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I could be characterized as a professional student made easier these days because of technology. While participating in a teleseminar recently I heard about a video system that could be used to deliver web seminars. I sent an email to the company (a well-known international HR organization), to ask for a demo of the system. By stroke of luck, I was invited to attend their next webinar where I would see the system at work, and by sheer coincidence, the topic was Résumé Screening and Interviews – Avoiding the Counterfeit Candidate. Two for the price of one, I thought.
The presenter began by saying that in a technology driven, highly-educated, information rich environment it is becoming more difficult to source great talent. She identified some websites that were dedicated to educating job seekers about how to get the job. "Some of these sites were run by ex employees of certain companies who packaged and sold ‘insider guides’ to prospective candidates", she said. These guides are supposed to give candidates detailed information about the work environment, job openings, typical interview questions, compensation information, how to negotiate and tips on what to wear.
She told participants, mostly HR professionals, to be on guard for such candidates because they are counterfeit. "Their mission is single-minded – to secure a job. They are highly coached, well rehearsed candidates who may have studied your hiring practices, learned your company’s lingo, know the decision makers and have researched the business to ensure they are telling you what you want to hear, but unable to walk the talk".
When I heard the description, I asked myself, what was wrong with that? Isn’t that what career practitioners teach their clients to do? Be prepared, network, arrange informational interviews, research and gather as much information as possible about the company, recall stories to use when answering behaviour-based interview questions, and dress appropriately.
I started to question whether the work career consultants do could be construed as counterfeit, but the mention of this ‘fool-proof’ system that could "uncover those savvy counterfeit candidates" interrupted my thoughts. Their system, as it turned out, was no different than the Application Tracking System (ATS) many companies use to gather specific information from candidates online. It’s the same form one fills in on a company’s website when asked to "Apply Online". According to the presenter, their system was even better, because they do not supply tip sheets to applicants explaining the best techniques to "beat the system" as some ATS vendors were doing.
Somehow conspiracy theory came to mind. First, it was the "highly coached, counterfeit" candidate. Then it’s the ATS supplier who is selling the system to the company with the right hand, while supplying tip sheets to applicants with the left. So, I geared up to hear more about this fool-proof online assessor which would counteract the conspiracy. It features an online questionnaire designed to help the HR department weed out "counterfeit" candidates. Well, how much faith can one put in a system that ignores the skills, abilities and experiences of a great candidate because she did not have a degree in journalism even though she has an honours degree in English with 7 years industry experience. The human eye would’ve selected this candidate to interview alongside the inexperienced one with the journalism degree. The question of online application systems was posed to a number of recruiters a couple weeks ago and they admitted that systems like these, more often than not, eliminate good candidates.
In my view, a well-trained HR professional does not need an online assessor to determine who is a genuine candidate and who is a counterfeit. As the presenter herself concurred, "a panel interview is an excellent way to screen out counterfeit candidates". I would put a positive spin on it and say "a panel interview is an excellent way to select the best candidate" relying on the assessment of more than one person.
Dick Bolles of What Colour is Your Parachute fame has consistently said that job seekers should research the organization; find a friend or family member who works in the organization or know someone who does; become familiar with their history, mission and goals. If you do all that, does that make you a "counterfeit" candidate? It is said that an IBM college recruiter asked a graduating student if he knew what the initials IBM stand for. The student couldn’t answer, and the interview ended, obviously due to inadequate preparation and lack of research.
If you have done your research, if you have networked your way to someone within the company you want to work with, and you are well prepared to demonstrate how you can add value to the company, you are a not a counterfeit candidate, but a genuine front runner and I wish you well.
Copyright 2005 – Daisy Wright. All rights reserved. This article from The Wright Career Solution may be distributed or reproduced as long as the copyright and website, www.thewrightcareer.com, are included.