When I answer readers’ questions, we don’t usually learn about the outcome. In this week’s edition, a reader follows up and we see what happens when someone takes my advice.

In the August 19, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker interviews an employer before the interview:

thumbs-downI have been invited to interview for a management job at a small firm. I researched the company and reviewed the job description and requirements, which are vague at best but, in general, I meet all the criteria.

After agreeing on a date and time for the face-to-face interview (set by the HR specialist), I inquired about the possibility of a phone screen with the hiring manager so I can get all the larger particulars out of the way and then determine if there is any synergy between the company and my own employment interests. I was informed that the company prefers to do all screening in person.

I take interviewing seriously, but I have a good job now and I have very specific career goals. Also, I try not to waste time away from work unless I am certain the job interview will have a high likelihood in piquing my interest. So, with a few days to go, I sent an e-mail asking for the basic information in written form. This is how I phrased it:


May I impose on you for a few details about this position that I will be interviewing for soon?

  • Is this a hybrid managerial/hands-on position? Can you guess-timate the percentage of hands-on to managerial time?
  • Is there a large amount of travel associated with this position?
  • Can you give a salary range?
  • Will this position have an annual training budget to keep up the skill-set needed to grow with the company?

Thanks very much!

I received no reply for three days. When I politely inquired again, I was told, “My apologies for the late response. Our management team will be able to answer all of these questions in the interview tomorrow.”

My instinct is telling me to cancel this interview. If the company cannot provide basic information to a prospective candidate, why should I spend three hours of my time? It’s a crap shoot at best, and a waste of time at worst. The interview is tomorrow afternoon. How would you handle this?

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for sharing a good example of when it’s good to turn down a job interview — even in today’s economy.

The questions you’re asking are all reasonable. In fact, they’re important to help you decide whether to go to the in-person interview. I wish everyone did what you’re doing. It’s smart and it’s professional.

I agree with your instincts, especially if you’re under no pressure to get a new job. But here’s what I’d do. I’d call the hiring manager if you can, and otherwise the person who has been e-mailing you from the company. (If e-mail is your only choice, fine, but I’d really try to talk with the person.)

Just as politely as you’ve already handled it, I’d explain that your work schedule is very busy, so you do your best to confirm whether a job is right for you before you attend interviews. Say you’d like to interview for the job — if they can first provide you with answers to the basic questions you’ve asked. Do your best to have this discussion with the actual hiring manager.

If the person you speak with will not answer your questions, or insists that you show up for a meeting, I’d politely explain that, unfortunately, in the absence of this basic information which you need to make a reasonable judgment, you’ll have to respectfully decline the interview. I know someone will chide me for telling a job seeker to walk away from an opportunity, but not all interviews are worth attending — they’re not opportunities. What’s shocking is how employers waste so much time and resources on ill-advised interviews. (See Half-Assed Recruiting: Why employers can’t find talent.)

I admire your integrity and your sense of doing good business. If you don’t get the information you need, I wouldn’t go to the interview. Every job seeker needs to draw a line somewhere. (Here’s another line: Pursue Companies, Not Jobs.) Just bear in mind that the company may put a big X on your file and never consider you again. On the other hand, you may not want to reconsider them any time soon yourself.

I’d love to know what you decide to do, and the outcome. It would be a shame to miss a good opportunity over something like this – but this is a data point that more people should think about more carefully.

Employers are crying there’s a talent shortage and that they can’t make good hires. Then they behave like rule-bound fools when a candidate they want to meet demonstrates the kind of intelligence they’d like to hire. Go figure. You’re trying to save them time by demonstrating good judgment and good business practices. As a buddy of mine likes to say, people who behave like this make it easier for those of us that “get it” to succeed – because there’s less competition.

The reader responds

Nick, thanks very much for your reply! I managed to find the e-mail address of the director of the department that has the open job. I sent this e-mail:

Hi <name withheld>,

I hope this e-mail isn’t too intrusive. I have been invited to interview in person for a manager position later today. I’m contacting you because HR has declined to provide me with some basic information about this position. (I asked about travel requirements, salary range, hands-on vs. managerial, education budget.)

If you know the hiring manager (or maybe you are the hiring manager), would you please pass my number and e-mail on to that person and ask them to contact me? I am hoping to get some basic questions answered before committing time out of my work schedule to attend an interview. I have specific career goals and usually like to have a brief ten-minute conversation with the hiring manager before the actual interview. In my experience, this strategy saves time for everyone involved in the process.

I appreciate any effort you can make in this area and look forward to possibly meeting you. Thanks…

After a few minutes, I received a response:

Thank you for your e0mail.

We use our interview process to ask and answer questions. We have not been in the position before that an applicant requested to have questions answered prior to the interview. Frankly, given the size of our company and resources, we do not have a good avenue to address these types of requests, as multiple team members would be able to address different types of questions in the interview. I understand your position, and agree that it does not make sense to waste the time of either party. If you prefer to not go forward with the interview, please let me know and I can take you off of the schedule.

It sounds like they aren’t using logic at this point. She states that they “have not been in the position before…” where an applicant asks questions before showing up, which I find unbelievable. Is there really no “good avenue to address these type of requests?” Seriously, are my questions that difficult? Am I the only one that finds this puzzling? Anyway, I will decline the interview at this point. Again, your advice and column are extremely helpful and appreciated!

Nick’s Reply

In the time it took to write all that, the director could have answered your questions. Or, perhaps the director didn’t have the answers. That’s another problem altogether. I do admire the fact that you were given the choice about whether to proceed — they didn’t reject you for pressing them.

Nonetheless, I smell a management problem. Too bad. Here’s what bugs me the most:

“We do not have a good avenue to address these types of requests, as multiple team members would be able to address different types of questions in the interview.”

Your questions are all simple, factual ones that the director should be able to answer easily in advance. I think you’re doing the right thing.

The cost of interviewing job applicants is significant for employers and, as you’ve pointed out, you incur a cost, too. Too often, job seekers think any interview itself is the big payday, and they are loathe to pass it up, even when it’s irrational to go. Your questions were all legitimate make-or-break issues that a company can easily respond to in e-mail or on the phone. If applicants asked more questions before interviewing, and if employers were more candid, then fewer interviews would be a waste of time.

All I can say is, keep on truckin’. The point is to meet a company that’s a match, not to talk to every company that comes along. Again, I admire your integrity.

Think twice

I’d like to make one comment to job seekers who might think you (the reader in today’s Q&A) can “afford” to turn down this interview because you’re secure in your job — while they may not have that “luxury” because they’re unemployed. Every interview requires an investment of time, energy, planning, and — yes — gas money. The point isn’t to get more interviews; it’s to get interviews where the job meets your objectives, whatever they are. There are multiple downside costs to every wrong interview because it takes you farther from truly good opportunities. Pick your jobs carefully before you pick your interviews — and that requires thinking twice when an employer can’t give you good answers before you buy more gas.

Additional Resources

If you want to check out employers more thoroughly, see “How to pick worthy companies” (pp. 10-12), “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?” (pp. 13-15) and “Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies” (pp. 22-24) in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 5: Get The Right Employer’s Full Attention.

To dig even deeper before you take an interview, in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8: Play Hardball With Employers, you’ll find “Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer” (pp. 11-12) and “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it” (pp. 23-25).

What makes you reject an interview invitation? Or, nowadays, is it just best to take any interview you can get? What do you think the reader in this week’s Q&A should have done?

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  1. I agree that they should be willing to answer those questions before the interview, and that it’s ridiculous that the director claimed not to have the answers.

    That said, though, the candidate emailed the director the day of the interview, which I don’t think gives the greatest impression. The time to ask those questions was when she was first contacted about interviewing. By the time that it’s the day of your interview, you’re really out of time to try to get answers before coming in (and that’s especially true if you’re using email in order to do it).

  2. @Nick Thank you for posting your reply. I was going to post my own take on this after reading the situation(frankly the answer is common sense) but you beat me to it here, “Pick your jobs carefully before you pick your interviews — and that requires thinking twice when an employer can’t give you good answers before you buy more gas.”

  3. While the lack of a timely reply is poor there is also the possibility that this is a new position so those answers do not exist, especially in a small firm. A phone call to ask would have made more sense and there is something missing in this process. I find it hard to believe someone just got a call for an interview out of the blue and there was no communication before they came in for an interview. It is either a scam or we are not getting the whole story. Either way, the applicant must decide if an opportunity is for them using what they know and feel

  4. Nick, I love your advice and usually agree with it. In this particular situation, it sounds like the company doesn’t have its act together, and interviewing might have been a waste of time. However, in general, I advise people to go on most interviews — because you always learn something. You might learn about how another company handles an issue, you might learn about another aspect of a job, you might learn better interviewing skills. Or maybe you just learn about how to drive to a different part of town. I think the more experiences one has interviewing, the better one will be when the chips are down.

  5. @Alison Green

    The email to the director may have been on the day of the interview, but this was not the first time that the candidate asked the organization these questions. The initial inquiry seems to have been well in advance of the interview. It’s company’s problem that they can’t answer these basic questions lower down in the food chain/ through the HR point of contact.

  6. Small firms sometimes act more like “mom & pop” operations even if they are not family owned. For them, business processes, like fully vetting the requirements for a new job, take second place to running the shop by the strength of various personalities and by the seat of their pants.

    Peril lies ahead like a reef of rocks in a channel for a ship at sea in taking a job at one of these firms. Your ideas of business performance, and theirs, will surely clash leading to an early exit.

    I agree with Nick. If you can’t get a good answer to basic questions about job requirements, move on.

    BTW: One of my favorite ways to quality a job for consideration is this question – “What does success look like for the incumbent in this position a year from now? How will your measure it, and what measures are in the success range?”

    It is a no brainer to skip an interview if your prospective employer waffles on the answer.

  7. I agree with Alison that these questions should be asked before the day of the interview, and preferably when the interview is first offered. I also agree with Martin that if the interview was offered with no prior communication with the company, it’s best to be very wary about wasting time talking with them. It might be a scam, but just as importantly, it yields important information. If the candidate had checked out this company and found things to like about it, and if it’s a larger company, it’s possible that they either have a good company with a bad HR department (which might indicate a lack of focus on employees), or that this is a bad group within a good company – or that the company isn’t as good as research indicated. Any of these things might be deal-breakers for somebody already well employed.

    I’d also like to point out that although it’s always a good idea to be polite when dealing with a company you’re considering working for, it’s not necessary to take it to the limit and act like a courtier addressing a king. You’re not “imposing” on a company to ask for pertinent details before committing time to an interview; this is a business situation in which each party wants something, and each party potentially has something to offer. Using language like “imposing” implies that you’re asking for a big favor, and sets a very wrong tone for any future negotiations.

    We’ve been in a long, bad recession, and the woods are full of companies that assume you’re desperate and treat you accordingly, even when you’re not. Some companies will continue to act badly for years after the recession is over, because a lot of companies are clueless. Unless you’re desperate, and maybe even if you are, approach the process with self-respect and act like you’re not. The clueless companies will continue to hire the cheapest, most desperate people they can get their hands on, and they’ll continue to make their employees miserable and then fail as a result. If you have something to offer, you should know it and act like it. If you don’t, you’ll be treated badly at a bad company!

  8. I can’t stop thinking about various schemes bordering on scams. The first pulled on me was Amway about 35 years ago. Then Haldane, George S. May…the list goes on. Arguments would be made that these are legitimate businesses but they all follow their own processes which weed out people smart enough to ask questions in advance. Then they are left with people dumb, naive or gullible enough to do what they want. It feels like this “candidate” has not turned down an “interview”. I think more like a “prospect” has dodged a “sales pitch”.

  9. There was no indication the job or the employer in this reader’s story was a scam — just apparently disorganized.

    @LDellL: You make some interesting observations about an applicant being overly deferential – I think you’re right. One can go too far in being polite. Though I think this reader’s behavior clearly demonstrates taking control.

    @Alison: I’m with Some guy on this. The reader made multiple attempts to get the information, well in advance of the interview date. The HR rep and the director should have answered his questions.

    @Martin: I’m not sure why answers to those questions would not exist, just because the position is new. Even if the answers are not yet clear to the employer, it’s still possible to respect the request and offer “best that we can tell you at this point is…”

    @Jane: Sorry, but I think many interviews are a waste of time that can be better invested in real opportunities. While I, too, think it’s good to meet and interact with lots of people, interviews are intended for a specific purpose. If what a person wants is to meet people in a certain company, then suggest coffee or breakfast to chat – don’t waste interview time and pretend an encounter is what it’s not. Far too many job seekers pretend to themselves that they’ve got “an opportunity” when they don’t – they talk themselves into it. The best example is the “informational interview” – people know what the deal is, but if the meeting goes well, they start wondering why they’re not getting more meetings or an offer. It’s too easy to create dead ends and convince ourselves we’re going somewhere.

  10. The company should be able to answer the questions… they are not unreasonable. There is no point to get them answered in an interview either…when you already have a good job and do not need one.

    The company may be very small, disorganized and/or have a poorly functioning HR department. The company may have answers to the questions asked but want to meet a job candidate in person… to make a judgment if they would be a good fit. However, what you are doing is saving everyone time and energy… because if the training budget is too low, the travel requirements greater than you wanted and/or the salary range too low… than you would not take the job.

    The company should realize that it is in the best interest of everyone… to be able to do some of the job screening before the interview… that is all you are doing, trying to figure out is if a job interview is a waste of time..

    If this is an indication of how the company functions than only someone who really needs a job would be willing to work there. All you need is some explanation for the questions you asked.. if it looked like there was more to discuss, than an interview should be the next step. The answers to your questions did not need to be exact… only broad enough for you to figure out if you were wasting your time or not.

  11. “BTW: One of my favorite ways to quality a job for consideration is this question – “What does success look like for the incumbent in this position a year from now? How will your measure it, and what measures are in the success range?”

    It is a no brainer to skip an interview if your prospective employer waffles on the answer.”

    Well put. This weeks ATH was not suitable for a childs’ eyes. :-)

    Run, run, run and don’t look back.

    By the way, if a company has an HR Specialist, then it is not a ‘mom and pop’

  12. @VP Sales – Heartily agree! This is the best type of question to ask during an interview. I always ask, “What kind of employee does well at this company?”. The answers have been revealing. One interviewer mentioned people who would work through the night on a solution. The compensation they were offering was at the low end of the range, but they expected superhuman effort from employees. I told her I didn’t feel the position would be a fit for me, and moved on to a better opportunity. (The company went under about a year after that.)

  13. I totally agree that the company should have responded earlier. But when they didn’t, sending that email on the day of the interview was a mistake. It didn’t reflect particularly well on his critical thinking at that point. The time to get answers was when they first spoke about setting up the interview, and the time to back out was before the day of the interview.

  14. An experienced recruiter will know the answers to these questions and a few more as well.
    A good recruiter will be able to answer lots of questions about a company including personalities, culture, plus major aspects of the job, priorities, direct reports, indirect reports, personality of the boss, etc.,
    The ‘what represents success in this position?’ strikes me as a better face-to-face question for an interview with the hiring authority. I would suggest this particular question needs to be worded to get quantification- ‘increase in productivity’ and ‘40% decrease in 40 hour units used per shift by the 3rd month’ are a touch different.

  15. While I think the applicant made the right call for him, I have to say that if he wasn’t sure he had enough information to do an in-person interview, he shouldn’t have scheduled one. It sounds like he put it on the calendar, then asked if he could do a phone screen, then emailed, then emailed again, then dropped out the day of.

    The questions he asked are perfectly reasonable things to want to know (especially when you are approached, and did not proactively apply, as it sounds like the case was), but if the writer knew that not having the info was a deal-breaker, he should never have scheduled the interview in the first place.

  16. This is an interesting case. I’ve experienced this type of situation as well, and have asked the same kinds of questions, sometimes without getting a reasonable response.

    There is a serious logic problem here. First, a company opens a position for a reason (at least one would hope). They either need to backfill for someone who has moved on, or they have a business need due to company growth. Therefore, although some details about a position may not be worked out in advance (at a start-up, for example), the company should have some idea about the new position (salary, travel) and are looking to hire someone to fill it!

    I live in the Austin, TX area, which is the land of start-ups, I’ve see a great many job postings for start-ups (and other, very small companies) where they have very specific position and culture requirements. And they are quite clear about those requirements in their job postings. Working at a start-up isn’t for everyone, and these companies know that. They are too small, and going too fast, to risk a bad hire. Can they tell you how much, exactly, you will have to travel? No, probably not, because they may be experiencing rapid growth. Can they tell you if you will have to travel? Of course they can. Can they give you a budget for salary? Yes, but they may not do that part until the offer is made. You can, however, tell them what range you are looking for, and ask point blank, if that range would work with their budget. Most will answer that question, believe it or not, even the HR folks, if it is given politely. I always frame this request with “I don’t want to waste your time, or your manager’s valuable time.” This works about 80% of the time. If that doesn’t work, and you are truly interested in the company, and have done your “due diligence” (as Nick says), you will already have a pretty good idea what the salaries are like at the company anyway.

    Now, the very common advice to “go to most interviews.” Why? With the lack of information the poster talked about, and the fact that the poster is employed and is being recruited, I would expect a little more courting and a lot less controlling “we do it this way,” attitude up front. That, in itself, tells you a lot about the likely work culture at that company, which is a huge red flag. If you are working, why waste your time–and perhaps even cause problems on your current job–just to interview with a company who can’t, or won’t, provide you with some very basic information?

    There have been interviews that I have declined (even when unemployed) for specific reasons listed by the poster: salary, travel, and position requirements. Why would I interview for a job that requires “road warrior” travel, when my family responsibilities preclude –any- travel at all? Why would I interview for a position that pays less than half of what I need to make a living—and the going rate for my skill level and experience? (And why would the company hire me, since I would probably leave as soon as I found something that paid better?)

    The point is, there’s no point in anyone interviewing for a job that they would never take, and for a company that is so disorganized or out of touch with their needs that they can’t even tell you WHAT position requirements they are interviewing you for (like travel!), or their basic budget, or why it takes a team of people to answer those questions.

    I would rather spend the time researching a company that I –want- to work for, that has positions that I know I could excel in, and that has a business model that shows the company’s understanding of how their employees fit into their team and their mission. Any company that couldn’t provide the most basic answers that the poster asked for not only doesn’t have that, they can’t find their rear end with both hands.

    Kudos to the poster on taking a pass on that time waster. You know where you are headed, and that was just a detour.

  17. @Dave Staats: Been there myself. Back in the go-go days of IT, and when I still considered break/fix positions opportunities with a future, I was called for one interview that really was a cattle call for Amway. The second was for life insurance and “financial products” sales for CitiFinancial.

    I started asking more, if not better questions of the “phone screener”.

    @Nick: “… many interviews are a waste of time …” Talk about managing one’s expectations!!

    Can we carve that on a brass plate, screw it to a walnut plaque and give it to every high school or college graduate who heads out looking for work?

  18. @Kimberlee: Your point is a valid one. The applicant could have asked those questions prior to accepting the interview. But – to use Diana O’s term – courting a candidate isn’t so black and white. It’s filled with nuance. I’m afraid that recruiting and interviewing have been cast as routine, administrative tasks that start at A and end at Z with all the steps in between prescribed. In fact, it’s an art or a dance and the partners get to lead and follow.

    There’s a good reason for an applicant to accept an interview and then ask some key questions: It gives him or her some leverage because the employer has already committed to the interview. Call it a kind of test, a mating routine, a way to see what you’re getting into and with whom.

    Again, I see your point. But there were two acts here to question: The applicant asking these questions after accepting the interview, and the employer declining to answer the questions. The applicant’s behavior may be questionable but is not really a problem. The employer’s behavior is a problem.

    The biggest issue here, as Diana noted, is that this employer does not know how to court applicants.

  19. Yes the economy is still bad and to turn down a job interview because you sense a red flag may really be the right thing even if you think “the what if I had”. As you pointed out Nick, it can be a waste of time, gas and in some cases wages from your current job not to mention wasted emotional energy. Many people, myself included, have gone on interviews that were a complete waste of time based upon common wisdom to just go, it’s good practice etc. so now I’m more cautious. If anything I think it’s best to only use your energies to pursue something that feels right, is worth pursuing.

    Last year a hiring manager from a company in my area reached out to me on LinkedIn. We had two excellent phone interviews. I researched the company, he answered all the questions and I went in for a face-to-face interview. He wanted me to fill out the application immediately and meet with various other department heads including HR. That’s when I learned that he was not that department manager but just helping out “The” manager since he was getting settled from relocating here. The manager I’d be working with had a totally different vision of the position and a polar opposite personality. I interviewed for almost three hours, was told HR would follow up, and HR did – then nothing happened. Despite handwritten thank you notes and a follow-up email I never heard from them again. They didn’t have the curtesy to call or email me a rejection or a we’re not sure what we want etc. I put in a lot of time, energy and yes billable hours. Even though I’m looking for a new position, I’m no longer going to jump at everything because that’s how I landed where I am now for three years. It has to be a good match.

  20. @Nick, @Diana
    “The biggest issue here, as Diana noted, is that this employer does not know how to court applicants.”


    Relationships are a two-way street. Who woulda thunk??

  21. Run like the wind! You are much too sophisticated for this organization and they are too directionless if they can’t answer basic, reasonable questions. I smell trouble.

  22. Nick,

    Great article. Recently I was invited to a recruiting firm and vetted for a contract they held. During our review of my resume and some mock interview drills I was given some pointers and takeaways on how I might best present myself. I was also advised that it should do some homework about the company in question and get some background about them. This is without question I thought to myself, you should use all avenues at your disposal i.e LinkedIn, websites and press releases so that you can present yourself as being informed, knowledgeable and interested in the company’s mission and vision.

    Prior to ending my meeting with the recruiter, the office manager came in to the conference room to see if I had additional questions. When I asked for the companies name so that I may prepare, I was advised that it was a large estate and due to sensitivity I would not be able to get the name until I arrived at the interview location the next day and signed a nondisclosure agreement. I would at that time be able to remain for the interview or could choose to decline.

    This situation was going to make it very difficult to prepare and travel several hours for an interview with an organization I was not able to review and/or verify whether or not I actually had any interest in interviewing with.

    That night I still had not received the address for the interview from the recruitment office, so after some consideration I determined that if I could not know who I was going to be interviewing with, I did not feel I would be able to best represent myself and opted out of the interview. I contacted the recruiting firm over email to advise them of my position and never heard anything back. Lessons were learned that day about certain recruiting firms and also some of the less than logical practices we job seekers encounter.

    Thank you for being there, and looking out for us!

  23. @Kyle I want to add what you experienced is not uncommon for a large private estate situation.

    I am well versed and work in this precise arena. A large estate position is highly unique and does not fit within the realm of an ordinary corporation or business therefore to a large degree this discussion, in my opinion due to the fact that a large estate will in most all cases require confidentiality agreements to their business and family affairs as well as any compensation.

  24. @Nic: Thanks for shedding some light on these unusual organizations.

    @Kyle: What a goofball recruiter! Telling you to go research the company, then refusing to tell you the company’s name! Duh….???

  25. @Nick Sure thing, you are welcome.

    @Kyle I have to agree with Nick. It is ridiculous of a recruiter to suggest someone do research under those circumstances where in fact it was a large estate requiring a signed NDA therefore prior research was apparently impossible.

    In fact, in my experience it is somewhat rare that a large estate would hire a recruiter (and potentially a wrong recruiter) who clearly may not have the sophistication to understand both the estate’s position and that of the applicant. Under the circumstances I understand why you handled it the way you did.

  26. @Nic: It’s not so unusual for an organization to hire an inept headhunter. And I’d guess it’s easier for such a small organization to make such a mistake – they buy the idea that someone’s going to do the job for them, without understanding what it really takes or how to judge the headhunter.

  27. @Nick Yes, I agree, especially as you well point out, (and this is a great point you made,) “they buy the idea that someone’s going to do the job for them, without understanding “

  28. Excellent advice, as usual, from Nick.

    @Jane: I respectfully disagree with your advice to go on any/all interviews just you can learn something, get some practice, etc. There are other ways learn things and other ways to get practice. In this case, the candidate is employed with a good job, and was approached by the company, not the other way around. While he didn’t specify WHY he agreed to the interview initially, I suspect it might have been because he was being courted (albeit awkwardly) and because of the “who knows what this might be/where this might lead” thing. Last year, there was a vacancy in my current dept., and they interviewed 6 or 8 people, including 2 internal candidates (one of the internal candidates was hired). One of the non-internal candidates was employed and loved loved LOVED his job and his colleagues. One of my colleagues, who was on the hiring committee, commented later that he was surprised that someone who was already employed full time and loved his job would even bother to interview with, much less apply for, our vacancy. I wasn’t surprised, and could think of reasons why people who are employed full time and happy with their current jobs and colleagues would do this. The main reason (for me) is that you never know when things will change at your current job. Your fantastic, supportive mentor of a boss decides to leave/retire/gets promoted/wins the lottery and suddenly you have a new boss who isn’t so great. Some of those wonderful colleagues might not always be there either, and their replacements might be lazy, gossipy, back-stabbing, ass-kissing troublemakers, leaving you in a toxic work environment. You might even know that your wonderful boss is going to retire in two years, and the person slated to replace him is someone you ran screaming from in a previous job. Sure, you’re content and challenged now, but you know from personal experience that this is not a guarantee that it will last, so when an interesting vacancy pops up, you apply for it and interview for it. You never know, and if you got offered the job and that job looked promising (better pay, more responsibility, move up for you career-wise), you might consider taking it.

    But this is a judgment call, and in this case, the candidate asked some very basic questions that their HR employee could have (SHOULD HAVE) been able to answer, and if not, then the hiring manager could have (SHOULD HAVE) been able to answer them. The fact that neither HR nor anyone else was able or wanted to answer them before the candidate drove out for a face-to-face interview is a huge red flag. These were neither hard nor unreasonable questions to ask beforehand, so my impression is that the employer is either playing games/engaging in power/control trips or is truly an unorganized, unthinking scatterbrain. I wouldn’t want to work under either type.

    Nor were these “gotcha” questions sprung on them at the last minute. The candidate emailed them once, then when time passed and he didn’t receive a reply of any kind, did he reach out again the day of the interview. Perhaps he could have emailed them a second time a little sooner, but I still think he did not commit any faux pas. He was following up, and I think he made the right decision not to waste any more of his time or the employer’s time.

    @Diana: you made excellent points about start-ups that I had not considered. I’ve worked for one start-up, albeit under the umbrella of a much larger organization. You are right–even when you don’t know the exact answer, you can still be honest. Your example with the answer to the travel question is great. You’re still providing an answer to the candidate (yes, there will be travel required, but because we’re growing I can’t tell you much less promise you exactly how much travel the job will entail). Now the ball is in the candidate’s court, and he gets to decide if can live with the ambiguity of the quantity of travel, but at least he has an answer.

    As for salary, that’s different. I would think that even at a start-up, whoever is doing the hiring has some idea of a salary range. Why not make that information available? If it is too low, then the candidate would have self-selected OUT of interviewing. If the range was within what he considered acceptable, then it would be up to him to convince them why he’s worth the higher end of the salary range.

    And as for not even wanting to answer the question in advance re whether the job will be managerial or a hybrid of worker bee/managerial, that too is silly. Whoever decided that the position needed to be filled or even created must have thought of that–either because projects weren’t getting done or because no one was around to oversee the workflow, or some combination of the two (perhaps the manager has to pitch in when there’s a deadline or when someone else is out). Ditto for skills/education/training development budget.

    Kudos to the candidate for asking these questions in advance. Shame on the employer for either playing games or for being so disorganized that he hasn’t thought about these issues himself. The candidate was right to cancel the interview. If the candidate had been unemployed or underemployed, I think it would have been wise to walk away.

  29. I can’t imagine a company not being forthcoming about this information for a candidate. When interviewing candidates, I would hope that they would ask these types of questions as early as possible to avoid wasting anyone’s time (theirs or mine).

    If a company won’t answer these types of easy questions outside of an interview, they are communicating that one of two things (or possibly both) is true: They have something to hide, or they simply can’t or won’t invest time in their people.

  30. Got a good example of foolishness just yesterday. Told me to call them…but it looked like spam. I told them to call me. They sent me a link to a site that said I had to do everything on that list and they DO NOT CALL YOU FIRST EVER. Actually calling this a TEST of how well you follow directions.
    I told them I read their informative directives, and I DECLINED to be interviewed. I thanked them for considering me, however, I didn’t know them, didn’t want to give them my resume’ without some type of proof they were legit. SCAM was written all over this. I’ve been a student of Ask the Headhunter since 1996. I’ve done very well for myself. Learn children–this man’s site is the tool to save you from yourself.

  31. I have always loved my work, and actually regretted regretted my early retirement in Europe.
    Though LinkedIn got in touch with the CEO of a European holding that runs several hotel and tourism-related companies in South America. Just my specialty.
    Silence …..
    Suddenly, several months later, I was invited for an interview in my home country.
    Everything went well. In fact I was asked if I had time to join him on a ‘few days’ trip to one of their South American projects. His idea was to replace at least one of the managers, all posts for which I am qualified.
    I agreed.
    Visa, tickets and accommodation were provided.
    After the first 4 days I was asked if I would mind a few more days.
    Again I agreed.
    During the stay I was asked to attend, as an observer, several meetings with local managers. Otherwise I was mostly ignored. Very little instructions were provided, and all I was able to do was to observe.
    My notes were briefly discussed in private, with the request to email them in a different format. I was asked to contact him upon my return for a briefing. And that was the last discussion we had.
    Not through the CEO but rather through befriended ‘grapevines’ I heard that agreements had been reached with the current managers to stay for another year.
    Formally I was not informed.

    The CEO (and his family and friends) returned on his private jet, and I left next day on the scheduled flight.

    Meanwhile several months have passed. I have, on a regular basis, tried to organize the requested briefing – both by telephone and email. Only after my 3rd attempt, when I explained that I had an overseas appointment that I could not delay again, I received an almost instant response, telling me to go for my meeting, and to contact him after my return.

    Back in the country I, again, tried to schedule a meeting. Zero result.
    I even offered his P.A. a face-saver, by asking as to whether both his emails had, perhaps, been changed ‘as I do not appear to be getting a response’.
    Her excuse was his ‘frequent visits abroad’ but she had ‘made a clear note in his diary on the 5th of next month’.
    That was last month.

    It is obvious that his Doctorate degrees are not in HR, nor in Social and Behavioral Sciences. Or maybe they are.

    Most of the travel expenses (USD 5000!) were covered. Obviously, money isn’t the issue.
    However, I feel that I have ‘wasted’ more than a week of my valuable time and energy to satisfy somebody’s whim.
    It would have been well worth it, if and when I had been offered one of the jobs we have been discussing during the initial interview. But having been totally ignored for several months now, there is something very wrong.
    I am ready to send him an invoice for the hours invested in his project.
    What would you do?


  32. @Peter: I would go back to the beginning of your story and consider how this all started:

    “Though LinkedIn got in touch with the CEO of a European holding… Silence… Suddenly, several months later, I was invited for an interview”

    Then consider the key to this man’s personality: “somebody’s whim”

    I think you have all the pieces. The CEO did not know you, and clearly saw no reason to show you much respect, witness how he treated you while you were visiting. (The LinkedIn connection was almost silly and ill-advised. You might have met him on the street.) It seems he isolated you and kept you on the sidelines. I could be wrong, but I believe he saw you as a serendipitous “option” which in the end he did not need to use. Because there was no substance to your relationship, he dropped you as easily as he “acquired” you.

    What would I do? I’d forget about the whole thing and chalk it up to experience. I’ll also tell you what I would not do: Go running if he calls. In that case, I’d establish some serious hurdles for him to jump before you do anything further, because this guy knows how to use and abuse people. If he doesn’t play more responsibly, I’d dump him like a bad date.

    Now for your final comment: I agree with you. I’d send him an invoice and I would not worry whether it is appropriate. I’d send it soon, and without any suggestion of further dealings. He’s already made it clear that he considers you disposable. That’s rude, unprofessional, and indicative of poor upbringing.

    I’ll be honest with you: You’ve told me enough that I’m comfortable telling you this is someone I wouldn’t even consider working with. Life is to short to waste any of it working with jerks. Move on. I’m sorry to hear you had such an experience.

  33. Nick,

    This is an old article, but I have to say that the cost of interviewing always has to be weighed against the quality of the job (salary, work, supervisor, location, benefits, etc.) and the interviewers.

    I recently opted out of consideration for a job during a phone interview. I spent the bulk of the interview pinning them down on what the role would be, and then asked about salary range. Neither was a good fit. Actually, the salary was 25k less than most other jobs my level. I told them that I am no longer interested and that I think we should respect each other’s time.

    This process would have been painless, if they didn’t reschedule the interview twice beforehand as they did… Or interview me with three arrogant/condescending Gen X program assistants (all spoke with that pretentious vocal fry and uptalk voice that young people use when trying to sound sophisticated) .. all for a job that is woefully underpaid.

    ..and I took a few hours off paid consulting assignments to prepare for this nonsense?

  34. *Gen Y, I meant…

  35. How odd to refuse the questions. Nowadays, I’ve always had companies use a preliminary phone interview to hash out basic details ahead of time. When such prescreening became common, at first I was annoyed, until I saw the advantages of a preview, particularly when travel is needed, after sitting thru several painful in-person interviews that were a complete waste of time and money.

  36. I was searching for information about what to do about a job description that, in my opinion, does not meet the job requirements (namely the number of years of experience seems way too low) and found this very good read. I think you should follow your gut when you are questioning whether you should go on an interview or not. Like so many people have said, don’t waste your time.

    @LDellL I am going to use your advice on Friday and ask “What kind of employee does well at this company?” Could go to culture which is a very hard thing to get at in an interview

  37. This company is odd, because almost everyplace else I’ve interviewed the last 25 years did an initial phone screen to iron out preliminaries. At first this annoyed me as yet another unnecessary hurdle, but after several fruitless interviews I began to prefer it. Especially when travel is needed.

    • Now I don’t know how I missed my earlier comment that replicated this one. I had a feeling of deja vu when writing it. I’m starting to repeat myself like my parents. I swore I would never do that.

  38. I’m a former HR specialist myself, and I get contacted by recruiters and company HR people a lot. I’ve learned from experience that there are certain questions I absolutely MUST ask before I agree to an interview. Some things are deal-breakers for me; because of my personal health situation, mandatory overtime is one.

    If a prospective employer has a problem with my asking specific questions about a job, or won’t provide responses to my questions, that’s not somewhere I’d ever want to work. Fortunately I’ve had a couple of recruiters who appreciated that I asked those questions–because the fit had to be right for both the company and me.