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Here’s a cautionary tale from a seasoned senior manager’s recent job interview

Navigating job interview platforms requires a level of digital literacy that not all jobseekers have

Here’s a cautionary tale from a seasoned senior manager who recently went for a job interview. He eased back from full-time work a couple of years ago to focus on volunteering, building a boat and walking the Camino from end to end, and keeps the grey matter sharp by doing project work.

He normally gets assignments by word of mouth but recently, when he was browsing a recruitment platform for one of his clients, a job for an interim CEO piqued his interest. It was for six months and the brief was to devise an integration strategy for a business that had grown by acquisition. It sounded like his sort of thing, so he applied

He prepared thoroughly for the interview but, within minutes, he realised he was the only one in the room who had done so. There were three people on the interview panel and he describes them as “utterly clueless, with no idea how to present themselves or the company or to assess my suitability for the role”.

As an éminence grise he knew it was them not him but he said that a less seasoned interviewee would have found it an unnerving experience likely to put a big dent in their self-confidence. “Interviews are two way,” he says. “They’re assessing you but you need to assess them too and spot the red flags.”


He ended up asking the panel more questions than they asked him, and quickly established that the job and the company as presented in the ad bore little resemblance to the reality. He was briefly tempted to step in but sanity, and the lure of the Camino, prevailed.

Talking about the experience afterwards, he mentioned that one of the disadvantages of job platforms is that recruiters have plenty of space at their disposal – unlike job ads of old in print which had to be succinct. As a result he says there is a tendency to write reams and oversell to attract potential candidates.

He also says that it is time that companies became more discriminating and stopped posting jobs that require candidates to meet “a ridiculously long list of skills and responsibilities because no one has properly thought about the actual requirements for the role”. In his view this creates highly unrealistic expectations (even for starter and junior roles) leaving those who won’t apply because they can’t tick every box feeling like a failure.

This is a theme echoed in a recent research paper by Prof Guillaume Dumont from Emlyon business school in France (with colleagues from LSE and Usal University in Lebanon) which put the spotlight on why job platforms, now an integral part of the labour market, can marginalise large swathes of the job-seeking population.

Job platforms are a very efficient way for organisations to hire and screen large numbers of candidates and on the surface they look democratic. A job is posted and anyone can apply. However, navigating job platforms requires a certain level of digital literacy and not all jobseekers have this skill or understand how to maximise their job search or their chances of being successful.

In the past scholarly research into jobs platforms has largely focused on well-qualified professionals who know how to write a good profile and promote themselves online. By contrast, little attention has been paid to how the less-qualified fare. Dumont et al’s research (which was conducted with Spanish jobseekers) suggests that digital exclusion is a real issue, with low-qualified workers losing out in platform-based job searches.

“While most jobseekers now use the internet for work and employment purposes, the experience of low‐qualified jobseekers has largely gone under-recognised,” he says, adding that understanding their experience is critical because inequalities in digital skills are leading to exclusion among the most vulnerable groups.

This exclusion “creates anxiety, frustration and desperation, generating negative experiences which discourage jobseekers from using ICTs (information and communication technologies) for job-search purposes,” Dumont says. “This pattern of ICT use among low‐qualified jobseekers increases unequal opportunities across labour markets, resulting in economic exclusion and wellbeing deficits.”

Dumont’s research showed that the majority of less-qualified employees found it a challenge to use job platforms successfully, and only 20 per cent of those surveyed were aware of the importance of keywords for recruiters matching vacancies to profiles.

“Not only did they struggle to understand how platforms worked and what was expected from them, they also applied for dozens of vacancies every week but rarely interacted with recruiters,” Dumont says. This lack of human contact only served to fuel their uncertainty, leading many to become discouraged and view employment platforms as useless.

“In many cases people give up on profile creation or provide the minimum amount of information because they are exhausted,” Dumont says. “This is then further exacerbated by the fact that most of these platforms are on people’s mobile phones and consulted all day long so they feel like they can’t escape the job search.”

With most open positions posted online since the pandemic, Dumont’s findings are a wake-up call for job platforms, jobseekers with low-level qualifications and those trying to help them find employment. “Job interventions are rarely designed to help them craft a coherent profile, to display all the requested information, and to make their application visible by using keywords and targeting the right employers,” he says.