Job Seekers: Would You Know If You Were Being 'Shopped?'

(U.S. Air Force)

I recently had an unpleasant customer service experience at an airport. While you might be thinking "that's a given..." I had to wonder if the woman who spoke in short bursts to me, who condescendingly reminded me of the "published policy" and who seemed completely uninterested in serving her customer would have treated me differently if I was a secret shopper hired by her employer.

Secret shoppers are people employed by a company or retailer to pose as a shopper in order to evaluate and assess the quality of customer service. While we see a lot of these professionals in the retail space, we also see their tactics used by employers to evaluate job applicants.

Interviewers Can Secretly "Shop" Candidates

Would it surprise you to know that some hiring managers, recruiters and executives secret shop their candidates? I have a client who routinely sits in the lobby alongside job applicants waiting to be interviewed. He evaluates the way the applicants treat the receptionist, interact with each other and handle their stress while they wait for the job interview to begin.

Another executive I know regularly conducts final interviews with his top two candidates in a public setting: Either a lunch meeting in a crowded restaurant, a sporting event (sitting in seats, not the corporate box) or a meeting at the airport.

His reasoning is this: He wants to see how the candidates interact with the wait staff, how they manage the logistics of crowds and stressful environments and whether they are still able to focus on the conversation and show their best self despite numerous distractions.

Do these tactics seem unfair? Maybe, but consider that we must all assume we are being evaluated and judged for our behavior, presence, communication and values all the time. At the grocery store (interacting with the gal bagging your groceries who insists that the eggs can go fine alongside the oranges in the same bag), at the airport (when the gate agent is abrupt and dismissive) and in the conference room with other job applicants waiting for the group interview to begin.

Online, Too

On social media platforms you may be being evaluated, as well. Even if you are not currently in a job search, recruiters and hiring managers could be looking at your online profiles, evaluating the quality and professionalism of your posts and judging you based on the images you're tagged in. We know that recruiters use search terms to find and source applicants and contact them directly.

This is another form of "secret shopping" that happens daily.

Personal Branding Is The Key

Perhaps this is why I love the power of personal branding -- when you have a strong sense of self, and you consistently and confidently communicate your value, you aren't stressing the possibility of being evaluated in random situations. Your personal brand is the expectation of the experience of working with you. If I meet you at a networking event, job interview, or airport, I'd expect to meet the same person.

And, for the record, I was very polite to the airport agent (despite her grouchiness). After all, who knows if my next client was standing behind me, observing the interaction!

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