In the June 7, 2016 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job seeker expects more from employers.
When a company wants to interview me, I apply your advice and try to exert some control by asking that the hiring manager be present at my first interview. I think it’s inappropriate for an employer to ask me to invest hours of my time without that manager present. It worked recently with a small advertising company, and it actually helped the two-way respect, and I felt more confident talking about the role and compensation.
But, what to do when it’s a large conglomerate, like an Apple or GE? I’m in the hiring process with two large companies (not those) and the process has been difficult and very drawn out. While I’m sure these companies have their reasons for doing it this way, it seems to be a waste of time. I guess you always have to be prepared to walk away. Any advice?
Good for you for pressing to have the hiring manager in the interview when you can! I’m glad you’ve seen it will work to your advantage.
Even if the outcome is that the manager rejects you, at least it’ll be early in the process and you won’t have to waste more time, and at least the rejection will come from the person in charge of the job — not some personnel jockey who doesn’t understand you or the work.
At larger companies, the problem (as you note) is that the hiring process is more rigidly structured. It’s hard to get them to do anything different — like let you meet the manager immediately. While a company may have its reasons, it’s still disrespectful and a waste of time for the applicant to get assessed by someone other than the hiring manager.
And again, you’re right – you must decide whether to walk away.
Finesse the encounter
This is where judgment and finesse come into play. If you really want to work at a company, and there’s no getting around their system, you must decide whether it’s worth the risk you’re taking by complying with a process that isn’t to your advantage. But I don’t think it’s prudent to make a binary decision: Should I comply, or should I walk away? I think it’s a matter of degree:
- How much control should you concede to the employer?
- At what point do you draw a line?
- When do you walk away?
If you keep your wits about you, it’s also a matter of negotiation. It may be worth playing by some of their rules:
- How flexible are they?
- What concessions can you get in return for complying with parts of their process?
- What advantage can you gain?
- Perhaps most important, what can you learn from this initial give and take?
Collect some data
This is where getting recruited becomes fun. What should you ask for before you enter the lion’s den? You’re not required to attend an interview just because an employer asks. So collect some data points that will help you judge the employer!
- You’ve already taken one important step: Ask to have the hiring manager present. All they can do is say no.
- If the first interview will be with HR, ask when will the manager be involved? That is, when will you meet the manager? Get a commitment.
- What’s the hiring manager’s name? It will be to your advantage to look the manager up on LinkedIn prior to your meeting. (Or, Get the manager’s resume before you interview for the job.)
- What are the three main objectives of the interview? That is, what’s the employer looking for? (They likely can’t tell you, because hiring is haphazard in most companies.)
- What are the three key things they want a new hire to accomplish in the first six to twelve months on the job? (Again, they probably don’t know — but it’s worth asking and it’s to your advantage to know.)
- Get anything that helps you judge the employer and prepare for the first interview.
You might even go this far: Ask this question before you agree to an interview.
Judge the employer
As we’ve said, you’re not going to get all these concessions or information. But this preliminary negotiation is chock full of value. It’s partly to improve your chances in a job interview, but it’s also partly to test the employer. Yes — to test the employer. Some interviews are bad for you. Is this one of them?
- Do this employer know what it’s doing? (See What’s up with clueless interviewers?)
- Will they make some concessions to demonstrate respect to you — because they really want to interview you?
- Or, does it turn out you’re just a piece of meat – and they won’t compromise on anything at all?
There are many ways to test employers, to push the boundaries, and to gather useful data before you invest time in lengthy interviews:
- “How to pick worthy companies” — pp. 10-12
- “Is this a Mickey Mouse operation?” — pp. 13-15
- “Scuttlebutt: Get the truth about private companies” — pp. 22-24
- “Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer” — pp. 11-12
- “Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it” — pp. 23-25
- “Judge the manager” — pp. 26-28
Every concession an employer agrees to or declines early in the process tells you something — it’s a useful data point or signal you can use to your advantage.
Is this “opportunity” really good for you?
When I “go along” because I want a gig (with a new client, for example), I never forget that I’m looking for compromises. If I’m the only one compromising, if I’m the only one who’s agreeable, then I’ll probably be taken advantage of in the end. So, I keep testing, I keep probing, I keep asking, and I keep track of whether and how the other party will bend for my benefit.
Give and take is all part of a good relationship, and you need to know as early as possible what the other guy is willing to do for you. If the employer tells you the application and interview process is “their way or the highway,” then hop the nearest bus.
I think you have it right: Be ready to walk away, but be prudent. Even big companies will sometimes flex when they encounter a candidate they are really interested in. If you haven’t inspired that kind of desire in an employer, then why bother with the process at all? Do you really want to be another beggar at the door?
Make reasonable requests to gain some advantage. And don’t stop too early. For everything they refuse, have another request – and see if they try to meet you somewhere in the middle. That’s the sign of a company that may be worth it, even if their process is clunky.
The reader follows up
Thanks for your response and advice. It’s definitely tough to know when to push boundaries at the biggest companies, but I really liked how you put it: At minimum, test the process a little and collect data points. This is the first time I’ve gone through the hiring process completely solo.
A big thing that I’ve learned is that every step and decision tells you something important about your relationship with that potential employer. It can be hard to understand what’s going on and to capture all the lessons as you move through the process, but your site has been really great in demonstrating how much strategy is involved at almost every step. It has really helped me be mindful of things I would have never considered. Keep it up!
Like my old mentor used to say, Use your judgment every step of the way, and do the best you can. And in the end, make choices — don’t let the other guy make them for you.
One of my favorite quotes is from Henri Frederic Amiel:
“To be always ready, a man [or woman] must be able to cut a knot; for everything cannot be untied.”
It’s easy for people to get so caught up with “trying to win” at the interview game that they lose sight of the larger objective: to get a good job, the right job, working with good people in a good company, where future prospects are good. They’re so busy trying to satisfy the employer’s demands that they lose sight of their own needs. Then they get tied up in knots before they realize they’re in a bad situation.
Yes, be ready to walk away, but after you try to get your way, too. I admire your fortitude!
Do you know when to push back on the employment process? Or are you afraid you’ll anger the Interview Gods? What requirements do you make of the employer before you invest your time in interviews? If you just take any interview offered (Hey, I’m not ragging on you) — what problems have you encountered?