So, why are you looking for another job?"
I've heard the question before, of course -- what job hunter hasn't? But this time things are different. This time there is a video camera hidden among the leaves of a corn plant on the other side of the room, and my answer -- whether it deserves preservation or not -- will be put on tape, along with everything else I say during the interview.
The videotaping idea belongs to Gordon G. Dolph, a corporate recruiter for more than 20 years, and he is convinced it will do nothing less than change the way that America finds its next job.
"The current hiring process is outdated, inefficient, and too expensive," says Dolph, 45. "It's a big fuzzy mess, for three reasons.
"First, line managers don't do the initial screening. The personnel department does, and they may or may not understand the kind of person needed. Second, you can't get the decision makers involved at first because they are out doing their jobs. Third, there's a reluctance once you find qualified people to bring them to headquarters for interviews, because of the cost of flying them in and putting them up at a hotel."
Dolph the headhunter saw the hiring process as one big headache. Dolph the budding entrepreneur saw it as an opportunity. That's why he created Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Corporate Interviewing Network Inc. (CIN). It's also the reason I am sitting in a small office trying not to look at the camera hidden in the plant.
Even if a company uses CIN, the hiring process still begins the old-fashioned way. The company advertises available positions, and applicants send in resumes. The personnel department weeds out obvious losers, screens borderline candidates by phone, and eventually comes up with a list of, say, 12 people who seem promising.
It is at this point, Dolph says, that the traditional process starts to fall apart. Having winnowed the applicants to a dozen potential hires, the company has a decision to make. If time and money are not major considerations, it can bring all 12 people to headquarters for a series of interviews. But few companies -- big or small -- have that luxury. Instead, to make the process manageable, they tend to whittle the list to about four names. However, in that whittling, Dolph warns, the best person for the job may have been eliminated.
CIN offers an alternative. When the list is cut down to 12, the company calls Dolph and gives him the candidates' names and addresses. CIN invites those people to a local office -- there are now 24 franchised locations nationwide -- where they are asked questions supplied by the company. Each applicant is asked the same questions in the same order. The interview videotapes are then sent to the company for viewing. After watching the tapes, the company will have a better idea which -- if any -- of the 12 are worth inviting to headquarters for further interviews. "This process lets you see more people, lets you measure them against each other, and makes it easier for you to select the right person," Dolph says.
The cost to a company of widening its interviewing horizons is relatively small. Dolph charges a onetime sign-up fee of $2,500. A 20-minute interview costs $50, 40 minutes runs $100, and there is a $50 processing fee per job search. So far, more than 300 companies have had a total of 5,500 interviews done this way -- CIN is now scheduling 500 to 600 interviews per month -- and the results, from Dolph's point of view, are promising. Break-even is in sight, he says, and he is now meeting with investors to raise $3 million that would enable him to open more offices and fire up a marketing campaign.
Calling Dolph optimistic about his chances is a little like describing Henry Kissinger as a high-school graduate. It is true, but a tad understated. "The use of our process is inevitable," says Dolph. "Interviews are the most pivotal factor in hiring, and yet they are the most subjective. An interviewer's questions vary from one person to the next, and the rating an applicant receives may be swayed by whether he likes football as much as the interviewer does.
"We have taken all the mushiness out of the process," Dolph continues. "Employers can concentrate on what the applicants say and whether or not they are truly qualified. And they can watch the tapes whenever and wherever they want. They don't have to interrupt their day to see candidates, and they don't have to waste time on small talk or showing people around the office. The people looking for a job benefit, too. They know going in that they're going to get a fair shake, that they'll be treated exactly like everyone else. They have to like it."
At first, though, I don't. To understand exactly how CIN works, I am being interviewed for a mythical job as a staff writer for some unknown publication. (In reality, applicants know the name of the company that has arranged the interview.) The idea of being videotaped doesn't bother me. I've never suffered from stage fright -- though more than one theater-arts teacher has no doubt wished I had -- and I forget the camera is there once the interview begins. Still, the process is far from comfortable. The office is sterile. There are no books, no family pictures proposed up on filing cabinets, no papers on the interviewer's desk -- only a single picture on the wall beside the corn plant.
But it's the interviewer that bothers me most. He's affable when we meet, and we swap stories about the rigors of raising small children while he adjusts the camera and checks that the microphone is working. But the moment we start the interview, he becomes an android. The questions are read exactly as written, with virtually no emotion. And, true to CIN's vision, he doesn't react to anything I say (the response "my expense account" usually gets a smile when folks ask what creative writing I've done). There are no follow-up questions. Dolph explains later that interviewers can't respond or ad lib if the interview is going to be exactly the same for all candidates.
That's understandable, but I still don't like it. Dolph says that puts me in the minority. Surveys show that 80% of the people who are taped think the process is fair, and 85% say they would consider using it themselves if they were doing some hiring.
Dolph also dismisses other potential problems. Will human-resource managers view his service as a threat? After all, if the boss can have interviews videotaped, why does he need a huge personnel department? "The good human-resource people will use this to make their jobs easier," Dolph says. "Instead of spending time screening people out, they can spend their time sourcing candidates."
And that brings up the touchy question of headhunters. Executive-recruitment firms pride themselves on finding the best candidates for the companies that employ them. They say that more often than not the person you want at your company already has a job, and no intention of leaving it. Sure, they include evaluations with their list of job candidates, but the real value they provide -- at a fee generally equaling one-third of the eventual hire's first-year's annual compensation -- is the list itself.
"The best candidates don't respond to classified ads," says John A. Byrne, author of The Headhunters, an in-depth look at executive recruiters. "And even if a company has found candidates on its own, it's unlikely that many of the good ones are going to sit through being videotaped. CIN's process is mechanical and impersonal, and they would not tolerate it."
Dolph is willing to concede part of the point. "For a very specialized job -- say, the chief financial officer for a Fortune 500 company -- you probably still want to use a headhunter for the sourcing. But for the vast majority of jobs, finding the right person won't be that difficult, and our system is still best." Paul R. Ray Sr., who heads the large, Fort Worth-based executive-recruitment firm bearing his name, thinks Dolph might be on to something. CIN "is not a bad idea," he says. "It is true that 98.5% of the people we place in new jobs are already employed. But with all of the companies laying off senior people, his idea makes some sense."
It is also intriguing. The idea of videotaping interviews opens up the process to more companies. "There is no way, as things now stand, for a small company to compete with a big one for people," Dolph maintains. "How is the head of a nine-person firm going to battle Exxon for new engineering graduates? With our system, he or she can."
CIN's success will depend largely on the efforts of franchisees, and Dolph has set up his company to woo them. For example, the franchisee who signs up a corporate client gets to keep the entire $2,500 enrollment fee and receives 20% of all revenues generated by that company forever -- regardless of where the interviews take place. "So it behooves you to build up a strong base of companies in your territory," Dolph says. "Even if they do all their interviewing outside your territory, you still make money."
For conducting an interview, a franchisee receives 60% of the interview fee (plus the 20% of the company's future interviewing fees) and CIN, which provides the 800 phone lines and computer network that ties the system together, receives the remaining 20%.
As I sit reviewing the tape of my interview (my mother is right; I do slump, and could use a haircut) Dolph beams with pride. "We're going to be like Federal Express."
Hmmm . . .