HR: Good morning Imad. You are aware that your interview is at 9.30 and that you are 30 minutes late. Right?
Imad: I'm not late. There was a lot of traffic.
HR: OK... So Imad. What do you know about our company?
Imad: I don't really know anything.
HR: Didn't you try to look it up on the internet?
Imad: Well to be honest I found out about the interview last night so I didn't have time.
HR: But Imad, I called you 2 days ago and we arranged this interview together.
Imad: Right... Yes. Well you know I haven't left the house since then and I don't have internet at home.
HR: OK Imad. You know as we discussed on the phone, a lot of the work for this job requires that you communicate in English with foreign staff. How is your English?
HR: Good. So we will proceed with this interview in English.
Imad: *Shock* (Seriously. This was true for several interviewees who had claimed they spoke fluent English).
HR (In English): Can you tell me something about your experience in university? How was it?
HR: OK... How about your friends at university? Did you have any interesting experiences?
Imad: Yes. Excellent.
HR: Can you please elaborate more?
Imad (frustrated and back to Arabic): I don't understand what you want me to say.
HR (resigned and back to Arabic): OK. Imad. Can you please tell me 2 weaknesses that you feel you have and would like to improve?
Imad: What??? I'm not gonna tell you that.
HR: Why not?
Imad: Who asks this question? Of course I'm gonna tell you there's nothing wrong with me. If I ask you what your weaknesses are, would you tell me?
HR: Yes of course I would. Fine. Never mind. Tell me 2 of your strengths.
Imad: uuuuh... everything.
HR: You can't say everything. You have to pick something. Give me the most striking one.
Imad (In English for some reason): Activity.
HR: Activity? What do you mean? Active?
Imad (puzzled): Yeah. Sure.
HR: It says here on your CV that you work well under pressure. Can you please explain a situation where you had to work under pressure, since you don't have work experience?
Imad: You can't take these things literally. This is a CV. Everyone should put this on their CV.
HR: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In other words, what is a job you would be satisfied to occupy in 5 years?
Imad: An employee.
HR: An employee? Nothing specific? No field you'd like to work in?
Imad: An employee at a firm. Or a bank. You know. An employee. That would be good.
I've told this story several times now and it always sounds to me like I'm making it up to get some laughs. But the depressing part is that this actually happened, word for word. My first instinct was a light bulb. All these people need is to be coached on how to perform in an interview, how to expect out of the box questions, how to be honest about oneself and yet make it look good. But there was this thought nagging at my head, telling me there's something missing in my reasoning. And now I know what it is. The problem with many of these young people is not that they lack coaching, it's that they really don't care. They want a job where they sit and barely do anything. And if the company's interview is demanding then of course they don't want to work there.
I was reading a piece the other day about a period in the mid-1990s in Spain when the unemployment rate was around 25%. Economists struggled to find the cause and they almost pinned it down on underground employment (i.e. people were indeed employed but were not declaring it to avoid paying taxes). The true culprit turned out to be youth unemployment. It was over 40%. How could they have afforded it? They had their family to fall back on. Young adults would graduate from college and stay home for at least a few years before they finally enter the job market. It's like a comfortable unemployment benefit, with home-cooked meals.
I guess you can see where I'm going with this. Yes. It's really great that we have family networks that we can rely on. It's what makes our region a comfortable and secure place to live in. But if we are ever to become a productive society with an acceptable level of social mobility, we have to learn to become less dependent and our families need to help us become so.