Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Gamification of Job Hunting: Brain Dead TV Meets The Unemployment Line

Last fall, CBS announced casting for a new reality TV competition series — The Job — now set to debut on Friday, February 8, 2013 (8:00–9:00 PM, ET/PT). Five contestants will compete for their dream job with a featured employer or hope for an offer from one of several guest employers. Think The Apprentice (NBC), but with more winners. The good news? Winners won't have to work for Donald Trump. A group of well-known companies have lined up to audition job candidates. The bad news? It's another manufactured reality show. Meh.

Now that this job concept has leapfrogged The Apprentice, and the lesser-known Rebel Billionaire: Branson's Quest for the Best (2004), one might imagine it a harbinger to emerging trends in real world talent acquisition. A "cool" recruiting method du jour like The Job could be championed by well-meaning executives as the latest best practice. However, I have faith that civility will reign and no one beyond the publicity hounds at participating companies will think twice about it.

But consider this: a reality TV competition could work for featured employer Zynga, a social game service developer, where acting like a gamer fits the industry culture. And if you believe the story line in "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006), you could say that fashion industry pubs, like Cosmopolitan, another featured employer, are also a fit for these job shenanigans.

Reality TV shows falsely appear to be the epitome of behavioral job interviews. In fact, TV series like The Apprentice present an inaccurate portrayal of how an individual would perform real world business tasks in real world environments. Editing does wonders when it comes to creating marketable TV characters.

When I daydream about competing on one of these shows, I can only imagine the worst. Corporate politics are tough enough without adding "anything goes" ethics to the mix. Where am I coming from? I just finished 7 years working at Intuit Inc. The company is included in FORTUNE Magazine's annual Best Companies to Work For and one of Intuit's Operating Values is Integrity Without Compromise. Name one reality show competition where contestants adhered to that tenet.

Reality shows aren't designed to showcase collaborative work environments built on trust. Reality shows are designed to create drama and feed our need for schadenfreude. Viewers want to see total strangers behave stupidly and, as a result, feel much better about themselves. Why do you think TLC's Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a.k.a. America's favorite inarticulate grade schooler, is so popular?

"I'd think twice about trusting a coworker who nabbed a job with my employer by being the best finagler."
As you know, producers deliberately screen for the most colorful of reality TV competition teammates. Successful contestants appear to be ethically challenged while struggling with the most ridiculous of circumstances; if not by their own hands, at least at the hands of the producers or teammates.

Reality TV competitions include a manipulated, semi-scripted blend of blatant backstabbing, unprofessional name calling, anger management issues and overblown posturing, often at the expense of the team. Personally, I'd think twice about trusting a coworker who nabbed a job with my employer by being the best finagler. I'd also wonder if he or she lost a few billion brain cells in the process.

Do you think social media invades one's privacy? You ain't seen nothin' yet. During episodes, contestants might reveal T.M.I. details of their private lives or shortcomings, even if they only mention the most benign of offenses. If the sketchy details don't leak out during those overly-emotional elimination challenges, supermarket tabloids will dredge up tidbits post-show. Let's have a round of applause for public humiliation sans Facebook.

As for fans of reality TV, I doubt I dissuaded anyone from watching this drivel when it airs. I might take a sneak peek myself, just so I can say "I told you so." Who knows? The Job might fast become America's next guilty pleasure. And I'm O.K. with that, just as long as The Job concept doesn't become corporate America's hottest recruitment method for filling those coveted job openings.

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