April 28, 2014

Why employers should pay job applicants

Filed under: Employment Tests, For Managers, Hiring, Interviewing, Job Search, Q&A

In the April 29, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader suggests getting paid before getting hired, or why waste time interviewing?

Again and again, companies waste my time while they “assess” me in endless interviews and with employment tests. They’re wasting my time and theirs, but they don’t care because they are getting paid. I’m not.

The problem is not hard to see: The managers and HR people don’t select their candidates very carefully to begin with because it’s no skin off their backs. If they had to pay for my time, I’d bet they’d be a lot more accurate. Do you think it would be wise for employers to pay for the privilege of assessing job applicants, as a way to make hiring more efficient and productive? (And to stop wasting my time!)

Nick’s Reply

I wrote a column about a related subject last year: Why employers should pay to interview you. I’m even going to crib from it a bit.

pay-applicantsJob applicants devote hours of unpaid professional time to an employer, and then wait patiently for a hiring decision by the promised date. Inevitably, employers interview way more applicants than they can justify and ignore their own timelines without any updates or comments to the applicants. Why? Because job candidates are free.

That’s wrong. I agree it’s time for employers to put some skin in the game, if only because it would make them think twice about the costs they impose on applicants. More important, I think it would improve the quality of the selection process and of their hires.

What if employers had to pay to assess candidates for jobs? What if one employer started doing the right thing? Would others follow?

Matt Mullenweg is the creator of the most popular website platform in the world: WordPress powers over 60 million websites, and 66% of all English-based websites. The Ask The Headhunter blog runs on WordPress, and I consider it one of the best software tools I’ve ever used. WordPress is an open source project, but Matt’s company, Automattic, is a for-profit business.

Earlier this year, Harvard Business Review published a short article by Mullenweg: Hire by Auditions, Not Resumes. Automattic’s interview and hiring process is unusual: The interview isn’t over, and you’re not hired, until Automattic pays you to complete the process.

Now, let’s be clear: You don’t get paid to show up for your first interviews with Automattic. But once the discussion gets serious, so does this employer. According to Mullenweg:

“Before we hire anyone, they go through a trial process first, on contract. They can do the work at night or over the weekend, so they don’t have to leave their current job in the meantime. We pay a standard rate of $25 per hour, regardless of whether you’re applying to be an engineer or the chief financial officer.”

In my first book, The New Interview Instruction Book, I called this “doing the job to win the job.” That is, if you want a job, show up and actually do the work to show you’re worth hiring.

But if you’re going to invest that kind of time and effort to be evaluated hands-on, you shouldn’t be doing it for free. The employer should put skin in the game, too — and Automattic does. The ROI for the company is tremendous.

“There’s nothing like being in the trenches with someone, working with them day by day,” writes Mullenweg. “It tells you something you can’t learn from resumes, interviews, or reference checks. At the end of the trial, everyone involved has a great sense of whether they want to work together going forward. And, yes, that means everyone — it’s a mutual tryout. Some people decide we’re not the right fit for them.”

Automattic hires about 40% of people it tries out. Turnover is ridiculously low. Paying job candidates while Automattic assesses them pays off. In virtually every other company, the hiring process is rote, stupid, and inaccurate because it’s automated. Human review of applicants is the last thing any employer wants to invest in.

Around the world, hiring is a massively screwed up process because business doesn’t make any meaningful investment in it. Buying resumes from job boards and paying personnel jockeys to scan applicants’ keywords isn’t an investment — it’s a joke. But paying for the benefit of assessing people on the job, inside your company, on your time — that’s an investment. I doubt Automattic selects candidates lightly.

Mullenweg says, “It’s a huge time commitment, coordinating the short-term work being done by job applicants.”

Of course it is. And it should be. It’s costly, so a lot of care goes into the process up front, and this limits errors markedly. Mullenweg personally spends a third of his time on hiring. That’s more than even I recommend. (I suggest managers need to spend 15%-20% of their time recruiting and hiring, and I know few managers that do.)


What if you’re the job hunter?
Would you ask an employer to pay you to check you out? If that’s too much, then at least consider Conrado Hinojosa’s provocative The No-Nonsense Interview Agreement instead. It serves a similar purpose: It adds a measure of thoughtfulness to the experience.


I challenge any HR manager to explain why it’s okay to take hours and hours of a job applicant’s time without paying for it. I also challenge them to show me how their hiring methods are more accurate than Mullenweg’s. If your company does what Automattic does, I’d like to hear about it. In fact, I’ll gladly highlight your company in an upcoming column.

In the meantime, I think employers should start paying job candidates to assess them. My bet is that it would improve their business and operations dramatically.

What is a job applicant’s time worth to an employer? What are hiring errors worth? Would paying job applicants pay off to employers?

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44 Comments on “Why employers should pay job applicants”
By Richard
April 29, 2014 at 7:18 am

It might end the interviewing for jobs that are speculative. Have learned to ask that question first “when is the position funded to start” and often the answer is that it is not, and may never be, but if it ever is then they have potential candidates already identified. That is beyond rude. It also hurts when they do in person and show you where your desk/office will be and ask if an offer I the x-y range would be competitive you say yes and never hear from them again, and they don’t respond to your “Thank you for taking the time to meet me” and I look forward to reviewing the offer you are preparing.

It cost us gas and often parking fees and they just don’t care. It is also totally ridiculous that for contract work some interview you on the phone then want in person and at times multiple in person. One contract I ended up working 6 weeks before they canceled for budget cuts, I think it took 3 months of phone and in person interviews. Never again with them.

By Jim
April 29, 2014 at 8:24 am

I once was hired for a job that, after almost a month, it was discovered they “didn’t have the funding”, so two of us were let go.

Employers are arrogant, at least for the moment, since they believe they can treat people, not just employees, any way they please and get by with it.

Time for a wake up call.

By Doug Johnson
April 29, 2014 at 8:25 am

While it’s not QUITE the same thing, at my company most people are brought on as “contract to hire”. I started that way. The initial interview process was pretty extensive and I talked with the people who would be on my team and my managers up the line, but I was basically paid to see how I’d work out for six months.
There are situations where that wouldn’t work, since it does require a full blown commitment on the employee’s part, but since I work in software engineering we are used to doing projects in time boxed increments.
It gave the company a chance to see how I’d work out (they offered full employment before the contract was up…yay!) and I could have left if it hadn’t worked out and gotten another contract position somewhere.
Again, not the same as what you are proposing of course, but when I was wondering how it could work I realized that we (the company) are getting many of the benefits now with our current method.
That said, I still intend to share your blog entry upstream. It might allow us to get access to people who don’t want the uncertainty of a contract position for a shorter trial.

By Grace Liu
April 29, 2014 at 8:27 am

It was a brilliant idea for having employers pay job applicants. I wish I have the influence power to make my employer pay for job applicants’ time, including the gas, parking and those related costs for attending our interviews. As it has been mentioned, hiring companies should be well prepared for each interview and well selecting candidates before inviting them to the office. At the same time, candidates would feel being appreciated, even when the result was not going to make an offer. My question is that if a candidate was interviewed by a competitor’s company, when they received the pay as well as the financial reimbursement, could it cause any legal issue? There is restriction for working with other companies under employment period not to mention getting paid from a competitor.

By Addie
April 29, 2014 at 8:32 am

This is more common practice at lower levels, where we commonly place temp employees in permanent positions. Expanding this idea to higher level jobs is genius!

By Ian
April 29, 2014 at 8:39 am

One statistic from Mullenweg’s article caught my imagination: in the past 8 years, only 10 employees have left Automattic (plus 25-30 let go) in a 225-person company. His experience bucks the current trend, which is towards shorter tenures in positions. Does the churn trend negatively affect hiring managers just trying to keep up? Or, as Mullenweg’s article suggests, are shorter tenures the fault of employers whose poor hiring practices engender bad fit?

By Phil
April 29, 2014 at 8:55 am

I don’t think applicants should be paid for interviewing. Just like I would not pay a company or a person for responding to an RFP. If you don’t like the process don’t apply, don’t agree to be interviewed. Readers may be shocked to discover that there are many, many applicants who apply for jobs for which only they think they are qualified. These applicants clutter up the system, making those who are qualified more difficult to find. As a consultant, I make business development calls as much as I can; I prepare, do research, etc. etc., just like a job applicant. Nick, when you were in Executive Search and in a shoot-out, did you get paid for your interviews with the hiring company.

By Catherine
April 29, 2014 at 9:53 am

I could not agree more on getting expenses paid. If you are interviewing in the financial district in SF you will easily pay $30 to park, go over a bridge and for gas. Brilliant idea, the whole thing. And I will just add there is NOTHING worse the those employers not getting back to you after an interview when they say they will.
Cat
PS, not there is not a legal problem with paying for an interiew. If you want them to “work” to see how they do obviously you have to offer pay.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 29, 2014 at 10:18 am

@Grace: Good point about being paid by a competitor. I don’t know the answer to that. Both the employer and applicant would have to consider that.

By Hank
April 29, 2014 at 10:19 am

I have to admit I have mixed feelings about this topic. If a company / headhunter contacts YOU, invites YOU to come for an interview, and you accept, then possibly compensation for your time might be an issue, but I doubt it. If you however respond to an opening and get an interview, then your time spent is your choice and should not be compensated.

On the other hand, if you are asked back for second and third rounds, there should be no question that compensation should be in order, as they are definitely soliciting you and your time.

As to the posters that complain about costs, why are you not submitting reimbursement requests to HR for mileage and incidentals? This is expected by most HR departments and they would not even question the request. I could be wrong but this may even be statute in certain locales. Certainly I would never consider any significant travel or expense for an interview unless I knew in advance I would be reimbursed. This also applies to the headhunters who “just want to get to know me first.” If Skype isn’t good enough, then they are expected to cover my expenses.

At any rate, should a reimbursement or pay for interview policy come into play, then there should be clear guidelines that you are actually suitable for the position so that clearly unqualified folks could not game the system by collecting for an “interview” that they are unsuitable for. Or that you get paid if you are taking time off from a current position.

But I love the “contract for 6 months” concept in theory, but in most large companies this falls afoul of labor laws in that inevitably contractors get no benefits and a company may not circumvent federal labor laws by hiring a workforce of “contractors.” There has to be a middle ground, somewhere.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 29, 2014 at 10:24 am

@Ian: I’ve got no data to support this, but I really believe the primary reason people leave jobs and why companies fire people is that the match was poor to begin with. An old friend of mine who’s a professor at Columbia in organizational behavior tells me there is zero correlation between how well someone performs in a traditional interview and how successful the are on the job. That’s been known for decades. So why do employers continue to make the same mistakes?

My message is that if employers have to invest in every applicant they consider seriously, they will entirely revamp their processes to reflect the cost and the potential ROI of hiring the right people. As it is now, it’s “garbage in, garbage out.” Why do you think HR’s over-arching mission is to “keep the applicant pipeline full”? What kind of mission is that? It’s stupid. But make HR pay to interview each applicant, and suddenly I think things will change.

The other issue is the conventional view of interviews. HR thinks interviews are for winnowing the candidates. That’s idiotic. That should be done before candidates are ever brought in. The expectation should be that every candidate who is actually brought in will have an incredibly high chance of being hired because HR did all its homework on the person in advance. What an idea, eh? HR doesn’t want to do the work. HR prefers automation and excuses.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 29, 2014 at 10:32 am

@Hank: “there should be clear guidelines that you are actually suitable for the position”

That’s my point exactly. Employers routinely contact people about jobs without doing ANYTHING to confirm the fit. Recruiters who work for contracting companies are even worse – they’re always on fishing expeditions. They’re willing to “bring in” 50 people, hoping one might fit. Why do they do this? Because they’re inept, and because their own bosses are inept. Recruiters like this should never be hired or permitted to use a phone or e-mail. They’re dialing for dollars because it costs them nothing to “recruit” anyone who comes along.

End of rant. Why is it so hard for employers to follow the path backwards to figure out that the problem lies not with any “skills crisis,” but with the fact that their recruiters are fishing with buckets?

By Beth, RN
April 29, 2014 at 10:55 am

I don’t think job applicants should be paid for their time spent in interviews, because it’s their choice to spend time with that company. Every time I interviewed for a new nursing job, I always asked the interviewer if I could spend a share day working in the actual unit where I would be employed. This provided me with the opportunity to evaluate my peers, as well as gave them a chance to evaluate me. I never had anyone say no, and usually spent about 4 hours of my time “interviewing” potential colleagues. While I didn’t actually care for patients, I was able to ask questions that I was reluctant to ask the manager, but that fellow nurses were always willing to answer. In my opinion, this was the perfect way to spend my time, so that I could make the best decision for me and lower the risk of selecting a job/culture that wasn’t the right fit.
I will say that HR departments for nursing jobs are very streamlined and always looking for applicants. They would not bring in an applicant for an interview with no experience unless the job description stated “New Grads” or “Will train”. It would be a waste of time for all involved.
Perhaps the true problem lies with HR departments that don’t understand the qualifications required for available jobs. If they did, then they wouldn’t waste everyone’s time.

By EDR
April 29, 2014 at 11:52 am

I agree that interviewees should be paid for their time and expenses. This will result in a more careful analysis of candidates before they are ever brought in.

@Hank, I do not understand why you make a distinction between paying for a job interview where the employer finds and contacts a candidate cold (rarely happens, BTW) versus one where an employee applies on their own initiative. You said yes to paying the former and no to paying the latter based on the idea that the latter may not even be qualified for the job they are interviewing for, and might be gaming the system to get interview pay. This is curious to me because NO CANDIDATE EVER GETS AN INTERVIEW WITHOUT HR REVIEWING THE CANDIDATE’S RESUME AND AGREEING regardless if the company found them or vice versa! It is impossible to get interviews for jobs one is not qualified for unless HR shirks their responsibilities completely, in which case there should be a consequence so that said undesirable behavior is minimized. I would even argue that a candidate who finds and applies to a company is more interested than a candidate who is contacted.

By Olivier
April 29, 2014 at 12:25 pm

I too have very mixed feelings about this. First off, if employers had to systematically pay they would not magically become more accurate in picking candidates, just more picky, and they already are.

Second, with the exception of a handful of professions (accountants, lawyers, architects etc) that enjoy state-regulated sinecures (aka monopolies) it’s unheard of for a seller (and a job applicant is a seller) to charge for their marketing and other promotional expenses; when you waste an hour of a car salesman arsking often poorly researched questions and then leave saying you will “think about it”, he doesn’t send you a bill for his time and I’d like to see your reaction if he did. Employers refunding expenses, paying candidates a per diem and so on falls under the goodwill gesture rubric; I would do it but the rationale for it is rather weak. And, please, it’s utter nonsense to claim that the interview process costs the company nothing, unless you think its employees work for free; fact is: it costs the company every bit as much time as it does the candidate.

Lastly, asking a strong candidate to do a kind of pilot project — and paying him! — as the last step before hiring makes eminent sense but at that point IMO you have already left the confines of the job interview and you are in the gray zone where contractors, interns and such live. Occasionally employees are hired from that pool but that’s not its only or even its primary function, so it shouldn’t be seen as an appendage of the application process. It is more accurate to say, in that scenario, that the company has made a decision to hire you already but as a contractor and then maybe in the future as a regular employee.

By Bob
April 29, 2014 at 12:34 pm

I don’t like the contractor to hire model because I’ve seen contractors come in for months, and months, and never get hired. They are obviously good because the contract is extended, but they are being treated as wage slaves without benefits. However, I do agree that if an employer pays a candidate that will motivate them to hire successfully. So I’d agree to work for at most 8 hours with pay.

By rick
April 29, 2014 at 12:43 pm

A few clarifications about Automattic’s hiring practices.

They do not pay for interviews. All their interviews are by Skype, even local ones. Puts everyone on the same playing field; perfume does not matter. My wife recently went thru a similar interview process: all first round interviews were Skype, even though we live within walking distance.

(I thought that’s great; my wife so-so)

Automattic assigns an arbitrary $25/hour for the short term project. Therefore, the short term rate is not be part of the salary negotiations. Apparently the short term test is short enough that it is not abused; I think we all can think of potential abuse by some employers.

By Anonymous
April 29, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Oliver –

“Employers refunding expenses, paying candidates a per diem and so on falls under the goodwill gesture rubric;”

I disagree with not paying for interviewing expenses, especially when the interviewee will incur severe financial hardship in actually getting to the interview.

As I commented on last weeks blog post, an employer contacted me in order to recruit me for an open position. Their corporate headquarters were cross country from me, and travel details were hashed out last minute. It was upwards of $1500 for me to go out there, get to the office on time, get back to the airport, etc.

If they wanted me to foot the bill, I would have laughed at them, especially since they contacted me first.

Even with them spending a good bag of change to recruit me, I still have not heard a word, 3+ weeks later and no one knows anything.

By Some guy
April 29, 2014 at 3:09 pm

We should charge for references as well.

Those are valuable, and yet HR often asks for them too often and prematurely.

HR often inundates them with premature reference letter requests and bureaucratic garbage, even if there is no standing job offer on the table. This runs the risk of alienating one of a job seeker’s most valuable assets.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 29, 2014 at 3:52 pm

@rick: Thanks for re-emphasizing that Automattic does not pay for interviews. I hit that in my column, too. (Though, I suggested paying for interviews in the other column which I referenced.) What Automattic is really doing – and they are very clear about this – is giving both themselves and the applicant a chance to try one another out. In another world, that’s called “dating before getting married.” Smart, eh? :-)

So what I really want to say is, WTF is every other company thinking, when it conducts a few interviews then drops, say, $100k on somebody “for life”? Would you marry someone you had a cup of coffee with 3 times?

By Dave
April 29, 2014 at 3:54 pm

@Some guy

I’ve heard some agency “recruiters” wanting references up front before any interviews take place. My question is, how effective can a reference be if you can’t verify what ever someone said in a resume and an interview in total?

By Nick Corcodilos
April 29, 2014 at 3:54 pm

@Some guy: References seem to be all-or-nothing with many companies. Some never contact them at all. Others over-do it. It’s important to ask what the employer will actually do and when. “My references are very good, but they’re also very busy people. I’d like to give them the courtesy of knowing when you’d be in touch.”

By L.T.
April 29, 2014 at 4:32 pm

I think both “keeping the pipeline full” and employee churn both occur because HR has gotten itself involved in the business well beyond pay and benefits. Having expanded the headcount to accommodate these “duties”, HR has little to do unless the revolving door is throwing employees out, replacements are being enticed in, and existing employees are turning every workplace joke into a federal case.

@Beth, RN: Nursing may be different. But most of us here deal with HR departments that could scarcely find a qualified candidate for a HR position, much less one for whatever line of business the enterprise is actually involved in.

By Scott
April 29, 2014 at 6:38 pm

This is another advantage of people who are making money for the company doing the interviewing – their time is not free, and no one wants to spend an hour a day interviewing people just to be sure.
One place I worked was far from the candidate pool, so we had to fly people in and put them up in a hotel. We were careful about who we invited, We also tracked the rate of acceptance of job offers, so we had to do a good selling job.
I bet that Automatic has some canned problem that they give people. Any large sized piece of software is not something you can make intelligent changes to overnight. Not to mention if the stuff was proprietary. I’d say it is likely more of a paid test than a case of doing the work.

By Olivier
April 29, 2014 at 7:20 pm

@Anonymous But you have to consider the company’s point of view as well. If they can find what they need locally why would they spend a lot of money to enlarge the catchment area by flying in remote candidates at their own expense?

Some tech companies may operate in a bubble in which they have to much funny money to play with but generally speaking these are lean times for everyone.

By Tony
April 29, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Nick,

I have a slightly different point of view regarding your article. As in the case with Automatic, the interviewee is actually producing a tangible product that the hiring company can use and implement. For more other interviews, while people can demonstrate they can do they job by doing the job, the interviews lack this element. So, if the tradition interview stands, I don’t see a company paying an interviewee for showing up and answering questions.

That being said….HR should be held to efficiency metrics to ensure that people’s time are not wasted. While the people interviewing are “sunk costs”, firms should be monitoring the amount of time they are being productive. I would say if HR reported back number of hours per role placed and not placed and this was higher than the average number of hours in their industry, there would be hell to pay.

The challenge will be, though, do they actually track these kinds of metrics? My guess is most companies don’t, but they should. That should avoid the paying the candidate issue and really focus on keeping the company efficient.

Besides, most companies have a probationary period of 3-6 months. I would consider that a way to have a trial period of actually doing the work before the employee is fully brought on board.

Tony

By Nick Corcodilos
April 29, 2014 at 9:47 pm

@Dave: I’ll clue you in on a little racket some recruiters run. They ask for your references up front. Eager for an opportunity, you fork them over. The recruiter, eager to fill this job (and others) calls your references and pitches the same job to them (and other jobs). You never hear a word back. On to the next.

Now, not all recruiters do this. But some do. Your references are valuable. Don’t spend them indiscriminately. Would you trust someone you don’t know with your wallet? Then why trust them with your references?

By Nick Corcodilos
April 29, 2014 at 9:49 pm

@L.T.: “But most of us here deal with HR departments that could scarcely find a qualified candidate for a HR position”

AKA, “Couldn’t find their own butts with both hands.”

:-)

By Nick Corcodilos
April 29, 2014 at 9:51 pm

@Scott: RE: How Automattic does it. They actually make those folks take real, live customer service calls for a while. It’s no test. It’s live. It’s real. Most employers operate in pretend la-la land when assessing job applicants. I give a lot of credit to Automattic.

By Nick Corcodilos
April 29, 2014 at 9:54 pm

@Tony: Good points, especially about the probationary period. But an applicant can’t keep another job and work a probationary period. Automattic sets it up so the applicant can keep their job and still “do the job to win the job.”

My point is, every employer should stop with the indirect assessments and do what Automattic does. “Hire” them for a short period to – yes – do something productive whether they’re ultimately hired or not. I love that Automattic makes them take customer support calls – this immediately blows out anyone who does not understand Automattic’s business.

The reason companies won’t do this is that it takes a lot of thought, planning, and careful execution. They just don’t want to invest the time in what they believe should be a rote process handled by HR. I think that’s wrong and a fatal mistake.

By Tony
April 29, 2014 at 9:58 pm

@Nick, well, finance companies, especially investment banks, don’t allow you to work another job due to confidentiality. For example, if I am working at Bank of American and the apply and work on contract at Merril Lynch, neither company would allow this. So, rather difficult to do in this situation.

Nick, I’m curious…how is the recruiting fee structured if you place someone but they only work on a “contract to perm” deal? Does a recruiter get paid after the candidate gets made perm?

By Julia
April 29, 2014 at 11:03 pm

According to the Automatic web site itself, they neither pay for doing interviewing nor make an interviewing/hiring process shorter. It looks quite the opposite, http://automattic.com/work-with-us/ . After a usual interviewing process (I wonder how long it is), they don’t hire people for the position. Instead they require them to do a 2-6 week work contract. Then, when a person joins full-time they are supposed to do customer support for 3 weeks regardless of what they were hired for. And after that what, hire 40% of those people, and cheap labor for the rest 60%?

By Ken Dezhnev
April 30, 2014 at 1:11 am

I’d guess that it’s more likely for employers to get smart about hiring generally than it is for them to start paying people for interviewing. In other words, don’t hold your breath. (It would be an easier sell to convince them that the money they spend on HR is wasted.)

The issue of paying for interviews points up a lot of the insane economics of the hiring process as it is, but I think the best solution for job hunters is probably to learn to think differently about how they invest their job-hunting time.

A trap many fall into is to apply for jobs just so they can feel they are doing something. This is especially true when someone needs a job badly, but even then it can be counterproductive.

Similar traps are applying for jobs so you can tell your spouse, or your parents, that you’re doing something, or shotgunning applications because that’s what everyone else does. Conventional wisdom is that you have to grovel for a job, and hunt hard for an opportunity to do so. In some fields, especially the glamour industries, that’s generally true. Also, the less experience you have, the more you have to put up with–though if you’ve made intelligent career choices, you won’t have to grovel. In any case, many people can get away with being a lot more discriminating than most people are–discriminating about who they apply to, and about what they will put up with. (I freelanced for a long time in advertising, a viciously competitive glamour industry. But my policies about time investment in the hiring process were carried over from another industry where skilled people were treated with respect, and it worked very well.)

As with every other job-hunting issue, a lot will depend on what field you are in, what your level of experience is, how competitive the field is, how well you know the business and the employment situation, and how much you really have to offer an employer in comparison with the other applicants.

Hiring at most employers is a crapshoot (unless they know you already, or you’re one of a few sought-after people in a narrow field), but the odds for qualified applicants are significantly better at some employers than at others. Think in terms of learning the signs of a good prospect: an employer that hires less stupidly than others, an employer to whom you would be especially attractive, and one where you would be a good fit. You’ll get a lot of cues from a job posting, from what they tell you about the hiring process, and from an employer’s reputation. Learn to take those cues seriously.

Be tough-minded about investing time. You only have a limited amount of it. Make sure you have enough time to develop the good prospects. Leave the poorer prospects for when there’s nothing else going on, and don’t invest as much time (and emotional commitment) in them.

Remember that the more time you spend on poor prospects, the less time you will have for the good prospects. But it’s the good prospects you need more time for, because they’re probably going to get more applicants, and better qualified ones, so you have to invest more time in order to stand out, and to conduct the hiring process properly. And since they’re good prospects, the potetial payoff for that time will be higher.

You also shouldn’t be spending so much time (and emotional commitment) that you’ll be off balance when you have to respond to an expression of interest from a good prospect. When that expression of interest comes, it’s probably going to come out of the blue, and Murphy’s Law says it will come at the most awkward possible moment.

By rick
May 1, 2014 at 9:26 am

@Julia – I doubt the output of the 2-6 week project is actually all that productive. It is a real project presumably, and if done badly the candidate is hot hired. Even if done well, the first few weeks of any job (other than digging ditcher) is pretty low effectiveness. Automattic still has supervisory and training costs. I am sure they would prefer to reduce the 60% failure (non-hire) rate; that would be much more profitable than thinking they’re getting “cheap” inexperienced-to-Automattic labor.

I think the most interesting factoid on that web page http://automattic.com/work-with-us/ is the extraordinary ratio of employees to Monthly Uniques. They must be doing something right.

By Anonymous
May 1, 2014 at 11:37 am

Olivier –

Yes, that is true. If there is a large contingent of acceptable local talent, then it is silly for the company to pay for out of town people.

However, things get a little more murky when they may not have all that much local talent and have to conduct a wider search. In my example, the company reached out to me first, so the ball is in their court to bring me in. It would have been different if I applied to them knowing that they were on the opposite coast and then asking for reimbursement.

It is also contradictory that employers say they want top players, but then are unwilling to do what it takes to bring them in for an interview, let alone giving them a good feeling about the company/job or hire them. You want to recruit them but then treat them like swine. We hear stories all the time about companies having biases against long distance candidates but say “people are our biggest asset.” If they really were, you’d do everything in your power to come out, hire them and get them to stay.

By Alan Schlukbier
May 2, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Times being what they are, there are so many companies that are using very deceptive and unethical practices in their hiring. I have a friend, for example, that uses me as a reference but I have never been contacted in over 10 years by one of his interviewers.

People rarely check resumes very closely and do not put in the time necessary to actually determine what skills and qualifications are really needed for a job. If they did, they would not be looking at such high turnovers and so many jumpers as soon as the economy improves.

I’m old fashioned. I like the candidate who first contacts me because he knows me and the company I work for. He is aware of a need we have and knows he can do the job. None of this constant ‘fishing’ thru head-hunters who have no idea what the job requires and are willing to hire Attilla, the Hun, if he has a good looking resume. I want to work with sincere, honest, and mature people who are willing to work hard and take some bold moves to expand the business.

By Anonymous
May 21, 2014 at 5:25 pm

This will not work for a couple of reasons. (1) While you are doing the “trial” work, you are giving away ideas. So the interview is still used as a way for the employer to try to get intellectual property for a pittance.
(2) The government will say you had income and will throw you off of unemployment compensation. In some states even if you will make $75 they will deny your benefit of more than $400 and could force you off your claim. Some states reward you for temporary or hourly work. Others penalize you.

The answer is to not interview people unless you are serious. I have stopped applying to places that have interviews with too many hoops to jump through.

By blankie
May 21, 2014 at 5:46 pm

RE: “it’s time for employers to put some skin in the game, if only because it would make them think twice about the costs they impose on applicants.”

You’re only looking at one side of the coin. What about the costs imposed on the hiring company by interviewing multiple candidates?

While my company (an engineering firm) doesn’t pay candidates to be interviewed, the employees who conduct the interview are paid to interview, which incurs costs to the company. The fewer people we interview, the less it costs us in employee time to conduct interviews. Hence, we’d prefer to interview fewer people due to the time and cost we incur from interviewing multiple candidates.

We also reimburse travel expenses & pay per diem for out of town interviewees. Every time I have interviewed for an engineering job this has been the case.

Bottom line is, the more people we interview, and the further away they are, the more it costs us to conduct an interview, and this does affect how many people we interview.

Ideally we’d like to interview as small a pool of people as possible to save our time and money; however, it can be difficult to sort out the quality candidates, particularly from college resumes that tend to all look fairly similar.

If people were paid to be interviewed, they might start to apply to more places than they are actually qualified to work at, which then increases the burden on potential employers by increasing the number of applicants to sift through. This is the reason application fees exist for colleges. If there were no fees, everyone would apply to Harvard no matter how (un)qualified they were, and Harvard would then incur unsustainable expenses in sifting out the qualified applicants. The burden of applying for a job needs to be shared between the applicant and the hiring company. If applicants were paid to attend an interview, then the majority of time and financial cost falls to the hiring company, which isn’t realistic or sustainable.

By itellu3times
May 21, 2014 at 6:42 pm

I’m all for being paid as a candidate, and I’m happy if it’s just a t-shirt, it’s a mark of courtesy and respect. These are in far more short supply these days than mere money!

That said I find the “Automattic” process to be absurd, all it tells me is they don’t really know how to interview or evaluate, and are more risk-averse than a place I probably want to work. I’m happy that it works for them, but what it may be doing is finding people who are also risk-averse. Who are they anyway? Hmm, they do WordPress and Gravatar and stuff? Kewl. But everyone works from home? Well, that’s not a standard organization, is it, and may indeed merit special screening – since normal meetings and interactions for a hiring process are likely impossible anyway!

Hiring today, at least in IT, is a badly broken process, perhaps because *management* in IT today is a pathologically broken process in 90% or more of the places I’ve seen or heard about in the last ten years.

Just hand out t-shirts and corporate brochures and such – *recruit* the candidates. If they don’t *deserve* that you’re not even seeing worthwhile candidates, so screen them as you will.

By Brian
May 21, 2014 at 9:51 pm

This is an insane idea. As an employee I would never pay a company for the obligation of interviewing a candidate.

Management needs to learn that the persons who best know the job are the workers and not management.
Management at best creates cubbieholes to judge candidates and employees.
Companies need to have a realistic hiring cycle that seems to be the main beef. I have in my career interviewed way to many candidates that aren’t even qualified to tie their own shoes let alone do what I needed them to do if they worked on my team.

I once gave a test to candidates but then HR said I couldn’t do that. How else do I learn what they know.
WHen interviewing one group, I had a guy who on paper looked like he walked on water and new everything I knew. Sounded too good to be true. It was. He was a scout. His job was to attract an interview and remember what questions I asked so that other candidates would be well prepared. Slimey waste of my time. I stopped using that recruiter altogether.

My bottom line is;
1. Management MUST learn to have/make a hiring timeline.
2. Management MUST find the good interviewers
3. Candidates MUST be able to obtain REAL information about a job before agreeing to an interview so they don’t waste their time let alone the interviewers time.
4. Candidates and their agencies MUST be honest about experience and relevance for a given job. I once went to an interview farm and saw an IBM mainframer interview for a UNIX job. With no UNIX experience.

By L.T.
May 21, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Management needs to come to the realization that the reason there are so many “unqualified” candidates is the surgical hiring practices at most companies. Instead of hiring for a broad range of positions that Everyman can fill, and paying a good middle-class wage, there is one position, over-defined, burdened with miscellaneous unrelated bits of work, that no one can qualify for (except the man who just left).

In doing so, Management will realize that they are the problem, and that the solution sits with Management: Hire more people here in the United State. Have regular hiring cycles. Oh yeah, and hire some Vietnam era vets. Lots of them.

Maybe we can then make a dent in the true rate of unemployment, which is the difference between the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) and 100%. Back in March this was 41.4% or so and includes the “officially” unemployed, the under employed, and those who have just quit looking because they don’t see any jobs out there.

Bring that rate closer to the official number, and we won’t hear complaining about hundreds of unqualified candidates any more.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2013/03/08/unemployment-rate-down-as-americans-give-up-on-work/

By Ask The Headhunter® | Nick Corcodilos – Make interview travel pay off
June 9, 2014 at 8:57 pm

[…] recently discussed Why employers should pay job applicants — but this is another subject. Some employers will pay for interview travel, others won’t. […]

By Barbara Holtzman
October 23, 2014 at 2:45 pm

“if I am working at Bank of American and the apply and work on contract at Merril Lynch…”

Not a good example: BOA OWNS Merrill, and has since 2009.

By Barbara Holtzman
October 23, 2014 at 2:54 pm

“it can be difficult to sort out the quality candidates, particularly from college resumes that tend to all look fairly similar.”

How much does it cost to call them on the phone? How much does it cost to call them on the phone a few times, and by more than one person? A lot less than hauling them all in, even if you DO give them nothing but a tiny paper cup and water from a dispenser.

Who hires from a resume anyway? You really think that’s the way to find the “best” candidate?

For every job, there are at least three peopel who are equally qualified to do it. You don’t need all three of them. You pick out the people who went to the same college you did. Or who live within a 25 mile radius. Or who have family in the area and want to live in a 25 mile radius. No one who fits from the first set of calls? Chnage the radius, pick your favorite collge, the closest college. “Good” fit is often not “best” fit, actually I’m pretty sure it never is. It’s probably why so many positions are almost filled, and then aren’t – there isn’t a perfect person, and after a while, looking for her is just exhausting.

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