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Viewpoints: Recruiting Blues

I hate recruiting! The whole process is time-consuming, frustrating and sadistic. It’s all becoming very clear that this year’s process is going to come down to a “networked job-search.” Isn’t the main reason we came here to avoid having to hustle for a job? Another big reason we’re here is to change our function and industries. If last year is at all indicative, however then a majority of us will end up back at our previous employers or companies that pretty much look just like them and only claim to be “different.” Ironic isn’t it?

The Presentation Phenomenon
And what’s the deal with these corporate presentations? Are they psychology experiments, which basically encourage thousands of rats to chase after poisoned cheese? Truth is that all of these presentations are the same. They all feature an HBS alum, who clearly has been forced to recruit and emphasizes all of the details we couldn’t care less about. Is it that difficult for them to realize what we care about?

The big questions are simple, at least in my mind:

1) How many people will you hire this year?
2) What will my roles and responsibilities be if I join your firm?
3) What do I need to have on my r‚sum‚ to make sure that you don’t throw it the trash, on top of the other 800?

Of course we get none of the answers to these questions. If you dare ask than you are liable to get the following answers:

1) Its still very early so we’re not sure how many hires we’ll be taking on…Translation: Our stock price has dropped 65% over the past year and we’re laying off half the workforce, so you’ll be lucky if we hire anybody.

2) There is no clear path for our employees. We really want you to design your own path and discover your own career… Translation: We’ll stick you wherever bodies are needed.

3) We’re looking for candidates who display leadership, communication skills and analytical abilities… Translation: We don’t know where we need to throw bodies yet, so we’re going to provide you with these extremely generic attributes that you no doubt have already proven you have, given the fact that you got into HBS.

What’s the deal with the “List”?
So for all of our trouble: suffering through the presenter’s banter, agonizing through the annoying questions and dreaming about what else we could be doing, what do we get? We get to sign our name to a stupid list. What does it mean? Am I actually going to receive consideration for your non-existent, generically-defined positions just because I wrote my name on your list? Why don’t they just add that to the characteristics they look for in candidates… “leadership, communication skills, ability to sign name to the list in a legible manner.”

The real funny part is watching people at presentations where there is no “list.” There’s a quiet irritation that rushes through the crowd. You can almost hear the thoughts. “You mean there is no list?” “Why did I even bother to come then?” I’ve even been at presentations where the attendees try to start their own list, as if that would “pass.” The most desperate attendees force their business cards down the presenters’ throats. Do you really think they even give them a second look? I know you want to receive credit for the appearance, but come on.

When leaders become followers
How do a bunch of really smart, aspiring executives fall for lies as old as the service firms that spread them? One of the first lessons of the career search process that we’re taught is to “avoid the herd mentality.” Nonetheless, year after year the majority of us chase after positions in consulting firms and investment banks. Why? Is the prospect of becoming a PowerPoint jockey or an Excel lackey that great? I understand that some of us might have masochistic tendencies, but a majority of us? That seems highly unlikely. Granted money calls, but are we that deaf to our own livelihood?

Personally, I don’t have time to answer that question. I need to hurry up and leave for the McKinsey presentation, so I can make sure to get my name on the list.

October 21, 2002
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