Minnesota Morning
Minnesota Morning

Why The Undercover Boss Should Be An Undercover Job Seeker Part 1 Of 3

CBS rolled out a new show following Super Bowl XLIV called Undercover Boss. Reviews of the show have been fairly good with many saying how cool it is that a CEO or President of a company would hang out with the “little people”.

I think it is a cool idea. I do wonder though, if CEO’s were providing real leadership they should be doing this already on their own to learn what the real impacts are of the decisions they make.

Anyway, to this blog post...

Last summer I was asked to speak to a C- Level peer group on a HR topic of my choice and was told I could “be real”.

Home Run, I thought. Turns out I had no idea...

I was thinking about the usual Social Media topics, branding, hiring trends or demographics of the local workforce.

I went with something that was on my mind all the time (then and now). The topic was the poor customer service most job seekers were receiving when applying for jobs and what the ripple effect was on the company at the moment and down the road.

The conversation started with some curious looks. A few crossed their arms. For the moment I had lost the room and it was noticeable.

So I repeated stories I had heard from job seekers and I could see that I had gained back the groups trust. I was not there to shake my finger at them and give ‘em a scolding rather explain to them what was going on, give them some ideas on how to make the process better and then left them with this challenge:

Apply for a job at your own company

There was some immediate fidgeting in the seats. Some more curious looks. And this question from an attendee, “Why?”

I reminded them that two years prior in HR and Recruiter circles and many board rooms we spoke about the War for Talent, Baby Boomers retiring and how to get Gen Y into the workplace. Two years from now (or whenever the economy comes back and companies are at a hiring disadvantage) we will be talking about the same things to some extent.

With this being a “slow time” this would be a great time to evaluate the process job seekers find so when hiring heats up there are no bugs in the system.

I had quite a few nods and a couple of skeptics.

After the session I was surprised how many wanted to talk with me one on one about this, they did not want to share with the group what they were thinking about their own company.

There was a lot of email exchanged that week and then as expected it died off. I was wondering if anyone had done the exercise.

Flash forward to early September. I received a phone call from one of the attendees asking if we could meet and talk more about this. Heck yeah, I replied. For me this is the fun stuff.

I need to enter a disclaimer here. I signed an agreement with this company that I would in no way name them, their industry or in anyway hint to who they are. In return I can talk all I want about this experience and what happened. While I did send these blog posts for their review no requests for changes was made by them.

I met with “Julia” (not her real name) a VP of Marketing at a large Minneapolis company. She explained to me they were not adding staff as fast as she would expect in a bad economy as they had good jobs, paying well and were well known.

In particular was a job that had not been filled for a couple of months and was causing them a lot of pain. This particular group was working shorthanded, moral was low and they were behind.

Julia told me that this was basically the job she first had at this company and she could not understand what was stopping them from filling it. Responses from HR and managers were vague at best and she had a “gut feeling” that something was not right.

So we sat down and made a plan on how we could have her be an “Undercover Job Seeker” and document her experiences much of which I will document in the following blog posts.

Here links for Part 2 and Part 3

Part 2: Why The Undercover Boss Should Be An Undercover Job Seeker Part 2 Of 3

Part 3: Why The Undercover Boss Should Be An Undercover Job Seeker Part 3 Of 3


Heather Seely

I can't wait to see how this unfolds!

Lisa Erickson

Brilliant, brilliant, Paul. Great topic for the C-level crowd, and an excellent concept exercise. I know that you sincerely want them to understand a candidate's frustrations; you were really the right man for the job.

And perhaps, of course, you did yourself find a client or two out of it.

Mitchell Hislop

Ok, I am addicted. Write faster, because I am on the edge of my seat

Jennifer McClure

Love this concept and excited to read more about how it went!


The candidate experience is a hot topic. Give it to us!


Very excited to read this. I'm fresh into a new job hunt and have found your insights to be very helpful. Thanks for being an advocate for those of us in the struggle to find the right opportunity.


And Part 2 is tomorrow, right? Right? And Part 3 on Thursday? As others have said, write fast!

Sara M

So interesting! Can't wait until Part 3!

Kelly N

Love the posts, can't wait to see the show! Nice job...

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