Diary of a Frustrated Job Seeker: The "Creative" Application

Updated: Mar 31

By Erin Allen

The job search is fraught with aggravations and disappointments, not to mention the somewhat tediousness of rewriting cover letters and resumes over and over again. So, it's always nice when a job application doesn't want a cover letter but rather employs methods to test your creativity and otherwise get to know you. However, while the creative opportunity is welcome, it's also a double-edged sword. I've been bitten by just this situation a couple of times, and it's had me question the practice.

When I discovered a recent job opening and learned more about the company, I was so excited. You know how some opportunities just feel right? It's more than you feeling confident you'd be good at the job -- there's a sense of harmony and perfection, almost like it's a sign. Further, there is a sense of wholeness and accomplishment when the application is submitted, even though you understand you may never hear back from the company. That is how I felt with this job.

I was presented with an "email test" to address a fictitious crisis situation and, by this company's standards, I failed. The grading criteria was the company's internal culture, as evidenced by a document that they freely offered for public consumption. To them, I was a bit too formal and not "human" enough. In fact, their feedback mentioned that winning candidates wrote that they wouldn't have used email, they would have made a phone call. Perhaps it's my own fault for not being intuitive enough to pick up on "clues." However, I would argue that I was already destined to fail, because I hadn't yet adopted the company culture since I wasn't yet an employee.

I asked Sara, who is an HR professional, what she thought about the situation. These are her thoughts:

Qualifying questions are smart, but an organization needs to remember that this is a potential employee answering the questions. The organization needs to get into the mind of that person first -- how will they interpret these questions and so forth. The job seeker is looking at these questions as if they are going to be an employee who takes direction from that organization. There are not many organizations where the employee calls the shots and tells the organization how to handle a situation. So when developing qualifying questions, asking a leading question that gives explicit directions on how to perform a task and then omit the candidate because they performed the task is an underhanded tactic that does a disservice to the organization. Especially when the explanation given was that the answer did not align with the culture they seek to promote. The candidate is not an employee; how are they to "know" the culture without being taught? Is death by not knowing the culture a solid reason to omit someone in the hiring process?

I do realize that companies need to have practices to weed through the hundreds of resumes they may get for a job opening, and that may mean that fully qualified candidates get immediately cut. For those HR professionals out there, do you use qualifying questions in the hiring process? If so, do you use culture or creativity as a qualifier? What are your thoughts on my experience?

Also, I'd love to hear from anyone who has had a similar experience. Let us know how you handled the situation or how it worked out for you. Any advice for job seekers?


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