On a new reality competition show called The Job, job-seekers compete for a number of positions — among them, an editorial assistant role at Cosmopolitan. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Joanna Coles; executive editor, Joyce Chang; and senior editor Jessica Knoll spoke about their experience on the show, and why the job market is such a challenge, both for employers and potential employees.
There’s a great deal of talk that young people are very entitled and self-involved. Is that accurate, or overblown?
Joanna Coles: It’s absolutely accurate. This is a generation of children who at school and in college were constantly winning prizes and receiving an A for showing up. There’s no expectation or understanding of what’s needed in a real workplace. It’s a constant frustration for employers. And if I tell you that one of my staff phoned in today — she didn’t even phone, she emailed, saying she was feeling “icky” — that doesn’t work for me. I need people who are going to be committed and realistic about what they need to do and who are going to work at least half as hard as I did. My first five years of working, I never left the office before 7 or 8 o’clock at night, and worked every weekend.
I think this is a generation that spends a lot of time not learning to focus, because they spend a huge amount of time on social media and I am tired as an employer of having worked with staff who spend a lot of time shopping online or just hanging out with their friends online. And I think the reality of the show is very helpful. I think it’s also a celebration of middle-class Americans, who are struggling to get employed.
Will you change the way you do interviews and look for candidates, having done the show?
Joanna: I might give people actual proper trial work to do. Especially if they don’t have a job, and it’s not an issue for them to come spend a day here, I would like people to come and spend a day. We will give them things to do and judge them on their actual work, not just their capability in an interview situation.
But what about candidates who might not have the means to get to New York City?
Joanna: It made me feel that we might implement a small fund to get people to New York who are in other parts of the country and who can’t afford to get here themselves, as long as we understand that they can somehow figure out how to live in New York City, which is expensive.
How would that work?
Joanna: We don’t have that many jobs, so it is something I would do on a “need” basis, but I have already told our HR department to search for staff beyond the tri-state area.
Who would be behind the fund? Would Cosmopolitan’s publisher, Hearst, fund it?
Joanna: It’s something I would be behind, so it would come from my budget.
Jessica Knoll: Expanding our search beyond the tri-state area is good for Cosmo in general, because our reader is based around the country. So it’s great to bring in the perspective of somebody who is actually living where our reader is leaving.
Joanna: Actually, almost all of our staff come from outside of New York City, it’s just that they got to New York first.
Do you have a favorite interview question?
Joanna [joking]: When did you last have sex?
Jessica and Joyce Chang: And how was it? And what position did you use?
What advice do you have for people trying to get a job like those you are hiring for?
Joanna: Well, I think Jessica Knoll knocked it on the head [in an episode of the show] when she said that for Christ’s sake, don’t turn up to an interview with a bloody latte. Someone once came into an interview with me with an Hermès Birkin bag, as if it was a new baby, and laid it down on my desk. I didn’t quite know whether to laugh or cry, but it was clearly the thing she was most proud of in her life. You’re looking for people who have already achieved something. You might have a following on social media, you might have used the Web widely, you might have won some competition. What we’re looking for is lively people who are self-motivated and have excelled in some part of their life — and I don’t just mean sleeping with people.
Joyce: Cosmo is a magazine — it’s a journalistic enterprise. You have to put those journalistic instincts into looking for a job. It’s asking the right questions, and meeting the right people. It’s a lot about persistence. You have to keep a good attitude and not get discouraged.
Jessica: It’s also just doing your homework. You’d be amazed by how many people haven’t read the magazine and are coming in to interview for a position here.
You say someone can get a job because of a strong social media presence, but on the show you ask candidates if there’s anything inappropriate on their Facebook pages. What’s the balance?
Joanna: It’s about exercising judgment, and if you can’t exercise judgment, you’re not going to work at Cosmo. I don’t want to see naked pictures of my staff on Facebook.
Jessica: I remember one candidate we interviewed, who, right after the interview, posted on Twitter that she had just interviewed for her dream job. We have to be somewhat private about what goes on, especially at a magazine where we are breaking certain news or things are under wraps. Showing that she couldn’t keep that information to herself, when she hadn’t even gotten the job, to me, showed poor judgment.
So what are you looking for, when it comes to a candidate’s presence on social media?
Joanna: What I want to know is whether people have a following in the industry they’re in. If you’re in fashion, you should be on Pinterest, or Instagram, or Twitter. And I want to make sure that their tweets are appropriate and lively — and that they’re not foolish.
What would foolish entail?
Joanna: At a previous job, a member of staff had tweeted something about golden showers. And that felt inappropriate. The best possible advice I can give is to imagine that this is being read by your future employer.
The Job episode featuring Cosmopolitan airs Friday, Feb. 15, at 8 p.m. EST, on CBS.