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This is the weirdest job interview you've ever heard of.
January 10, 2014 6:15 PM   Subscribe

The Ask A Manager advice blog received an e-mail asking if the interview shenanigans the poster had just gone through were a good way to find a candidate. Then it got worse. As advice blogger Allison Green continued to correspond with the letter writer, the letter writer proceeded to tell her about the final interview process, in which 20 candidates had to spend all day and night interviewing.

And in this case, interviewing turned out to mean "all of you have to find the director of our organization's house and provide dinner and a show for 40 people in two and a half hours."

You may be thinking, as I was, was this for a food service job, or reality television, or a hoax? Apparently it was not. Another person at the same interview chimed in with more details and confirmation in the comments.

The organization that does these interviews on a regular basis? Operation Smile. You may have heard of them.
posted by jenfullmoon (124 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Relevant articles by Gawker and the Consumerist.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:30 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


The organization that does these interviews on a regular basis? Operation Smile. You may have heard of them.

Oh, I have! Operation Smile was featured on television's The Apprentice!

What hath reality television wrought?
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:32 PM on January 10


Ick, they're local, too. Cross another org off the list of charities to consider sending money.
posted by indubitable at 6:36 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


As an HR person, all I can say is... fail, prospective employer. Fail.
posted by SMPA at 6:37 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]


"Hey, who wants to have a dinner party where 33% of all we consume is interviewee spit?"
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:38 PM on January 10 [31 favorites]


So when Gawker contacted them:

For the job candidates, the surprise of being told to cook a huge meal is "one of the most fun things they enjoy about the interview process," according to OS PR director Sabrina Zimring. "It's really fun."

The later official response was:

Given the high demands encountered by these individuals working in a developing country setting, Operation Smile has designed a dynamic interview screening process. In addition to conducting formal interviews, first by phone and then in person, the comprehensive goals of the process are to re-create uncertain, fast-paced, challenging environments and conditions that applicants may encounter in a mission setting. Culminating with an exercise such as planning and delivering a fun, social activity, including dinner, to a group helps identify the applicant's strengths and/or weaknesses in communicating, problem-solving skills and teamwork.

We appreciate the monumental efforts of the Program Coordinators and we recognize this is a demanding, and to some degree, unconventional role within our organization. Recognizing this position isn't a fit for every applicant, we make every attempt from day one to ensure candidates understand the time-intensive interview process, starting salary and requirements of the job.

Through the years, thousands of eager, qualified applicants have completed this process, gained valuable life experiences, ultimately going on to become leading professionals in the medical, legal and international humanitarian arenas. Operation Smile is honored that so many stellar candidates continue to choose our program.


I can imagine that if you had gone through all this to get the job, you would be likely to say "Yeah it was fun!" because you would know it's expected of you. The whole thing reeks of cult-like breaking people down.

Is it really so hard to help people get facial surgery in poor countries? Do they parachute in like Navy SEALs or something?

I don't know. Smells bullshitty to me.
posted by emjaybee at 6:41 PM on January 10 [31 favorites]


Jesus.
posted by OmieWise at 6:41 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


At 5, they simply announced that our group activity was to shop for and prepare a meal for 40 with entertainment, to be served at 7:30 at the director’s house. We were given a budget of $350 and information about food allergies in the group

"Hey jerkwards, I ordered a dozen Dominos pizzas and let them go cold. They're in the dumpster downstairs if you want them. I'm keeping the change. Now fuck off."

Pricks.
posted by Decani at 6:41 PM on January 10 [88 favorites]


This is a bad thing, and the people responsible should feel bad for abusing the charity and goodwill of the public so egregiously.

Sorry, but no. Being a charity with a worthy cause does not give you the right to abuse your staff and benefactors.

Worse still, the people responsible for this trainwreck have almost certainly damaged a good cause.

Fire the assholes responsible for this mess, and hire all 20 "finalists" -- odds are the charity will end up saving money.

Unfrtunately, I kind of doubt that there's any hope left for Operation Smile, given that their canned PR response from didn't even attempt to apologize for or justify the errors that were made. It seems very unlikely that the organization will exist for much longer (or, at least with the current management).
posted by schmod at 6:43 PM on January 10 [15 favorites]


Holy fuck, people can be such wankers. And even more so when they're waving a job at you.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:43 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


We were given a budget of $350 and information about food allergies in the group.
Boy, did they miss a golden opportunity.
posted by Flunkie at 6:43 PM on January 10 [129 favorites]


If this included some kind of stipend, I'd chalk it up as "weirdly eccentric" but mostly okay. But without that compensation, then, fuck those guys. Whatever your intentions for this 'interview' process and group working-task thing, you're stealing free labor from desperate people.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:44 PM on January 10 [11 favorites]


This has to be hoax. No company interviews in this manner and neither would 20 people put up with it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:46 PM on January 10


Haliburton maybe but not a organization like this
posted by wheelieman at 6:52 PM on January 10


They shoot horses don't they?
posted by wuwei at 6:52 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Brandon, they appear to have publicly owned up to it. And been proud!
posted by emjaybee at 6:52 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


The best part is at the veeeeery very end of the Ask a Manager comments section, there's a comment that purports to be from a former employee (posting from the IP of the school where Operation Smile's CEO works) that defends the interview practice by saying it was a good way to find out who could handle 15-hour work days while remaining charming and stay cool under pressure.

This is a job that pays $24,000 a year.

A good way to find desperate doormats, maybe.
posted by Jeanne at 6:52 PM on January 10 [33 favorites]


Huh. The Gawker article verifies that it is all true. How...what..?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:54 PM on January 10


What the actual fuck. This is so off the charts inappropriate that I can't even. I've generally had favorable feelings about OS in the past but the fact that they say that candidates find this a fun interview process makes me question all their other judgements as an organization. Hint: if anyone who is not in a position of power (like an employee or jobseeker) gives you any kind of good feedback about your wacky, unconventional ways, you should still seek a second opinion from an unbiased party whose livelihood doesn't depend on telling you what you want to hear.

Companies that pull this shit need to be named and shamed.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:54 PM on January 10 [20 favorites]


I have in my time jumped through what seemed like a lot of hoops in the interviewing process, but this shit is in a different universe. What the actual fuck.
posted by rtha at 6:55 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


What's weird to me is that nearly everything they say they're interested in learning about the employees, the State Department learned about me in my one-day Foreign Service oral assessment:
The Oral Assessment is conducted in Washington, DC and in various major cities around the United States. This day-long assessment measures your ability to demonstrate the 13 dimensions (35kb, pdf) that are essential to the successful performance of Foreign Service work. It includes a group exercise, a structured interview, and a case management writing exercise.

Oral Assessment exercises: Candidates who can document creditable veterans' service by submitting form DD 214 will be given additional points on the Register: 0.175 for a five point standing and 0.35 for a 10 point standing for Foreign Service Officers and five or 10 points for Foreign Service Specialists. These points are added after you pass the Oral Assessment. You will receive instructions on how to claim these points after the Oral Assessment.
At no time did I do a song-and-dance number or cook for anyone. I did get some awesome networking done, and I actually learned a lot despite not quite scoring high enough to be selected (I'm still awfully proud of how well I did - I hadn't yet graduated, and everyone else in my group had a master's or JD.) I have no idea how I'd feel about myself after enduring the crap that this cohort of applicants went through.
posted by SMPA at 6:56 PM on January 10 [24 favorites]


I would gladly cook dinner for 40 people, given that they were all related to me and I had a couple days' notice to figure out which 3 vats of soup I was going to prepare.

For $24,000/year and 2.5 hours' notice, I would lmgtfy GrubHub for them and pee in their coat closet.
posted by coppermoss at 6:59 PM on January 10 [14 favorites]


You know, all they need to do is *pay* the candidates for this -- travel expenses and a stipend for the day -- and they'd lose about 90% of the outrage.
posted by jeather at 7:01 PM on January 10 [32 favorites]


Peasants! Be grateful for the opportunity to serve your lords!
posted by wuwei at 7:03 PM on January 10 [15 favorites]


I'm making a game right now (a veritable forever project) where the player goes through the the most Kafkaesque job interview process imaginable. We're talking feats of strenght, grueling personality tests, endless interviews, lie-detector tests, etc.

I don't think I'll be putting something like this in the game.
posted by hellojed at 7:03 PM on January 10 [10 favorites]


our group activity was to shop for and prepare a meal for 40 with entertainment, to be served at 7:30 at the director’s house. We were given a budget of $350
I want to know what they fed people and how they entertained them for 8.75 per person on such short notice.
posted by variella at 7:03 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


...the senior staff spent the majority of the night drinking and dancing. The evening didn’t end till 10:30 pm, when it moved to a local bar.

And after this, they were supposed to be able to evaluate the candidates?!
posted by ogooglebar at 7:05 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


We were given a budget of $350 and information about food allergies in the group.

Peanut butter gluten and shrimp kabobs with a heavy cream sauce for everyone!
posted by zippy at 7:05 PM on January 10 [54 favorites]


Alison Green is writing a management advice column?!? Funny, last I saw of her she was at the Marijuana Policy Project enabling her boss' out-of-control sexual harassment of his employees.
posted by zipadee at 7:05 PM on January 10 [17 favorites]


Oops, read the edited comments (I only read the actual post, which still says 40)... I guess for 17.50/person you could get restaurant delivery. I'd probably send a magician and pizza and pocket the change.
posted by variella at 7:08 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Damn. And thought I feel burned up when I go in for an in-person interview and then never hear back from them.

(BECAUSE SERIOUSLY, IF I TAKE THE TIME TO COME THE FUCK IN THEN YOU SEND ME A FUCKING REJECTION LETTER...K? HOW IS THIS ACCEPTABLE)
posted by threeants at 7:14 PM on January 10 [8 favorites]


For the job candidates, the surprise of being told to cook a huge meal is "one of the most fun things they enjoy about the interview process," according to OS PR director Sabrina Zimring. "It's really fun."

It was a good thing you did making us all do free catering. A real good thing.
posted by RobotHero at 7:15 PM on January 10 [10 favorites]


zipadee: "Alison Green is writing a management advice column?!? Funny, last I saw of her she was at the Marijuana Policy Project enabling her boss' out-of-control sexual harassment of his employees."

Oh holy crap. I was wondering why that name sounded familiar.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:16 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Alison Green is writing a management advice column?!? Funny, last I saw of her she was at the Marijuana Policy Project enabling her boss' out-of-control sexual harassment of his employees.

Wow, that is some really weird stuff. Alison's blogging persona is very much "I'm the common-sense, tells-it-like-it-is tough-love HR person who doesn't put up with any bullshit", which is kind of weird in combination with that.
posted by threeants at 7:16 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


I think it may be a *different* Alison Green. Who I also know, from going to one of her trainings.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:17 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Her practical job-seeking tips seem generally very good and reliable, but I find her on-the-job advice to often have a subtle pro-employer, anti-worker tinge that really bothers me.
posted by threeants at 7:18 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


No, it is definitely the same one. AskAManager's Alison Green worked at MPP.
posted by threeants at 7:19 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


No -- I am wrong. Same person.

I reinstate my "holy crap" comment.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:19 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


What I am wrong about is who presented the training I went to. That was a different person. I will say that The Management Center does good trainings, should you be in the market for such a thing, and their book has been useful to me.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:22 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


And I thought it was weird when I had to make something with legos for an interview.
posted by drezdn at 7:29 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Wow, something more miserable than the academic job search process! I am impressed, because the bar is high.
posted by TwoStride at 7:34 PM on January 10 [10 favorites]


I am trying to think of the best possible fuck-you these poor applicants could have come up with for dinner and entertainment. Jars of mayonnaise with spoons stuck in and a sonata played with armpit farts? With the change thrown into the middle of the table 30-pieces-of-silver style?
posted by emjaybee at 7:34 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]


$350? Cheap wine, laced with LCD for 40 diners, plus 20 werewolf masks.
posted by orme at 7:39 PM on January 10 [55 favorites]


I am trying to think of the best possible fuck-you these poor applicants could have come up with for dinner and entertainment.

What would Peter Greenaway do?
posted by Pudhoho at 7:42 PM on January 10 [17 favorites]


This is a helpful reminder to look at a nonprofit's 990 form before donating. As you may have guessed, Operation Smile does pretty bad (pdf). About thirty percent went to their "medical mission" i.e. fixing cleft lips. About half went to raising awareness about cleft lips. That's right, half their expenses went to telling you about the Smile Train.

Before you donate to any charity, google [name of the organization] and [NCCS] to go straight to their 990 IRS filing. It's shocking sometimes.
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 7:45 PM on January 10 [93 favorites]


I am trying to think of the best possible fuck-you these poor applicants could have come up with for dinner and entertainment.

I am having fun imagining this too -- I think the applicants should have just gone out to dinner themselves on the money and left everyone there to wait, hungry -- but of course in that situtation, I'm sure I would have played along out of desperation.
posted by jeather at 7:45 PM on January 10


And I thought it was weird when I had to make something with legos for an interview.

Was it this?
posted by The World Famous at 7:47 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


I would have gotten fixings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The entertainment would be getting to assemble your own PBJ. Those allergic to peanuts or wheat get a jar of jelly and a spoon.
posted by payoto at 7:50 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]


Luminiferous Ether: "That's right, half their expenses went to telling you about the Smile Train. "

So they're doubling the money they invest in fundraising?
posted by Drexen at 7:54 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


> "Funny, last I saw of her she was at the Marijuana Policy Project enabling her boss' out-of-control sexual harassment of his employees."

From that article: "At one point, Kampia and Green even discussed instituting a sexual harassment policy at MPP, but Kampia ruled the possibility out. 'I did discuss it with Alison,' says Kampia. 'I thought it would be a bad idea at the time, because if we had a policy, two-thirds of the staff would have been in violation of it ...'"

Words fail me.
posted by kyrademon at 7:55 PM on January 10 [17 favorites]


Maybe a little more than twenty years ago a young friend agreed to make a promotional documentary in Central America for a person associated with this group. The work was to be her MFA thesis. The volunteer paid for travel and supplies, the university provided equipment and the student made the video. The agreement was that after the tape was turned in, she could and would provide the volunteer with a copy to be used in recruiting other volunteers. Long story shortened, the 'client' was rude, abusive and, being allowed to preview the finished work, simply stole it. She managed to get it back to turn in but this was not a good experience.
posted by Anitanola at 7:55 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't the result of this be that they find the most desperate recruits? Is that a good thing? Shouldn't people be treated with respect even if they are desperate?

I know I'd tell them to ram it as soon as they mentioned a 12 hour (or more) unpaid day of interviews, let alone the whole cooking for the execs thing.

Don't get me wrong - I know you have to make an effort sometimes. I had to spend many dollars and give up a lot of time to fly interstate for interviews for my current job. But this is just disgraceful and demeaning.
posted by Diag at 8:05 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


I think the applicants should have just gone out to dinner themselves on the money and left everyone there to wait, hungry

These folks sound like the kind who would call the cops on you for stealing their 350.00, though.

I have a friend who works in nonprofits and the pay rates are appalling; she makes now what I made starting 20 years ago, and probably won't make much more in her lifetime. She believes in her cause and does good work, but has trouble keeping good staff; she either gets folks who can't get hired anywhere else or good ones who burn out from the strain. Which is what often happens when your pair crazy stress with shitty pay. People who know their worth and aren't completely self-sacrificing/saintlike will bail or not even consider putting themselves through it.

Then to be humilated and made to dance like a monkey on top of that, Jesus.
posted by emjaybee at 8:09 PM on January 10 [7 favorites]


While not nearly at the extreme level of the shenanigans on display here, some companies seem to have a hard time making a decision, and involve their finalists in endless callback interviews. I've heard stories from people who have had 5 and more interviews. Perhaps this is normal for executive level jobs, but there were just code monkey (sorry, SENIOR code monkey) positions. It seems excessive.
posted by thelonius at 8:11 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


That's right, half their expenses went to telling you about the Smile Train.

I don't know enough about the world of nonprofit fundraising to know whether or not that's a good return on fundraising investment. Can anyone who knows the industry shed some light? Is doubling your money through fundraising good, bad, or average?
posted by The World Famous at 8:14 PM on January 10


These folks sound like the kind who would call the cops on you for stealing their 350.00, though.

Which is why that's my imaginary plan where it's fun to pretend, but as I said I think the applicants did the best they could and in their situation I am sure I would have played along.
posted by jeather at 8:17 PM on January 10


The bar for imaginary plans is pretty high here on MetaFilter. Just be glad an imaginary mod didn't delete it.
posted by The World Famous at 8:21 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Evidently they figured The Sociopath Train wouldn't inspire a lot of donations, so good for them for that much self-awareness, I guess.
posted by scody at 8:21 PM on January 10 [9 favorites]


From the very end of the comments section:

Past PC January 10, 2014 at 4:35 pm

I am a past Program Coordinator and have been through this interview process. I interviewed with 23 people, and out of that number six of us were hired. It was honestly the best two and half years of my life. No, I didn’t make tons of money, or start putting money away into savings, but I was part of a team who made tangible changes in children’s lives. This interview process does prepare PCs for the job in many different aspects. On site I never had a day that was less than 15 hours. On the ground I liaised, coordinated, and communicated between directors of hospitals, top plastic surgeons and anesthesiologist, donors and partner NGOs. Candidates ability to demonstrate they can handle a long, stressful day while staying professional and charming at the same time is indeed needed for this position. Once our team of medical volunteers arrived it was my duty to provide 3 meals a day for the volunteers and find resources to provide these meals. It is the PCs job to make sure that their volunteer’s experience is not only safe and satisfying, but a fun experience. I often found myself entertaining volunteers to make sure their trips abroad was enjoyable (remember many of these volunteers have never worked in a developing country). I was able to see the world with this position and make friends with passionate, giving individuals. I am so lucky I went through this job interview.



Ask a Manager January 10, 2014 at 4:51 pm

This sucks to have to say, but this comment read as sufficiently PR-ish to me that I looked up the IP address that it came from. It came from Eastern Virginia Medical School, which is where the CEO of the organization works.

It’s possible that it’s a coincidence. But the fact that the only one of 566 comments here that’s defending this practice comes from the workplace of the organization’s CEO, combined with the wording used here, means that I think I have to call BS. I’m sorry.

posted by triggerfinger at 8:23 PM on January 10 [86 favorites]


Wouldn't the result of this be that they find the most desperate recruits?

This is really beginning to sound like the Nigerian scams that specifically target the most gullible by making as many obvious mistakes as possible. There's a previous Metafilter post on it.

Of course at the end you are ensured the flattest of doormats!
posted by meowzilla at 8:24 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't the result of this be that they find the most desperate recruits? Is that a good thing? Shouldn't people be treated with respect even if they are desperate?

This. Christ, even the military provides its boots with housing and food and money and resources while "testing" them.
posted by rtha at 8:25 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


The first time -- and only time until this post -- that I had heard of this "charity" was in a crappy reality tv show about rich Manhattan prep-school kids, during which one of the girls was coordinating a fundraiser for the group. I definitely had a bad taste in my mouth from the show, but worried I was jumping to conclusions; glad to know I wasn't.
posted by jaguar at 8:35 PM on January 10


I just realized that I interviewed for a job at Disneyland and we didn't have to sing and dance. Though I did later volunteer to sing and dance for a nifty charity thing we did.

I did once have to assemble LEGOs, for a cashier job at Babies "R" Us. The whole time I felt like it was kind of stupid because the LEGOs were clearly marked as being unsafe for children under the age of 3, and these people sold products only for very small children (and the price-insensitive adults who buy things for such children.) However, I'm pretty sure that my enthusiasm for building stuff and acute awareness of the laws of physics, both of which I demonstrated while constructing my LEGO creation, were the actual reason I didn't get the job.
posted by SMPA at 8:39 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Holy shit. After reading the comments and seeing that one of the pre-interview tasks was to make a video, I'm reminded of the application process for the KaosPilots (a chain of social enterprise schools based in Europe, with their flagship school in Denmark).

I tried out for 3 of the KaosPilots schools. I made it a huge almost-year-long project, blogging it online, networking with damn near everyone involved with the schools, and even taking Danish lessons. No one wanted to be in those schools more than me. They all had the same application format: you filled in a massive application that also included an artistic project, then if you were shortlisted you went to the campus (on your own dime) and did a weekend all-day workshop that was part teambuilding part local project for the community all weirdness. Then they pick people from those workshop to be students of that year's cohort.

Technically this is meant to be classified information, but it's been about 6-7 years and I was super burned by them and I don't care anymore if I release trade secrets, especially since 1 school no longer exists and the other changed hands.

The weekend workshops were pretty much the same pattern: there were a number of activities that tested your skills in teambuilding and leadership, stuff like "here's a bunch of people trapped in a building, you can only save one, who would you save and why" as well as stuff where you drew arrows to people in your team that either helped you or hindered you. You were watched the entire time by current students and some of the staff, and there was an individual interview there too.

1st attempt: KaosPilots Stockholm. I forgot what the application project was, some sort of "if you had a bright idea for X what would you do" situation probably. I was notified that I was accepted to the interview workshop about 2 weeks before I had to be there, and broke Australia's record for Fastest Time Obtaining A Schengen Visa (especially since I was on a Bangladesh passport) - including paying airfare from Brisbane to Stockholm and back. When I got to the workshop I learnt that the entire curriculum would be in Swedish, and me and this other guy from New York were the only people in the entire room who couldn't speak Swedish. They split us into teams, and my team (I think the NY guy was in my team too) was pretty friendly especially in terms of translating. I forgot what the Stockholm community project was, some sort of creative city advertising thing, but I do know that one of the tasks was a dinner we had to shop for, cook, and prepare.

I spent a bit more time exploring Stockholm and parts of Denmark, including paying a visit to the school in Arhus, and on my way back to Brisbane learnt that I was not accepted into the Stockholm school. I don't think they lasted more than a year.

2nd attempt: KaosPilots Arhus. The big kahuna. I had become pretty celebrity-level at this point with my level of dedication. The application included making a video about a world-changing project.

To my utter dismay, I did not even get to the workshop stage. They wouldn't tell me why. Someone suggested I fly there anyway, but my visa was no longer valid and I did not have the immediate funds to fly to Arhus and crash their workshop.

3rd attempt: KaosPilots Rotterdam. They knew about my previous attempts, and I mostly tried just to see what would happen. They accepted me for the workshop, and my parents helped oay for the airfare...and it was a disaster.

Us shortlisted applicants had to meet up at a train station in Rotterdam. The staff and students soon showed up with bicycles, intending for us to ride to our hostel. Problem: no one ever said anything about cycles, and I cannot cycle. Thankfully someone else had brought a car and he drove us around the whole weekend. (I wonder what they would have done if no one had a car, or if someone had a disability - you'd think they'd check for that first?!)

As with Stockholm, we were put into teams and did much of the same teambuilding exercises, but I had a super hard time with my team. It was a little more international, but controlled by a couple of Alpha Male types that could not deal with an outspoken woman that did not necessarily agree with them on everything. For our community project we decided to interview local shopowners to find out what they wanted in their community, but my attempts at interviewing were cut off early. Then when we debriefed I wasn't even able to share my feedback - I got cut off. Stuff like this CONSTANTLY.

As mentioned earlier, one of the exercises involved drawing arrows on a sheet of paper - one went to the person you felt most supported you in your workshop journey, the other went to the person who most hindered you. At Stockholm I got a lot of support arrows. Here? No support arrows, and almost all the hindrance arrows. What hurt even more was that, out of earshot of the invigilators, some of the Alpha Male types actually told me they liked and appreciated me - they just won't say it out in the open.

By the time we gathered at the end of the workshop I knew I was done with the KaosPilots.

Soon after I got home I got another rejection letter. Alpha Males told me that my problem was that I should have communicated in a specific way - I forgot what, but I vaguely remember a TV metaphor. No one knows why someone was or wasn't accepted, so having people be so presumptous about my situation was frustrating.

One of the current students, who had taken a liking to me, wrote to me saying that she wasn't supposed to tell me this, but she wanted to tell me what happened in the selection process because she thought it was fair that I should know. Apparently they had taken ages to decide what to do with me. They thought I made an excellent catalyst for change - the entire reason the program exists - but they felt that being that catalyst would have been at cost to myself: I would have not been able to make many friends because I would be challenging their worldview. She told me about someone in their cohort who was in a similar position to mine and eventually left. They didn't want me to deal with the same fate, so it was an act of mercy.

(They eventually split from the KaosPilots and did their own thing.)

So a school that was entirely built on the mission of being a catalyst for change and challenging worldviews couldn't deal with a candidate who fit that mission perfectly - because she would be "too" challenging. Even though she went out of her way and spent thousands of dollars to be part of that school and promoted the school like they've never been promoted before.

Yeah, it was an act of mercy - they saved me from a situation of all talk, no action. They couldn't deal with me; I would have challenged them and called their bluff.

I had some qualms about the interview process (especially those damn arrows!!) but hadn't really thought much of it until I saw Perry's comment about the video project and the general reaction of the people here and there being "this is not OK". So thank you. Thank you for giving me some sort of release and acknowledgement that things were fucked-up.
posted by divabat at 8:40 PM on January 10 [65 favorites]


A long time ago I was interested in collecting the complete set of religious experiences and I applied to Scientology. I had a two hour interview with them and they said it wasn't going to work out. After, I had the feeling like I had been rejected for jury duty because I wasn't dumb enough.

It's ubiquitous. My dad sold jewelry in the ghetto so I learned early on the thing about if you cannot identify the sucker when you look around the room then it means you are the intended sucker. It would be great if we could all get beyond that but it seems like that goal is still a long ways off.
posted by bukvich at 8:53 PM on January 10 [4 favorites]


Come back Ad Hominem we miss you.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:54 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


A long time ago I was interested in collecting the complete set of religious experiences and I applied to Scientology. I had a two hour interview with them and they said it wasn't going to work out. After, I had the feeling like I had been rejected for jury duty because I wasn't dumb enough.

One of my favorite anecdotes is the story of how I got kicked out of a time share sales meeting because I wasn't willing to let them take my coat from me. After about 15 minutes of arguing with me, I think they decided that if they couldn't talk me out of my coat, they probably couldn't talk me into a multi-thousand dollar purchase of a vacation property and told me to go home. Sometimes, the only way to win is to lose.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:57 PM on January 10 [31 favorites]


I have a friend who went on a couple of missions with Op Smile several years ago. She loved it. The crazy-pants antics interviewing completely changes how I think of them.
posted by annsunny at 9:05 PM on January 10


That's a fascinating story, divabat. Thanks for sharing!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:10 PM on January 10


Having worked overseas essentially autonomously at a very young age (23) and having worked with young folks overseas, I'm going to offer a minority opinion and say in theory in the interview process sounds very interesting.

In theory, anyway.

Recent college graduates sometimes are not equipped to deal with living autonomously and independently in foreign cultures, and getting stuff done. A fair amount of resourcefulness and maturity is needed.

The chair scenario is pretty interesting, because it sort of replicates what it is like to interact in a foreign culture.

You go into a room. Everyone is seated. There is no seat for you, but there is one in the corner. Do you take it? Or would it be offensive? Or how can you assert yourself without offending anyone? What are the rules.

The dinner scenario is also pretty interesting. Sometimes you're going to have to get things done overseas with very little resources and very little information. How can you make the most of your resources?

And the address. A lot of the time when I first arrived in-country, I didn't know where the hell I was. I couldn't read signs. I didn't even know where I lived, how to get home.

I saw a lot of young people my age arrive, flip out, and leave. Personally, I don't think I thrived those first few years. I didn't make the most of the situation. But I was young. I wanted to par-tay.

So, in theory, this interview process kind of makes sense. Even the pay makes sense. It's a non-profit working in the developing world. Although the aid industry may be flawed, under their logic they have to keep overhead down.

Of course, there are a ton of other orgs like Peace Corps that offer better training and support for their junior hires.

So, I guess in theory this sounds interesting, but there would seem to be better ways of identifying junior hires and preparing them for life in-country.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:16 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Look at the fine print at the bottom of Operation Smile fundraising ads in glossy magazines. It will say something about folic acid and ways to prevent cleft palates. Ta-dah, this advertisement is now outreach education and not overhead.

Operation Smile is a money-making machine, that does some great work incidentally now.
posted by kittypaw at 9:17 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


Is there such a thing as a Manic Pixie HR department?
posted by bibliowench at 9:26 PM on January 10 [36 favorites]


Is it really so hard to help people get facial surgery in poor countries?

If you are serious, it is incredibly to get any surgery - to even get any medical attention in a lot poor countries. The cruellest part is the areas with some of the worst malnutrition that causes/exacerbates medical conditions are often the most remote and inaccessible as well.

Additionally, performing surgeries in these areas - even with volunteer doctors etc just getting their food and shelter free, is jaw-droppingly expensive. Like, just staggeringly expensive. This is not to say that Operation Smile is in the clear; I'm actually pretty down on them. One of the reasons why is...

I don't know enough about the world of nonprofit fundraising to know whether or not that's a good return on fundraising investment. Can anyone who knows the industry shed some light?

This is pretty bad. Not the worst out there, but in the bottom tier. Typically, program budget (which in this case would be actually, you know, doing operations for cleft palates etc), should account for >80% or more of budget. A bit lower is okay for smaller charities, as some things don't scale as well. Too much budget in marketing - ahem - awareness campaigns runs a genuine danger of turning into a kind of pyramid scheme where you have to advertise to get more money, to pay for marking budget and headcount, that runs more ads, that needs more money etc etc.

Respectable charities like MSF, World Vision, Oxfam, are much, much lower than this. Often around 10%, sometimes even less than that.

I am trying to think of the best possible fuck-you these poor applicants could have come up with for dinner and entertainment.

Seafood. Chocolate Mousse. All laced with the harshest chemical laxatives money could buy. A venue for 40 people is in no way a venue for 40 people shitting uncontrollably.
posted by smoke at 9:27 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]


This sounds more like the hiring process for Operation Smails. "Applicants, I'm having a party this weekend. How would you like to come over and mow my lawn?"
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:35 PM on January 10 [6 favorites]


It's easy to grin
When your ship's come in
And you've got the stock market beat.
But the man who's worthwhile
Is the man who can smile
And get the unemployed to fix him something to eat.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:48 PM on January 10 [11 favorites]


Seems like someone attended the 'Jigsaw School of HR Management'.
posted by dg at 9:51 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Seems like someone attended the 'Jigsaw School of HR Management'.

Anyone who aspires to a career in HR attends a school like this. Only thing worse than HR is a career in life insurance sales.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:54 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


I know I'd tell them to ram it as soon as they mentioned a 12 hour (or more) unpaid day of interviews

That's basically how kitchen interviews work. You have a chat with chef, then you're scheduled to come in for a day of work to evaluate you. This is virtually never paid work, though you usually get a free meal or two. Much of the time it'll only be 4-6 hours to get a feel of how you operate in the kitchen, but I did one that was nearly 12 once (and was hired before I went home, so I did end up getting paid for it). It's just how things are; anyone can claim to be able to work the line, but you can't be putting someone on unless you know if they can handle it.

So I'm not entirely aghast at the all-day interview thing. KokoRyu pointed out that they do have legitimate goals. Obviously the methods are reprehensible, don't get me wrong. I'd be interested in knowing the history of how this process was developed in-house, because I can see it as having started out relatively innocuously and just slowly accreted more and more ridiculous, employee-hating garbage over the past thirty years.

And while the 20 finalists sounds ridiculous, the Gawker link has OS saying that there were five positions available, meaning essentially a shortlist of 4 people per position. That doesn't seem unreasonable.

Also read all the comments in the Ask A Manager link, because you find gems like "Holy Moses on a Pop Tart."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:11 PM on January 10


Operation Simile: my interview was like a mind game.
posted by telstar at 10:33 PM on January 10 [3 favorites]


Having worked overseas essentially autonomously at a very young age (23) and having worked with young folks overseas, I'm going to offer a minority opinion and say in theory in the interview process sounds very interesting.

You know what, I'm the kind of hardcore workaholic that would agree with this kind of statement, but there's a very simple way to run this kind of interview process without being a complete sleazeball: you make the applicants provide song and dance for 40 *other* people, not your top management. You can pick whoever you like except for yourself: the homeless, a bunch of school students, local police or firefighters, even the local chapter of Hell's Angels would be a better choice.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:52 PM on January 10 [48 favorites]


While not nearly at the extreme level of the shenanigans on display here, some companies seem to have a hard time making a decision, and involve their finalists in endless callback interviews. I've heard stories from people who have had 5 and more interviews. Perhaps this is normal for executive level jobs, but there were just code monkey (sorry, SENIOR code monkey) positions. It seems excessive.

Yeah, but at the senior code monkey level the jobs were probably paying in the neighborhood of 6-8x this one. A daylong interview (or a series of daylong interviews) is a lot more tolerable if the job at the end is paying six figures.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:56 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


Is it really so hard to help people get facial surgery in poor countries? Do they parachute in like Navy SEALs or something?
posted by emjaybee at 8:41 PM on January 10


I work for a doctor who does a lot of medical missions to Africa (mostly Nigeria and Kenya), including facial surgery (though they don't limit themselves to that). It's a fair amount of work coordinating the teams to provide care (you need not just doctors but nurses, anesthesiologists, etc.) and getting everybody visas and making sure their licensure documentation meets the requirements of the host country. There are no volunteer coordinators or anything of that kind. I am the only administrative staff; I make sure everybody has their passports, visas and licensure documentation, but am not involved in any way otherwise.

It can be no kidding very dangerous. A few years ago, our host doctor (that is, the doctor who invited us and made the local arrangements for OR time, lodging, food, security, etc.) was kidnapped along with his wife, and during their escape attempt they were both shot. They didn't die, but they could have. (Afaik, they're fine now.) We didn't cancel the mission that year, but had to rapidly relocate to a less dangerous area since we include some of our residents and it would be irresponsible to expose them to that level of risk. However, they do take on some risk just by going, even to the safer areas. Everybody has armed guards.

I've not gone, but I have the impression that the hosts do make an effort to make sure our people have a good time, though that's not at all the focus. But most of our team (excepting the residents and one or two new people each year) are seasoned - they've been going for years, they know what to expect, and they don't need to be coddled the way groups of all-new volunteer doctors might have to be.

I don't know how the money works once they are there but I see a lot of the States-side side of it. I mean, they're not paid, but presumably just having them there costs something, and I don't know how their food is paid for, who pays for their security, etc. There's a not-for-profit that my doctor started that pays for their airfare (probably the most significant expense), and because it's a registered charity he is able to get donations of an awful lot of medical supplies, and frequently of medical equipment as well (sometimes outright donations and sometimes loaners). One of their big problems every year is carrying all their supplies through airport security.

A big part of what my doctor is trying to accomplish is making his mission unnecessary by training the doctors there to do the complicated surgeries he does (there being very few opportunities for training in our specialty in the area of Africa he visits, though he is also, outside his mission, working to change that, both under his own power and through the international professional organization for his specialty). So he doesn't just go over an operate on some people, laudable though that might be, but is working towards helping them to have a robust, substantial training program of their own, working very much in coordination with the senior host doctors so we can be sure we're giving them help they actually want/need.

None of this is intended to defend Operation Smile. This interview process seems pretty ridiculous to me.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:05 PM on January 10 [20 favorites]


My boss keeps coming up with ideas for "fun" ways to interview new hires. What is fun from his perspective is almost never fun from the perspective of the people being interviewed. Srsly. The worst so far was a three full-day interview process with all candidates together at every meal, including late night dinners. The first day of the interviews began with a surprise hike up a mountain (for interview candidates who had just stepped off a 20-something hour international flight, into hot Australian summer from their European winters, and who were wearing professional interview attire). He is currently scheming for exciting ways to interview a bunch of new hires mid this year and I really hope he doesn't find this article. I think he would view it as inspiration.
posted by lollusc at 11:57 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]


The first day of the interviews began with a surprise hike up a mountain (for interview candidates who had just stepped off a 20-something hour international flight, into hot Australian summer from their European winters, and who were wearing professional interview attire).

This is as good a way to weed out older, unfit or disabled candidates without actually breaking whatever discrimination laws may apply as a Bond villain could contrive. Gross.
posted by winna at 12:18 AM on January 11 [28 favorites]


lollusc: My boss keeps coming up with ideas for "fun" ways to interview new hires. What is fun from his perspective is almost never fun from the perspective of the people being interviewed. Srsly. The worst so far was a three full-day interview process with all candidates together at every meal, including late night dinners. The first day of the interviews began with a surprise hike up a mountain (for interview candidates who had just stepped off a 20-something hour international flight, into hot Australian summer from their European winters, and who were wearing professional interview attire). He is currently scheming for exciting ways to interview a bunch of new hires mid this year and I really hope he doesn't find this article. I think he would view it as inspiration.

Wow, that's pretty messed up. First of all, god forbid you be old, or fat, or have a damaged knee, or anything like that. Second of all, job interviews are not dating. It's not the time to insert your wacky games. Get a god damned HR manual or hire a professional to do it appropriately.

It never ceases to amaze me how totally unprofessional the 'business' sector gets to be, or how they assume their own ridiculous guesswork is better than all of the actual research that is done and published in their field.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:21 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


The thing is, it's been emphasized by every job counselor or job pamphlet I've had that an interview is a two-way process. The interview is as much to inform the applicant about the employer as it is to inform the employer about the applicant. And from my job hunting experience, that is definitely the case. The worst thing one can do is not listen to that feeling f"This is what the job will be like".

So in this respect, Operation Smile's interview process seems to be as much telling the interviewee about the job as it is anything else. It is flat out saying, "This is what your job will be like." You will have a job where you have to suss out etiquette and procedures while staying positive and polite. This is a job where you will have to deal with really shitty situations with no notice. And yeah, it will be situations where it will seem like you will be totally screwed over and exploited in order to get your goal. All for really shitty pay. Deal with it.

Yeah, it fucking sucks. And nobody sane will take that shit. But then again, nobody sane will be trying to arrange medical care in a developing country, trying to avoid insulting the local security chief, caring for the needs of twelve volunteers who just got off the plane from Utah while their luggage disappeared in transit, while a personal friend of El Presidente Generalissimo Papa Dada wants to meet them and have a special celebration, and you have three hours and oh yeah, you have dysentery. Get started.

I couldn't handle that shit. I can barely manage a department at a science fiction convention in California, where the power is on 24-7, and there's pure running water. But Operation Smile doesn't want me. And they don't want all of the commentators who said "Fuck that shit." They want the fucking insane idealist who says "Oh yeah, if I need to, fine. And you'll pay me shit wages? AWESOME!"

I can kind of comprehend the mentality of an Operation Smile employee. It scares me. But I can also see why anybody raised in a sane first world family would regard this as the most horrible thing ever. And I can't really say who is wrong, the sane people or Operation Smile.
posted by happyroach at 1:08 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


To be honest, I wasn't inclined to give money to these fsckers anyway, what with their creepy paternalistic mission and all, but this is the icing on the cake. I hate companies who get creative with job interviews.

My last interview was perfect though: come in, chat for about an hour with somebody who'd be my direct manager and his boss, then get a phone call the next day that I was in. The only sacrifice on my part was having to come in two days before Christmas for a handover from the guy I was replacing. The people I talked to as well as the company they worked for were smart enough to realise that any sort of interview can only give you a rough feel of a candidate's fit anyway and the real test is in working together for a few weeks.

Operation Smile's methods on the other hand sound a lot like indoctrination to prepare would be employees for a lifetime of exploitation; bragging about regular fifteen hour work days is a danger sign.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:48 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


So in this respect, Operation Smile's interview process seems to be as much telling the interviewee about the job as it is anything else. It is flat out saying, "This is what your job will be like."

Respectfully, I've worked in the sector and know quite a bit about it: Working for an NGO in a developing country (or anywhere for that matter) is nothing like this interview process. At all. And, this:

nobody sane will be trying to arrange medical care in a developing country, trying to avoid insulting the local security chief, caring for the needs of twelve volunteers who just got off the plane from Utah while their luggage disappeared in transit, while a personal friend of El Presidente Generalissimo Papa Dada wants to meet them and have a special celebration, and you have three hours and oh yeah, you have dysentery. Get started.

Is really just a bunch of cliches about the Aid sector and the people who work in it. It really does a disservice to what aid is - should and strives to be - and the people that work in aid. The sector, its employees, deserve better than to be treated as some kind of crazy, throw-anything-at-me project manager/saints that are both inaccessible and should necessarily have to put up with unpredictable shit. This is a professional sector, filled with professionals and specialists.

That description is a stereotype, and, like all stereotypes, there are people in the sector that at least superficially meet it - but it is not true for even more people; and I feel it is part of a discourse that renders aid as something inaccessible and "on a higher plain", intrinsically irrational, and necessarily slapdash. It's really not true of the vast majority of the sector, and I feel that it alienates people from the possibility of working in aid, or taking the sector seriously, which is why I'm a little touchy about, and I apologise if I have offended.

I do agree with you that the process either wittingly or otherwise weeds out people that take professionalism, respect, courtesy for others, work life balance and prioritising seriously. Sadly, in my experience those are exactly the people the aid sector needs more of, rather than monomaniacal disciples.
posted by smoke at 2:13 AM on January 11 [47 favorites]


Is it really so hard to help people get facial surgery in poor countries? Do they parachute in like Navy SEALs or something?

Interplast looks quite sound; my good friend Don is one of four Royal Enfield riders about to do a charity ride and documentary on their work, if anybody would care to throw a few bucks his way.
posted by flabdablet at 4:13 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Hunh. Until today I thought academic job interviews were the absolute worst.
posted by medusa at 6:13 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I saw a lot of young people my age arrive, flip out, and leave. Personally, I don't think I thrived those first few years. I didn't make the most of the situation. But I was young. I wanted to par-tay.

I'm totally going to disagree with you on overseas work. I did two years of work for which I was very unprepared in a country where I had only beginning language skills and where things did not work the way they did at home. I struggled a LOT, and was kind of a waste of space for much of my first year. Why was that? Because the host organization was not willing to put any money, personnel or time into supporting us. We had no one to review our curriculum - we literally arrived and were told "go, teach college English" and got no other feedback - and no one visited us in the classroom. The only orientation we received to the campus or the city was from other foreign teachers. And we weren't paid very well at all. It was grossly unfair to the students, for one thing, and it was a waste of everyone's time - a waste that could have been prevented, frankly, by hiring a skilled person to support the program. In fact, they could have - for example - retained one of the former teachers with the express purpose of supporting new hires.

If you are an organization which is at all serious about being successful in a challenging environment, you hire good people and you train and support them. You don't say "we're going to put you to a lot of trouble and expense to test into this job because we don't believe in supporting you on the ground". All you get when you do this Op Smile routine is a bunch of people who respond well to a situation with known social variables and a short time-frame in the US where there's an obvious carrot being dangled in front of them. That isn't even the fucking same as dealing with a day after day grind in a radically new environment where you don't speak the language.

Hire well and support people!
posted by Frowner at 6:41 AM on January 11 [20 favorites]


If you are an organization which is at all serious about being successful in a challenging environment, you hire good people and you train and support them.

Well yeah, I said the same thing in my comment. In the abstract, I can see the logic in their process, because younger 20-something Westerners often don't have the skills needed to survive and thrive in a totally foreign culture. On the other hand, as I said, it would make much more sense to provide the support these greenhorns need to survive and thrive.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:54 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


drezdn: "And I thought it was weird when I had to make something with legos for an interview."

Seriously? Because if anyone asked me to make something out of Legos for an interview, I'd be Barry Bonds looking at a 60 mph fastball wondering just where in McCovey Cove I'm gonna put it.

I wish Legos somehow correlated to work performance.
posted by Sphinx at 8:01 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Is it really so hard to help people get facial surgery in poor countries?

I'm studying Speech Language Pathology, and one of my profs does a lot of humanitarian missions in Mexico and Central America. Babies with cleft palate can have serious feeding problems because they can't create suction. There are special nursers that these babies can be fed with; they cost less than a dollar each. Even a relatively simple thing like this is so hard to get hold of in the places my prof goes that he carries a bunch with him at all times and gives them out to parents and medical providers as he goes about his business. This is something that can make the difference between a baby getting enough nutrition and "failure to thrive," it costs hardly anything by United States Standards, and it's often simply not available to the people who need it in developing countries.
posted by not that girl at 8:28 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


I interviewed with Operation Smile about two years ago. After three telephone interviews and six in-person interviews, even though I was desperate to leave my current job, I had to decline the seventh - after all, I at least already had a job, and I was jeopardizing it with all these interviews. Looks like I got off easy; I didn't get asked to make dinner.

I would suggest Physicians for Peace as an alternative.
posted by sephira at 8:43 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Alison Green is writing a management advice column?!? Funny, last I saw of her she was at the Marijuana Policy Project enabling her boss' out-of-control sexual harassment of his employees.

Wow, that's really awful - and disappointing too, since I enjoy the Ask A Manager blog and it usually has very sound advice. Has Green ever explained her side of the story? Silence is pretty damning.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:44 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


The only thing I knew about operation smile before was their awful and manipulative mailers. good to hear that the rest of the organization is just as rotten.
posted by benzenedream at 9:13 AM on January 11


So, you're telling me it's really hard to get a job these days, and people will jump through all kinds of hoops to get one? huh.
posted by DGStieber at 9:19 AM on January 11


Wow, that's really awful - and disappointing too, since I enjoy the Ask A Manager blog and it usually has very sound advice.

I feel the same way. When I was looking to make a step up the ladder a year or so ago and was applying/interviewing, reading through the archived advice on her blog really helped me build my confidence. I think it's done more to help me build interviewing skills and generally sharpen my instincts for workplace politics than any other single source.

I'm extremely disappointed to read that article and am having a great deal of trouble reconciling the levelheaded advice she dispenses on her blog with that...mess. Good lord.
posted by superfluousm at 9:33 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I'm super disappointed in the Alison Green part as well. Perhaps an FPP on her would be interesting as well, so as not to hijack this great post.

But damn, I have not always agreed with her, but have appreciated her blog. But at first glance, it seems as if while I might respect her knowledge of her field, I do not respect her judgment or actions, in light of HR violations that occurred under her watch. I'll be reading her comments on sexual harassment issues with a new lens from now on.
posted by anitanita at 10:02 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


And as for Operation Smile - there are a number of ways to assess an individual's capability to work in teams, manage a project and handle stress. I can only imagine how the real need to assess individuals' professional skills ended up anywhere near the 'let's make dinner reality TV style!' reality discussed.

Certainly, their exercise could be fun or stressful, depending on your abilities and personality style. But if anyone actually thinks that the ability to pull together a meal for 40 in under 3 hours in a house that has running water, electricity, and a bunch of people who have their Maslow basic needs for food and shelter taken care says ANYTHING meaningful about their ability to navigate the clinical, economic and psychosocial issues of vulnerable communities and populations in less fortunate nations....well they are seriously deluding themselves.

It's the kind of delusion that people have to be seriously removed and comfortable in their blindness to actually believe.
posted by anitanita at 10:07 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Might get buried, might not, but who cares.

Operation Smile is full of assholes who only care about publicity.

I speak from experience here, having spent 4 months aboard USNS Comfort in 2009. For the first 6 ports, a very diverse team consisting of personnel from the US Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Army worked extremely hard to create a workflow that enabled us to process over 15,000 patient interactions per 10-12 day port call, including sunrise to sunset helicopter transfer operations.

Our last port, in Nicaragua, saw us working with OpSmile. Without asking us, they essentially changed our entire work process in order to prioritize their operations above all others, including our most common procedures that dealt with women's health. (read: tubal ligations and hysterectomies) I both flew the helicopter missions and worked patient flow as the flight deck officer, and I can definitively state that our throughput went way, way down while working with the OpSmile folks.

They are there to put out the OpSmile brand to the exclusion of literally everything else.
posted by squorch at 10:09 AM on January 11 [38 favorites]


That's right, half their expenses went to telling you about the Smile Train

Operation Smile amd Smile Train are two separate cleft palate charities, as far as I can tell. (Which is a relief, because I've donated a little to the latter.)
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:33 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Funnily enough, I got an Operation Smile banner ad in the margin when I clicked through to Ask a Manager.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 11:21 AM on January 11


Goddammit, I gave money to these fuckers as a Christmas gift. Fuck me, it's impossible to do good any more.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:21 PM on January 11


I once got out of jury duty by catching, and pointing out, a misstatement by the prosecutor during selection. Also, when asked a direct question by the prosecutor about depression I gave a thoughtful answer that had other jurists' heads nodding. When it came time to prune, I was the first person to be sent on my way by the prosecutor.

Never forget that in any kind of interview, there is an agenda, and it may not be the one you think it is. Either learn to suss it out and take advantage of that knowledge, or operate with the assumption that their agenda matches yours, and when you see it doesn't, walk away.
posted by davejay at 1:21 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


20-somethings are also often too inexperienced to identify when a prospective employer is mistreating them. Which is how a lot of these stories read like to me. Just in my own experience, I have put up with weird treatment during job applications (and during employment) that I should not have put up with, simply because I did not know any better and I was desperate for employment. And sometimes the company tried to justify it by saying this is their "culture" or whatever. I get that these are challenging positions and you want to weed out applicants who are coddled babies who won't be able to adapt to the job, but... a lot of jobs are challenging. Being a CEO is challenging. But I guarantee you when CEOs go into interviews, they don't get dropped on a desert island with a bowie knife and a jug of water and a dozen other prospective CEOs to battle for suppremacy. This kind of weird mistreatment of job applicants only seems to happen when the job applicants are young and the position is highly sought-after, i.e. there is a very high applicant-to-position ratio. In other words, it only happens when the applicant is powerless. I have always believed you can judge a person by how they treat a powerless person when they are in a position of power – jerks like to abuse wait staff, taxi drivers, etc. Same goes for companies. If you find yourself feeling exploited by your prospective employer before you even work there, that should be a huge red flag.
posted by deathpanels at 3:57 PM on January 11 [20 favorites]


they don't get dropped on a desert island with a bowie knife and a jug of water and a dozen other prospective CEOs to battle for suppremacy.

i would watch this show just sayin
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:17 PM on January 11 [13 favorites]


Time to respond to a lot of things:

"One of my favorite anecdotes is the story of how I got kicked out of a time share sales meeting because I wasn't willing to let them take my coat from me. After about 15 minutes of arguing with me, I think they decided that if they couldn't talk me out of my coat, they probably couldn't talk me into a multi-thousand dollar purchase of a vacation property and told me to go home."

I'm remembering this for the next time my relatives drag me to another time share presentation.

But if anyone actually thinks that the ability to pull together a meal for 40 in under 3 hours in a house that has running water, electricity, and a bunch of people who have their Maslow basic needs for food and shelter taken care says ANYTHING meaningful about their ability to navigate the clinical, economic and psychosocial issues of vulnerable communities and populations in less fortunate nations....well they are seriously deluding themselves.

Seconded. And what bugs the crap out of me about this is that giant surprise catering with a bunch of strangers has NOTHING to do with the job, really. I mean, even if you genuinely thought this was some kind of test that was worth doing, how would you evaluate those 20 people individually for a job that has nothing to do with this? While drunk? COME ON.

But then again, nobody sane will be trying to arrange medical care in a developing country, trying to avoid insulting the local security chief, caring for the needs of twelve volunteers who just got off the plane from Utah while their luggage disappeared in transit, while a personal friend of El Presidente Generalissimo Papa Dada wants to meet them and have a special celebration, and you have three hours and oh yeah, you have dysentery. Get started.


See, this is the kind of crazy test scenario they should be handing people to work with. Perhaps in an essay question.

Wow, that's really awful - and disappointing too, since I enjoy the Ask A Manager blog and it usually has very sound advice. Has Green ever explained her side of the story? Silence is pretty damning.

Seconded. I'm kinda sorry I posted this now to find this out. She always seemed very sensible to me. Dammit.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:40 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


No matter how unreasonable or exploitative the interview, I would not make jokes about poisoning or triggering the allergies of anyone.
posted by aniola at 12:13 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I think the applicants should have just gone out to dinner themselves on the money and left everyone there to wait, hungry

These folks sound like the kind who would call the cops on you for stealing their 350.00, though.


Well, you could still claim it was all a big misunderstanding. "Wait, you say we were supposed to cook dinner for you guys? We thought this was our compensation for the 12-hour day. Besides, you didn't even tell us where to go to cook dinner."

Or even better, take the money and give it to a "real" charity, where you know it will do some good instead of winding up on the boss's dinner plate, if such a thing exists.
posted by sour cream at 12:40 AM on January 12


1. Use money to purchase nutritious ingredients
2. Take ingredients to nearest homeless shelter
3. Prepare and serve meal
4. 'What, he doesn't live here? Oh, we're so sorry, but no harm done, right?'
posted by dg at 12:47 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


I remember a former supervisor who shared with me, informally, his experience applying for a job at a place I'd just applied for and found appalling in the email interview pre-screening process (which I'd just shared with him informally.) He -- an experienced, talented, accomplished person in his field who was also good looking, conversationally adept and genuinely funny in a disarming way -- sat down in a conference room for his first interview segment. The CEO of the place -- a young, awkward man barely out of college -- shared that he ran the company and his father owned it, and had bought it for him to run. He then asked my former supervisor to spend the next twenty minutes writing an essay about why he wanted to work there, and left. In response, my former supervisor spend the next five minutes walking out of the conference room to his car and driving away.
posted by davejay at 10:05 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


The funny thing is, going to the media and ruining their public image was a way more effective revenge than anything anyone else has suggested here. The attention has probably already cost them more than $350 in donations (so it's worse than taking the money and running) and the damage is much longer term than a couple of nights spent puking or with hives (so it's worse than sabotaging the food).
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:02 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Omeiwise wrote:
> Jesus

The sermons were pretty entertaining and the fish was good but the loaves were regrettably not gluten-free as requested. We'll keep his resumé on file ...
posted by nickzoic at 9:00 PM on January 12 [6 favorites]


This was a bad move by this org, but I'm pretty icked out that posters here think its amusing to imagine cooking food specifically to set off allergic reactions, which can include death. Jokes, jokes, I know. But still.
posted by agregoli at 7:47 AM on January 13


Jokes, jokes, I know. But still.

I'm not sure what you mean. Do you mean that this isn't an appropriate subject to joke about, ever? Because I would disagree with that. Do you mean that you think people are actually serious? Because I don't see any evidence of that.
posted by OmieWise at 9:15 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


This was a bad move by this org, but I'm pretty icked out that posters here think its amusing to imagine cooking food specifically to set off allergic reactions, which can include death. Jokes, jokes, I know. But still.

I think it was more about commenting about the wisdom of the policy. "Hey, guys, I'm going to make a huge, unreasonable request of our job candidate. But not until after I describe to them how they can make us sick while maintaining plausible deniability."
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:40 AM on January 13


While it may be obvious to some people, not everyone is aware that a severe allergic reaction can kill a person.
posted by aniola at 10:36 AM on January 13


don't know enough about the world of nonprofit fundraising to know whether or not that's a good return on fundraising investment

Compare OpSmile's expenditures (on page 10) with the same expense page for the 990 for Project C.U.R.E., which has a track record for routinely being good at what they aim to do. Mind you, what they do is deliver medical supplies, rather than medical services, but there's some clear issues with OpSmile.

OpSmile took in about $56M in total revenue for 2012, spending 52M. Project CURE took in about $51M and spent 44M.

Here's the top 5 expenses for OpSmile: Here's the top 5 expenses for Project CURE Note how only about half of OpSmiles budget (if we count travel and education) is going towards it's actually purported aim, as opposed to the 90% Project CURE spent on it's core goals. Just from those numbers, OpSmile looks like the kind of bloated, inefficient non-profit that give the rest of them a bad name. And this is aside from their bizarre, exploitative interview process.
posted by Panjandrum at 11:33 AM on January 13 [5 favorites]


"Okay everybody, you asked for a meal and a fun activity, so here it is: I have surgically implanted packets of dry ramen into all of your stomachs, buried deep and all twisted up in your guts. One of those ramens is a big bomb, and only by feeding all the other ramens to the individual with the bomb ramen will the bomb be defused. You have each been given a blunt knife with nineteen different kinds of hepatitis on it to remove your personal ramens. The doors and windows are now locked, there is no escape. You have thirty minutes."
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:27 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]


Right, not everyone knows that an allergic reaction can kill a person - which is why joking about poisoning someone with the food they are allergic to is so distasteful to me. It wasn't about whether I thought anyone here would do that or were "just joking."
posted by agregoli at 10:34 AM on January 15


Another dispatch from the job market: here's Uber's FUN! way of testing your mettle:
After sending out an email to subscribers yesterday, as well as posting on their Facebook page, announcing they were hiring in the area and were “calling all rockstars” (groan), they directed users to fill out a form. This form would “hit the fast forward button for a select group of standouts.” They promised to send a “short and sweet version of one of our usual tests” and then top performers (“most likely YOU”) would receive an invitation to an exclusive happy hour.

So if you are following along, fill out a form, take a test, you might be invited to a happy hour and THEN you can give them your resume. That's what the e-mail insinuated.

Well, some readers filled out the form and received an automated response informing them of their test; to sign up at least 25 new users to Uber using a personal code. Because “Uber Community Managers need to be hustlers.”
posted by Iridic at 7:30 AM on January 17


Iridic: I feel like there's a blog potential in there about dodgy recruitment processes.
posted by divabat at 1:47 PM on January 17


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