Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Gentle Suggestion for Employers

Hello there, Friends of the Humble Fishe.

I would like to share a Gentle Suggestion for the people of today who are in charge of doing the hiring for businesses, from fast-food to retail.

I write this down because of a recent application process to which I was ignominiously exposed during a recent application put forth to the Dollar General store chain.

Dollar General is a national (US) chain of small stores, with various household products, ranging from the usual toilet sundries (toothpaste, anti-perspirant, shampoo, etc.), to cleaning chemicals, cat and dog food, and even clothing to a small extent.

Most of these items are priced between $1.0- and $6.00 dollars, with the high-side items mostly found on brand-name merchandise, as opposed to the lesser known store brands. It's called a 'dollar store,' but isn't necessarily one of the 'everything's a dollar' dollar stores. It is, however, one of the largest in the US, so it's a (I'm assuming) stable chain that isn't closing anytime soon.

That said, it's still a store that pays well below the national average for cashiering, which is the job for which I was applying. Now, let me explain why I'm a bit up in arms about this situation:

When I was in my teens and early twenties--from about 1980 to 1986 or so--I was able to go to any local business, get a paper application at that store, fill it out at home (usually, sometimes they wanted it filled out there), and bring it back; after this, there was a good chance of being able to speak with a hiring manager or other such person. If an interview were scheduled, I stood a good chance of getting hired.

The basic elements of prior work history were there, under the heading of Past Employment, Previous Employers, Work History, and the like. There were the Name, Address, City, State, and Zip Code lines. Education was there, and a place to list my (then) high school experiences, extra curricular activities (school clubs, what-have-you).

These were entry-level, largely minimum wage jobs. They didn't require a degree, just a reasonable understanding of life-in-general, with a modicum of an ability to work with the public, operate a cash register (scanners had just been implemented at that time), *Know How To Count Back Change Manually!* (is this taught anymore?), as well as expectations of reasonable honesty with the company money for which you were responsible and accountable at the end of the day.

It was also expected that you would have a reasonable amount of integrity in your personal life to be understanding to the employees with which you worked, and to know enough to keep personal things personal and work things at work. It was inevitable that some personal elements would cross over on to the work field, such as needing to pick up children from school, go to Boy and Girl Scout meetings, take the babysitter home, and such, but these were understood as more-or-less 'standard things' that happened all the time, were easily managed, and didn't overly disrupt the day-to-day operation of the store-at-large.

What wasn't done is probe intensely into the internal psychology of company employees to the extent that a person was expected to 'bare their soul' against the wall for all to see; which brings me to the crux of this blog entry:

Modern retailers go too far when they ask prospective employees to submit to a 'voluntary,' subjective, values-clarification/psychological test for a job that does not require it. It is invasive, nosy, and invades the privacy of everyone. Please allow me to illustrate below, via my own recent experience.

I go into the Dollar General store to get something I needed, pay for it, then leave. Looking back at the door, I saw that they were looking for an assistant manager. Well, I'm not so sure of my ability for that position, but it couldn't hurt to ask, so I went back inside, asked the cashier on duty who I needed to talk to, was told that *she* was the one, and was told to come back the following day, and 'we could talk about it.'

So far, so good. Morning comes and I arrive at Dollar General to talk to the manager about the position. Well, she didn't feel anything listed on my job history was specific enough for her to give me the assistant manager's job, but she suggested I could apply to be an 'associate,' meaning a cashier-cum-stocker. The only way a cashier does *only* that particular job is at a large grocery store, and even then, is probably expected to keep the candy rack stocked; it's just part of the job.

The job isn't hard. It's simple. Blindly simple. So simple, I, a person who can utilize five or six computer operating systems, regularly uses four (Vista64, XP Pro, Mac OS-X, and GNU/Linux), can play improvisational piano (my own very basic, specific style), and even sing when I put my mind to it. Not hard at all.

Take the till money, count it at the beginning of the shift, compare it to what is on the ticket, sign off on it, put it in the drawer, sign on to the register if needed, and start ringing up customers. Stock the shelves (being sure to lock the register before doing so) if required, tend to customers as needed, keep a sharp eye for shoplifters and other forms of trouble, keep scanning merchandise, bag up the customers' parcels, say 'thank you for your business' and allow them to go on their way; move to the next customer. Repeat.

This job doesn't require a college degree, folks!

So what is The Humble Fishe all up in his fins about? What is it that is so nagging on my ol' Fishey Brain? I respectfully invite you to continue with the coclusion to our little story:

After accepting the invitation to apply for the 'associate' position, I was waived over to the side of the store away fron the checkout line and given a paper application, that is, I was *shown* the application, then had it explained.

I've never had an application explained to me before, save for some state jobs that had a common process for everyone at a central meeting (these types of jobs have this as a fairly standard practice).

Anyway, she goes over the usual Name, Address, State, etc. lines and then gets down to the part that First, made me cringe--as I always do at subjective values-clarification exams--, and the Second, that made me decide to walk out and forget the whole affair.

The dialog went something like this:

Manager: First, we'll need you to fill out the top half, with your Name, Address, and such, then you'll need to go down to this part.

Me: (Manager waiting to see if I understand so far:) "Okay, got it (nodding head.)

Manager: "You'll need to fill out this section, and you'll need to call up a number I'll give you to take the test. *Do You Have A Cell Phone?* (My Own Emphasis)

Me: "Well, yes, I do have a cell phone, but it's one of those prepaid jobs and it's just about out of minutes."

Manager: "Oh, okay, well I suppose you can use the one here.

[At this point, the Manager walks over to the check-out counter (presumably that's where the phone is located) while I follow and continue to watch her go down the application list.]

Manager: (Looking at the application, moving in a generally 'I've Explained This A Thousand Times Before' manner, making hand gestures to get me to understand, etc.:) "After the test is done, then we get to the Desired Behaviors List and. . ."

[It was at that point my subconscious had had enough. I was wondering if I was applying for a job or being being subjected to some psychology student doing a double-blind study :-P.]

Me: (Interrupting:) "Ma'am, I've had enough. This is way too invasive for a mere cashiering job. Thank you for your time and have a good day. Goodbye."

I thanked her for her time, and walked out of the store.


The company and its store manager went too far in two areas: The first was in asking me to use my own phone time and expenditure to perform what was a company function. This is a serious breach of propriety, and, to me, is highly unethical. It makes the job applicant wonder if the company can be so insolvent as to not be able to provide for a desired function for its employees, and just makes the company appear to be, directly put: "Just Plain Cheap!"

The second area concerns the intense focus on the nearly ubiquitous question-and-answer, subjective values-clarification testing regimens that just about everyone is using today in their search for the Perfect Employee (Insert Photo of Sun-Drenched, Sparkly Employee Here :-P.)

The forty question test I could have accepted. Accepted, that is, had it not gone farther than that. The Manager, at that point, was intensely into the breaking down of the test results into what she--ergo, the company--had down as a list of 'desirable behaviors,' and I was not going to have any of it!

'Desirable' is me not stealing from your till, shoplifting the merchandise after hours as I'm closing (also known as Malfeasance, or Employee Theft) the store. 'Desirable' is me having not only a calm, controlled, and self-directed, useful demeanor to your customers, but also having a slew of product knowledge as well as being able to tell a customer in ten seconds flat or less where a product is located, whether or not we're out of a product, and when it's going to be back on the shelf.

What the Manager at Dollar General was going to go over as 'desirable' didn't interest me at that point. I expect it was very specific, and probably had absolutely nothing to do with me, but applied to the maladapted part of society prone to some of the aforementioned uglies.

It did not, nor would it *ever* apply in any way, shape, or form, to The Humble Fishe! Not now! Not Ever!!

The modern workplace is turning into a playground for human resource management paranoia freaks. I, for one, do not take these tests and would advise every one reading this to do the same. Find an employer who will deal with you directly and keep their nose out of your personal psychology. As long as one is able to do the job-in-question and get along with others, that is the only reason to hire a person.

Subjective values-clarification tests do not give accurate results, invade people's privacy, and are unethical as hell to use in the workplace to screen employees!

The Humble Fishe's Gentle Suggestion for Dollar General:

Get your head out of mine! Politeness dictates that you don't prod too heavily into my background for such a mundane job as cashier. A background check will handle that information, is cheap, and can be had during any business week.

Asking me to give responses to subjective, adroitly-personal questions, then furthering the miasma by having your store manager go over a list--presumably to tell me what behaviors are desirable versus those that are not--is an insult to my intelligence and a breach of manners I am not wont to forgive.

Please be of a mind to respect more the privacy rights of your employees, and please stop being so nosy! Until you walk the proverbial mile in my moccasins, Ladies and Gentlemen of Dollar General, you have no right to even consider asking me to bare my soul to you.

I wanted a job, some eventual management training, and some self-respect. I received none of it!

Warm Regards,
The Humble Fishe

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