Sometimes I think I’ve heard it all, but this employer puts a new spin on respecting the job candidate

This week’s Ask The Headhunter Newsletter generated a lot of sharp comments via e-mail, as well as many requests that I post it on the blog. I’m glad to oblige. (The newsletter is free, but it’s not archived online, so only subscribers receive it.)

A reader’s story:

I’ve applied for a job in the $80K-$90K range. I’ve learned that the company in question had high turnover in the past few years because they took advantage of their employees. Now, they claim to have changed. But, in a phone interview, I was told the job required a 50-70 hour work week, plus on-call duties for some weekends. I’m scheduled for a 3.5-hour interview, and I just received the e-mail below from the recruiter. This is the first time I have ever heard of something like this, and I have to say makes me feel uneasy.

“I wanted to give you a heads-up on something, should you receive a job offer from XYZ company. I know that you have not received an offer YET, but I do like to let all of my XYZ candidates know about this during their interviewing process.

“XYZ company has all of their new employees sign an agreement to stay for at least 18 months. This is because of the importance of their projects and contracts and because of the investment from their part with new employees and training and so on. They have everyone sign an agreement to stay for at least 18 months. If you do decide to leave before then, you are required to pay a small percentage of the fee that they paid to the recruiter for your hiring. The percentage lessens each month and the longer that you stay with them, the less you have to pay if you decide to leave. Unfortunately, this is becoming more common among employers.

“However, our recruiting firm has our own guarantee and we will cover you up to two months (60 days). Therefore, if you happen to decide to leave before your 60 days is up, then you are not required to pay anything. Does that make sense? The HR manager will discuss all of these details IF they decide to extend an offer to you. This is usually not a problem for my candidates, as most people will not accept an offer if they do not plan on staying for at least 18 months, and you still have that 60 day period that my firm covers.”

Have you ever heard of such a requirement before accepting a job offer? This does not sound very good to me.

My reply:

What we have here is a recruiter who is a maggot trying to attract flies to a dying company. I wouldn’t touch a deal like this with a ten-foot pole. Pay them if you leave? Insane. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit! While some might admire the recruiter’s audacity for explaining this in advance, the recruiter’s claim that it’s common for employers to make employees pay to quit a job is one of the most pathetic sales pitches I’ve heard yet.

To paraphrase P.T. Barnum, There’s a sucker born every minute — and the world can’t use them up fast enough. I know it’s astonishing, but I’m sure the recruiter’s ploy works. By “divulging” the “quitting fee” in advance, some folks undoubtedly decide to take the chance. My guess is you’ve already answered your own question. Please let me know.

The reader’s follow-up:

Thanks for your reply. Good to hear the same from an expert. After a five-hour interview with four directors and the Chief Information Officer, I still had no idea what my daily work would be. (See Don’t Suck Canal Water.) I learned about conflicts between managers, and about chaos as an operating strategy.

Big Brother was working the front door: sign-in and sign-out is required, even for lunch. The whole environment reeked of Theory X. One of the directors told me in the interview, and I quote, “If you want to be a slacker, working only 40 hours, the door is revolving.” Weekend work and overtime are required. One director said that, in general, they do not promote from within. The HR person said they have 100 positions to fill. It’s amazing what you can learn in a few short hours.

I left these meetings with two directors disputing which one would hire me (two separate jobs), but I rejected them both.

I like to work. I am fully engaged, and my drive to complete a task is internal. I don’t need anyone to motivate me. This sounds like a dysfunctional organization. I’ve already had plenty of experience with that kind of abuse.

It is unfortunate that this is still part of the corporate landscape. This is what happens in an area where good jobs are scarce. (See How Employers Poison Their Well.) I choose to move on, possibly out of town, and not be part of it.

Thanks for your advice!

  1. What is nice about being a little wiser is that you realize you don’t HAVE to take this job. Just as there aren’t 40,000 jobs out there for you (and you don’t have 40,000 choices of jobs today), there aren’t 40,000 crappy interviews like this one. I think this guy should write a comedy routine about it.

    One of the worst interviews I ever went on was when the employees tried to get me to solve a b-tree problem but described it so badly (something about sharks and whales) that I couldn’t figure it out until they mentioned it was a b-tree problem. Of course, I was so stupid. Then the manager saw me. At the end of that interview he asked me if his chief technology guy could see me, though it was unscheduled. I asked to use the bath room (I had been there for several hours without even a glass of water) and when I came back to the room, the chief guy started yelling at me that I started his interview late.

  2. As a former HR Manager, Director and Vice-President, of private and public concerns, I reccommend to anyone who feels uncomfortable or threatened during an interview that they address the matter during the experience and see if they can resolve the feelings with logical explinations. Please remember that even though the interview process is barbaric at times, the process and the feelings you get reflect the situation.

  3. Oh my god. These horror stories. Yeah, I bet XYZ has a LOT of devoted employees. *rolls eyes* More than Google, even!

    I think part of the problem here is that so many companies are concerned about ROI when it comes to recruiting. Recruiting fees are STEEP and hiring is a beastly process. The way it’s configured very much encourages predatory hiring practices such as this (headhunting — literally). There are a few companies that are trying correct the inefficiencies: a lot of online recruiting sites offer some kind of money-back guarantee on candidates. Dayak, which my company uses, even lets you select your recruiting fee on a sliding scale. In these cases it’s a little easier to see strong ROI. I bet company XYZ is stuck in some money pit of a model, though, and are too cozy to change.

    I’m surprised managers get away with this kind of behavior because promising candidates are needles in hay stacks these days. Lucille is right — jobs ARE out there if you know how to look, and I think most intelligent people wouldn’t put up with this b-s-. I can just imagine the reaction if I made a job listing that required the candidate to pay my fees! *rolls eyes again*

  4. I’m not even sure if that is legal. I would probably print the e-mail and mail it along to the Department of Labour.

    I work for a recruiting firm – we wouldn’t work with a company like this at all! We would never put our candidates into a situation where they are set up to fail from the start.

  5. I’ve never heard of something like this before, but in a way I’m not too surprised. Some people will honestly do whatever it darn well takes to take advantage of others. I’ve known this fact for quite awhile, and it’s exactly why I gave up on receiving VR services. Those of us with disabilities truly are vulnerable, and even some people without disabilities are at times vulnerable. This job candidate should take the matter to the Better Business Bureau and report the company immediately.

  6. Another thought just popped into my mind as I was reading this over again. This whole “you’ll pay to quit this job” thing kind of reminds me of an aspect of ADA paratransit. At least this was true when I used ADA paratransit, and I think it applies to some other states. Let’s take just an ordinary Joe or whomever you want to call this person. They are in a routine where they need to get to school or work by bus on a daily basis. If said person doesn’t need a ride on a given day, the thing to do in most cases is call up the transportation provider and let them know Joe isn’t coming today because he’s not feeling well, or whatever the case may be. You don’t need to do anything if Joe is coming that day, the bus will just show up. That is, unless Joe uses ADA paratransit. Using the paratransit company logic, every day that Joe needs a ride he has to call up the company, and whenever he does not need a ride for any reason he does nothing. I know this isn’t exactly related to the situation you discuss here, but I can see some similarities.