Companies & students at war

Rodger Scott, ArtSci ’00
Rodger Scott, ArtSci ’00

As the summer finally comes to a close and the ‘Back to School’ sales signal the arrival of another year at university, I can take great satisfaction in knowing that I survived my seventh year of the summer employment experience.

Now, sitting back, I can reflect and refract on the recent past and draw the firm conclusion that there is nothing that leaves a worse taste in my mouth than the summer application period. That ugly time between January and June, when the worst behaviour of all participants is visible — students competing and being their own worst enemies, and companies taking advantage of the fact that students need them more than they need us.

The bad taste started to form in late January when a couple of colleagues and I got together to have a resumé proofreading session. Seated at my desk with red pen in hand and two resumés staring at me, I unknowingly embarked on a journey of cutting edge fantasy and fiction.

After a quick read, I came to the startling realization that both of my friends were living fantastically busy, successful lives. On the one hand there was Marcy Z who, in her fifth year, planned to complete two honour’s degrees in Chemistry and Economics. On the other hand, there was Joey B who claimed to be on a number of AMS Committees and a member of two full-time varsity athletic teams.

I quickly reassured myself that Marcy Z was in her fifth year, received a Chemistry BA in her fourth, and had only taken three Econ credits throughout her entire university career — a far cry from the number that one normally needs to graduate. I felt like the bullshit train was stationed on my desk. Even smellier was Joey B who claimed to have “added to the efficiency and effectiveness” of numerous AMS Committees. Interestingly, one of the committees he mentioned just so happened to be one that I was personally responsible for, and having never seen him show up for any meetings or even sign-up for the position, I quickly became suspect of his involvement. Although he probably did add to the efficiency and effectiveness of the committee by not participating, the presence of mind and body are fundamental prerequisites for involvement. As for the varsity blues, well I don’t see how one person can play two sports that both take place in the same season — another out of body experience, perhaps. These are only examples of the blatant lies, never mind the subtle inconsistencies or the stretched truths. I guess desperation does breed dishonesty and deception.

Stories abound of students making inflated claims of wild athletic, volunteer, and leadership experiences. That’s not to mention the claims of unfounded academic and intellectual achievement. Where does this collectively get us as students? Not only does the ‘truth stretcher’ risk being caught, but more disheartening, they crowd out the ability of fellow students — those who have made honest, powerful contributions to an environment — to be recognized for their outstanding dedication and commitment.

For example, what would distinguish a volunteer who was part of the AMS Teaching Issues Committee from that of an imposter? In short, nothing — the responsibility to recognize is usurped from those who are given the entrusted duty and power to dole out credit where credit is due.

One of the great behavioural ills that plague society today is the inability of people at all levels of the social strata to recognize that the immoral actions of one will impact others. The ramifications of cheating or lying on anything are not self-contained, they have serious and powerful multiplier effects for everyone. A person may achieve a net gain by a dishonest action, but the impact on society will invariably be a net loss. In short, we must learn to show collective humility, realizing that getting ahead should not be done on the shoulders of honest citizens. As time went by, my frustration moved away from my friends and took root in a number of companies that I had recently applied to. This new-found animosity toward particular companies was based on their ability to suck any feeling of equality, respect and fairness from the hiring process.

In March, I applied for a summer job at an insurance company. About two weeks later, I was talking to a close friend who informed me that her housemate, who was a Commerce student and future full-time employee of this company, said that I had been selected for an interview. I was also told that the company had emailed a list of interview candidates to her housemate, in order to ask her opinion of them. First and foremost, I don’t care who informs me that I have an interview. What does bother me is that this ‘professionally-run’ company is asking someone who barely knows me — who would show obvious bias toward a particular programme and a distinct group of students — to evaluate my ability to perform in their business environment. I wonder what her comments were based on — my ability to put down the lid of their toilette when I visit? The fact that that I re-fill the Brita when it’s empty? Or, better yet, that I don’t pick my nose or fart erratically? This experience alone redefined the terms ‘irresponsible’ and ‘immoral’ in my mind.

To add insult to injury, I finally had the interview. It didn’t go too badly, and they assured me that they would contact me by telephone in one week’s time. Since this was the only company that had shown interest in me so far, they truly had their tight, firm, sweaty corporate hand nicely wrapped around the elastic waist of my boxers. I wanted the job and was very anxious to hear the decision. The second day arrived, then the seventh, and so on, each being spent close to the phone, never moving too far away from it. After two weeks I gave up. If you tell someone you will call, call them, don’t be elusive.

Somewhere between the beginning and the disaster above, I applied to another insurance company to be a claims-representative. The job description required people who had physical stamina, excellent written and communication skills, and the usual stuff average companies look for. I thought that I would at least get an interview, considering the loose criteria. Three weeks went by and I didn’t hear a thing. Anxious and eager, I phoned up the hiring coordinator. He quickly informed me that they were looking for people who had experience in home construction and the ability to measure, according to industry standards, the roof size of residential homes. This, of course, knocked me out of the running.

What the fuck? Roofs, homes, measuring — why are you even recruiting at Queen’s? It’s an academic institution, not a trade school. If you want a specialized skill, and you want people to apply with that type of background, it might be a good idea to put that on the job description. I mean if I am ever a recruiter for an accounting company, I don’t think I would just advertise in the most general way: “seeking mammals, preferably human, to breath and exist in dynamic fast-paced environment.” The level and degree of incompetence and stupidity that some people wield is truly incredible.

My last story holistically summarizes my application experience. I received a job-posting via Career Owl for a position at the federal government. As usual, I went down to a nearby fax centre and asked the clerk to fax off my application. The clerk attempted to send the package, but was unsuccessful because the line was busy. He told me that government fax lines, in particular lines that are set up for student application transmissions, are almost impossible to get through. After four days and sixteen dollars later, I empirically validated his qualitative opinion. Desperate to get it through, I tried to email the application. The email address was invalid. Even more desperation set in, and I went on-line to try and hunt the guy down using the government telephone directory, in hopes of finding the guy’s work number. As my luck was going, there was not one listing for that name. Not easily beaten, I typed in all sorts of combinations of the last name, and at two a.m. on the day of the application deadline, I had finally found my persecutor. Victory at last! Or so I thought.

I phoned him up, inquired about the contact information and job, and received the following response: he congratulated me on finding him, and then went on to inform me that although the posting did specify a deadline, it was in actuality a random date, derived by an administrative anomaly. He also told me that the job had been filled two weeks ago. In the end, I had spent close to twenty-five dollars only to come to the stunning conclusion that one of our senior civil servants doesn’t know how to spell his name, accurately write down his work fax and phone number, or post deadlines properly. It always amazes me that companies spend millions of dollars on public relations campaigns, but have no qualms about treating the leaders of tomorrow with petulance and contempt.

Companies look at students as an expendable and infinitely available resource, forgetting completely that those students who they manage to annoy in the present will hurt them in the long-run.

This is because dishonorable recruitment creates a negative perception of the company in the minds of students, which, in the long-run, will lead to graduates not wanting to work or do business with them.

Many companies must still learn that students are the intellectual infrastructure of tomorrow. Disrespect in the present will only jeopardize their chances at employing that intellectual infrastructure in the future.

Rodger Scott, Arts ‘00, is weary of his search for the almighty dollar. He was the Academic Affairs Commissioner of the Alma Mater Society last year.

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