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Bait & Switch Job Offers

In the January 20, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker interviews for a senior job only to receive a silly offer for a lower level job.

Question

I have not been on the job market since 2007, and after a layoff early October 2014 I am fighting my way through this job market. I have the background, experience, and personality a high tech company was looking for when they advertised a senior technical position at $96,000. After all the interviews, we seemed to be doing great, until my final face to face interview, where I was informed there are now two positions — one senior and one junior. During my initial screening with the company recruiter I was clear on my salary requirements.

When I recmousetrapeived the company’s offer letter, it was for $75,000, way below what we had discussed. I was insulted, shocked, and angry. When I called the recruiter, she stated there were a lot of strong candidates, that there were actually five positions, and that I fit better into a junior role at the salary offered. I replied that I applied for only the senior position at $96,000 and that there was no discussion of four other positions. I asked about the differences between the positions, and it’s clear from what the hiring manager says that there are none but the salary!

I want to send a response letter stating that I was a candidate for only the senior job, re-emphasizing my experience and expertise, and referencing the original senior salary range. What would you recommend?

Nick’s Reply

If you stand a few feet back from this and look at it for what it is, I think you’ll see the proper answer. I’m going to show you how to improve this job offer dramatically, but you must be ready to play this game for keeps.

First let’s do a reality check. This employer is playing you. You laid down the terms for the interview when you (a) applied for a senior technical position, and (b) when you stated your salary requirements and they agreed to proceed with those two understandings.

Now look at the facts:

  1. They offered you different job
  2. At a much lower salary.

We could just call this a stupid HR trick, but there’s another name for it: Bait and switch. A car dealer baits you with a test drive in a car you want to buy after you saw the price. You show up with a check, and they offer you a different car at a different price. You’d kick them down the street for switching the deal and wasting your time.

You did what you were supposed to do, so you’re thrown for a bit of a loop. You interviewed for a certain job at a certain salary level. They knew your expectations, and they agreed to proceed with the interviews. Then they changed all the terms and made a ridiculous offer. Had they made no offer, I’d just say the match didn’t work out. But this employer is clearly manipulating applicants. (I find this is most common with staffing firms that hire people and assign them to work for their clients. See Bait & Switch: Games staffing firms play.)

You’re trying to behave rationally, and you’re looking for a reasonable explanation and next step. The recruiter and manager should be trying to impress you — see Baiting the talent — but they are doing the opposite. They are breaking basic business rules and pretending the problem is yours.

But two can play at this, and you can play without doing anything unprofessional. First, you must decide that you are willing to walk away from the junior position at the junior salary. (If you’re desperate for a paycheck, then you know what you must do.)

What I’d do is sign the offer letter and send it back to them. But I’d cross out the salary and enter the salary you told them you wanted. Initial it. Cross out the junior title and write in the senior title you interviewed for. Initial it. Accept the position at the salary level you all discussed. Add a note that says:

“This is the job I applied for and that you interviewed me for, at the salary range we discussed. If you are prepared to sign off on the original terms as we discussed them, I am ready to start work in two weeks.”

Then let them figure it out.

My prediction is that you’ll never hear from them again. However, there’s a chance that, having a solid acceptance in hand, along with a start date, from a candidate they have judged worthy of hiring, they might negotiate a reasonable salary for the job you want. You’ve written your own ticket, and it’s up to them to join you for the ride. If they decline, you’ve lost nothing (having already decided you wouldn’t accept less) and you’ve preserved your integrity and self-respect.


For more about dealing with the final stages of the interview process, see Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.


If they decline, write them off and move on. These are jerks of the first order and I’d never talk to them again. This is an unscrupulous recruiter who advertises a high-level, desirable job at a high salary to entice seasoned, experienced technical people like you to invest plenty of time in interviews — just so they can short-sell you on a lower-paying job that they’d prefer to fill with much more highly qualified candidates at a huge discount.

fishhookThey are con-men. You told me off-line who this company is: one of the biggest, most respected computer companies in the world — but it doesn’t matter. They’re still con-men.

Many, many people in today’s job market would fall for this and rationalize that it’s the best they can do. Maybe so — but when you add in a confidence game, we’re left with a bunch of self-deprecating job seekers who let themselves be suckered. Con-men love that.

I’d be interested to know what you do and what happens. The problem, of course, is that there are desperate job hunters who will accept any job under any terms and at any pay. This employer counts on that. It’s what’s wrong with our economy today: Crooks and suckers. They create a market that can’t last. It can only go south. For more about this, see Employment In America: WTF is going on?

(I mean no disrespect to job seekers who need to put food on the table and who will take any job to do so. I’d do it myself. But the economic reality is that being put in this position creates a vicious downward cycle that encourages more of the same from ruthless employers.)

There is nothing wrong with you or your expectations. If you can afford to walk away from this, I would not look back. Jerks make lousy employers. You need only one employer with integrity.

Did you ever feel pressured to accept a lousy offer for a job you never applied for? What’s the most bizarre job offer situation you’ve been in — and what did you do? Was I too tough on this reader? What would you advise?

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62 Comments
  1. Hi Nick.

    Great advice for the candidate! HOW you say it is really important in situations like this. And a lot depends on what the position is. If it’s a sales role, and the company is really serious about hiring someone great, then a tactic like this COULD be very effective.

    The key ingredient is how to communicate the intention of interest in the original offer (and more senior position) without coming off sounding cheeky or bitter.

    Unfortunately, my experience tells me that your comment, “My prediction is that you’ll never hear from them again.” is the most likely outcome.

    To this, I would only add that channeling the frustration and disappointment into positive, focused activity with reputable headhunters who work with good employers – that you outline clearly how to do in your books – is the best course of action.

    Successful people get that way because of how they deal with silly stuff like this. They act professionally, and rise above the B.S., just as you have instructed the candidate to do.

    Onward and upward!

  2. My advice would be to say forget it. If they are treating the candidate this way at the beginning, then they will be looking for ways to short-change him once he gets in the door as well.

    Or maybe this is their messed-up idea of a “test,” to see how the candidate responds to “playing hardball” because business is a “dog eat dog” world, and all that stuff. But if the candidate already liked working in that kind of environment, he wouldn’t have written for advice, he would already know how to “stare down the competition without flinching” and more of that stuff.

    The fact that the candidate is bothered enough by this BS to write a note to Nick shows that the candidate is a rational, conscientious human being, unlike the people who run this company.

    So, take it only if you are desperate. But go in with eyes wide open, knowing this is the first in a long, long series of “tactics” that the employer will throw at you.

  3. Love the idea of “playing them”! Since I would not expect to hear from them again, I would take it up a notch and insert $98K for the salary.

  4. Great advice to the applicant. I hope they were in a position to follow your advice. And would also like to hear what happened.

  5. This is great advice Nick and well thought out too with a call to action that makes perfect sense.

    May I add a thought? Companies that try to jam people apply for senior positions into junior jobs are playing favorites with another candidate, usually someone’s relative. The firm wants to have it both ways – nepotism and a sterling candidate on the cheap.

    I’m sure Nick might have said something like this – if the company treats you badly at the interview process, just think about how well they will treat you once you are onboard?

    This is a “walk away” moment. Playing with them might offer some emotional satisfaction, but a polite rejection letter makes more sense especially if a third party recruiter was involved.

  6. Two times I interviewed for permanent jobs and got offered 1099 contract work.

    One time about 1/3 of a market salary! I’d been out of work and might have taken it had it been something approaching market.

    Second time the job changed to contract at the end of the interview without warning. I must have been so shocked the whole thing fell apart right then. I was also out of work.

    Both these were during the nuclear winter of 2009 when the desperation was even greater than today.

  7. Last year I received an offer that was a classic example of bait and switch, which I’ve referred to a few times in Nick’s articles because it was so representative of how many if not most employers and recruiters–including external staffing recruiters–play the game to beat down the candidate.

    Just like our job seeker above, and in the same range, I got a lowball verbal offer on salary (about $5K below my stated base, and well below the range the external recruiter presented) and it was completely unexpected. The offer letter then was Punch 2, downgrading the title from VP to Director–there was only one job offered. When I then spoke with the recruiter and the CEO, I was told in both instances “this is the title and the salary”.

    In this case it was a small off-shore owned company, not an industry giant, and given the interview routine and the execs involved, I half expected it. The recruiter directly dealing with the client walked away from all of this and said he could do nothing. A direct conversation with the CEO, whom I’d be reporting to, using Nick’s script did not work. He said “that is what we are paying and the company is growing”. So I accepted verbally at the rate because they would be picking up 100% of healthcare cost and that there would be a ‘discretionary bonus’ at year end.

    Like your person, I was unemployed and had no contract work in a while. At that point I was seeing that a title, job and income in is better than nothing at all. But at the end of the day you feel forced into a corner–sick at heart and resentful.

    The employment contract was marginal but I negotiated out the worst parts without a lot of back and forth, which made me feel a bit better. I was announced to the employee group and in fact agreed to move up my start date so that I could attend their big international meeting (locally). Calls were set up and it was all ‘welcome aboard’ until (drum roll) I signed the agreement and sent it. One hour later, I was declared ‘not a match’ by the CEO. Recruiter? Blindsided, supposedly. Reasons why? Not given–and no, I couldn’t get the CEO on the phone. For a lot of reasons–the people, the off-shore ownership, the culture–it was in the back of my mind all along that “something is not right here”.

    If our job seeker above sensed that bad feeling through the interview process, it’s more than likely that feeling is right. In my instance, no one got hired–the company has, every few months, floated the job on the boards through various recruiters. And the website, supposedly my Job #1, is as ancient as ever.

    So to our person above–take Nick’s advice and send back the offer letter as he’s instructed. If you do get an affirmative reply, trust me–they will screw you over on something else. A game I’ve heard that is played by large employers is that they send offers to a larger group of candidates than available positions and see who shows up on day one. If too many they’ll show the door to the least preferred–or even worse, keep the group on for a week or two and terminate those who don’t seem to be working out.

    All of this is, to my understanding, quite legal.

  8. One more thing–I WAS relieved that it didn’t happen.

    Another thing that is permeating technical positions–and now others–is Indian subcontinent business practices. I’ll leave it at that.

  9. My opinion is that it is HR playing these games.
    The reason I think this is that managers simply want the staff, the “bodies” for the projects and work to be done. That they are not getting them is what the noise about the “skills shortage” is about. The skills are there, the people are there, but HR is playing power/control games like this. They have hijacked the agenda. managers can’t hire any more as they used to, find the people they want and tell HR to do the necessary paperwork after the event. its not the managers who contact the headhunters any more. Its HR.

    I’ve had headhunters tell me that HR won’t let them talk to the hiring manager, that my questions about the position, team and environment go unanswered.

    While many headhunters take the effort to learn about the candidates work and skills, corporate HR doesn’t, so how can they do other than ‘behavioural’ interviews and fail to judge skills or how an candidate will fit in with the team and working environment?

    You are quite correct about what is broken with this system. There are a number of ways to fix it, but they all seem to involve changing the role of HR.

  10. Hmmmm… I’m curious if this is the company’s action, or the failure/scam of the recruiter. I work in HR (please don’t attack me! I read Nick’s stuff to check myself, so I don’t fail applicants) and our initial set-up with an outside recruiter lays out all the details. They ask questions, we provide outlines, etc.
    Not every recruiter is like this. I called one out last year for playing our HR department. His failure to remember who the customer is with his response has me to this day refusing to respond to him or the company he works for. The bad recruiters are salesmen first; humans second.
    If I were the candidate I would absolutely find out who is doing the playing (recruiter or company) and 100% play back in the most blunt-yet-so-effing-professional way. I’ve done it before. No company or its leadership are too good for a schooling on how their actions (or worse: inaction) are wrong. I’ve cancelled an interview with a potential employer WHO APPROACHED ME TO APPLY. They wouldn’t get back to me on a question I had about an invasive employee policy I was asked to sign ON THE JOB APPLICATION. I am not an employee yet and will not subject myself to your sketchy rules (slyly placed, mind you) in writing until you explain why body searches are necessary in a non-production environment.

  11. “They are con-men. You told me off-line who this company is: one of the biggest, most respected computer companies in the world — but it doesn’t matter. They’re still con-men.”

    I think the short path to ending this behavior is finding a way to publicly name these companies out in such Fora as these while protecting the privacy of the parties involved.

  12. “They are con-men. You told me off-line who this company is: one of the biggest, most respected computer companies in the world — but it doesn’t matter. They’re still con-men.”

    I think the short path to ending this behavior is finding a way to publicly name these companies out in such Fora as these while protecting the privacy of the parties involved.

    PS – nice Tony!! Love the 2K “bait and switch penalty”

  13. I had a job offer this past summer that was sort of like this – it made me feel like something was off. I figured crossing everything out (start date, salary, etc.) and what not would have pissed them off so I just told them no.

  14. To VP Sales: There is a way to publicly name the company: Glassdoor.com. And it is completely anonymous for the review submitter. There is even a section for comments and critiques of a company’s interview practices and questions.

    To Nick: I’ve worked for two of the three “most respected computer companies in the world” and it’s no different on the inside than it was with the job offer: bait and switch abounds with work, job descriptions, and who you report to. It’s a “crap shoot” as we used to say–you could end up working in an entirely different department doing a job that you have no experience in. If you don’t like it, they will show you the door.

    Good advice on the counter-offer. What has the applicant got to lose at this point? If they come close, take the job, and continue the job search that you are already well into. If you get a better offer, take it and go. Good luck!

  15. Thank goodness for bait and switch! What better way to reveal the character of the decision-makers at the company?

    I had this experience a couple years ago. I was planning an interstate move. They seem really offended when I asked what else they could do for compensation after they low-balled me. Man, I’m glad I dodged that bullet.

  16. While this is not a job offer situation, it does go to show how some of the recruiters can also sell the company a bill of goods, a bait and switch of the candidate. Many years ago, I was looking for a Computer Help Desk position, I was fairly new to the field, but had pretty good skills. I met with a recruiter who sent me on an interview to a company. When I go there and began my discussion with the hiring manager, I quickly discovered that I was completely unqualified for the position and the manager had been sold a bill of goods about me. I quickly apologized to him for wasting his time, showed him my resume and explained my skills which were not a fit. I went back to the recruiter and demanded they return every piece of documents I signed and they were never to contact me. I let them know that if they didn’t comply, I would go to every business group and the States Attorney and have them charged. Needless to say they returned every thing. Since then, I’ve worked with other recruiters who were ethical and have obtained some very good positions through them.

  17. I have seen others who are not con men use somewhat similar tactics when negotiating. Over 5 years ago I was interviewing for a very senior role, one of which does not come open often where I live. Long story short, after 5 interviews I was told it was between me and one other candidate. They made a non-negotiable offer to each of us ( at least that’s what the headhunter told me). I sent back a very polite, short note thanking them for their time and wishing them luck with their new hire. I really wanted the job, but not at that salary.

    They called back almost immediately and we improved everything to a very acceptable level, better than expected. My point, be willing to walk away unless you get what you are looking for. I am still in the job and still feel I made a good decision. It is important to know what you want and when you are willing to walk, and to be faithful to your evaluation. Sometimes we get caught up in the interview process and just want to win the job regardless of cost.

  18. @Nick: Good advice. Unfortunately, this is much too common behavior. Any idea when this will end? Seems we are just destroying individuals w/any ambition. I don’t get it. What is the employer’s motivation to behave like this? Seems to be a waste of everyone’s time and energy.

  19. @tony: You’re such a card! :-) I like your style. Is the HR rep sharp enough to pick up the difference?

    @Bob The Programmer, @Mayor Bongo: There is no doubt that this gambit by employers is intended to lure senior level applicants, then “take a shot” at offering them lower-level jobs and/or much lower salaries. There are HR people who score lots of points for doing this.

    @Dee: Thanks for sharing your story. I couldn’t make up something like that if I tried. Between a clueless recruiter and a seriously flawed CEO (why didn’t he vet you carefully before hiring?), a big mess ensues. Your point that one indication of sliminess will point to much more sliminess is something everyone should remember when they step in something sticky. Don’t rationalize your doubts away. The only revenge is knowing that a crew like that lives on in its own little sick world.

  20. If they treat you this way as a candidate, imagine how horribly they’ll trat you once you’re their slave (oops, “employee”).

    Jist walk away. By the way this has little to do with HR and a lot more to do with finance. The hiring manager has a budget and needs eight people but can only hire four or five. HR is just the messenger in this particular shit show. The right advice for the applicant here is to walk away gracefully.

  21. @ Nick, unless you mean something different by “vetted” than my understanding, the negotiations were handled by the COO of the company–the recruiter was out of it (the company had no HR department). I think the offshore parent company and the chairman, a questionable sort who spent a good chunk of my interview time doubting my dedication to the role, put the kibosh on the position because the US unit wasn’t doing well. But instead of being honest (and buying me lunch as you suggested)I couldn’t get either the COO or the CEO on the phone.

    You are absolutely right–if you can’t trust them before you are hired, what happens when you want to get approval or (horrors) spend money, which marketers generally need to do? What happens when you start questioning the viability of the product, which good marketers should dig into? Better that they ‘tell’ you now rather than later.

    Unfortunately David’s experience above is the exception, and it didn’t surprise me that it was a few years ago.

  22. @Anton: “While many headhunters take the effort to learn about the candidates work and skills, corporate HR doesn’t”

    The reason is simple. Headhunters (most, anyway) get paid only when a position is actually filled. HR gets paid regardless. See the problem? I’d love to see the HR department that’s paid on a per-hire basis.

    @Kev: Good points, and thanks for sharing an HR person’s view on this. I’m glad to hear your standards are much higher than the recruiter in this story. To clear up a possible misconception, the recruiter in the story is an employee in the HR department, not an independent recruiter. The job seeker made this clear to me in other correspondence. So this seems to be the employer’s doing. I should have made that more clear. BTW, I’m glad to see you stand up to personnel silliness yourself, when you apply for jobs!

    @VP Sales: The reader who submitted the question had no problem with me naming the company. But I wouldn’t do that unless I had the time to talk to the company and get their side of the story. But I published the story because this is a pretty common practice/experience nowadays. My goal isn’t to expose a company with hard evidence (because I don’t have both sides of the story), but to alert job seekers to behaviors and signals that they may be dealing with con-men. It’s always up to a person to confirm their suspicions as best they can before they take an action. I try to be fair, while still discussing trends that worry me and all of us.

    The other issue here is that we may be looking at practices in one part of this company only. It wouldn’t be fair to subject other of its operations to judgments just from this operation. There may be legit opportunities in other areas of the company. I encourage people to judge each situation for themselves carefully. A job could hinge on it.

    @Diana O: Thanks for adding an insider’s perspective!

    @Keith: I wrote that what the employer’s own recruiter did to the job seeker in this Q&A is not uncommon. Bait and switch is even more common a practice among truly stupid, moronic, inept third-party recruiters. Think about the recruiter who sent you in for that job: How long does the recruiter think it’ll take before s/he is run out of business? The most troubling thing here is that such “recruiters” do survive and keep operating this way.

    @David: “My point, be willing to walk away unless you get what you are looking for.” AMEN to that, Brother! It’s the surest way to find out who’s legit and who’s not.

    @Marilyn: I was afraid I was being really rude in this column when I referred to “crooks and suckers,” but you’ve all very generously let me slide on that. But to answer your question, this will all end when there are no more crooks or suckers. Crooks will try anything; but they keep it up because there are always enough suckers. The best compliment I get about this community is about how smart folks here are, how high the standard of discourse is, and how thoughtful everyone is. Which is to say, I don’t think we have any suckers here — at least not anyone who got suckered more than once!

  23. You always need to keep in mind..HR/Recruiters don’t hire people. Hiring managers hire people and in so doing direct the recruiters.
    Yes it’s possible the recruiters are playing games, but they don’t usually have the subject expertise, or inside the hiring manager’s head to play that game. The hiring manager does, and the hiring manager has the wherewithall with upper mgmt approval to go from 1 opening to 2 openings to 5 openings, which can really happen if there’s attrition or growth in play. The targets often are moving targets.
    Definitely the scenario presented is unprofessional or sloppy and likely was bait/switch game playing but don’t assume by HR. If the company was fortunate enough to be hit be several good candidates, and wanted it’s cake and eat it too, and bring more than one aboard, they should have leveled with the writer up front and told him, you’re great but we found someone who’s strong and “would you consider etc.”
    Also, take note that flip side happens, we found the 96K person, we want you aboard, we have another role that pays 110K. A switch, but I’ll assume without the outrage

  24. Nick, we hope to hear the outcome of what happened with this job seeker. We wish him the best–and the best may be that he dodges a bullet–a dishonest company. ‘Crooks and suckers’ is plain English and no euphemism, and it doesn’t offend.

    Thank you for providing a forum, because many of us have believed, at some time or another, that it was actually US. The whole employment process, as you point out in ‘Employment in America’, is shattered.

    American and European companies have totally lost their courage and competitive drive (in plain English, b***s) and hide behind process and ATS as you point out. In my early career, every company wanted to be #1, or the best quality bought by the best people who spent the most, the most profitable or be ‘the standard of the world’ (1917, Cadillac). Now, companies don’t give a blank, there’s no pride, people are troublesome assets best gotten rid of, and it permeates all aspects including hiring.

    The Brits had a term for it…”I’m All Right, Jack”.

    No wonder the Chinese and Indians eat our lunch!

  25. I agree with Nick’s advice. Less so his interpretation.

    Maybe they’re jerks. Or maybe it’s just the sort of company that figures second-stage negotiation is par for the course.

    Ethics isn’t a science, after all. It’s a set of culturally shared expectations. Clearly, the applicant’s sense of what’s fair doesn’t match the company’s sense of what’s fair.

    Why not leave it at that? Either way it’s the same negotiation with the same tactics, only with one perspective, even if the applicant wins he’ll still hate his employer from the day he starts.

    The other way, he’s just playing a game to win, and if he doesn’t win, that sometimes happens with games.

  26. What about if our job seeker here took the offer letter, marked it up as Nick and Tony suggested, and then PDF’d it as an attachment with a cover note to the hiring exec, explaining that you are willing to join the company at the position you were brought in for–the senior one, but you received this offer. Certainly there must be a mistake! This is a kind of playing dumb like a fox. See if you get a response. If what follows is the sound of crickets, then you know.

  27. @Don: yes it used to be that the hiring manager hired people, then told HR to do the paperwork. But now HR have hijacked thqa agenda and policy is that HR rules. The manager submits a job description and HR re-writes in ‘Corporate Normal Form’ and filters applicants.

    This
    http://www.solipsys.co.uk/new/AnneLearnsToRecruit.html
    is actually quite old but I think sums it up well.

    I’ve had managers who once hired me now tell me that it is more than their job is worth to try and bypass HR’s new policy.

    The emergent property of the above vingette is that there appears to be a skills shortage when in fact the problem actually lies with HR and “policy”.

  28. Over on http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/6827/employment-in-america-wtf-is-going-on#comments

    Reader Tom posted something that I want you all to read. Tom is a manager.
    =============
    I work for a huge defense contractor and had an open position on my team. A former co-worker that I knew was a good fit for the job applied (after talking to me). It took me a week to “persuade” the hot-shot technical recruiters to even look at his resume, much less pass it to me so I could schedule an interview.

    Of course now management loves him…

    Thanks for continuing to spread the word. The system is still broken but we “in the weeds” hiring managers can make it work every once in a while if job seekers talk to us, like you recommend.
    ==============

    So, there are your marching orders, job seekers. Go around. Tell HR to suck rocks, and go talk to the manager. If the manager isn’t like Tom, then go talk to another company. This nonsense serves an important purpose: It tells us which employers are good companies, and which ones are run by clerks.

  29. I believe that we are living in a new world order. Get you skills in shape and keep them that way. If you are not an entrepreneur then you should learn to be. Don’t buy what you don’t need so that you don’t have to worry about taking a job that you feel is not worth it. Companies don’t owe us anything. They worry about their bottom line so we had better do the same.I don’t think it’s worth spending the energy to “out” that company. Take that energy and build your own (whatever that is).

  30. “Go around. Tell HR to suck rocks, and go talk to the manager.” Alas, even that isn’t any guarantee of getting hired.

    I had an interview with a VIP at a huge local tech corp looking to hire a designer with video/animation experience. Our initial phone interview started with him sounding very disinterested and telling me this will be a quick call because he’s got a meeting to run to…after briefly explaining what he’s looking for he said he’s disappointed with the candidates he’s getting because they are all print designers. As he spoke I uploaded a few of my videos to my url and told him to take a look…his demeanor completely changed, “this is exactly what I’m looking for! I gotta run to this meeting but do you have time again today to talk more?” I was heading out in a few hours so he came right back from that meeting to continue our call.

    You would think this would have a happy ending, no? No. First, he ends the call *not* by inviting me in for an interview, but by saying, “I think I’ll have all the candidates look at the stuff we’ve had done by an agency (which he wasn’t happy with) and see what you all would do to redesign it.” Oh, great, the “test” i.e., work for free. The call ended and I wrote the place off. The next week HR emailed me saying he’d like to schedule an interview with me, which I did. This interview lasted 90 minutes; I have never had a better interview experience. And more than once he said how so far I’m the only candidate who appears qualified. Again, it ended a bit sour with him saying “I’ll probably have the final candidates come back and meet with the team” — I internally groaned, the dreaded “approval by committee,” those never end well, after all it’s their job to find a reason to disqualify you whether it’s your background or your hair…but I left feeling good, if I gotta come in to meet “the team” then so be it.

    The following week, I get an email from him…”You have offered examples of your work, however I am asking all candidates to take a shot at creating something for us.” And he proceeded to list not one but THREE design projects he wanted to see redesigned. One was a video, “just redo the first 30 seconds”…wtf and jfc, this guy clearly has no clue as to how much work and effort goes into something like this. So, I did a few storyboard sketches, made a few recommendations and ended the email by saying I have received an offer for another opportunity and hence am no longer available. And that was the end of that. No doubt he will either continue to struggle to find the “perfect” candidate or he’ll just send my comps to the agency he’s currently contracting with. And I have gone through this exact scenario more times than I care to recall over the years.

    Initially I blamed my field of design, but I don’t think it’s that anymore, either. I met a guy over on stinkedin, a systems analyst with a PhD (he’s in his 40s and unemployed for 2 years), he flew out of state for an interview, met with twelve people over two days, he showed that he knew his stuff (“here’s your problem, here’s what I recommend”), they were clearly excited and he thought for sure he got the job. He didn’t. When he asked why, the hiring mgr told him the two twentysomething girls on the team didn’t like him because he “came across as arrogant.”

    So, who’s to blame for these scenarios? HR’s only job here was to schedule the meetings…do they send a brochure to all who put in a hiring request with tips on how to disqualify your best candidate? I dunno…

  31. @sighmaster This is all too common. Hiring managers and HR are all waiting for perfection and more. and they want it all for free.

    On a slightly related note, I recently had to turn down running a project for an organization. I have spent untold billable days since September winning for them a $1 million dollar foundation grant, and guess how much they have paid me to date?

    Zero dollars. I kid you not.

    They have been pushing me to do more and more for them, and have repeatedly balked at formalizing/giving me a contract. Even expected me to front my expenses for upcoming trip!

    Best statement out of their director recently was “we’re a non-profit. No one gets paid until the money is in.” (Not true, since salaried people there get paid regularly, while I slaved away for free…)

    I politely told them that I have other projects.

  32. If you substitute “customer” for job-seeker and “sleazy car dealership” for employer, the posts in this blog sound like cautionary advice to prospective car-buyers. Same scams and difficulties as when trying to buy a car. Amazing.

  33. @Carl: WOW! After decades in finance/banking I concluded that career bankers were the biggest mooches. Guess not.

  34. @mona: That’s why I used the car analogy at the beginning of my reply! Was thinking the very same thing.

  35. So, if they offer him a job at the original salary, you’re suggesting he go work for “con men”? Seems like he should just run from this one, and not bother with the revised letter.

  36. I think Tracy may have a point about being an entrepreneur. I’ve done editing/proofreading work for aspiring and actual academics as a freelancer. Age and absence of degree don’t appear to worry them too much. Apparently, they like my command of English.

    But I wouldn’t stand a dog’s show if I applied for a job anywhere – the reject pile would be my destination.

    I know others in a similar boat – respected as business owners but who’d stand no chance of getting a job as an employee. What causes these drastically different attitudes?

  37. @Jane Atkinson

    it is because ‘work is work’, but workplaces are “engineered”.

    I am 40 years old, white, and male. I have often done work for organizations that only hire under 30 year old attractive females.

    I do all the work (technical and proposal writing), get nickled and dimed, and the pretty young women from wealthy backgrounds get to sit in the meetings and be all pretty and stuff for the donors. They get steady pay. My income varies wildly.

    Basically, corporate America is going in this direction.
    http://www.buzzfeed.com/tabathaleggett/could-cellular-solutions-be-britains-best-looking-company#.igvaz8W7Vl

    – If you are pretty and female you may have a Glass Ceiling, but you will be employed steadily (at least while you are young)

    – If you are male, you either have to own the place (CEO, Director-level at the least, company founder) or you will be freelance or broke. No in-between.

  38. P.S. My best ‘bait and switch’ experience was a series of ‘bait and reneges’ while I was a graduate intern at an NGO.

    1. Three month contract at $14 an hour (no
    benefits).
    2. Offer of full-time position at end of 3rd
    month
    3. Reneged offer of full-time position at end of
    3rd month
    4. Offer of one month renewal of $14 an hour
    internship.
    5. Offer of $250/day consultancy contract at end
    of 4th month
    6. Reneged Offer of $250/day consultancy
    contract at end of 4th month
    7. Offer of one-month renewal of $14 an hour
    internship at end of 4th month.
    8. I left NGO for $300/day consultancy
    elsewhere.

  39. Carl, I’ve been saying for a long time now, the only prerequisite to be a “manager” today is to be (a) under the age of 30, and (b) have a hot supermodel-style profile pic on StinkedIn (btw, I’m a woman — a very old woman where “very old” means over 39). When I first graduated college 26 years ago, the term manager meant something completely different. It generally evoked a lot of respect from me, as to be a manager required you to have done the relevant work for a huge span of time (which also meant you had your act together and could do the job). Even the manager at my local McDonalds had my resepct. Last summer I was emailed an invite for a phone “interview” with the “marketing manager” at a local tech company. As usual I foolishly assumed this person would be a bit older than the usual 24yo twits I had been encountering. Nope, she was 24 years old (with the supermodel style pic on StinkedIn). First, she didn’t call at our agreed upon time and didn’t even bother to email me. 15 minutes after waiting I emailed her…she finally emailed back 15 min later…we rescheduled and I tried my best to not get angry about this. When we finally had the call, she really didn’t know what to ask me (she also had a few other girls in the conference room and didn’t even bother to introduce us). I explained in detail the problems I was seeing with their webpage design, she ended the call with the usual “we’ll let you know if we want you to come in fo ran interview.” Later that day, I created a few animations/videos demonstrating what they could do with their website and emailed them to her. I got NO response. I emailed a few days later just to confirm she received the file (as sometimes corporate email systems block “suspicious” content). That’s ALL I wanted to know, did she get the damned file. NO response. One week later I got her rejection email. I emailed back “I think this is for the best, as you were very unprofessional in blowing me off on our first call, and you couldn’t even acknowledge the file I sent you.” She shot back “thank you for proving I was right in not adding you to my team!”

    Re: buzzfeed link — Take a look at this pic and tell me how many look like they’re over the age of 40…
    https://www.thelevelup.com/jobs

    I sent this pic to the NYT hoping they’d do a little story about age discrimination but no luck. I cc’d the company, thinking certainly they’d take this pic down out of shame…for my age you’d think I’d be less naive by now…

  40. @sighmaster: Age discrimination is pervasive as many of us know. The lack of interest by NYT (per your comment) is no surprise as knowledge, education & relevant experience are not valued. That skillset costs money!
    @Nick: Crooks & suckers have been around forever, however, I believe they are becoming the norm/majority. Also, as I’ve mentioned in the past, this continues to be a very civilized blog which I certainly appreciate. Thx Nick!

  41. Everyone…repeat after me.

    DO NOT DO FREE WORK. EVEN IF YOU KNOW YOU CAN SOLVE THE PROBLEM.

    One of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever received in interviewing and consultancy is to show them how you think, not how you would do it. I know that seems to contradict Nick’s axiom of ‘show them how you’d do the job and save them $ or make them $’ but there are too many tire kickers out there to not be careful about how you do this.

    There are a lot of ‘shoppers’ who interview just to get marketing plans, creative work or solutions to engineering problems–then never hire at all. Your interview is not a bake-off though it usually feels like one. And there they sit with your work. For free.

    You owe a hiring manager an educated idea on your approach to a problem, not necessarily an answer. Showing how you’d DO the job of evaluating the problem and the process of solving it is really important, as is how you’d ramp up and take charge. You can also sense if they are tire kickers if that person keeps pressing you for an answer–or asks for work. Also, when you think about it, it’s presumptuous–they, after all, know the nuances you don’t, and have the history. Your genius approach might have been tried and failed–and you look like a chump.

    You can be subtle (a smile) or blunt about it, but don’t do free work. It’s not respected and will not get you the job. Show them how you would approach it, show them how you solved the problem for someone else in the real world (though they never seem to be interested in that!), but no freebies.

    @sighmaster, those girlies were clueless and your 24 year old would-be boss was fresh out of ideas.That was a bait and switch from Hell. You should have cc’d her CEO and maybe an investor or two. And that grouping is so typical–I’m in NY and when I see that on the website, along with the kegs and free lunch, unless I see some greyer heads in charge, I really take that into consideration if there’s a job to be done there.

    @Jane and Carl, I am with you. It took me a long time to get my head around that the same skills and experience were worth $ outside the company environment, and that younger people (endemic in health tech) weren’t going to be like I was when coming up through the ad agency side of the business–grateful that the greyer heads would even talk to me, because I realized I had a great deal to learn. Oh, I forgot…they know it all already!

  42. I love tony’s idea–if they’re going to play games with you, then all’s fair. What is the worst that could happen? That they don’t take you up on it? That they pitch a hissy fit?

    All of these behaviors, including the bait and switch, are good indicators of worse to come. If this is how they behave when you’re courting/dating, it will only get worse once you’re married.

    @sighmaster: your experience is unfortunately becoming common these days. Some of it is arrogance–they feel they don’t owe you so much as the basic courtesies that people used to extend to potential future colleagues/employees, business contacts, customers, clients. And a great deal of it, I’m afraid, is just part of “this generation”. One of the younger (the youngest one, in fact) librarians at work has ZERO social skills, but she gives great texting. I see this problem (complete lack of social skills, which includes basic courtesies such as saying hello, shaking hands upon meeting new people, returning phone calls, acknowledging emails/receipt of items sent, be they electronic or physical, looking others in the eye when face to face, and more) with the younger students too. They’re so plugged in to their smart phones, ipods, and other electronic devices that they don’t know how to interact with people face to face. The faculty struggle with the same issues you did (failure to acknowledge when something is received, etc.), so it isn’t just your industry or that particular employer or even those particular employees. The ones who don’t commit these social felonies are older faculty, staff, and students (40’s and older) and my military students. The latter will look you in the eye, answer your questions politely and directly (yes ma’am!). I wish I had more of them, and they could teach the “kids” a lot. Or I would settle for a Marine drill sergeant to knock some sense and social skills into them!

  43. @Marybeth @sighmaster

    In my experience, self-employment is much more difficult than having a salaried position to walk into every morning. Irregular income, constantly ‘hustling’ to get new business, all while doing current projects well, etc.

    Still, there is a great satisfaction on days (like today) when a contract for for six months worth of work finally shows up (after weeks of discussion and waiting). Regular job HR-driven ‘dog and pony’ shows have so little to do with doing the work well, and I love not having to deal with that garbage.

  44. So, I wonder when this kind of behavior will cause companies to lose clients and business. If potential employers treat professionals this way, how in the world do they treat their customers, investors, business partners, etc.?

    People who behave this way usually do this consistently, not just with job candidates. At some point, the wheels fall off and the business suffers. What kind of business trusts 24-year-olds to lead a business unit and make important decisions? I know I did not have what it takes at 24 to make those kind of decisions. I had to gain experience and knowledge, make mistakes, and learn from others to make well-informed decisions.

    It would be interesting to watch these companies to see where they are in 5 years.

  45. @Dee
    I so agree with what you wrote: “You can be subtle (a smile) or blunt about it, but don’t do free work. It’s not respected and will not get you the job. Show them how you would approach it, show them how you solved the problem for someone else in the real world (though they never seem to be interested in that!), but no freebies.”

    Seems to be the norm now for hiring managers fresh out of ideas to ask in job interviews candidates to do free work. I have been asked countless times to do free work, instead I hand them a 90 day plan on how I would approach my job in solving their issues, not the actual work. Heck I even told the last guy (who was in his late 20’s) that I don’t work for free. He told me if I want the job, I must submit a proposal with work. I turned his request down and moved on. This hiring manager had no social skills and got his job through a family member.

  46. @dlms: This is why I urge corporate PR officers to take a look at the corporate image their HR departments are creating in their companies’ professional communities. I think you’re right: What HR does comes back to haunt companies eventually, because the professional community from which a company recruits is as important a constituency as customers are.

    How many marketing execs get this?

  47. @Nick: The professional community from which a company draws recruits may come from the same pool as their customers and vendors too. The job candidate they treat poorly may be a customer at another company or a vendor that does business with that company.

    You can be sure that people do tell one another how they are treated when they interview with a company. I attend a dinner meeting each month with the professional association I belong to and do hear job hunting stories–some good, some bad. And, people do mention the companies where they were treated like dirt by HR or a smarmy hiring manager.

    Thanks for bringing these issues to the forefront. Now to get corporate America to see them too.

  48. An interesting comment came up in discussion elsewhere. It was about staff trying to tell management that these tactics cause the best performers to go elsewhere and also drive recruiting costs through the roof. Management don’t want to know. They think they’re being super-negotiators and no one else “gets” it.

    Management might “get” it when the company folds, though I have my doubts. They’re more likely to put it down to “lack of loyalty these days”, and similar nonsense.

  49. @dlms: You’re right about people and companies treating EVERYONE this way, not just job seekers. I have reservations about whether this behavior will have any impact on their bottom line. I cannot cite studies or statistics, but I do have two anecdotal stories. Several years ago my hairdresser (who at that time had his own business) and I were discussing this issue, and he was telling me about the bad behavior/shoddy, disrespectful treatment that he, a longtime customer, received from the main company from which he purchased hair products. The words “rude” and “disrespectful” and “poor business manners” were just the tip. He called the company’s then-owner, a man with whom he had had a long customer-client relationship (over 25 years) to let him know how badly he was treated. He told me that if the company’s products weren’t so good (the best), he’d drop them and go with another company. He even shopped around, tested products, and more, and found not only worse hair products, but the same, rude, disrespectful, shoddy treatment. What he did was refuse to deal with the person in the first company who treated him so badly and just dealt with the man’s father. But now the father is dead, the son has inherited the company, and the bad behavior continues. They haven’t lost any business because the bad behavior is endemic and their products are better.

    At my last job, a decision was made to go with a different company for purchasing office supplies. The “kids” in sales and customer service, as well as their slightly older but still 20 something bosses were rude, arrogant, screwed up orders, had no social skills, blamed customers for their own screw ups, and more. I complained up the chain of command, which only resulted in me getting in trouble as the rep’s boss telephoned our business office manager (who made the decision to switch to this company but never any contact with them herself) to complain that I dared to complain about their poor service. I had kept records of all of the screw ups, plus how much extra it was costing us, and the original orders. So did others in the school who had to deal with them. It did no good because the person who made the decision didn’t deal with them personally, and didn’t care.

    I think that is what happens; the companies whose HR staff and others who behave badly simply don’t care. The same bad behavior is often present in other companies, so if you go elsewhere, you’re not likely to gain anything. And when management isn’t much older than the social skills challenged employees and don’t see anything wrong with their underlings’ behavior (or they’re just circling the wagons and defending their own regardless of the behavior), then it becomes a choice of dealing with bad behavior at company A or bad behavior at company B. People get beaten down and discouraged, and they give up. I know that I’ve been told at my current job not to say anything to the kids who have bad or no social skills. The word has come down from the college president to faculty and staff not to correct the kids because he wants to keep the customers happy. I see this kind of rude, zero social skills behavior from students every day, and wonder WTF is wrong with them? And we’re part of the problem by NOT correcting it, but at this point I need my job, so I’m shutting my mouth and letting it go. The college president and deans outrank me.

  50. In a country turned upside down, where our government repeatedly violates Constitutionally mandated and traditional procedures, from the executive on down, it should come as no surprise to anyone here that what should matter to companies in terms of reputation and good business practice no longer does.

    I think we’ve established that larger companies’ management 99.5% of the time do not care about much other than share price, profitability and their bonus. Everyone else can go hang.

    Oh yes, those startups engineered by 20-somethings who don’t want to be part of those stuffy large companies? I’ve been in that world now for nearly a decade and I’ve found that most of these founders have no managerial temperament whatsoever. Social skills and ‘Golden Rule’? That’s so 1980s. You see this especially in the tech area where it’s both sexist and ageist–and no one can tell them otherwise.

    And working for them may be a blast short term, but not for long, because they are money-driven just like any other business. I’ve found that the founders usually want to exit with enough money so they can 1) finance other people’s ventures while they 2) relax in a tropical paradise on 3) their private yacht. What then happens is the company’s private financing or VC backers run through their respective clocks and seek to exit.
    ** if they see it’s not making money, they withdraw and the company usually goes out of business. Everyone out on the street, but generally the founders have already done OK due to up front payments by the investors for their interests in the business.
    **if breakeven or profitable, it’s sold to a larger company, goes another round of financing, or another VC group which moves in, takes more ownership or takes what they want. Then there’s the pivot, and most are out on the street. Of course the founders do well because their remaining interest is now worth a great deal more. About their employees–well, that’s the way the business is.
    **if very profitable, it IPOs and the founders and inner circle do very well. The kids at the keg parties? Not so much.

  51. @ Donna, thanks for your feedback. At the ‘bait and switch’ interview process in my first post, the only worthwhile takeaway was that I was asked for a 30-60-90 day approach. Initially I resented it but realized that 1) it would be a great template for the future and 2) forced me to put down in writing how I would approach the job. Unfortunately it also made me think that these weren’t such bad sorts, which was dead wrong!

    An approach to the job is legitimate and in fact warranted. Free work is not. It ranks up there with recruiters and HR asking you what your previous or current salary/compensation is.

  52. @marybeth, your notes on the growing failure of American business to succeed in simple things such as customer satisfaction and internal management, despite the mountains of business advice pumped out there (compared to decades ago), drives one to despair. Is there any way out or back?

  53. @Dee: I remember your posts about this company and how your job offer had headed south. I think it was an international company, too, so the bad behavior, bait-and-switch tactics, and more is not limited to US companies.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this week’s q&a and everyone’s responses. If your company has the best products (as my hairdresser noted in his case of dealing with the bad-boy son of the company’s owner), then I suppose that you don’t care because you know that no matter how badly your son behaves, the customers will always be there because your products trump everyone else’s products. Or if you are the only one in town, and the next store/business is 50 miles away, then it doesn’t matter how you treat customers because you will always have customers (they don’t have choices). The same can be true if all companies behave this way. People get used to be treated badly, and simply tolerate it because there are no other options.

    I just think it isn’t valued today because no one sees any monetary profit from it. When employees are referred to as “costs”, when you talk to people (students or interviewers) and they don’t look at you, don’t reply, but ignore you and start texting or make a call, then that tells me loud and clear just how de trop I am. We had this happen with several people who were interviewing for a part time job. The dean and another librarian brought them out to meet other staff, and four of them didn’t bother to acknowledge us–opting to call someone or text them or download apps. My boss just rolled her eyes, and commented “how rude” they were, and even said so to the dean. The other librarians didn’t think anything of it, with one saying that one of the candidates ignored questions, preferring to play with his smart phone. He wasn’t hired. You can be tech-savvy without being socially inept, but I’m not seeing it with the younger kids. And if they do that with us, is that how they’ll treat students and faculty? (Yes). I don’t know if there is a way out or back–there is, but no one cares or they’re too distracted by the electronic toys to care.

  54. Folks, please check this out…
    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/response-deloitte-report-long-term-unemployed-wheres-giarmo-ph-d-

    This is the fellow I mentioned earlier who didn’t get hired because he came across as “arrogant” (he writes about this under the “VIII BJC HEALTHCARE: A CASE STUDY IN FITTING IN” section).

  55. @sighmaster: Thanks for posting this. I just wish the guy had written a summary version that people would have time to read. (This, coming from a writer who sometimes writes pieces way too long…) My guess from the single comment posted is that no one’s reading it. Too bad.

  56. Thanks for this blog Nick, outstanding advice here. It turns out that I just evaded a bait and switch situation this week. I am a seasoned IT consultant and a “recruiter” tried to lure me into an “interview” for a position that requires much less skills than what I have. I declined and never heard back from them. The job description he sent had no pertinent info, such as location, duration, client name, pay rate.

  57. (Note, why would people put their names here in the name field? What if employers read this? Some employers will hold it against you if you are too outspoken hence why I prefer anonymity.)

    I applied for an “Entry Level PHP Developer” position at SNI Technology. They called me today and offered me a job. Problem is, it doesn’t mention PHP at all and also mentions occasional travel, something, knowing that I don’t like travel jobs, I don’t think I would have applied for. Also, it mentions technical service and stuff that I don’t recall being on the application earlier.

    This is an entry level position but still, it seems kind of like bait and switch. However, if it is, how do I deal with it?

    (Note, this was in the pre-interview thing where they just called me and also sent me an email.)

    It is possible, maybe, that I applied for the wrong position by mistake, but I don’t think I’d do that.

    Who do I ask about this as it might just be an unscrupulous recruiter rather than SNI Technology itself?

  58. @Paul: (People are free to use any name they like when they post here.)

    I would contact whoever it is you spoke with, and ask them politely, “Are you an employee of SNI, or a third party recruiter?” If they hem and haw, I’d forget about this altogether.

    If they offered you a job without an in-person interview, I’d be very suspicious.

    As for your other questions and concerns, you have to ask them. Talk to whoever made the offer.

  59. This happened to me, but we didn’t get to the job offer, or even the interview. I stopped the process before it got there.

    I applied for one job, very specific title and job, in a company that I have worked for before, but in a different department (I did NOT want to work in the other department). The recruiter (who works for a staffing firm with a name like those pointy things in Egypt) talked to me about the job, and offered to submit me. I said, OK, looks like a great fit.

    Then, what do I get? An email–for a completely different job, in the old department, which I don’t want to go back to (for many reasons, including an abusive boss).

    I send two emails, saying “I am confused…this is not the same job we talked about…please explain why?” No answer to either email.

    My response after the two emails was “I am not qualified for the job you sent me. Please remove me from the list.”

    Completely unethical company, now marked as “Spam” in my email. I won’t even see their emails ever again, and I will never talk to them again either.

    Unfortunately, the bait and switch may happen again. I am ready though!

  60. I’m currently experiencing what I believe is a bait and switch experience with my current employer. Having experienced this before, I asked to sign on as a contractor to be sure that my position as a data scientist was aligned to the tasks I would be performing. During this 30-day contract, I was excited with the work and was able to provide some deep insight for the organization. They extended a full time offer a few days before my contract ended, and I happily accepted.

    Fast forward three months. I am now very far removed from my proposed task alignment, where many of the tasks are almost completely unrelated to my skill set. I’m functioning more like a database administrator without any of the analytics work I was performing during my contract period. Over the last month, I’ve been relegated to hours upon hours of data entry, not data scrubbing, mining, or analytics. I feel as if I’m being deskilled remaining in this job. I feel guilty for considering abandoning ship so soon, but I feel that the work is damaging to my career progression. I am now performing the promised tasks in title only.

    Advice?

  61. @Dan: Sorry to hear it. It’s not uncommon for employers to redefine jobs as needs dictate. After all, they’re paying the salary. They get to decide what work needs to be done.

    Have you discussed this with your boss? Perhaps approach it this way: “I know you need me to do data entry, even though I was hired to do analytics, and I’m glad to pitch in to do whatever you need. Can you tell me the plan going forward about what I’ll be doing in the next month, 3 months, 6 months?”

    Don’t threaten or indicate that you might quit. Just find out what the plan is. Then make your own plans. I’d give this a little time, but I’d also set some deadlines for yourself. Don’t risk your job over a temporary reassignment, but don’t risk your career with the wrong job, either. I wish you the best.

  62. I have an even more interesting spin on this. 2 pm (Contract Interview) interview clearly at 75/hr Blew them away. written offer at 75 at 7:30 pm on Friday.

    Signed up for BG Check. Drugscreen in progress.

    Get a call on Wednesday saying there was a mistake the rate needed to be 66.75

    Please comment

    Kind Regards,
    Mark

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