Should applicants be paid for job interviews?
Companies should compensate for time and effort, says advocate
Looking for a job can take as much time and effort as actually working, and that has some players in the job market calling for potential employees to be paid for their time.
Consider the amount of effort put into a job application: For every position you apply for, you have to update your resumé or portfolio, plus write a fresh cover letter.
Sometimes prospective workers are also asked to fill out lengthy questionnaires or complete assignments.
And that's before the interview process — which can involve hours of prep work, multiple meetings and time-consuming appointments.
More than 80 hours spent by one Calgarian
While searching for work in 2019, Calgary resident Roslie Main was called in for 20 interviews. She estimates she spent more than 80 hours on them collectively, when preparation and travel time was factored in.
"When you spend so much time on these interviews and then they don't work out for whatever reason, well, it's sort of soul-crushing," said Main in an interview with CBC Radio's The Cost of Living.
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Main was eventually hired by a local non-profit, but said the interviewing process took up big chunks of her calendar.
"I applied for the job in May. I had the first interview in June. I had a second interview at the end of June, a third interview in July and a fourth interview in August," she said. "And it was for a contract position that was only six months."
Hours of prep, all of it unpaid
When Sanya Bhushan moved to Calgary this summer, she went through a similar experience. Bhushan said she wanted to find a job quickly to move out of her extended family's home and into her own place downtown.
Bhusan worked as a mental health counsellor in India, and when she received a call for her first job interview in Calgary, she dropped everything to prepare for it.
"I had a driver's learner's permit exam scheduled for the next day, and I was like, 'No, that's not happening,'" she said.
"I needed to concentrate on this. I wanted to give it my 100 per cent and there was no space for thinking about other things or being distracted at that point."
Bhusan didn't get the job, but spent 12 hours getting ready for the interview.
"You don't hear back from people. You get rejected. And just applying for another job feels like a huge burden."
She said some sort of compensation for all that work would have boosted her morale.
"It just gives you a little bit of motivation … I'm doing something worthwhile that eventually will pay off."
Interviewing is 'wildly out of hand,' says career coach
Toronto career coach Allison Venditti told CBC Radio it never "sat well with her" to call in applicants without compensating them for their time.
In 2021, the human resources consultant started paying job-seekers for interviews. According to Venditti, this strategy could help companies stand out if they are struggling to find talent in Canada's tight labour market.
"I will say it until I'm blue in the face: Good HR is good PR, and people talk," said Venditti, who pointed out the interview process is the first interaction a potential employee has with a company.
A potential employee who goes through the interview process and is reimbursed for their time may consider the process "amazing," said Venditti, and would consider applying for positions with that company in the future.
If companies had to pay applicants to do interviews, Venditti believes they would think more carefully about wasting candidates' time. For example, instead of interviewing 10 people, she says, employers might only call in the top four candidates.
"Interviewing has gotten wildly out of hand," she said. "Wildly out of hand."
While the prospect of paying for interviews might seem costly, particularly for entry-level jobs, Venditti suggests being more selective with hiring practices may ultimately translate into savings. For those involved in the hiring process, an hour spent with each candidate is an hour away from other daily tasks.
"For employers, this is expensive," she said. "Look at all those people who are taking time out of their day to be doing interviews."
$75 per interview from a Toronto non-profit
The dozens of unpaid hours put into seeking employment are described by FoodShare Toronto's Paul Taylor as "labour" that employers have long demanded "for free."
"And that's pretty outrageous, especially when you consider who actually has more resources in that equation," he said.
In March 2022, FoodShare Toronto began paying job candidates $75 per interview as compensation for taking time off work or child-care expenses.
Applicants asked to prepare an assignment as part of the job assessment are paid for the amount of time it takes to complete that assignment. Their compensation is based on the hourly rate of the position for which they are applying.
"If you're unemployed and watching your savings dwindle without any callbacks for interviews, if you get one that says, 'We're going to pay you,' — it can make a huge difference to whether or not you eat that week, to your mental health, to all of those sorts of things," said Taylor.
FoodShare Toronto says it knows of at least five other Canadian organizations that have started paying candidates selected for interviews, citing inspiration from the non-profit.