Bullying During Interviews is Increasingly Common — But This Tweet Proves it Doesn’t Work

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Joshua Elzy118
HR, writer, & coach promoting equal opportunity

Recently, candidate Olivia Bland tweeted about bullying she experienced during a job interview with Web Applications UK, the surprising job offer she received from them and her thoughtful declination. 

Reflecting on a past abusive relationship helped Bland recognize and dissect the bullying as something inappropriate to her interview. 

Having worked in HR, I agree that bullying of employees or candidates has the same motivations as relationship bullying — and no foundation in business strategy. In both environments, bullies excuse and indulge their internal motivations, taking advantage of opportunities to subjugate someone they know needs something from them. Bullying during interviews is not “stress interviewing,” just as bullying employees during performance feedback is not using stress as a motivator. Understanding these differences between motivation and subjugation will improve your outcome, no matter which side of the desk you find yourself on. 

Many recruiters have recently adopted tests and work simulation. These screening methods are intended to narrow the recruiter’s focus on candidates who would perform best on the job. To reliably indicate candidates expected performance, screenings must accurately reflect work conditions. Unfortunately, they often do not. 

Every job has its own pressures, such as tight deadlines, a distracting work environment, complex processes to follow, difficult choices to make, many stakeholders with different interests, critical customers and the need for creative thinking.

Traditionally, companies see how candidates would perform under these pressures by asking them situational or behavioral questions that begin "what would you do if…" or "tell me about a time when...". 

But the recent recruiting trend of asking riddles and puzzles is as much to embellish the employer’s brand as to screen candidates. These screening strategies are only fit for jobs requiring employees to independently, immediately solve new and dissimilar problems with little information. Star Trek fans will remember the Kobayashi Maru training exam, whose purpose was not a particular solution, but to see how the candidate reacted. 

While there is a movement to end bullying of employees, protections for candidates are eroding. Olivia Bland’s interview involved humiliation, intimidation and verbal abuse, all typical of workplace bullying. Bullying interviewers may tell themselves they are looking for candidates who respond well to pressure, criticism, and difficult stakeholders. However deep down they are only looking to surround themselves with coworkers who will take their abuse.  

Bullying candidates is not a recruiting strategy. The book Performing Under Pressure by Hendrie Weisinger and J. P. Pawliw-Fry explains pressure’s negative effects on performance and how to reduce pressure. Interviewers can also work to eliminate candidates’ unnecessary stress, and make sure the interview better reflects the behavior of a candidate at their regular job.

Books like Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? by William Poundstone can help candidates understand more about the uses and misuses of recruiting riddles. Situational interview questions and work simulations also serve to communicate to candidates what it is like to work at an employer. If a company asks about dealing with deadlines or a work exercise has a tight time limit, candidates know what conditions they would be working under.  

Olivia Bland suffered through an accurate picture of working for bullies at Web Applications UK, and her response was fantastic. Bland and the world learned that bullying is so common and accepted at this employer that it has become part of their recruiting. 

Web Applications UK’s HR would have to be complicit to not recognize this publicity as a huge warning sign. Rather than recruiting people to work for bullies, HR should be taking disciplinary action against them. Maybe then they would deserve good candidates.

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Josh’s professional passion is finding HR solutions that are mutually beneficial for employees and their employer. Starting as an HR Analyst and working his way up to being an HR Director, this SPHR has influenced the careers of thousands of employees and built expertise in a spectrum of HR systems and projects. Josh is driven to build sustainable, high-integrity employment relationships that enhance company performance by enabling the skills and career opportunities of its employees.