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Updated: Mar 7

Welcome to the newly created "Undercover Blog". I'm your host, Nora Burns.

If you follow my work, you likely already know that as The Undercover Candidate™ I have been on over 250 job interviews across the United States, not as myself. I am also The Undercover Employee™. During that research project I worked on the front lines of five Fortune 500 organizations that did not know me as a former Fortune 200 leader, but as one of a long-line of polyester uniform-wearing employees.

When I share this information with people in person I consistently get one of three responses.

1 - WOW. That sounds like fun. How did you get THAT job?!?

2 - Wait....what?!?

3 - Where did you work?

Let's take these on one by one...

(1) This research has been fun, mainly because I'm a bit of a geek about workplace culture, candidate experience, employee experience, and the related elements of them! Dating back to when I was a young child, I have been curious and intrigued by other perspectives of the world.

It was also exhausting, and expensive. I chose not to have a sponsor for either research project as I wanted to fully own the data, stories, and analysis as well as avoid any unintended bias.

Has it been worth the time, energy and expense? Absolutely. I love this research and the impact it has with organizations committed to re-evaluating their own candidate and employee experiences, as well as overall workplace culture.

(2) I know. It sound a bit extreme. Sometimes people get caught up in the logistics of it. How questions abound! It started with a small sample. Initially I sought to participate in a half dozen interviews simply to shift my own perspective. Since I designed hiring processes for client organizations as a consultant, it felt important for me to experience the world of a candidate again.

Those first six interviews were not great.

I was asked questions that do not belong in job interviews (i.e. "What do you do for fun?")

Questions were asked that could put the organization in hot water legally (this feels like a good time to mention that I am not an attorney, I am a seasoned HR professional who has worked in the employment arena for more than 25 years. Always consult your employment attorney on employment matters such as this). Example: "Do you have any kids?"

Lazy interviewing was on full display. One organization held group interviews. I do not mean team or panel interviews (that I am a fan of when done well). I mean multiple candidates were in the room together. It was the Hunger Games of interviews. The position? Receptionist. #TruthIsStrangerThanFiction

Was this the norm across the country? What was going on? I needed more data.

I do love a spreadsheet.

After meeting with my business coach, some other HR pros, and ethicists, it was decided that I would commit to a minimum of 100 interviews across the country. Initially I attempted to schedule interviews around keynotes and trainings already scheduled across the country, this became a bit of a logistical challenge.

The Undercover Candidate™ interviews were conducted using fake names, fictitious resumes, and made up backstories. After the first dozen or so I realized I am truly a horrible liar. I needed to tap into all of my high school, college, and community theater experience training to make this work. I wrote up thorough backstories for each of my "characters" and re-framed the interviews as theater.

(3) I do not disclose where I worked as The Undercover Employee™ nor where I interviewed as The Undercover Candidate™. This is very important to me. It's not about blame or shame. This project was not designed to point fingers. Rather, with the data, analysis, and stories from these research projects, we can identify themes and trends in the American workplace. We can grow, get stronger, and recognize areas for development within our own organizations by taking a peek behind the break room door of other businesses.

This blog exists as an additional connection point beyond social media, live events, and coaching/consulting agreements. Please do engage with me on LinkedIN, and follow along with Instagram, or my dog's Instagram (it's possible hers is stronger than mine). And of course, check back for additional posts on the newly launched "Undercover Blog".

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