Dear Liz, I read your columns and they give me a lot of encouragement. I have noticed that when I don’t feel good about a job opportunity, if I ignore my gut and take the job anyway it never works out. That’s why I’m being much more sensitive now to the signals that I pick up on job interviews. I went on a job interview last week with a local high tech company. They are not a startup. They have about 500 employees. The company’s reputation is that there are some smart people there and you can learn a lot, but also that they don’t do a great job of valuing either their employees or people who apply to work there. This was my first experience visiting the folks at “ABC Inc.” They told me my interview would start a 10 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. and they would provide lunch. The interviews started a half hour late, but I have seen that kind of thing before and it didn’t faze me. At noon I was in a conference room with three managers. We were having a great conversation about executive decision-making tools. That’s what they were considering hiring me to create for them. One of the interviewers asked the others, “Did anyone order lunch?” and no one knew. The main interviewer left the conference room and came back in three minutes later with a plate of old bagels left over from a morning meeting, with cream cheese smeared on the plate and wet napkins. He put the plate of old bagels on the table and said, “I guess that’s lunch!” One of the other fellows picked up a bagel and said, “They’re stale, and there’s no cream cheese or anything to put on them,” and that was that. There was no more mention of food. My stomach grumbled during the meeting and that went unremarked. I should have spoken up but socially I wasn’t sure how to do it. The disgusting bagel plate that should have been in the trash sat in front of us throughout the 90-minute meeting. Then at 1:15 p.m., when we were wrapping up that meeting, the two other interviewers said to the main interviewer, “We’re going out to lunch now. Do you want us to bring anything back?” Foolishly I thought they were taking me out to lunch. The two interviewers left the conference room without asking me “Should we bring you something back?” and the primary interviewer got on his phone to check messages. We sat there like that for 15 minutes — me sitting like a lump in my chair and him checking messages. Then the main interviewer left and another woman came in and said “I will introduce you to your 1:30 p.m. interviewer now.” I said, “Gee, I’ve been here since 10:00 a.m. Is there a way for us to grab some lunch?” She looked at me like I was crazy. “Your HR person’s email told me to expect lunch, so I didn’t have much breakfast and now I’m hungry,” I said. “Let me ask my manager,” she said. She walked away and left me standing in the hallway. After five minutes she came back and said, “I don’t think I can place an order for delivery for just one lunch.” I thanked her for her time and I walked out of the building. I haven’t heard a peep from “ABC Inc.” since then. I hope you will agree that I did the right thing in leaving. I don’t want to be a prima donna (male version) in my job search, but I can’t imagine working around people who would behave so rudely. What do you think? Thanks, Nevil
Dear Nevil, A lot of people are not tuned in. They are not tracking with the activity around them. For your purposes it doesn’t matter whether we call the interviewers’ shocking behavior rudeness, cluelessness or a combination of the two. You can’t work with these people, and you did the right thing getting out of that recruiting pipeline! The funny part is that work itself is a problem-solving activity. The idea is that we run into and surmount bigger and bigger problems at work all the time. Your interviewers ran into a tiny problem (someone forgot to order lunch) and they were incapable of solving it. Somebody could have told your 1:30 p.m. interviewer to do the interview over lunch. Somebody could have called the deli at noon and ordered sandwiches. Somebody could have run down to the corner store and picked something up for you. Whether it’s bad manners or merely a severe case of disconnectedness from the real world, your interviewers behaved abysmally. You were mistreated that day and had no reason to keep standing in the hallway waiting for more abuse to be piled on top of you. You deserve better. Thank God those people showed you how they operate before you took the job, rather than after you started! Lots of companies are well-run and happy places, but lots of others are full of confused and misguided people who couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag. The image of the leftover bagels with cream cheese smeared on the plate sitting in front of you during your 90-minute discussion is so horrific that I hardly know what to say. By walking away from that undeserving crew, you have invited something much cooler and more interesting into your sphere. Write and tell us what it is when it shows up — I predict it won’t take long! Best, Liz
What intrigued me when I first saw this article was I actually walked out of two interviews as well. It is important to remember that when looking for employment, it is a mutual relationship. Although the perspective employer may hold a bit of an upper hand (since they have to make you an offer before you choose to either accept or decline), you have to feel comfortable in the decision as well.
My first departure took place while I was working at PAX-TV. Working for a broadcast network, especially while it was first starting up, was an invaluable experience that has helped to mold me into the producer I am today. I loved all the people I worked with, but this type of production was not really my calling in life. PAX-TV was located in West Palm Beach, and of course all the other broadcast networks were based in L.A. and in New York. It seemed as if being a Network Writer/Producer automatically put you on some kind of telemarking list. I was getting several unsolicited calls every week for broadcasting jobs all over the state of Florida. I would go on some of these interviews from time-to-time, but the risk/reward of switching jobs was never worth it. On afternoon, I got a call from one of the famous three-letter cable networks that is in the business of selling merchandise on the air. They were located in Clearwater, and were looking to hire a producer to launch a new sports division. The salary was actually a little more than what I was getting at PAX-TV, and they offered to put me up in a really nice hotel for the night. Not that I really wanted to move to the west coast of Florida, I decided to make the trip anyway.
I took Glenda and Lindsey with me, and we decided to make it a very brief mini-vacation. I got to the “campus” at 7:30 am, and proceeded to have a series of very enjoyable tours and interviews. My family was stuck at the hotel without a car, but made good use of the pool and the shopping nearby. I was treated to a great lunch, and was really feeling good about this place. It was now around 1:30 pm, and I figured we would be wrapping things up. I mean, what else was there to do? A representative from human resources told me that the president of the company wanted to speak with me personally, and he would be there shortly. We obviously had different perspectives on the term “shortly,” as I sat in a waiting room for more than an hour, and still no president. Glenda called me to find out when we would be leaving, as she and Lindsey were getting bored. The HR person who had been showing me around finally waltzed in to tell me that the president could not see me until 4:30 pm. I let her know that it was a four-hour drive to get home, and had to be at work early the next day. She apologized for the inconvenience, and said she would check if the president had an opening he could fit me in earlier. She returned 45 minutes later to inform me that he needed to push our meeting back to 5:30 pm. This only added insult to injury, and I decided to cut my losses. I told her that I truly appreciated the opportunity to interview for this position, but it was not fair to my family to keep them held hostage at the hotel any longer. I was never told at any point in time just how long the interview process would take. Her face got really red, and her tone took a turn for the nasty. She said to me “Well… you know…If you don’t speak with him today, it really hurts your chances on getting this job. Especially since we invested so much time and effort with you.” I politely thanked her, and said I could not wait around any longer. As I made my way to the parking lot, she came running after me to say that the president was able to “conveniently” clear his schedule, and he could see me now. I met with the guy for around ten minutes, but the damage had already been done.
My second exodus took place when I was about three years into my tenure at Miami Dade College. I was not looking to leave the school, but a job posting in the “newspaper” caught my eye. It was for a public education television network, located in Broward County. They were looking for someone to direct their television shows. Since I was currently teaching “TV Directing” at MDC, I figured why not apply? If they would be willing to pay me on the high end of the salary range, it would be worth the jump. In addition, the State of Florida was the employer for both this job and my job at MDC, so my benefits would transfer over.
I got to the interview early, and was greeted immediately with the information that the interviews were running TWO HOURS LATE! To make matters worse, I was asked to sign a piece of paper acknowledging that although a salary range had been posted, the network was looking to pay more towards the low end. I learned a valuable lesson that day in terms of the educational system: The most qualified candidate is not always the person they hire if they can get someone for less money. Once the sticker shock sank in, I knew I could not afford to take this job. I decided to stick around and go through with the interview, since I really had nothing else to do that day. The waiting room started to fill up with perspective hopefuls, but many of them bolted and did not want to invest in a two-hour wait. As we struck up conversations, it became obvious (to me as least) that I was the most qualified candidate in the room. I assured my compadres that I had no intention in taking the job.
I was eventually called into the interview, and was greeting by a committee of eight people. The interview was going well (as almost all my interviews do), and I was enjoying the opportunity to brush up on my interviewing skills without the usual pressure. However, this all came to a crashing halt right at the end. As we were wrapping up, one of the interviewers asked me, “Do you think you are qualified to direct our TV shows?” I thought this was a really stupid question, but responded politely by saying “Yes I do, especially since I teach TV Directing at Miami Dade College.” HIs comeback almost knocked me out of my chair. Feeling full of himself, he said “With all due respect, directing shows at a community college is nothing like directing shows at this network.” What a pompous idiot! Even if I really wanted this job, I knew right than and there what I a low opinion they had of both the educational program at MDC and of me as a director. With nothing to lose, I stood up, stared the guy directly in the eyes, and said in my best badass voice, “With all due respect, I work with a crew with little or no experience. Since your crew is filled with seasoned professionals, directing a production at Miami Dade College is infinitely harder than anything you could ever throw at me.” It goes without saying, you could hear a pin drop after I delivered that pipe-bomb. I thanked them for their time, and walked out of the room.
Needless to say, I was not offered the position.