Two years ago, a conversation Michael Davies had with his daughter, then a 19-year-old college student, inspired him to create a reality show about people trying to find employment.
"When she finished up freshman year at school, she told me that she had no intention of going back for her sophomore year," Davies tells TVGuide.com. "And when I asked her why, she said because none of the graduating seniors in her college have real jobs."
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And thus, CBS's The Job, which premieres Friday at 8/7c, was born. Hosted by Lisa Ling and executive-produced by Davies (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Watch What Happens Live) and Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Voice), the show features candidates who go through a series of interviews and workplace trial scenarios in an attempt to land their dream job. Participating companies include Cosmopolitan magazine, Major League Soccer, LiveNation Entertainment, Gilt and, in the premiere, the Palm restaurant.
"Competition shows are about stakes," Davies explains. "They're about big life-changing moments. For me, certainly the biggest life-changing moment of my life was when I got hired for my first real job at a great company when I was 25 years old. So I know that getting a great job at a great company can really change someone's life. ... It's a big enough moment that really every viewer out there can relate to."
Applying for a position on a reality show rather than through a more conventional hiring process has its disadvantages, but also perks as well. In addition to the competition aspect, The Job offers tips for people who are currently in the job market or are considering a career change. It also provides job-seekers the opportunity to travel to an interview when they otherwise may not be able to do so, and also offers them an inside track to connect with executives at the companies, rather than sending their resumes out into the void. This worked out to be beneficial for both the applicants and the companies, many of which actually re-evaluated their hiring policies and practices after participating in the show, according to Ling.
"I think that this opportunity allowed the employers to get to know these applicants on a much more personal level than they would have been able to otherwise," she notes. "When you apply for a job, it goes through this HR process. You meet with some of the executives, but you don't really, from an executive standpoint, get a chance to really get to know people. This process really allowed them to better acquaint themselves with the character of all of these applicants."
The biggest surprise? "It wasn't always the people who were the most qualified, the most educated, the most experienced who ended up getting the job," Davies reveals. "I would say that the No. 1 determiner was strength of character, and that was really gratifying. The companies, more than anything else, were looking for great people, rather than specific people to go and do the specific job with specific characteristics. I thought that was incredibly telling. ... Ultimately, character is still the most important thing."
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To create added drama on the show, at some point in every episode, one of the candidates is faced with a choice: stay in the competition for a job with their dream employer, or take a guaranteed job offered by one of the other judges on the panel. And their decisions are sometimes unexpected. "I was actually surprised by how courageous a lot of our candidates were," Ling admits. "So many of them really did hold out for the dream job, and .... given how much we know about how hard it is to get a job these days, I was actually surprised that more people didn't take the guaranteed job offers. Some certainly did, but people really went for their dream and took a really big risk, in many cases."
In a typical job interview setting, Davies notes, applicants would normally have at least 24 hours to respond to an offer — time to think it over, get second opinions from friends and relatives, etc. But that wasn't the case for candidates on the show. "We were asking these people to make this potentially life-changing decision," Davies acknowledged. "These are decisions that usually people make with their whole families ... and we were asking them to make it during a commercial break."
The candidates weren't the only ones stressed about the decision they had to make, however. Davies, who would watch the tapings from the control room, said he often found himself becoming personally invested in the outcomes. During commercial breaks, "Lisa would see me running past her up by the studio floor," Davies said. "I was going to talk to the young person who'd just been made the guaranteed job offer, and they were trying to decide whether to take the guaranteed job offer or whether they were going to stay in the competition. Lisa can tell how emotional I was about it. ... I was not prepared for that as a producer — just the emotional level of that and the responsibility of it.".
So what advice did he have for them? "'You should always bet on yourself. ... Look at your fellow candidates,'" Davies recalls telling them. "One of the advantages that these people had is that they could look to either side and they could see their fellow candidates. Any of them could pick up a vibe if they were really the frontrunner or if they were not the frontrunner, or where they actually stood in the competition." Adds Ling: "We're always curious about what our competition is going to be like. And here, you have an opportunity to not only know who they are but get to know the kinds of people that you might be up against in a job interview type situation."
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In all, the show placed 16 of its 40 candidates in positions over the course of eight episodes. And according to Davies, the pairings worked out well even for the candidates who were faced with a nearly impossible choice. "I would say, in this run, every single time ... I'm pretty sure they made the right decision," Davies.
The Job premieres Friday at 8/7c on CBS. Will you watch?