 job applications. But some rejections did not make sense and I made some phone calls to find out, why the returned my application. May be you should try that.

Of course the BBC may remain silent on the reasons why they did not want to employ you for legal reasons. The Beeb might be frightened that you could sue auntie.

Keith Ruffles said...

Thanks both, much appreciated. The thing is I know the job market is ultra-competitive at the moment and that rejections are to be expected, but when it's happening with every single application you start to wonder what the problem is.

I'll let you know if there are any developments...

Andy Porter said...

I do know how you feel Keith, and like Tom Ruffles, I sympathise with your position [or perhaps lack of one]. I too am extremely frustrated on the work–front. But at 60–years of age I have learnt not to let the so–and–so’s grind me down – I will get a worthwhile job one day. Some timely advice Keith in your career dream. Remember, that others have peddled this low–road before you. You are not the first university graduate to start at the top and work his way down. Have you got place on your tandem?