When reality TV meets recruitment

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I don't know about you, but I'm getting a bit bored of reality TV shows. If we're not biting our fingernails during Masterchef just because the soufflé hasn't risen and Mr Big Food Critic is poking at it disapprovingly, then we're waiting for some dance-off or other following some “wowing” from a flouncy Italian – spotlights all a-quiver. Trailers for The Voice this week show Tom Jones, Will.i.am et al making boxing ring references, with battles and fighting talk. Plus we've got a judgey-format thingy for a sewing show, of all things. That takes the biscuit...and I wish I'd saved that metaphor for a mention of Bake Off.

Actually, forget “I'm getting a bit bored of reality TV shows”. I'm beyond bored. I actively loathe them and their ominous suspenseful music humming away as if I'm actually meant to give a monkey's about who's going home this week, whilst fighting back their tears or talking about their “journey”. Blurgh.

Job interviews are no longer just job interviews; they're auditions.

So why am I mentioning it? Well, because over the past few years, another trend seems to have been growing where job interviews are no longer just job interviews. These days, they're akin to auditions – certainly where copywriting is concerned.

If you apply for a copywriting job (say), you know that you're not going to get a look-in unless your CV and portfolio prove that you have the right copywriting chops. Unless you're lying on your CV and your portfolio is made up of other people's work (which would would be a very serious offence), then surely it's a given that you can do the job.

After all, the same interviewer or company wouldn't expect someone who applied to be Head of Sales to come in and start selling their product. Yes, of course they'd ask the interviewee how they'd increase sales and so on, and they'd check out their track record and credentials, but they wouldn't ask them to prove it by effectively doing the job on the spot. And yet, where copywriting is concerned, this is increasingly common.

I'm naturally competitive and I love a challenge but...

Now, just to throw you a curve ball, I'm going to come clean and admit something: when this first happened to me a few years ago, I initially didn't really mind. The thing is, I'm naturally competitive and I love a challenge, so I'm like a dog with a mountain of bones when I'm asked to sit down and take a copywriting test. But – and it's a very big but – is this just a way for the company to potentially get a load of amazing ideas for free? If so, that really is rather sneaky. And that's putting it mildly.

But let me give you a scenario. I once took a test for a very well-known multinational. The test involved writing three headlines for product X, a direct mailing for product Y for another audience, and then some web content for product Z. That's quite a big test – two hours' worth of work. But I loved doing it and really wanted to work for them, so fine, I was happy to do it. Crucially, though, I had to sign a contract saying that I'd get paid a modest fee of £50 for my efforts but that they then owned all the rights to my work when I'd finished.

Here's what happened. I nailed that test. I mean, really nailed it. I received effervescent emails saying they “loved” my test and they had just spoken to the MD about me who had “hooted with laughter” (in a good way) when he'd read my copy. They'd get back to me within a week about the “next steps”. Just over a week later, I sent a friendly email reminder. They swiftly and apologetically responded that they had decided to put the job on hold due to “internal restructuring”. That old chestnut...

Undeterred, I offered to do a spot of freelancing for them while all this was going on (presumably the work hadn't just evaporated and they'd still need a copywriter even while the restructuring was going on). They asked me for my day rate rather than hourly rate or project estimate, so I told them. I didn't hear back for a while, so I politely prodded again...

Sorry, but you're too expensive.

No suggestion about coming to a compromise, no counter offer, nothing.

So instead I went back and suggested that we find a compromise with which we'd all be happy. Apart from one cursory holding letter, and after one more chase-up by me, I heard nothing.

The questions I put to you, therefore, are:

  1. Should job interviews be auditions?

  2. Was I a mug?

by Ashley Morrison

Ashley is a copywriter, blogger and editor


Photos: BBC/Wall to Wall Photographer:Guy Levy


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