It’s a perverse irony that as the labour market tightens, human resources departments seem continuously to swell. As a cruel consequence, the job application process seems to be getting more and more tortuous. In the old days, landing a job was easy. You spotted a post you liked and contacted the company to flag your interest. They rang you back. Then followed a nice face-to-face chat, a quick perusal of your resume and — if you were lucky — a stand-up, welcome-aboard, see-you-on-Monday handshake.
How things have changed. Today recruitment is a law unto itself, a shadowy division staffed by evil geniuses capable of devising increasingly esoteric obstacle courses for the unwitting jobseeker.
A recent and striking example has been dreamed up by big four accounting firm KPMG. The abbreviated name of the firm alone tells you there’ll be the usual battery of psychometric tests before your CV even reaches HR.
But as part of its latest hiring drive, KPMG has added another painstaking layer to the process. Some cunning devil in the recruitment department, perhaps a disgruntled former accountant, has conceived an ingenious way to streamline things.
Gone is the tedious “tell us a bit about yourself” component of the job interview. Instead, potential recruits are asked to kindly submit a four-minute “selfie” video.
The aim, as KPMG puts it, is to identify a prospective employee’s “personal impact”. They don’t simply want accountants; they want people who possess “business critical competencies that are relevant to our evolving business, with its emphasis on innovation and agile working”.
Personal impact, business critical competencies, agile working: persuasive stuff, isn’t it? But I rather think that what they’re really trying to say is, “Look, we haven’t got time to see you all. Just talk to yourself for a bit, and we’ll have a squiz to see if you’ve got a pulse.”
The term personal impact, aside from the creepy echo of the term victim impact statement, throws up all sorts of ambiguities. Where you hear “interpersonal skills and presentation” someone else is potentially construing the term to mean anything from an employee’s body odour to their potential to commit assault.
Even if you possess the requisite personal impact, there’s still the nagging business of the curriculum vitae. Once a quaint little chronology of your schooling and work experience, the humble resume has been elevated to what the recruiting cognoscenti call a “marketing document”. You’re no longer a jobseeker. You’re a brand in transition, remember? But therein lies a problem. When you reach a certain age, it may take a couple of pages, at least, to list your education and experience. Forget that. These days, the recruiter takes an average seven seconds to evaluate your life’s work. Get it down in one piece of A4 because that’s all they’re expecting.
Hence the rise of former model and FBI recruit Joanna Weidenmiller, chief executive of 1Page, which recently listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. The name speaks for itself: you’ve got only a page to sell yourself. And when they say sell yourself, they mean it. The key, as JFK might have said, is to ask not what your prospective employer can do for you but what you can do for your employer.
Even if you do land an interview, it’s no longer a simple matter of thinking up some interesting responses to wow your panel of inquisitors; you must come armed with your own set of incisive retorts. Hence the plethora of articles invariably titled “the (insert random number here) questions you must ask in a job interview”.
Perhaps this convoluted and daunting operation is a backlash to all the flak the humble accountant has had to cop through the years. For as British priest and PR guru George Pitcher once observed, “actuaries are about as interesting as a footnote on a pension plan”.
The best advice is probably what your mother once gave you: just remember to smile and be yourself. And if they ask about your personal impact, do as American humorist Jack Handey does: ask if they ever press charges.