I have a beef with those who make a job search into a tryout for American Idol and Top Chef wrapped into one. It seems to me that job recruiters, human resource managers and search committees have become lazy in their approach to sifting through the resumes and cover letters that they receive for jobs. I guess that a ten percent unemployment rate and seventeen percent underemployment rate would make anyone involved with the hiring process confident to the point of arrogance about how they deal with applicants. As someone who’s teaching part-time and has had a feast-or-famine time as a consultant over the past two years, I’ve applied for full-time, part-time and consulting work to bring in a decent income. I have been through some indifferent, even bizarre moments on phone interviews and in face-to-face interviews, with for-profits, private foundations, universities, and think-tanks. But nonprofit entities are truly a unique animal when it comes to process, so unique that the beef of their processes really add up to nothing more than beef-flavored tofu.
This isn’t sour grapes over not being hired. I could’ve written a dozen postings about the unfairness of life, about my not knowing enough people in high places to help find the work that I want. I haven’t, mostly because I understand that even people with the best of experiences and credentials get rejected for jobs. It’s part of the job search process, and it’s necessary, especially since I might not always be happy at a job I end up accepting. No, this is about some of my more unusual moments over the past few months in dealing with really strange job search processes in the nonprofit world.
Take my experience with the Posse Foundation. I applied for a position with them last year, and did two interviews with staff before they decided to move on with another candidate. Not unusual in any way. Except for the fact that this wasn’t their typical way of hiring folks. Usually they do a group interview in a big room, for every position. From the administrative assistant to director-level positions, applicants compete in a room for the attention of interviewers, as if these were applicants for the show Job Search (no such show, although it would likely be on NBC if it did exist). Somehow I managed to bypass that bit of humiliation. Yet, more characteristic of my previous job searches, my second interview was an afterthought, with another candidate already with staff for lunch while I was being interviewed. I had to contact them some two weeks later for an official rejection for the position.
Of course, Posse’s explanation for this is that its group interview process will give applicants a feel for what potential Posse Scholars will go through to obtain a slot for a four-year scholarship to a university through one of their university scholars. Maybe so. But at least the students receive a rejection letter or other assistance after the process is over. Nor do students sense on some level favoritism during their interview process. Not to mention the fact that most of your applicants are well above the age of seventeen or eighteen.
Another example of the unusual in a job search was a job I should’ve never applied for with The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars. I managed to get an interview with folks who had all the professionalism of college students working at Jerry’s Pizza and Subs. For an hour, they asked me all kinds of questions about what I knew to be a part-time position, based on their own job advertisement on Idealist.org. I guess I should’ve been more curious, given that five people were in the room grilling me. When I finally asked a question about the flexibility of their schedule, they looked shocked. The folks finally got around to tell me that I was interviewing for both a full-time and a part-time position at the same time, with the full-time one being the priority. Then one of their directors quickly herded me outside a side gate — I guess he wanted to make sure that I felt sufficiently humiliated as a Black male — to end the interview. Needless to say, these un-professionals never did send me an official rejection notice.
But nothing, absolutely nothing, is more irritating than doing extra work for a position per the request of a potential employer, completing it and then not being interviewed at all. This was the case with The New Teacher Project (TNTP). I applied for a work-at-home position in data and policy analysis with them. The original application asked for a writing sample, but I couldn’t attach one on their application webpage. A few days later, I received an email from TNTP asking me to complete a series of exercises crunching and analyzing data regarding teacher effectiveness. This included writing a memo to prospective funders based on one set of data, importing another set of data into MS Access, running queries, filters and calculations, filling out tables and making appropriate suggestions based on this other set of data. I received this assignment Thursday evening at 6:18 pm a couple of weeks ago, but TNTP wanted my completed exercise by Sunday. I managed to get an extension for Tuesday and completed the assignment, only to receive a generic rejection from TNTP thirty-six hours later. It turned out that others “more closely fit” the position requirements.
I was miffed, and sent them a note saying so. It was lazy — to say the least — to push applicants into an exercise process before being interviewed, only to reject them based on something other than the exercise itself. I could’ve just as easily provided my published writing samples of my use of data on education policy related issues. To use valuable time to work on this when I could’ve applied for other jobs made this process ridiculous. Not to mention the fact that in going this route, TNTP should’ve paid folks for their time and effort. They gave me a generic excuse equivalent to the rejection note, saying that this was the best way to identify the best candidates. I have a better idea — how about interviewing folks first, then asking them to complete an exercise!
Academia and other fields have their own quirks and nuances. But at least you know going in what those are. The nonprofit world just makes up stuff or pulls ideas out of a “How To Do a Wacky Interview” book and expects its applicants to roll with it. I don’t expect a job search to be fair — after all, I live in a who-you-know world. What I do expect is for the search process to make sense, be consistent in its unfairness and a bit of transparency in terms of what these entities are looking for. That some haven’t even met this minimal requirement says a lot about how far professional standards have dropped, and why nonprofits are often seen in a bad light.