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The Jewish Ethicist: Bogus Job Interview

The Jewish Ethicist: Bogus Job Interview

Don't ask for CVs if you already know whom you will hire.


Q. Our workplace has a rule that new hires must be advertised and CVs solicited. But many times the hiring boss already knows who he needs for the job. Is it ethical to waste the time of the other applicants in this way?

A. A situation similar to yours is discussed in the mishna. The fourth chapter of tractate Bava Metzia discusses at length the laws of onaah, which we can translate as "taking advantage" of someone. In the following passage we will translate it as "exploitation".

    Just as there is exploitation in commerce, so is there exploitation in speech. Don't say to [the seller], "how much does that item cost?" when you don't want to buy. (1)

The corresponding Talmudic passage adds:

    Rabbi Yehuda says, Also don't set your eye on a deal when you don't have any money. (2)

What is the exact nature of this problem? The commentators present various perspectives.

The prominent medieval authority Rabbi Menachem HaMeiri enumerates a number of problems with this practice.

  • The merchant may feel that your refusal to buy after he quotes you a price means that his prices are too high. He may be moved to lower his prices and thus suffer a loss, due to your gratuitous request.
  • You are causing the merchant wasted effort.
  • You cause the merchant disappointment, because he had an expectation of making a sale yet did not.

It is easy to see that all of the Meiri's considerations apply to hiring as well:

  • After being rejected, the applicant may feel that his qualifications are inadequate or his salary demands exaggerated, when in fact he may have had a good chance of getting the job had he been seriously considered.
  • Preparing for a job interview and undergoing one requires great effort. Multiply that by the number of gratuitous applicants and you get an idea of the wasted effort involved in your firm's hiring process.
  • Even if the rejection does not lead to any substantive change in the applicant's hiring strategy or his prospects, every failed application certainly causes disappointment and sorrow.

So if the hiring manager really already knows whom he intends to hire and the rest is just a futile exercise, this practice runs up against the prohibition stated in the mishna.

On the other hand, we can infer from the mishna and from Rabbi Yehuda that the problem arises only when the issue is closed: "when you don't want to buy", "when you don't have any money". In that case there is a total waste of effort on the part of the merchant. However, there is nothing wrong with shopping around with an open mind even if you have found a satisfactory deal; in that case, the merchant is being given a fair, if slim, chance to make the deal himself.

So the practice you describe can be justified if the manager approaches the applicants with an open mind. He doesn't have to ignore his special knowledge of the abilities of his favored applicant and treat that applicant equally, judging him only on his CV and the interview. (Although some workplaces, in the interest of fairness, have strict rules regarding what criteria can be considered in hiring.) But he does have to seriously consider the interviewing applicants and be willing to hire one if that seems to be in the best interests of the employer.

Especially in the current job market, when jobs are so scarce and disappointments so rife, employers should be careful not to exploit the eagerness of job applicants, and to treat the interview process with the same seriousness that it is approached by the prospective hires themselves.

SOURCES: (1) Mishna Bava Metzia 4:10 (2) Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 58b

August 28, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Anonymous, September 19, 2010 7:13 AM

Having been the victim of many false interviews, I truly appreciated what you had to say. People in human resources would argue that federal regulation requires them to advertise positions and even accept applications, although the individual hiring alrerady has a specific person for a position.

(6) Anonymous, September 12, 2010 5:49 PM

I think the answer, while narrowly correct, misses the point of the problem. HR offices require multiple interviews to ensure that the best person is hired. "Going through the motions" is not only unfair to the applicants; it's also unfair to the employing company. The manager who "knows in advance" who he/she is going to hire is violating a legitimate company policy. A second issue is whether the manager really know in advance who will be hired. Often a losing candidate will assert that "the job was wired" to explain why he/she was not hired, when in fact the application process was open and the losing candidate was just not the best candidate. Managers need to understand that they need to be honest and open in hiring process, and often need explicit training and/or counseling to have that lesson take root. Employees might then begin to trust the hiring process and not attribute pre-selection when it is not true.

(5) mysteries, September 3, 2010 8:47 PM

When an applicant gives a C.V. there are many details on it. The interviewer wants to see what is useful to be gleaned from the CV. By inviting the applicant to attend an interview, the interviewer can find out some details about the applicant and what they have done in the course of their career. From this the interviewer get new ideas for themselves and finds out interesting things. It is a way of getting information from the ground. It does take the time up of the interviewee and they get some practice at answering interview questions. The employer/interviewer gains the greater benefit from the interview process.

(4) Anonymous, September 2, 2010 5:59 PM

Excellent understanding and commentary.

(3) Jonathan, September 1, 2010 2:40 PM

Object to your reply on CV's

while i agree with your comments, not taking CV's is in contravention of corp policy in this case, subjecting the "hirer" to possible sanctions. You cannot recommend a course that would place this person's job in jeopardy. In this case, unless he can negotiate and exception with his company, he has to solicit cv's. He should review them, but if he did not, so be it. It is not required if he has already made up his mind. Insofar as the applicants are concerned, they should expect either nothing, or a response of one kind or another. That's the way life is and that is what is expected by them on submitting their CV's

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