Pigeon-holed in Employment Applications

Dilbert was a pretty lucky guy – he at least had a job to hate. Sometimes the most difficult part of looking for work – even temporary work – is getting past the choking questions at the door. It goes to show how many bigoted “human resource” people there are.

The holiday season is a great time to apply for seasonal work, but it’s astonishing (at least IMO) how companies pigeon-hole employees. It’s not just “Don’t say ‘Merry Christmas’!” – a despicable reality that steals from the joy of the season; it’s also what is said and done before people even get in the door.

I was applying for work online recently and kept track of all the little check-boxes the company wanted me to fill. Let’s go through them one-by-one, shall we?

The first is the Arbitration Box. Yeah, companies want to cover their hide, I understand, but they do it at the expense of stealing everyone else’s cover. The legal verbiage boils down to “Let us be the judge, jury, and defense lawyer instead of the government.”

Second comes the contact information. While it’s nice to have an address, not everyone has or wants a cell phone, yet an increasing number of companies assume you have one. Cell phones allow for government surveillance – something important in the future, but as of yet, most people don’t see the problem. A more practical issue is the bill. Cell phone bills aren’t cheap when you’re on a tight budget, so low-paying jobs shouldn’t expect people walking in the door to have one. What’s sad is that companies would/will gladly use up your phone minutes without compensating you with a dime.

Third, we move onto the obligatory questions regarding sex, race, veteran status, and maybe some unknown government initiatives. These aren’t of interest in this article.

The meat of the online application was the job-related questions. Now, most of the questions were generic and assumed you could be working at any company for a number of months. Obviously, no-one tailored the questions for short-term work, but that’s what happens when you automate the questions.

What was more interesting was the formulation of the questions themselves.

First of all, the questions were all sexist. I understand people want to see women in the workforce, but the workforce is still mostly male (with some fields being exceptional), and yet, rather than opting for either the traditional pronouns (“he/him”) or – even more appropriate (considering that they want to be “less offensive”) – the gender-neutral pronouns (“they/them”), they opted for the “politically correct” (a.k.a East-Coast Elitist Ethics) pronouns (“she/her”). Once upon a time, I might have considered it humorous (after all, most people would probably enjoy thinking about women more than men), but these days and in this context, it’s safe to say the intention was not humor. It simply pushing a social agenda, an attack on tradition – a defining trait of the generation that started this mess (which I intend to speak about in another post).

The job questions themselves were very generic and offered a very narrow selection of answers. Multiple-choice seems like a win-win (you give suggestions to the user and they pick the obvious “correct” one), but in reality, it doesn’t fit all personalities nor “correct” responses. I felt, as the title of this article states, very pigeon-holed. As someone who loves to be honest, I found that my personal responses to such questions were… absent if not skewed by extra details. There was no me, nor was there even an “other” or a fill-in-blank. There wasn’t even a “rate how likely you are to have this response”. While a number of scenarios posed by the questions are hypothetical (though you may likely encounter worse), it was depressing that, in order to move onto the next question, I would have to “lie” in a virtual sense. Yes, I could always pick the response you think the company wants to here, but this isn’t believable, and the algorithm behind the scenes is going to see this and likely bump you out anyways. You could game the system, but is even a short-term job worth it when you have to play a game just to get in?

Finally, we have the famous “electronic signature”. I’ve already written about how this is pretty much a joke in legal settings, but sadly, people are taking information as raw fact. The electronic signature was a cheap way of trying to solve a problem of doing job applications and contracts online, but they are about as insecure as the website hosting the application itself.

Once you hit the submit button, some algorithm will analyze what you say, and if you pass, some human will expect that all of the information you gave is gospel truth, even if it isn’t nor ever could be.

I have filled out a number of online applications. Anything near the bottom of the pay-scale tends to be this stiff, especially if the company wants to filter through thousands of applicants. The jobs offering more pay prefer a plain-old resume and cover-letter and move onto phone interviews if they think you’re worth a shot.


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