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In the February 19, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter something tells a reader it’s time to reject an employer’s recruiting come-on.

Question

recruiting

After multiple interviews with managers and team members, a well-known company made me a job offer that I refused. The offer was good, considerably more than I earn now. But the deal was unacceptable because, from one meeting to the next, the team showed me the company is undisciplined, disorganized and incapable of conducting business with someone they want to hire. And they recruited me! I didn’t go to them looking for a job! This of course tells me they are not worth doing business with, period. I’m writing to you because I’ve concluded that I should have cut the meetings off sooner. I was so focused on performing at my best that I didn’t calculate the problems that now appear so obvious to me. Can you poll your readers and ask them what signals during interviews tip them off that a company is not worth working for, much less continuing interviews?

Nick’s Reply

I’ve been saving a story I read recently about just this problem — employers that aren’t worth interviewing with. Don’t feel bad, because in the throes of the evaluation process, a candidate is understandably trying so hard to impress that he or she dismisses signals that suggest it’s time to walk away. Nonetheless, there are indeed signals you should be looking for early in the process. You should not wait until after you’ve invested many hours and loads of effort to calculate whether an employer is worth it!

6 signals tell you to reject an employer

San Francisco recruiter Ken Hansell posted this story on LinkedIn, from a job candidate who rejected a job offer and declined to negotiate further. Like you, this candidate probably waited too long to tell the employer to take a hike.

I declined the offer… I’m staying where I am.

The recruiter called me and asked why? This is one of the top companies. What’s the counter offer?

Me: No counter offer.

  1. I had 6 rounds of interviews.
  2. I was grilled with questions but nobody took the time to explain what the job is like and did not even ask if I have any questions.
  3. Lots of questions did not make sense – like why I am leaving my employer. I was not, your recruiter approached me and convinced me to come for your interview. Where I see myself in 5 years. They could not tell me where they see their company in 6 months.
  4. The hiring process is too long, too disorganized.
  5. The offer took too long.
  6. The interviewers did not compare notes because during the 6 rounds of interviews they were asking the same questions. This should not look like an interrogation. They also looked tired and stressed.

If you want to hire talent, fix your basics. Treat candidates as people, not as applicants.

This job candidate has outlined six clear signals that they were interviewing with a wrong company, that is, one not worthy of consideration. All these signs are important, but the third one is key:

The interviewers behaved as if the candidate is chasing the company when,
in fact, the company is recruiting the candidate.

Who’s recruiting whom?

This critical distinction is lost on most people. Applying for jobs you’re pursuing is one thing. But when a company finds you, pursues you, solicits you, and convinces you to come talk about a job — then the calculus changes entirely. (See Reductionist Recruiting: A short history of why you can’t get hired.)

As you and the candidate in the LinkedIn story both noted, you were not looking for a job, so asking you why you wanted to leave your old job is not just presumptuous and rude — it reveals a totally misguided approach to hiring.

When you are recruited, an employer should do three things:

  • Roll out the red carpet.
  • Present compelling evidence about why you should listen to its pitch.
  • Work very hard to impress you.

When you are recruited, an employer that fails to treat you as an honored guest reveals a profound ignorance of how the world works. That’s simply disrespectful. It’s the sign of an uncouth, uncultured, stupid organization that’s bound to fail — one you’d be wasting your time with. (See Stupid Recruiters: How employers waste your time.)

Blind recruiting is spam

I’ll repeat that: When a company — whether its manager, its recruiter or its headhunter — comes to you and suggests it is interested in you, it should treat you with special respect and deference.

  • It must not ask you to fill out job applications.
  • It must accommodate your schedule for a meeting.
  • It must send the hiring manager to court you from the start — not some personnel jockey whose job is to check your teeth prior to your meeting with that hiring manager.
  • It must treat you as an object of desire.
  • It must show it knows exactly why it wants to meet you.

Blind solicitations are not recruiting; they’re spam. The trouble is, most people don’t understand this. They allow companies that recruit them to treat them like beggars. Don’t. You’ll save a lot of time if you separate employers you pursue from those that come to you. This is not to say all employers should not treat you respectfully. But when a company or recruiter solicits you, expect to be treated as an object of desire — or walk away if you’re made to feel like somebody who applied for a job.

What the 6 signals really tell you

The six signals above tell you that an employer is wasting your time. Here’s why.

  1. It should not take six interviews to assess you. Two, perhaps three. An employer that needs more has no idea how to properly assess a job candidate.
  2. A company should not interrogate you. It should open its own kimono first, to prove there’s a wonderful, desirable opportunity in there for you. (If this idea seems foreign to you, you’re either brainwashed or you work in HR.)
  3. The interviewers should not test your motivations. They should justify theirs to you.
  4. An interview process should be a carefully tailored production — a compelling pitch designed to impress you favorably. If the employer uses interviews to test you, then it has no business inviting you in to talk because it clearly has no idea whether you’re a good candidate. Listen up, employers and HR managers and recruiters: If you have not researched a person in enough detail already to confirm they are a viable candidate, you have no business contacting them. Interviews are not for selecting candidates. They’re for selecting hires.
  5. An employer should make an offer almost immediately after interviews are done. Hesitation reveals doubt, and doubt reveals poor judgment, and that’s the mark of failure.
  6. Those job interview meetings are the employer’s show. If the employer comes off looking bad, it means it’s not prepared, which means it’s not worth working for.

The job candidate in the LinkedIn story didn’t even consider negotiating the job offer because the employer signaled six different ways why it’s not worth working for at any salary.

Know when to reject an employer

The best way to land a great job is to focus your available time on employers worth interviewing with and worth working for. (Yes, some employers do it right. See Smart Hiring: A manager who respects applicants (Part 1).) That’s why it’s critical to know who’s going to waste your time. Those six signals are crystal clear. But they’re not the only signals that should give any job candidate pause — or perhaps make them head for the door immediately.

What additional signals from recruiters and employers tell you the “opportunity” they’re dangling at you will be a painful waste of your time? Please be specific — let’s create a test kit that helps everyone distinguish opportunity from agony.

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50 Comments
  1. Hi Nick.

    Thanks for another great post. Employers who do not respect candidates should be wary of making claims about the wonderful quality of their “culture”.

    I read recently that one of my (ex)clients has as their core philosophy “people over process”.
    This same company treated every candidate in the interview process as if they were cartons of milk at a supermarket.

    It is really inappropriate to request the time of experienced senior executives, who are busy people with existing great jobs, to come to interviews only to be treated disrespectfully.

    Companies that spout attractive Corporate PR that isn’t aligned with the behavior of the people involved the hiring process should be approached very warily.

    If what they SAY feels different from what they DO, then walk.

    • @Eric: Here’s why I think employers treat candidates so poorly. Employers solicit candidates blindly. When the candidates show up, they’re for the most part the wrong candidates. Employer has no interest in them, doesn’t want to waste time, so it rejects them after wasting THEIR time — rudely.

      The employer blames the candidates rather than its own selection process.

      It all starts with how employers select people to solicit and to interview. They do it all wrong but have no idea that they’re doing it all wrong.

      Candidates who are armed with this simple fact can save themselves a lot of time, effort and heartache. Just because you’re invited to apply or interview is no reason to do it. You’re not going to win the lottery.

  2. Another warning sign, also applicable to dating (interviewing and dating are, interestingly, quite analogous) – if they take you to lunch, watch how they treat the serving staff. Because that’s how they’ll treat you in six months.

  3. They must clearly explain why they are seeking you, for which role, and that they can discuss the technical sides of it. Otherwise, they are just stuffing their resume files.

    There must be a technical person at the interview, to discuss real business. If not, they have no way of knowing if you can do the job, so an offer will be a random shot.

    • @Karsten: I’d add that the initial solicitation you receive, suggesting you might be right for consideration and that you should respond and/or fill out some forms, should explain specifically why. That means they’re pursuing you for the right reasons — not just because you have an e-mail address.

      If there’s no indication why they “picked” you to solicit, write back and ask the recruiter to explain why. Either you’ll get a silly response, or a canned response, or no response. A legit recruiter will explain it in the very first e-mail (or call).

      • @Nick; If they ask me to fill out some forms or send in my resume, they have already lost me. Forms = formalities that should wait until necessary. Resume = recruiter want something for the files, or spaghetti to throw on the wall. My reply to requests for resume is typically “it’s on LinkedIn, you can read it there, I’m not doing your job”.

        When I was dating, it did occasionally happen that I went to a date where both I and the girl thought we were the dream partners, and it came out…meh. So I have no problem with companies targeting candidates, and rejecting them if the interview reveals hitherto unknown reasons not to hire. But companies need to know and to explain why they go to the date in the first place.

        • @Karsten: “But companies need to know and to explain why they go to the date in the first place.”

          The screaming error in all of recruiting is exactly that — but HR ignores it and job seekers on the whole fail to see it.

          • @Nick,

            My favourite was the recruiter who contacted me for a development geologist position. When I pointed out that just a cursory look at my LinkedIn profile would show that I am an exploration geologist with very little experience in development geology, his answer was that he was so busy, that he had no time to look at the profile…

      • I agree. I had a recruiter contact me out of the blue yesterday and said I was a great fit for a job he was working. Then he asked me my rate even before he sent me the job description, WHERE the company was, WHO the company was, WHY they thought I was the right fit and whether it was contract or full time. I asked him to send me the job description, the company name, where the company was, why he thought was a fit and what rate they were looking to fill the job. He said, “I’ll call you back”. Haven’t heard a call back.
        Thanks,
        @MichaelRome2

        • @Michael: That’s an excellent test and filter on all recruiting solicitations. If they didn’t do the work to select you, let them do the work to ANSWER you. Of course, they won’t — and now you save time!

  4. One time I was pursued by 3 recruiters from an iconic company for 5 jobs. I had phone interviews. This company is so full of themselves that they think they can recruit someone and then turn the tables and start asking very specific technical questions. One manager said I really need to have answers to all possible questions on the tip of my tongue. At that point, I canceled remaining phone interviews as this man said I needed to dedicate significant time in preparation even for phone interviews, and especially to an on-site interview. It is obvious that this company is looking for young employees as those of us past 50 will not put up with this kind of treatment.

    Later, I talked to two people who know this company well. One is my brother in law who works for a semiconductor company that supplies the iconic company. He said that employees are treated poorly, and if you make one mistake, you are fired. Likewise, not much innovation happens. I will not divulge the company, but I will say that even when you are doing well, it pays to treat employees nicely.

    There are, in fact, a number of potential employers that think so highly of themselves that I have encountered that the thinking is that anyone would be grateful to have a job there. As soon as I detect this elitism, I bail – there are plenty of other companies doing amazing things. As for the iconic brand? They have a superb history of products and innovation, and I hope they will turn themselves around and treat people with decency.

    My current job: A large international company headquartered outside the USA with over 100 years of existence. It is also a privately held corporation. The pay is decent, and the benefits are great. It has its advantages and disadvantages, but I have been learning much about international business. We are also more low key.

    • Is it Mapple? (Obligatory Simpsons reference)

    • @Kevin: There is supposedly a talent shortage, which means companies are competing to attract good people. Key word: attract.

      If you want to date someone, do you attract them by telling them they have to prove themselves first?

      You call it elitism, I call it rank stupidity and ignorance.

      • @Nick: One reason companies grow is due to the fact that they know how to do things well. Why is it that so many of them mess up on hiring? Furthermore, why do companies often treat employees like dirt? How were these companies able to realize success?

        My current position involved a 1-hour interview. It is still going well. I even turned down a recent out-of-town offer because of this. The out-of-town company interview was 2 hours with a committee where the interview was more like an informal chat where we talked shop. They treated me to lunch in their very nice company cafeteria, and the rest of the day was mine.

        Is it that some companies have the attitude that they are so great that people will put up with their games and mistreatment? Is it worth the stress to work for such a company?

        I have a problem with the lack of ethics in many businesses. Why do we reward companies that break the rules of common decency?

        • @Kevin: I’m sure there are many things that explain the behavior you’re talking about, but I see two things going on in general.

          First, in many quarters management is no longer considered a skill set. It’s a job. There is little if any training for it. Worse, there’s no mentoring. The result is “managers” who don’t know how to handle true management tasks like recruiting, hiring, mentoring, cultivating people. When they decide it’s time to hire, they tend to bungle it.

          Second, the management of recruiting and hiring has been institutionalized and turned over to HR. That’s just nuts. It assumes someone in HR understands a department’s business, its technology, its work and skills, so that HR can properly select candidates for jobs. HR is woefully lacking in that regard. To protect its turf, however, HR routinely ignores how critical such subject-matter acumen is in hiring. Instead, HR promotes automation and a reductionist approach to hiring — and it doesn’t work.

          It’s not worth the stress. I think what seems to be a lack of ethics is really just cover for ignorance — HR can’t deal with tasks it is not capable of doing, so it emphasizes its power over managers and job candidates instead. Everyone suffers.

          Consider how bad it really is: Job seekers have really come to believe that HR OWNS THE JOBS. It doesn’t. Until boards of directors recognize and address this problem, those boards will have to suffer with the excuse that work isn’t getting done because there’s a “talent shortage” — when we’re in what’s arguably the biggest talent glut in history. Look around at all the skilled people who can’t get hired because employers demand “just in time talent” that has done the job already for five years — and that is willing to accept lower pay to keep doing it! Board of directors have their heads in the sand.

          The system you’re describing is tacitly supported and enabled by people (managers, job seekers) who are afraid to question it. Sometimes I wonder if I appear like some unreasonable, angry guy who tells people to buck the system just to be contrarian. I do it because the system is broken, and there is no appeasing it. People just have to learn to politely but very firmly say NO to bad behavior from HR and employers.

          • We have a talent glut because the unemployed are the new lepers. ATSs routinely have checkboxes asking “are you currently employed?” and what do you think happens when someone checks the “no”box? The most frequent discussion I see on forums is “how do I hide the fact that I’m unemployed,” someone pots about how they finally landed an interview but are absolutely terrified being exposed as jobless, the advice is always to lie that they’re self-employed or a consultant (no one ever says there’s nothing to be ashamed of). I think there’s always been some stigma with being jobless (think George Costanza) but like everything else after the great recession it’s gotten out of hand, today if you don’t have a job you are not considered a human being.

          • @Nick

            I’ve noticed one trend in management – Usually people are promoted because they did an adequate job at X (for various levels of adequate) and were the last ones standing/willing to take the job – not because they had good management skills or any type of management training.

  5. Here’s what I’ve been experiencing lately:

    I’ve had dozens of recruiters (not necessarily associated with companies I’ve shown interest in) contact me about jobs they’re trying to fill. Sometimes I even have multiple recruiters contacting me for the same client (based on the job descriptions they give me). I’ve been asked to give them info like my birthday, last 4 digits of my SSN, etc. so that they can “present” me to the client…weeks go by with no responses (even with me following up with the recruiters weekly). I also find that a number of the recruiters then ask me to connect with them on LinkedIn. Some have even suggested that I lie on my resume to make it look like I fit the jobs better…I called them on it and got immediately dropped from their conversations.

    I’ve only gotten a couple of phone interviews out of all this, only to find out things like “the client cancelled the job” or “the client changed the job description”.

    So I get my hopes up for nothing! I guess this is also what bad recruiting looks like.

    • Bob — I’m guessing here, but when you talk about “getting your hopes up” it sounds like you’re somehow showing yourself as looking for a new position (posting your resume on job boards, answering blind ads, registering with agencies) and are thus attracting scads of contingency recruiters who are throwing you against the wall and hoping you stick. If you are in fact actively looking, I’d suggest you “take down” your public presence and instead start a campaign of networking and informational interviewing which will put you in charge of the process (whatever it is that you’re doing apparently isn’t working). If you’re not familiar with the process, here are four books to read in the order shown: What Color is Your Parachute; Cracking the Hidden Job Market; Smart Networking (Lynch); The 20-Minute Networking Meeting – Professional Edition.

    • @Bob: Here’s the simple fallacy: Someone is going to find you for a job. But as you’ve seen, that doesn’t work.

      You must find a business that has problems and challenges you can handle for them in a profitable way. You won’t find these in job postings. You have to get to know the company and its business. That’s a lot of hard work! But so’s the good job you want.

      When we add in one other critical problem, the job market is a disaster: Recruiters don’t recruit. They process who comes along. That’s why virtually every “opportunity” that’s pitched at you turns out to be wrong. You get rejected because they should not have contacted you to begin with. But they don’t know any better because few recruiters are trained to recruit.

      Pick a handful of companies, assess for yourself how you can help them, then triangulate to meet people who know and can refer you to the managers — and approach the managers directly.

      If you don’t understand what I’m saying about recruiters, the next time one contacts you, do this test. Read the solicitation a second time. Does it suggest that the recruiter knows anything specific about you other than what they found on LinkedIn or on your resume? A real recruiter doesn’t call you unless they know a lot about you, and about why you would be a good fit. If the solicitation could be sent as-is to 20 other people (or to the hundreds it is actually sent to), then you’re not really being recruited. You’re being sent an advertising flyer.

    • My guess is that company has a vendor management system (VMS) where the first recruiter to submit a name is the one that is paid if that name is hired. It has definitely driven down recruiting costs for organizations and resulted in horrible experiences for the candidates they “recruit.” And the company is willfully ignorant… I own a staffing company and I will NOT work with a client that uses a VMS.

  6. Good story, and points. Especially the point about the recruiting company treating the candidate as an honored guest. It’s your dime & your responsibility and good business to have your act together, and make the person’s time worth the investment.

    Particularly if this is non-local involving travel. And by implication a relocation. Just the travel aspect merits special attention. Your candidate can’t just casually slip away for a few hours…with no notice. Hence the candidate’s comfortable availability should trump those of your company’s reps/managers. Including weekends

    Relo implications should be dealt with up front. Moving is non-trivial. And the impact is not confined to just the candidate, including single people. When relos are in play you can bet there are other key inputs on making a decision. This is where Nick’s point about knowing candidate details before you bring people in for meetings is really important. If the company is serious…you address this on the FIRST trip. Specifically, you aren’t out to just impress the candidate, but his/her significant others who will definitely influence the candidate’s interest and certainly the final decision.

    The best example is one’s spouse or significant other. You invite them along & do your best to address their concerns and sell them too. I know from experience that having a spouse tell a candidate “You take the job”. I’m not spouting theory…I was successfully recruited and had a great example in the process. My wife was invited on a cross country trip…babysitting costs covered, we were put up in a nice place and at her request..sat in with me when I met with the HR Manager. Hosted by my hiring manager & his wife for dinner. that is, what they didn’t do is leave her to sit home wondering, and damn well knowing I’d NOT ask the right questions about ……benefits, living costs etc . Smart move. A Class Act.

    I never forgot that & as point man for major recruiting effort in a fast growth scenario & a budget backing it…I told hiring managers don’t mess around. If you’re really interested you show it. We’d offer to bring in a spouse or significant other when we invited them…which usually blew them away. Because standard practice a spouse, if they got a trip at all, would only get a trip to look around after an offer was made and accepted.

    In sum, in a relo situation don’t ever assume you just need to recruit the candidate, you most likely need to recruit someone(s) backing them up who have a vested interest in the move.

    I just used a spouse as an example, but I’ve invited a parent, sibling, significant other…before an offer was even in the picture. None of this having X interviews before they’ve passed some litmus test of worth to bring others in play. If an offer was made, it also included another look-around trip to provide time to find potential residence.

    Nick’s points about red carpet treatment and hiring manager involvement are also important. Every candidate should be exposed to a well organized visit, but travelers need even more TLC. The Hiring Manager or much trusted recruiter needs to be much involved and pay attention to the red carpet. For instance, I made it my business to be personally familiar with the places we had people stay while in town, and restaurants and such. Be as close to concierge service as you can get. I’ve personally driven to a hotel and moved a candidate to another because the former (set up by relo services) fell down on the job. (room not cleaned)

    Trust me…if you move a family and a spouse isn’t happy…all your recruiting will fail no matter how much you love the candidate and vs versa. It’s so much easier to take the great host route up front than just ignoreingthe basics of putting your money where your mouth is when addressing relocation

    • Don is exactly right.

      I worked at a company based in rural Wisconsin. Not exactly on anyone’s list to top places to relocate. We did as Don described – spouses and kids were invited , we picked them up at the airport, took them to the hotel, dinner, sightseeing (such as it was) – full red carpet treatment. And just as Don says, it worked.

      This stuff is so basic and so obvious and yet almost no one does it. It amazes me.

      • @Albert: HR managers would do well to send their recruiters (and go themselves) to a short course on how to convince someone to go on a date with them, and on how to get a person they’ve taken on a first date to go out with them again.

        It’s that simple. Same rules, same methods, same personal touch.

        HR is oblivious to this simple thing: Those people you’re trying to interview are judging you!

    • To add to what you have said about wooing others with a vested interest (usually a spouse), I have been involved with various civic organizations in my community.

      The subject of “what makes our community attractive to people” is a constant subject. Because the only way to attract businesses to our area is to create a place where people (both singles and families) want to live.

      Especially in small and medium cities, there is a real public/private partnership to attract good people to the area.

    • That offer I turned down that was out of town? Maybe they should have invited my wife, kids, and myself — I went on the interview reluctantly, and missed my family while I was away. Now if I were single without kids, I might have taken the job, but my wife also has a job, and as a librarian, those are hard jobs to find. (…and she tells me that the last few years have yielded higher patronage.)

    • If a company is really interested in you, they should be willing to fly into your town, to meet and present themselves in the first round.

      • @Karsten: Oh, the good old days. I was hired out of Mpls. to an SF bank. I was flown in for an interview, stayed at the Stanford Court hotel, they moved me from Mpls., paid for 30 days in a company condo while I found housing, freighted my car AND paid a living wage. Go figure?

        • Or, if you cannot easily get away from work and out of town, the compnay that wants to recruit you should fly in to meet you at a restaurant, or your home for that matter, at least for the initial talks.

  7. I find that most of the time I have spent in interviews a complete waste for several reasons.

    You all correctly point out that you’ll go through rounds of talking to different people who all ask the same old tired questions everyone else asks – you know the ones from “Interviewing for Dummies.” And the real kicker is: You can’t be 100% honest in your responses or you’ll be deemed as difficult. So, it becomes who can B.S. the best.

    Oh, I love the “Why did you apply here?”/”Why did you leave your last job?”/Why do you want to leave?” especially when you’re gainfully employed and they contact you. I started a job search two years ago and eventually ended up accepting a position at a community college last year. My name is still “fresh” in databases somewhere, so I get random calls still. I’ve taken the brutally honest approach when they ask why I want to leave after a few months: You called me first and if you’re going to offer me a substantial raise and/or work on better projects, I’d be stupid not to consider it. I can tell the shock and awe this causes, especially for people who have not been screening folks for very long or at all.

    All of this leads into my next point: none of these questions answer whether someone can do the job or not. I’ve had instances where I’ve been asked if I was familiar with a specific piece of software. I may have not had experience with that particular one but had experience with others. I’ve found that many folks don’t care about this and when you probe farther, they aren’t doing anything special. For example, I’ve been asked if I’m “familiar” with Microsoft Exchange. I am not but have set up/managed other email systems over the years. But, when you ask follow up questions, you find out they have already migrated to the cloud (i.e. they don’t have a box on site that you have to worry about) and most of their Exchange related work is account lock outs/password resets.

    • @David:

      “Oh, I love the “Why did you apply here?”/”Why did you leave your last job?”/Why do you want to leave?” especially when you’re gainfully employed and they contact you.”

      Here’s my best response to that:

      Since you recruited me, why don’t you tell me why you think I’d be a good hire, and why I should want this job at this company working with you and the people here?

      No sarcasm intended. I’m dead serious. If they can’t answer that, why did they bring you in?

  8. I was asked to do a one-way video interview (via a third party service) after I applied for a role in a company’s human resources department (I guess the video was a pre-phone interview hurdle?). For those not familiar, a one-way video “interview” is where you basically record yourself as if submitting an audition video. Well, I’m not a desperate college student willing to sit on a producer’s black sofa on command, I have dignity. I immediately emailed back and asked for an alternative, such as a FREE phone call or a FREE Skype session where we could mutually interact rather than using the paid third party service who collects the videos. Internally, I question why any company would solicit videos that THEY can see before the candidate can see THE COMPANY. It may not imply a sly way to foster bias, but it creates an avenue where it can exist. In my opinion such risks should be eliminated because it’s not worth the chance.

    I digress. About my response: Zero response (except for the automated video submission deadline reminds DAILY).

    The next week I emailed the top dog of their Human Resources to let him know their impersonal hurdle of what amounts to an audition video coupled with the lack of response from the hiring manager are key aspects of why I no longer wish to be considered a candidate.

    He responded, albeit briefly.

    Dumb hurdles make the good candidates roll their eyes and focus elsewhere. Now, I’m not tooting my own horn saying I was a loss to them, but I did tell the HR head in my email that my bridge-burning communication to him was also me advocating for those who never speak up in the hiring process (which is damn near EVERY candidate). CANDIDATES ARE THE SKILLED PROFESSIONALS WHO NEED TO MANAGE THEIR CAREER AS IF IT WAS A SMALL BUSINESS. Screen, judge, weigh options, propose, negotiate, etc. Run your job search like a CEO runs a company. For what it’s worth, that’s my HR advice.

    • “Dumb hurdles make the good candidates roll their eyes and focus elsewhere.

      And my advice, when you encounter dumb hurdles, is to focus elsewhere. Think of the time you’ll save! Every company that throws up dumb hurdles is doing you (or anyone) a great favor and revealing all you need to know right off the bat!

      You’re not tooting your horn. You’re turning off the sound of inept employers.

  9. Another red flag :
    When interviewing for a software dev or engineer job be wary of taking a “coding” test. Currently there is a plethora of online tests that are used interactively during the technical phone interview and quite a few that use take home tests that consist of taking a time-limited exercise on a web site.

    Many experienced industry practitioners, myself included, consider tests as exercises in trivia : knowing obscure syntax and semantic rules, familiarity with extreme corner cases, finding a solution to a trick question problem or familiarity with abstract academic concepts, all performed in an unfamiliar, high pressure environment in a very short time frame. These tests worthless in evaluating software engineering skills and to many experienced practitioners are insulting. They basically distort the interviewee’s experience, depth of technical knowledge and track record of successful delivery of projects by putting a grotesque weight on an unrealistic and minor metric.

    I passed two online tests and was ambushed with an interactive test on one of the tech phone screens and received a UFO letter (You Eff Off) the next day despite having presented a solid portfolio of 25 years of work along with links to published demo applications in the cloud.

    I let any prospective employer know up front that I will not take a coding test. If that blows my chances of an offer so be it, and in my estimation it’s best that I not participate in a culture that has such an abysmal process for enticing engineers.

    • “They basically distort the interviewee’s experience”

      And they reveal the interviewer’s inexperience in assessing whether a job candidate can do a job.

      Imagine going on a blind date and handing the person you just met a pamphlet with some exercises to do while you wait.

  10. Wow….so the company asks you out on a date, then stands you up (or shows up but makes you pay for dinner)! Job hunters are told to do their homework on a company and jobs, yet employers don’t bother. Are they so arrogant, so sure that the candidate will be so happy to be noticed (the captain of the football team asked the nerdy wallflower out for a date) that the candidate will tolerate bad behavior and being forced to jump through all kinds of hoops?

    If the company is courting you, they should treat you with dignity, respect, and not make you play stupid games. Just when I think employer behavior can’t get any worse, they surprise me with how hard they try to win the race to the bottom, and then complain that they can’t find good help. Sheesh.

    My own story, not quite on point because I wasn’t recruited by the company. I interviewed for a job and not only got a lot of the same dumb interview questions but the two people interviewing me kept getting my name wrong. I brought copies of my résumé, which has my name on it, and after being called “MaryAnne” for the umpteenth time despite my polite corrections, I ended the interview. If they didn’t think it was important to get my name right, I didn’t want to be part of the company. What else did they overlook and ignore?

  11. The Best example I have of company unpreparedness as a recruit was when one of the day’s interviewers was bluntly honest. Who asked me “What is the job you’re here for?”. It wasn’t a trick question he was obviously short of time…and really didn’t know what the job was about….at all. It gives one a big pause when it’s just one question…which really was why am I here and why am I talking with you?

    Ironically it was a good interview, so not only did I get a chance to talk shop…but also to define the job.

    It could have been appalling but wasn’t as I knew the hiring manager from a company we’d both worked for, and I knew he wanted me to join the company and that he was being creative in doing it.

    And per a briefing from my sponsor…it turned out I was more current on recent reorgs in his company then my interviewer. (and put him at his ease that he wasn’t being organized out of a job).

    I rec’d an offer…but didn’t take it. Not because of their bit of chaos, but for reasons I noted above on relo’s….venue combined with comp. (it was an Int’l job & I knew way more than they did about the complexities of expatriation relocation and comp then they did)

    It didn’t go as badly as it sounds, but it’s my all time favorite interview because of his question. I much preferred the honesty then a hour of wasting both our times with him “winging it”.

  12. I think this whole “talent” thing is complete BS. Juggling is a talent. Playing an instrument. Everything else is just personality, experience and grit. Most of us are average Joes and Janes who can pick up tasks quickly, show up everyday, play nice with others and give a care. Companies try to create these shiny distractions about how they are sooooo important, but they are just kidding themselves. Get back to identifying POTENTIAL, not chasing “talent”, whatever that is.

    • You know, FedUp, I usually avoid the word “talent” because it describes a characteristic. It is not a synonym for “worker who can do stuff.” You’re absolutely correct. People/workers/employees can learn. That’s why you hire them. Can the job candidate do X and Y, and can they learn to do Z? I’ve got to remember to avoid that word as a synonym for a person. Thanks.

  13. The bar gets lower every day. As a general rule, I don’t post my resume to job boards or fill out job portal applications, and I walk away from things like 1 way video interviews and candidate tests too. The really sad thing is, there’s a whole lot of tire kicking and time wasting going on around hiring whether it emanates from an HR department or a hiring manager. The behavior is well ingrained for almost anyone with a job req to fill. I tend to work for startups and growing companies where more times than not, the office manager doubles as the HR person, and it’s fairly easy to determine who a hiring manager for a position is. Maybe this is just in marketing but just about anyone with a req to hire that I’ve encountered seems to have fully bought into the idea that candidates are as plentiful as tissue and are to be dispensed with in much the same manner. Even when you know them and have a prior relationship! There’s always multiple interview rounds because doing anything in a company is apparently done by committee and everyone’s ego and opinion must be accounted for. More often than not, they try to get some free work out of you “write a marketing plan, we want to see how you think!” or ask to see writing samples – no specific type of sample requested, just something they can pretend to evaluate along with everything else.

  14. Great post and comments !

    Just yesterday I got a message through LinkedIn from a recruiter –

    ” I came across your profile and it looks like you are open to new opportunities. . . (job description was here) . . . If you are interested in hearing more about this opportunity, please make sure I have your contact information so I can follow up with you. I look forward to speaking to you. ”

    Clearly (since the job description did not dovetail with my skill sets) she had not even visited/read my LinkedIn Profile but merely spammed everyone who came up in her keyword search.

    • @Bruce: Solicitations like that have replaced job postings, eh? Makes you wonder why HR does not cut off such “recruiters” automatically because when they DO deliver a “candidate” odds of a fit are virtually zero.

      I could stand on the corner in any major city and hand out flyers about a job and get better candidates! At least people would see that I SHOWED UP!

  15. Now it seems to be more worthwhile pursuing a public sector/gov’t job or career. The games they play are well-known and expected. The private sector has devolved into intentional time-wasting – like watching cat videos all day while accomplishing nothing … ever.

  16. Few and far between are the times a recruiter reaches out to me – either I am doing things right or doing things completely wrong ;) But in the most recent example, it was abudantly clear the recruiter was motivated strictly by my current position (my survival job) and didn’t bother even to read my LI profile where I clearly spell out that I’m looking for a new position in a new location.

    I hate being pigeonholed.

  17. I think the big one for me is the forms, particularly all the criminal/credit check stuff. If that comes anywhere other than at the end (i.e., after an offer), I generally stop it there. The only exception would be if the hiring manager personally reached out to me and said that I was going to get the offer (along with details like salary, etc.) but his/her hands were tied by company policy.

    I once interviewed for a position that I thought would work out very well. I got a thick packet at the end of the first round that was basically a full background criminal/credit/reference check and told that had to be all completed and run through their system before the second round could occur.

    I said I was very excited to move on in the interview process, went home, and tossed it all in recycling.

    The company never contacted me again to ask when they could expect the paperwork.

    I’m a professional, not some random name pulled from a hat who is guilty until proven innocent.

  18. It’s amazing how, even knowing these signs, even following Nick for several years, I still manage to allow myself to be fooled on occasion. This all started as a message received on LinkedIn (I know, I know). I wasn’t looking. I was happy with my current job. In the end, I don’t know if this falls more closely in line with this topic, or Stupid Recruiter Stories…but, I was reading this post when the situation came to mind.

    [Recruiter Message to me]
    Career Defining Opportunity
    […a bunch of boiler plate generic stuff about the role and how I fit it. There was just enough of the right stuff to get me to respond (against my better judgement).]

    …Several exchanges and two 20 minute phone calls follow. Ultimately, I ignored Nick’s excellent advice, and filled out an online application because “that’s how they do it”, despite the nagging question in the back of my head…Why do I need to do this if I’m such a great fit, and this recruiter came to me, not the other way around? Regardless, once the application is complete, I inform the recruiter and get a quick “Great, I’ll get back to you ASAP!”

    …two months goes by and not a single word. I’d honestly forgotten about the entire thing, until I was doing a bit of email housekeeping and was reminded about it. I happened to check the status of the online application, just for kicks & grins. Status? No longer under consideration. OK, except absolutely no word on the status change. Not from the company, the recruiter, not even a robo-email from the application system.

    I’d had this happen before, but this time it really irritated me. Probably because of all the BS I’d been fed about the role, the company, and about how this recruiter operated, and how the things I expressed concern about “would never happen with him and his connection to the company and hiring manager”. So, I sent the following message via LinkedIn. This is where it starts to get really annoying, but I can only blame myself for any wasted time and effort at this point. It does illustrate some of the things discussed by Nick over the years, though.

    [My message to recruiter after 2 months of radio silence]
    Recruiter, I just wanted to take a moment and provide some feedback. I honestly had forgotten about this exchange entirely until I came across this message as I was cleaning up on LinkedIn & email. When I put the application in on this role, I called out that I was skeptical about going through all the rigamarole of a [online app processor] application. It’s nice to know that [your client] and [online app processor] have met, indeed have exceeded my expectations… From my perspective, here’s how this went.
    1. You spent a little over three days start to finish with back & forth trying to convince me that this was a good fit and that I should move forward with it despite my having concerns about the role. Kudos to you for being persistent on the front end.
    2. I had significant misgivings and skepticism, particularly after seeing that they were using the overly cumbersome and impersonal [online app processor] application process. Against my better judgement, I chose to put in my application because I believed you when you said you had a close connection with the hiring manager and would keep me apprised of the situation.
    3. A month and a half after I put in my application, during which time I received no contact that I can recall from you, [online app processor], or [your client], they finally decided that I wasn’t a good fit and updated the [online app processor] application to reflect that on January 30.
    4. You assured me that I’d be kept in the loop, yet two months later, I’ve gotten no communication from [your client], [online app processor], or you; not even a form letter saying “thanks, but no thanks”. I’m really quite curious, can you explain why that is?

    [Message from recruiter later that same day]
    Hi Stephen, I hope that this message finds you well. As you know, interviewing processes for positions unfortunately don’t always take place in the same way from one to another The position I spoke to you about is still viable, however the Hiring Manager for this position has been promoted, and we are at this time interviewing his replacement before beginning any interviews for the position I approached you about. Rest assured that once we have the new Hiring Manager in place, and are ready to begin, I will reach out to you in order to see if you are still interested. I hope this makes sense, and that you understand. It wouldn’t make sense to put the cart before the horse in this instance! Please feel free to reach out to me directly with any questions you may have. Have a great weekend! [recruiter]
    [My message in response to that poor excuse]
    [recruiter], I can appreciate the specific circumstances in this situation. At its core, however, your response doesn’t address the crux of the situation, which really comes down to two things.
    1. The why of the timing isn’t the relevant point, primarily. The fact that until I reached out to you nearly two months after the event, I’d heard nothing. Imagine how differently this exchange would be, If I’d simply received a message or email that said “Steve, things are in flux at [my client] and they’ll need to postpone the process, probably for several months. I’ll contact you when there’s more to share.”
    2. My current application is now no longer under consideration for the role, according to [online app processor]. How am I to know the information you just gave me? Will I find myself having to go through the application process again if and when the opportunity moves forward? It may seem like a case of semantics and process to the folks on the hiring end, but it’s something of a frustration factor for the applicant. Look, here’s what it comes down to, for you as a recruiter, and for your clients. Applicants are people. Treat them that way. If they warrant several 20 minute phone calls, then I think they’ve also earned the right to a two sentence email informing them of the situation. Even if you have thirty applicants, it’s still basically one email blind copied to all of them. I do appreciate you responding, and I hope you have a good weekend as well.

    Two days later, almost to the hour, the recruiter clearly removed our connection on LinkedIn (no great loss), because suddenly, every reference to him now reads “LinkedIn Member”, instead of their name. So, I now know what he thought of my feedback. Clearly, this was more than I should have bothered with, but I was annoyed and here we are.

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