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Monday, September 21, 2009

interviewing with a company that doesn't know what it wants

A reader writes:

I'm in a bit of a post-interview limbo. After a month had passed on submitting an application, I received an out-of-the-blue phone interview (with HR) and an immediate scheduling for 5 hours (with 10 people!!) in-house interview.

I was sick the day of the in-house, but I medicated and prepared to try my best (I also, respectfully, declined hand-shakes). They all seemed nice, but it was quickly revealed that I was their first interview for this position. Furthermore, it was a technology position they had never done in-house before, and it appeared that they had little idea how to choose a good candidate.

Since some of the prospective tasks they mentioned for this position were, quite honestly, incomprehensibly large for a one-person job--I took a rather honest approach in my interview. I mentioned that, if I was hired, it would require some significant setup to get going. I also mentioned that the position sounded much higher level then what the ad suggested (I went in thinking it was a middle management position in an existing division, and it turned out it was a non-existent division which they were looking for a new hire to create). Frankly, I'm just out of grad school, and it would be shocking to have to put together an entire division with my limited experience (and a bit mind-boggling that they thought I could). I like challenges, really, but knowing the scope of technological expertise it takes to pull something like that off...I think I would be sorely short-handed.

There was also a weird moment in the interview when I was directly asked to reveal who I was interviewing for (note: I declined to respond with names, just made an ambiguous statement: "some other local industries and non-profits").

Other then these rather large points of concern, I felt that I reasonably communicated my abilities and how I could be useful to the company. I also tried to show them what could be done with the talents I had. Furthermore, I really liked the fit of the people I would be working with, and see a lot of interesting learning opportunities for me. After the interview, the HR person left me with a serious impression that I'd get a hiring notice the following week.

However, that didn't happened.

I was contacted post-interview, and the HR representative informed me that I was "still in the running" but they were looking at "other candidates." Since, I was the first that they interviewed, they wanted to try a few more and see how I "measured up." She emphasized that she'd like to be updated if any other companies made me an offer, and...that was it.

So, yeah. Very weird response, I thought. I'm use to a straight "yes" or "no"...not a "maybe." I really have no idea how to respond to this, or if I should even bother calling them back (my friends say this was a very unprofessional interview, since they clearly didn't know what they were hiring for, and they asked me to reveal my interviewing companies).

Any thoughts?

Yes. You don't want this job. You may not know it, but you don't. Although actually it sounds like you do know it.

They don't really know what they want. You think you'd be in over your head. They don't sound like they're equipped to make a sound decision on whether you're right for the job or not. And it sounds like they wouldn't give you the resources you'd need to do the job well.

This has all the makings for a disaster, and the last thing you need in your first job right out of a school is a disaster. If you're set up to fail, it can still look a lot like your fault to outside observers. You don't need that.

Regarding the HR person's response that they're looking for other candidates but want to know if you get any other offers -- each of those things are fine on their own, but I'm not crazy about combining them. So they're looking at other candidates; that's fine. People look at other candidates. They should give you some idea of their timeline for making a decision about you, but okay, not completely weird. But then you throw in "let us know if you get another offer," and the picture becomes murkier. That's what you ask a candidate to do when you're really interested in them and want to have a chance to make them an offer yourself before another company snatches them up. They're mixing their signals a bit, and I suspect it's because they don't know what they're doing.

I'd run.


Anonymous said...


Okay. Fair point (I would be lying if I told you I didn't a point). However there is another side...

Even with my tech are kinda empty in my field and that grad school deal of mine came with loans that must be repaid (like now).

So, the other factor is that I've been working for a year (since grad school) in an academic research position. The nature of academic grants and bankrupt states has affected this jobs stability. So, not only am I looking for something new (a bit anxiously), I'm also pretty use to the bad situation now. I'm definitely not able to work at the rate of 10 people, but I can probably handle 5 (wouldn't be that different from the current deal)...

Oh yeah, and it would pay significantly better...

Still think no...and run?


Anonymous said...

Why not write up your own job description with a detailed business plan, goals, and objectives? Set your own milestones, propose a budget. Go back to them with a plan. They don't know what they want. Perhaps some leadership on your part will motivate them to action.

For your part, you can't lose. If they buy it, you've just landed a dream job (because you defined the job description and all the relevant variables). If they decline, you're no worse off.

And, there may be another option. They may counteroffer and want to negotiate some of the terms you've outlined. In that case, you've moved from from inertia to action.

Anonymous said...

That seems a bit awkward to do right now....can I do that? It's pro-active, and I like that, but I have no clue how to proceed with such a forward move.

I did get responses back from my follow-up letters (thank you's and so forth)...should I maybe email this business plan to them (and not the HR person?).

Anonymous said...

Would AAM ever steer us wrong? Please listen to her sound advice. Keep looking and politely decline if they offer you the position right now. Maybe in a year or so they will have a better idea of what they need and you’ll have a better chance of success then.

Anonymous said...

Didn't say AAM was wrong, just curious about alternatives. I instinctively am aware of the fall outs here.

...It's easy to say 'keep looking' when there isn't a plethora of opportunities out there...this isn't a job market for picky people.

Hank Hill said...

Hey OP- Why the hell would you write in and ask AAM a question, then ask more questions of the posters if you're not going to listen? It sounds like you wanted AAM to tell you that it was a great idea to take this job and that you'll do wonderfully. When that didn't happen, you asked again and still didn't like the answer.

And if you can't show some initiative at this stage of the process, how will you ever be a business leader? You sound like a babe in the woods.

All you've done is reinforce what AAM told you- this isn't the job for you.

Anonymous said...


That seems a bit uncalled for.

There are exactly two questions written by me (one for AAM and another for a poster) in this forum. Apparently, taken from your dramatic response, 1 question qualifies me as "[asking] more questions of the posters"? Even if that question was regarding clarification of poster's advice?

Sure, you can assume all you want about my intentions (which you are wrong about) and my ability to handle difficult job situations (which you are ALSO very wrong about too). But those are just assumptions.

Fact is this: I am asking questions to get the most informed advice possible. That's called research. Only people I've ever met that have a problem with research are people who have problems with (or simply cannot) 'back up their stories'. Also, who relies on the advice of one person when there is a forum of experts to consult instead?

Just asking.


Rachel - I Hate HR said...

I've found that when positions are rushed into being created they do not last long. The people and the positions.

Greg said...

Reality is many employers do NOT know what they want when it comes to creating a position.

Look at many job descriptions. How many of them clearly state what you will be expected to do and in what timeframe(s)?

Conversely, how many of them have all these "required skills" without any indication of how you will use those on the job? Furthermore, will they welcome anyone who can do those jobs without those must-have's? The answer is "Most Likely Not" especially if the resume scanning is done by machine.

Greg said...

RE: research

That's a funny one.

That's what employers claim they want from job candidates. They cry when saying nobody bothers RESEARCHing their company any more before applying, that they didn't read the company's Web site, etc.

Well, guess what's happened? Some job candidates do indeed engage in RESEARCH. Yes, they do so much RESEARCH that actually exceeds the knowledge held by the company's current workers and management. Instead of seeing the RESEARCH as an asset, they see it as a threat. They know they never did all that RESEARCH to get a job, and the last thing they want is someone who'll make them look bad.

So now on to that question about emailing that business proposal. Why don't you RESEARCH how they want it? Or better yet, in this faceless Facebookular age, what about presenting it in person?

Ask a Manager said...

What is up with everyone being so cranky?

Hank Hill said...

Because we're all unemployed or stuck in crap jobs and it sucks. So we bitch at people on your blog. At least, that's my reason.

Ask a Manager said...

Well Hank, could you ... not? This was actually a pretty friendly place until a few days ago when you started posting semi-antagonistic stuff. I understand being frustrated by unemployment, but I don't want it changing the reception people get here.

Hank Hill said...

You know, I was about to post something shithead about how the internet is for trolling (and porn), except you asked nicely- something that doesn't usually happen.

I'll stop, even if it means letting idiots post unmolested.

Anonymous said...

The OP is in a tough spot but if they take this job that spot will turn into a stain.

If the company doesn't know what they want you can't win. They've set you up to fail right from the start.

BTDT,unclear job = stress, frustration, paranoia, unrealistic expectations, everything dumped on you, everything needs to be done NOW and a boss that you can never please.

End result> I took another job days before I figured I would be fired. I worked 60-70 hours per week there, managing to stay afloat doing 3+jobs and anything, everything additional duties as assigned, with little training or guidance. They didn't know what they wanted before or after I started.

If I went left instead of right everything got blamed on me.

They thought so much of me I could work at the office 10 hours a day, and from home 24/7/365. My job was not an on call type of job.

In hindsight, this job title on my resume should probably read "scapegoat".

AAM's "run" take is spot on. Either run or use them until something better comes up.

Interviewer said...

OP, please know that when a position or a division is created in an existing company, there should be a clear plan to integrate your role and your division into both the company's processes and culture. It sounds like they haven't thought that far ahead, and that spells disaster for anyone who starts in that position, full of hopes & dreams of making it big in the corporate world. Count on resentment from the people who suddenly have to report to you, or have their work routed to you for approval, or consider you as an obstacle because you know so very little about the company and their processes. It will take a lot of time and energy to convince them otherwise.

When AAM says run, she doesn't mean, "run, but if you're having a hard time finding anything else, by all means stick around" - she means run. So do I.

This will only end badly, guaranteed. The only "research" left for you to do is further job hunting.

Good luck to you.

TBA said...

I am in a similar position, and I am glad, OP, that you posted, because the feedback has helped me make my decision.

I believe if you really need the money, you can be backed into taking the job until something else comes along...but you sound like a bright chap (or chappy), and if you're not desperate for an income, you could find yourself in a situation where you have a short stint at a company; you resent the job, people and company - is that soemthing you want on your resume, and something you want to have to explain to the next employer who may be ideal for you for any reason other than you need the money? I say hold out for a better offer...that's what I am doing...

Anonymous said...


I know that you would love to take the job as a quick fix for now, but honestly let this "opportunity" go and move on. Money is not everything, trust me, I have made this mistake. You may not see it now, but you will be a much happier person in the long run waiting for something that is a better fit instead of bitter that you took something that you "thought" would be promising and pay the bills.

Good luck!

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