Job Seekers Brave AI Bots, Interviewing Nightmares in Tougher Labor Market

From puzzling personality tests to group interviews that feel like a reality dating show, hiring rites have taken a surreal turn.

Bloomberg News

June 1, 2024

3 Min Read
job applicant in an interview

(Bloomberg) — Employers are turning to increasingly bizarre hiring tactics in a job market where the balance of power has shifted away from workers.

When Marissa Marlowe got invited to a happy hour hosted by a New York tech startup she was interviewing with for a job, she was under the impression she'd meet future coworkers. Instead, when she got to the bar, it was packed with other applicants competing for the same exact role. After multiple rounds of interviews, it turned out this was yet another test.

'It's kind of like being on a real-life version" of The Bachelor, she joked on TikTok of the experience, which came after four months of job searching.

She didn't get the gig.

The heady days of the Great Resignation are over. Signs of cooling are beginning to show up in headline labor market numbers. And as the number of job openings shrink, applications have swelled. Meanwhile, companies have become choosier, often dragging out hiring decisions and holding out for the "perfect" match.

That's especially true in sectors like technology and media, where layoffs have flooded the market with surplus talent, making the process even more competitive. The average number of applications per open role is up 14% in the US compared to last fall, according to LinkedIn research.

Related:What IT Soft Skills Tech Talent Scouts Look for in Job Candidates

Monthly change in jobs chart

"Part of this is the bias of how good the market was in '21 and '22," said Nela Richardson, chief economist at payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. While today's job market may not be dramatically different than the one workers experienced before Covid-19, relative to the last several years, she said, "things have changed remarkably."

Another thing taking a toll on candidate experiences is shrinking talent teams themselves, said Bonnie Dilber, recruiting manager at software company Zapier. Whereas one recruiter could have handled 20 roles at once three years ago, today the volume is often much higher — they might be dealing with 300 applications for each of those positions instead of, say, 50.

"A lot of times the sacrifice ends up coming in terms of how people are treated in the process," she said.

Inspired by Spotify's year-end summary of what music users spent the most time listening to, one job seeker posted a video she called her "unemployment wrapped."

In the video, she details her job search journey — six months, 114 job applications, 22 cover letters, 39 responses, 9 interviews and one (accepted) offer, and then concludes: "Remember you are not worthless just because you are unemployed. The market sucks. I'm sorry."
Another job seeker applying for a position at the NYU Langone health-care system decried the endless number of personality tests and skills assessments that seem to have become increasingly common. The person, who asked to remain anonymous, said they found the questions confusing and was frustrated by the process. NYU Langone did not respond to a request for comment.

Related:Want a Career in Tech? These 3 Tips Will Give You an Edge

Another personality test made the rounds online for using a blue avatar named Ash to ask the questions, which observers found both comical and bizarre., which created the test, said the assessment is scientifically validated, and the avatar was chosen to be inclusive to all demographics. The company recently added more of an explanation on its website of what the test is supposed to measure, and why.

To deal with a higher volume of applications, some employers are trying to get through early interviews faster by avoiding real-life conversations altogether. Instead, they're asking candidates to just record their answers to a series of prompts. In some cases, AI bots first screen videos before they go on to recruiters.

"It was very embarrassing," said Marlowe, who is still searching for a job in the tech industry, of the taped prompts. "I put on a bunch of hats and told some story about, like, 'Oh, I'm a playwright, I'm an actress, these are all hats I can wear.''' She said she never heard back from the company — and didn't even get an automated rejection email.

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