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Instant Messenger Job Interviews? Sounds Like an Instant Mess

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I recently got a funny call from my college buddy Bryan about interviewing for a job via an instant messenger service. Apparently, one of Bryan's roommates—who we affectionately call Possum—posted his résumé online and soon afterwards received a message from an Internet start-up company called GadTech Plus. The company requested an interview for a full-time account manager position; only the interview was to take place on a computer via AOL's Instant Messenger. This ended up being the first of many red flags about GadTech Plus. But Possum, being a recent graduate, was looking for a steady job and went ahead with the cyber interview.

The second, and third, and fourth red flags about GadTech Plus came during the interview itself. It was apparent that the interviewer—a guy named Joe Bressin—struggled to communicate specific details about the company, and his responses were often jumbled and hard to follow. Furthermore, there would be long lapses, sometimes up to four minutes, when Mr. Bressin failed to type any thing. Yet by the end of the interview, he offered Possum the position.

With a little research, my friend discovered that GadTech Plus is a scam targeting individuals who post their résumés on Monster or Yahoo! Hot Jobs. (GadTech Plus neither has a website nor is accredited by the BBB). Possum hasn't heard back from Mr. Bressin and has since started a job in which he participated in a traditional face-to-face interview, handshake and all.

Beside the absurdity of GadTech Plus and Mr. Bressin's communication skills, what really struck me about this story was the idea of doing a job interview on an instant messenger. These points come to mind:

  1. Talk about business casual. Forget wearing a suit and tie, boxers and a T-shirt are perfectly acceptable attire for this interview. In fact, my friend filled in the lapses of his interview with a stimulating game of FIFA 08.
  2. How do you create a good first impression? In a traditional interview, there are common behaviors that, if followed, help create a positive first impression—be on time, dress appropriately, give a good handshake, and show enthusiasm. By my count, you can only exhibit one of those behaviors during an instant messenger interview; be timely. Meanwhile, enthusiasm, which is often shown through reflection in one's voice or nonverbal indicators (a nod of the head, a smile, a lean toward the interviewer), is lost on a computer. I suppose enthusiasm can be indicated by obscene numbers of exclamation marks or emoticons, as in I'm so excited about this job!!!!!!!!!! But that just looks goofy and unprofessional. :-(
  3. The writing matters. Of course, you can't expect perfect grammar and punctuation in an instant messenger conversation. But the message must be clearly communicated from the sender (interviewee) and the receiver (the interviewer) and vise versa.
  4. The writing process still applies. It's just instant. When the sender sends a message, the receiver formulates a response in his or her head (prewriting). Then he or she types a response message (writing), looks it over and tweaks it (revising). Finally, a quick check for errors (editing) is made before sending the response. The entire process may take mere seconds, but it's still a process.

I don't foresee instant messenger interviewing becoming a mainstay in the future, because it lacks the personal approach of face-to-face interviews. I do, however, expect a spike in computer-to-computer interviews using web cams and other new technologies. As proof, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have already reported on job interviewing with Second Life characters, but that's a topic for another day. In the meantime, beware of Joe Bressin. He's now on Facebook looking for some new friends to scam. Check out this actual Facebook message sent to my friend from Mr. Bressin:

Hello Mr. Nxxxxx, i Have an opportunity for you in the computer Sales

industry. please add Me for More information

If you're reading this, Mr. Bressin, I have a suggestion for you. Before you continue your scam, you should really learn the basics of capitalization. If you need help with this, try sitting in an elementary classroom—although I expect the content will go way over your head.

—Tim