Job hunting in a post-recession America has evolved into a warped version of the expression “dog eat dog.” Now we’re just straight up dog fighting. The days of job security and a gold watch after 50 years of loyal service are dead. Instead, the market is littered with people fighting tooth-and-nail to distinguish themselves with pithy cover letters, impeccable resumes, and non-offensive interview banter. And yet, somewhere along the line we’ve abandoned our personal rights in an attempt to grab that brass ring.
Hiring managers know that vetting potential applicants can be tedious, needlessly time-consuming, yet imperative. Inconsistent formatting, typos or duplicitous references can betray a problem employee. And yet, it’s misguided to think that they also don’t discount employees based on the ambiguous ethnicity of their names, their age glossed from their education, or their socio-economic status based on their address. It’s illegal for employers to outright ask a potential employee’s race, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, marital status or disability status in an interview. But now this information can easily be ascertained from pre-screening video interviews or a cursory Internet search.
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HireArt is a company that allows employers to screen employees based on job-specific questions and webcam-recorded interview videos. In theory, this sounds like a great step in taking advantage of modern technology to streamline the process. But like with blindly clicking a website’s terms of service, by submitting to this new digital interview process, you are signing away your privacy and equal opportunity protection. You are handing them your general age, gender and race right off the bat. A potential employee can devote the time, creativity and diligence to their application and get ignored because of an employer’s bias — without said employer even taking time out of their day to meet them. This also allows employers to use random observations like a crib in the background, a wedding ring, a yarmulke or a wheelchair to pre-judge someone.
Nowhere on the HireArt website does it say that they protect the applicant’s equal opportunity rights. It does say, “The corporate and startup companies hiring on HireArt are serious about treating job-seekers with consideration and respect.” The challenge is we live in a society where there is legislation, in contention, that allows people to be stopped-and-frisked based on their race or refused service based on strong religious objections. Sure, a hiring manager can get this information from googling you, but why should you as a prospective employee make it easy for them?
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There is also the glaringly obvious, and somewhat tacky, fact that you can be judged on your looks. American Apparel received some controversy when they took full-length photos of applicants and had managers submit staff photos to the corporate offices. The logic was staff members needed to have a sense of style. Your looks, glowing personality or smile do not dictate your ability to balance budgets or code websites.
As if it isn’t bad enough to have to pass a screen test to get a job, employers are actually stealing work from applicants. It has become commonplace for employers to ask potential employees to submit actual work, on spec, without even the courtesy of a pre-screening phone call. This is unheard of in most industries — why is it OK in professional America? A potential McDonald’s employee wouldn’t be asked to clean a bathroom, unpaid, to showcase their mopping skills. Actors, writers and other entertainment professionals have union protection. Their likeness and artistic creations are protected by a set of standards that guarantee payment and residuals. Meanwhile, potential advertisers, marketers and designers are asked to do work for free in the hopes of getting the job. Where is the intellectual property protection?
Job hunters face tedious, tacky and potentially harmful vexations in their hunt for employment. There are online applications with endless forms that request redundant information. These forms are used solely so employers can instantly screen and reject employees with a button push. There are countless scams on Craigslist and other job boards that try to steal people’s identities or enlist them in porn or escort services. And yet, job hunters are beholden to archaic rules about not asking about compensation and sending thank-you notes.
Supply and demand allow employers to be selective, but that doesn’t mean we should allow them unfettered access to our personal information, intellectual property or smiling faces in making their choice. We need to draw a line in the sand about how far we are willing to go to get a job. If not for us, for the people who may get screened out of a job, have their work stolen, or their time wasted. If not, we allow a precedent where employers can continue utilizing their leverage over economically disenfranchised applicants to steal their rights away. It won’t be long before we end up in a “Gattaca” scenario where we must submit our genetic material as part of our application. And I’m sure if we do we will probably have to also submit our parents’ phone numbers for a follow-up.