Bogus Job Interview

Q. Our workplace has a rule that new hires must be advertised and CVs solicited. But many times the hiring boss already knows who he needs for the job. Is it ethical to waste the time of the other applicants in this way?

A. A situation similar to yours is discussed in the mishna. The fourth chapter of tractate Bava Metzia discusses at length the laws of onaah, which we can translate as “taking advantage” of someone. In the following passage we will translate it as “exploitation”.

Just as there is exploitation in commerce, so is there exploitation in speech. Don’t say to [the seller], “how much does that item cost?” when you don’t want to buy. (1)

The corresponding Talmudic passage adds:

Rabbi Yehuda says, Also don’t set your eye on a deal when you don’t have any money. (2)

What is the exact nature of this problem? The commentators present various perspectives.

The prominent medieval authority Rabbi Menachem HaMeiri enumerates a number of problems with this practice.

  • The merchant may feel that your refusal to buy after he quotes you a price means that his prices are too high. He may be moved to lower his prices and thus suffer a loss, due to your gratuitous request.
  • You are causing the merchant wasted effort.
  • You cause the merchant disappointment, because he had an expectation of making a sale yet did not.

It is easy to see that all of the Meiri’s considerations apply to hiring as well:

  • After being rejected, the applicant may feel that his qualifications are inadequate or his salary demands exaggerated, when in fact he may have had a good chance of getting the job had he been seriously considered.
  • Preparing for a job interview and undergoing one requires great effort. Multiply that by the number of gratuitous applicants and you get an idea of the wasted effort involved in your firm’s hiring process.
  • Even if the rejection does not lead to any substantive change in the applicant’s hiring strategy or his prospects, every failed application certainly causes disappointment and sorrow.

So if the hiring manager really already knows whom he intends to hire and the rest is just a futile exercise, this practice runs up against the prohibition stated in the mishna.

On the other hand, we can infer from the mishna and from Rabbi Yehuda that the problem arises only when the issue is closed: “when you don’t want to buy”, “when you don’t have any money”. In that case there is a total waste of effort on the part of the merchant. However, there is nothing wrong with shopping around with an open mind even if you have found a satisfactory deal; in that case, the merchant is being given a fair, if slim, chance to make the deal himself.

So the practice you describe can be justified if the manager approaches the applicants with an open mind. He doesn’t have to ignore his special knowledge of the abilities of his favored applicant and treat that applicant equally, judging him only on his CV and the interview. (Although some workplaces, in the interest of fairness, have strict rules regarding what criteria can be considered in hiring.) But he does have to seriously consider the interviewing applicants and be willing to hire one if that seems to be in the best interests of the employer.

Especially in the current job market, when jobs are so scarce and disappointments so rife, employers should be careful not to exploit the eagerness of job applicants, and to treat the interview process with the same seriousness that it is approached by the prospective hires themselves.

SOURCES: (1) Mishna Bava Metzia 4:10 (2) Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 58b