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We’ve all heard about the grim employment picture, and many of us have experienced it firsthand. But I didn’t understand what it’s really like out there until my 18-year-old son began looking for a job.

Aaron sent out about 50 applications and attended a number of job fairs without much result. Then he went to an open interview for a frozen yogurt chain that was hiring someone to welcome customers.

It’s an entry-level job requiring little skill — you’re not even handling the yogurt — but you’d never know that given who applied. More than 50 people put on their game faces and converged on that store, many of them middle-aged with long professional histories and supervisory experience.

In the first interview, each candidate was asked to talk a bit about themselves and why they wanted to work for this particular business.

Afterward, five people were called back for a one-on-one meeting with the manager, and luckily Aaron was among them. The second interview for yogurt greeter was grueling. The manager had questions more typical of a much higher-level position, and followed them up with no-win interview scenarios.

For example, he asked, “What do you think would be the most difficult aspect of this job?”

Aaron thought for a minute, not wanting to seem arrogant by saying that none of it looked too tough, and finally said, “I guess the multi-tasking might be a challenge if it were really busy.”

The manager squinted at him. “Is multi-tasking a problem for you?”

“No, no,” Aaron said hastily. “Not at all.”

“This job requires doing more than one thing at a time, and if that’s an issue maybe you’re not a good fit,” he said.

Aaron again assured him that was not the case.

“Are you nervous?” the manager asked abruptly.

Aaron admitted he was a little nervous.

“I called you back because you seemed outgoing in the group interview, but if you’re actually a shy or nervous person, this company isn’t the place for you.”

“I’m very relaxed,” Aaron told him. “Really, I promise. It’s just that I want this job.”

After an hour-long interview, the manager said if they were still interested, someone would be in touch.

Aaron assumed he’d never hear back, but the next day he was called in for a third interview with the district manager. That meeting seemed more relaxed, and they discussed Aaron’s overall life goals and hobbies. As of today, he’s waiting to hear if he successfully beat out 49 other people for a minimum-wage position.

In a tight labor market, business owners often are forced to hire anyone they can get. But the current environment offers companies a chance to customize their work forces.

After thinking about it for a while, I realized the yogurt chain, while trying to get the best candidate for today, also is building for the future. It’s a clever, albeit obnoxious, strategy. This particular company is an aggressive, relative newcomer to the market and no doubt wants a staff that can help it grow. Management might have an eye toward promoting from within, or perhaps there’s a highly specific type of employee they want for branding purposes.

Whatever the reason, I now believe this firm’s intense hiring practices didn’t come about because it is mean. Instead, it’s the result of a clear business objective that takes advantage of a brutal job market.