How Intergenerational Communication Failure Is Causing Chaos In The Interview Process
I’m told in emphatic terms — and words that can’t be printed in this publication — that the job search and hiring process is broken. I heavily engage with job seekers, hiring managers and human resource professionals on a daily basis in my roles of an executive recruiter and contributor to Forbes. Maybe because I serve in a capacity solely to help people find jobs and improve their careers, they feel comfortable telling me their intimate stories. People who read my pieces and engage with me — relative to their job search — are candid about their horror stories and how badly the search process has become.
One of the most common threads is that there is a communication breakdown between the person seeking a new job and the representatives at the companies (hiring managers, human resources professionals and internal corporate recruiters). It seems that there is an inherent difference in how both sides desire to interact with one other.
Here is what I’m hearing — prospective interviewees who are in their late 30s and older expect one-on-one meaningful conversations from the beginning to the end of the process. They feel that résumé submissions should be answered, someone at the company should prepare them before the interview takes place and offer feedback after each interview. Job seekers also desire to have their expectations managed with respect to the number of people that they’ll be required to meet with, the time frame involved and a rough idea of the compensation. I think we’d all agree that these are reasonable expectations.
What I’ve heard from job seekers is that these expectations are not being met. Instead, they receive little or no acknowledgment of résumé submittals, an absence of feedback and they’re left in the dark for long periods of time. They tell me that most of their interactions are with relatively younger people in their early or mid 20s. I’m told that the candidates feel that these folks don’t feel comfortable talking on the phone and prefer communications via email, text and through LinkedIn messages. They’re uncomfortable and awkward carrying on a conversation, so job seekers feel that the human resource staffers hide behind technology.
I can readily understand this. As a Gen-Xer, I’ve worked the phones for decades. I am accustomed to using the phone — not just the modern day smartphones, but clunky rotary phones without answering machines. As a teen, I would call my friends, encounter a busy signal, hang up and try a few more times until whoever was on the line got off (as there was no call waiting). When the call connected, I would be forced to engage in a conversation with my friend’s parents. Here’s a typical exchange:
“Hello, Mrs. Handsman! Is Michael there?”
“Oh hello, Jackie (Yes, my family and friends called me Jackie when I was a kid, as Jack sounded like an old man’s name. Fun fact, I was the only boy with the name Jack — really Jack and not a nickname of John — for years. It’s only fairly recently that the name came back in style). How are you? How are your parents? Didn’t they just go to Florida or was that California? How’s your brother Allen doing? Did you study for the big math test? Mike hasn’t studied and I keep telling him to open the books. Do you have plans for the summer? Are you going back to that camp? What’s the name of the camp again? Didn’t you get stung by a bee or was that Jeffrey who got stung? Oh, hows’s Jeffrey? I haven’t seen him in a long time? What’s he been up to? His sister got married — or was that Dale’s brother?’’
I would dutifully answer all of her questions in great detail. Thirty minutes later, she’d inform me that Mike wasn’t home and she’d tell him to call me back.
Now, multiply this call by the hundreds. We didn’t have answering machines for a long time, no texting, emails, internet, Facebook messaging or Twitter. If you wanted to ask a girl on a date, you had to call her. The telephone — not an iPhone, but a landline — was your only way to communicate, so we became proficient at using it. Later generations, including Millennials and Gen-Z, were not raised this way and view communication differently. To them, it’s more of an annoyance and anxiety-inducing chore.
Herein lies a great example of one of the inherent problems in the interview process. We have people with diametrically opposing styles of communication butting heads instead of collaborating together. The younger employers in human resources are annoyed by the need to engage in phone conversations and are uncomfortable with that format. People in their late 30s and older are used to this manner of business and are dumbfounded and offended that this is not happening. Both sides are left feeling unappreciated.
I believe that this also leads to other generational resentments that get played out in the interview process. The Millennials understandably believe that they were born at a time where they had to incur huge college tuition debt and a lack of lucrative opportunities post graduation (since almost everyone else also holds a college degree). Their salaries are not sufficient enough to pay for pricey apartments, houses, health insurance or cars. Having children and the same lifestyles as the baby boomers seems impossible.
The experienced professionals feel that they are disrespected by their younger colleagues. This resentment stems from when a 45 year old loses her job and worries if she’ll ever get another position that pays what she earned before. There is a real fear that she may not find a job at all. It further aggravates the situation when her job is filled by a person half her age — at a quarter of the compensation. Internal human resources staffers feel put upon to engage in an activity they’re not proficient in or comfortable with. The younger employees feel stuck in their jobs, as the older workers are taking up the good seats and stymie their ability to advance within the organization.
My suggestion is that something has to give. This divide will keep growing and it is not healthy for the hiring process or the office environment in general. It results in hurt feelings — and a bad reputation incurred on the part of the company.
In a so-called hot job market (I’m kind of suspicious about how strong it really is), corporate executives should examine this issue closely and come up with a worthy solution. If left unattended, it will leave internal jobs open for longer periods of time, tensions and resentments will increase and nothing will get accomplished.