21 Jul 'Don't work here' job interviews set new Midwest technology trend
CHICAGO—Something new is happening in American business.
I call it the “humanizing factor” at work. A lot of things are still wretchedly out of whack about the corporate world and the behavior of people in it, but in little ways, people are starting to act more and more like regular people at work (sometimes when you least expect it).
Right here in the Midwest technology industry, we have two recent examples of the HF in action.
A friend goes on a job interview for a medical technology company. She’s trying to get an e-learning developer job there. She has a great interview, but after 45 minutes, the interviewer says to her: “You seem like a great person. What do you know about the culture here? What makes you want to work here?”
My friend is taken aback. This line of questioning is a bit alarming. She wants to respond: “Do nice people generally not want to work here?”
Instead, she answers without addressing the strange way the question was worded. The interviewer presses on and outlines the cutthroat culture of the company and the way people tend to work in it (people are withholding information from one another and becoming territorial).
My friend figures this is a stealthy part of the interview technique that seeks to learn how candidates will react to curve balls (and how they’d approach adversity in general).
This isn’t the case. The interviewer finally shares the information that she’s job hunting herself, she’s burned out on the company environment and she’d hate to be the one responsible for my friend going to work at that company and having the same thing happen to her.
Ouch! Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall of the CEO’s office while an audiotape of that interview is playing? It’s a double tragedy: you’ve got one alienated employee in the position of interviewing a talented potential hire! With this dynamic in place, you’re definitely not going to hire the cream of the crop.
My friend ended up thanking her lucky stars that she got such a forthcoming interviewer. In her heart of hearts, she also wondered whether the woman was simply having a bad day or was stuck in a bad department and whether the job was bound to be so terrible after all.
Anyway, she knew she wouldn’t get an offer. For compassionate reasons, she was out of the running.
Our other HF illustration comes from a related situation. I put my friend, Will, in touch with a start-up firm in which he had expressed interest. I met a guy who worked at this firm and he offered to have an informal coffee with him.
The start-up happened to have a job opening that was almost a perfect match for Will’s background, but at this coffee, Todd talked him out of his interest. The company isn’t fun, Todd confessed. He added: “I’m sorry I came to work here. You’d hate it. Stay where you are. In fact, if you go to a better company, let me know.”
I really love the fact that people are being so honest with complete strangers, but on behalf of these employers, these stories kill me! When the environment is so toxic that you can’t even encourage people to work there and you can’t even be neutral, I’m not sure you should be interviewing in the first place.
An informal coffee is one thing, but if the company is paying you to interview people, don’t you have to finally step up to telling someone that you may not be the person to do that because of some unresolved issues you have?
Where’s the high moral ground here: to interview people as part of your job responsibility and warn them away (unbeknownst to your manager) like cops at an accident scene, to simply quit your job or to decline to be part of the interview process until certain issues are addressed? That’s a tough one.
The HF is a significant part of this phenomenon.
Years ago, job interviews were conducted in such a formal way that it would have been hard to build the kind of rapport in less than an hour that would drive an employee to take a risk like that. Theoretically, you could lose your job for discouraging a qualified candidate to turn and run from a job opportunity.
It’s great to see people behaving more like people on the job (even at their own peril). It’s just a shame to see it happen covertly so the real problems that exist don’t get addressed.
If some of these stay-away interviewers instead took the view that smart, assertive and forward-looking people better the company’s environment, maybe they could repopulate the place with a more proactive and healthy crowd. Maybe that’s just a Pollyanna viewpoint.
Fish tend to rot from the head and companies are the same way. At least if there were a quorum of with-it people in an otherwise toxic environment, though, they could band together and attack some of the issues.
Anyway, we view it as part of our mission here at Nine2Five to spot these trends and report them to you. So be alert, job hunters, for the “don’t work here” interview! Ask a lot of questions about the culture.
Interviewers who wouldn’t go out on a limb (to the extent of warning you away from the job) may still answer honestly when you ask them how well and how easily people communicate. They may also describe the level of trust inside the company, reveal any ongoing interdepartmental tensions and explain the personality of the CEO.
If you feel you’re being warned away, what do you do?
One tip is to use a resource like ChicWIT (Nine2Five readers know I’m involved with this group). It’s free and is full of great information so you can learn more about any company where you’re interviewing.
If you go back for a second interview, ask the interviewer: “What about me? From the time we’ve spent together so far, do I seem like a fit for this culture? What questions would you have about me fitting in here?”
If you feel you’re being warned away from a job and you subsequently get a job offer, does it ever make sense to take the job anyway? I’d say yes in any of these cases:
Your read of the interviewer is that while the culture may be challenging, the issues she’s talking about or the stress she’s experiencing is more rooted in her than in the overall culture.
There are extenuating circumstances – perhaps you’ve worked with several of the company’s principals at other jobs – that would put you in a better position to both survive and potentially help remedy the unhealthy issues in the company.
You’re going to run HR in the company. HR leaders are supposed to fix cultural problems. Unless the board is under indictment or the CEO is unethical (or both), you may feel up for this sort of challenge.
What about the “lighthouse interviewer” who tries to signal ships like you away from the rocks? I would never bust that person. If you don’t take the job, don’t throw stones and hurt someone who was only trying to help you. If you do take the job, stay in touch with that person and use her as a resource (and be a resource to her, too).
Together, maybe you can make a difference and get back to interviewing people without the doom-and-gloom scenario.
Liz Ryan is the founder of ChicWIT (Chicago Women in Technology) and founder of WorldWIT (World Women in Technology). She can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column Nine2Five, which appears on ePrairie every Friday, is designed to keep you up to date with career trends and advice related to working and managing organizations in the post-bubble technology world. This article has been syndicated on the Wisconsin Technology Network courtesy of ePrairie, a user-driven business and technology news community distributed via the Web, the wireless Web and free daily e-mail newsletters.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of the Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.