Job interviews in Britain is surprisingly unpleasant

I have started looking for a permanent employment after having a break from international development. My aim is to continue working in tech-related initiatives, this includes in the education sector.

I managed to secure several interviews, some of them turned out to be an eye opening experience. As the recent study revealed, ethnic minorities suffer higher rates of unemployment, face more barriers to work and receive lower pay than white workers, I can relate myself with this finding.

Dilbert Does Job Interview

Well-known organisations are no exception

I have mixed experience in recruitment process. Big organisations did slightly better in dealing with applicants than smaller ones but not much. Organisations with sophisticated online present turned out not so impressive offline. A startup organisation I was interviewed with, with lot of buzz in social media, admitted lacking of human resources and fundings.

After weeks of waiting, some organisations did not notify interview results. I had to initiate contact asking for feedbacks. I understood that recruitment process may take some time but failing to inform applicants is just unacceptable. Both parties, applicants and employers, invested time, energy and money for interviews and tests. It’s only fair if responsibilities and rights are shared and respected.

The most confusing moment was being forced to sign nondisclosure agreement before interview commenced. HR did not inform me in advance, and I simply could not say no considering it took me an hour to get to their office. Sitting in a meeting room, I was told: “We can’t proceed the interview if you don’t want to sign this NDA”.

Employers sometimes lacking of ideas

Organisations aimed to start new project have tendency to not knowing what they want. They came with ambiguous and unable to clarify this. My assumption, they used the interviews to collect ideas, and perhaps validation. Three positions I applied were cancelled after I completed all steps in hiring process. I would not be surprised if these were euphemism for rejection, in the name of British politeness.

I also discovered a startup organisation mentioned previously stole the ideas on how they can pilot open data project that I presented in the interview. It’s flattering, of course, but I honestly didn’t (still don’t) feel good about it.

Illegal interview questions

Employers have a legal obligation to check whether applicants have right to work in the UK or not. But under any circumstances, they have no right to ask illegal interview questions.

I encountered awkward situations when employers asked personal questions, including my visa status, than necessary. An HR Manager from organisation working in transparency sector quizzed me: “My wife works in Border Control (office), I know how difficult to get working permit visa to UK. How did you manage to get yours?” I cringed, I was afraid to speak impolitely.

Similar queries that I received from time to time were:

  • Why did you decide to move to UK?
  • How long you have been living in the UK?
  • How long your current visa will last, and what will you do to renew it?
  • Are you married?

It should be noted that these questions are illegal, applicants have right to refuse answering them.

What could I have done differently?

My experience has taught me to pay more attentions on recruitment process: how employers treat their applicants. From my observation, I identify few lessons as follows:

  • Before applying for open vacancies, I would read companies reviews and testimonies from their employees and applicants.
  • I would speak to friends and colleagues who have experience in UK job market as well as take notes from online recommendations.
  • As an applicant, I would carefully research my rights and responsibilities.
  • I would refused invitation for interviews from organisations that do not provide sufficient information for applicants.
  • During interviews, I need to think carefully before answering questions. Some questions are meant for short answers.
  • Because of discrimination in recruitment process, I may need to provide more clarity, and be more outspoken about my principles and ideas.