Operation Smile’s 15-Hour Job Interview: Unpaid Catering Gig Or Fun Team-Building Exercise?

Almost everyone has a horror story about a long, unreasonable, inappropriate, or otherwise terrible job interview process that they’ve been through. The Internet learned this week that applicants for jobs with the not-for-profit Operation Smile go through an all-day marathon of interviews that culminates in planning and cooking a an evening of dinner, drinks, and entertainment for forty people. 

Is this position, for a job as, say, a catering manager or personal chef? No, it’s for an entry-level job as a program coordinator with the group at a salary of around $23,000. Twenty finalists for five positions went through this four-month process that culminated in a 15-hour interviewpalooza. The applicant explained:

They also made the 20 final candidate[s] cook dinner for and entertain the senior staff at the executive director’s house. We were given 2-1/2 hours to plan, shop, and cook for 40. We also had to find the address of the director’s house, which turned out to be a 30-minute drive away.

Does that sound wacky? It gets wackier from there. Ask A Manager wrote back to the job applicant for clarification and to make sure that all of this crazy stuff actually happened.

When I arrived at the interview, I was given the schedule for the day, which included five individual interviews and said that from 5 pm onwards, there would be a group activity. At 5, they simply announced that our group activity was to shop for and prepare a meal for 40 with entertainment, to be served at 7:30 at the director’s house. We were given a budget of $350 and information about food allergies in the group.

The interviewee’s question for AAM was this: was all of this reasonable, and this is what the current job market has come to? Or should the applicant have turned around and run away from this weird Top Chef challenge and other mind games that went on during the interview process?

Maybe this was all a misunderstanding. Maybe the person who wrote to Ask a Manager was a disgruntled rejected employee who wanted to make Operation Smile look bad. Nope. Gawker looked into it this morning, and learned that they’ve done interviews like this for 30 years, and that the process helps give the group a sense of how the applicants respond to a challenge.

I had to prepare a meal and entertain 20 people for a job interview — and so did 19 other candidates [Ask A Manager]
Operation Smile’s Job Interview Process Is Insane [Gawker]

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  1. CharlesWinthrop says:

    Hmm… I think I see a change in their procedures coming very soon…

    Especially considering this:
    Operation Smile spends 42% of the money donated to the charity on fundraising and administration, including a salary of over $331,000 for its chief executive.
    Operation Smile does not meet several standards for charities established by the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance.
    In November 1999, specific patient deaths brought criticism on Operation Smile’s medical procedures, suggesting the organization prioritized publicity and volume over patient welfare and safety. In response, Operation Smile conducted an internal review. Initially, the organization “promised to make public the full findings of the review,” though later chose not to release the findings, considering the review “an internal matter”. Several directors disagreed with this choice and left the board.

  2. Terryc says:

    Sorry but the number of interviews seems very excessive. And the dinner thing…well lets just say sounds like they came up with a free way to have others prepare and serve them a free dinner. At lease they were good enough to give the folks the money to pay for the food. But besides that hey free slave labor. Whats next? you all have to vacuum the office and empty the trash. Save on a service coming out.