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Friday, October 15, 2010

is this job going to be a nightmare?

A reader writes:

I applied for a position that looked great on paper - the organization, job duties, position, etc. I sent my cover letter and resume and within a week I had a call-back. I did a phone interview with one of my potential co-workers about my skills, salary expectations, and experience. Then, I was invited in to do a HR interview with a computer test before I met my potential co-workers and boss in-person.

The HR interview and computer test went well - no complaints. I was given the full job description packet, which had more detail about the position. Again, everything looked great and concise on paper. I then met with two potential co-workers for a face-to-face interview before I could meet with the actual boss. I felt as if the entire position had done a 180 on me. The two women had little information about the position and often contradicted what would be expected of me. They kept saying vague things such as "this position still needs to be defined" and "we need someone who is flexible." I assumed at this point that they were simply disorganized and perhaps new at interviewing. They assured me that the boss would have more information about the position.

A week later, I went in to meet with the boss. She talked at long detail about herself and how busy she was - how involved she was in different projects, what her weekly schedule looks like, etc. I tried to keep the interview on track by asking about the job duties and what the most important aspects of the position were. Again, I was met with more confusion and contradictions. Afterwards, I met with the first 2 people for another interview and some written exercises. I left confused again, and ever since then I have had this bad feeling in my stomach I shouldn't take the job if offered to me.

I was told that they would be making the final decision this week. However, I received an e-mail today stating that a completely different person wants a phone interview with me tomorrow. I was told that this person was in my job description and was mentioned to me previously. She was not. I have no idea who this person is or what my job relationship would be with her.

My question is - Is this job worth taking? Or am I creating unnecessary problems for myself? In this economy, and being a recent college graduate, I want to have a job. I want to work. However, this position seems highly inconsistent and I can't shake this feeling that it may be more trouble than it's worth. I'm not sure what I should do if offered this job.

It's not always a terrible thing to walk into a situation that's relatively undefined and to help define it. Sometimes it can be a great opportunity, in fact, because you can help mold the role and wear hats you might not have had a chance to wear otherwise -- and other times it can be a nightmare.

What you don't want to do is accept this job without asking a lot of questions. Things you want to know:

* While the job is still somewhat undefined, what's the range of areas it could end up encompassing?
* What will the process be for figuring that out, and what factors will come into play? What's the likely timeline for figuring it out? 
* What are the challenges and obstacles they're running into as they try to develop the role? (There must be some or it would be done by now.)
* Are there any directions the role might end up going in that you wouldn't be well-qualified for?
* What's the thinking behind hiring for the role now, before it's been fully defined? Are they looking for someone who can help in that process (or have they just not thought through how they're going about this)?

You want to go about this in a way that's collaborative and friendly, expressing sincere interest in getting a better handle on what to expect. You don't want to make them feel like you're passing judgment on them for being disorganized or contradictory (even if you are). But you do need to gather this information before you make any decisions. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that interviewing is a one-way street; you need to interview them right back.

Once you have this information, then you can decide if this is a situation you want to take on.

One other note: I'm a big, big believer in listening to your gut, so if you're still feeling dread after getting more information, pay attention to that. But get your gut some more information first.


Kathy said...

The part of this job that you said you liked were related to what the organization & position looked like on paper. You also liked the HR interview & computer test portion. Most likely, you will not be working with HR and the computer...and anything can look good on paper!

The coworkers and boss are the ones you'd be with on a daily basis and they are the ones that gave you the red flag feelings.

I guess it depends on your tolerance for risk: if you have a high tolerance for risk that this could turn out to be a great opportunity, then you might go for it. But you said a few times that you just have a bad feeling. Like AAM said, gut feelings are pretty accurate.

Good people have options in good times and in bad - don't settle if you're questioning it at this phase.

Joey said...

I have a slightly different take although don't get your hopes up until you have an offer in hand. This is typical of why job seekers get frustrated. Becuase this company doesn't have their crap together my advice is to ask as much info as you can about expectations, responsibilities, etc. If all of your questions aren't answered and you still have some gut issues accept it if the pay is right. I mean what's the worst that can happen. You get paid for a while and you always have a legitimate, understandable reason why it didn't work out- the job wasn't what you thought it would be. If you accept you'll at least hav given it a shot. In this environment you need as many shots as you can get.

Mike said...

Why is it that so many companies can't get their act together? I mean this not as a complaint, but an actual question here.

I hear so many complaints about government red tape this and lack of qualified candidates that, but it appears to me that many times a company is it's own worst enemy.

Anonymous said...

I had an interview process like this before. I really needed a job and was excited to be considered...

Then the interviews took place. For every manager I talked too they had a different idea of what the role was. Then I asked about tasking...such as who would ultimately task me and who's tasking held the most weight.

Even in a room together the managers bickered about the tasking. Although I needed the job, I politely declined the position when offered it.

I am glad I did, turns out the person hired before me left after a few months and so did the person they hired when I declined. It took them over a year to define the position before hiring again.

Anonymous said...

I'm not clear on who the 2nd phone interview is with. Is this a future peer, hiring manager or someone that knows the ins and outs of the job?

This late interview could be a sign they're going out of their way to answer your job specific questions. Or they're really driving home the point they've got time wasting down to an art.

If this were me on a 2nd phone interview I wouldn't let 2 sentences go by without asking who they are, what they do, and their role in this job and hiring process. Then I'd jump right into job specific details.

Again, there's an outside chance they're going out of their way to make sure you're just as interested in the job as they are in you. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I wish you the best. However, as someone who is STILL recovering from a horrible job experience two years later, please listen to your gut! I had a gut feeling and ignored it. I now know how important it is to listen to your instincts. Please let us know what happens!

Anna said...

I'm also a huge believer in listening to your gut. A little disorganization can be normal; this amount of disorganization and contradiction sends up a red flag.

If after getting additional information, you still don't feel comfortable, I'd suggest listening to your instincts and declining the position.

Anonymous said...

If it were me, I'd run far away.

Probably the information HR gave you was just inaccurate because they are HR and not in the department so don't have first hand knowledge of the position. But I still wouldn't want to get involved with the situation.

JC said...

I'm the original "question asker" and I want to say thank you for answering my question. Thank you to everyone who responded as well. I really appreciate it!

Luckily, I caught your post before my phone interview. I was able to write down some of your question suggestions and I was better prepared for this interview.

The lady on the phone was another person I would be working for, though not the main boss. Thankfully she introduced herself right away and explained what I would be doing for her. It was refreshing to talk to someone who had definite plans for me! She was also able to give me some insight about the job:

1) It's a new position because the organization is becoming more busy and they need someone to specifically organize and arrange their daily operations. They had some of their staff doing that now but they simply became overwhelmed with their other job duties. So that's why this position is needed.

2) The woman told me that I would have support from the other staff members in terms of getting up to speed. She said it's a fast-paced environment but no one expects me to know everything all at once (she also said that they had a high learning curve for new employees - about 9-12 months for new employees to settle in and feel more comfortable there) I was thinking more like 3-6 months to feel more comfortable, so it was a bit of a shock to hear almost a year. But in a way, it's also a positive thing.

3) The people who were doing these tasks before me had the same level of experience and education as I did.

4) The position still needed to be defined because of these organizational changes...She said they were still working out the kinks because things have been moving so fast it was hard for them to forsee exactly what would be needed. Sort of a "make it up as you go along" type deal depending on their needs. That's why they need someone who is flexible and enthusiastic.

I've been in situations before where things needed to be re-defined or re-vamped, so the challenge doesn't concern me. What worries me is that although they are flexible and open to a "new kid on the block" type employee and position, I'm still worried about the disorganization and lack of real goal towards the position...if that makes sense. I don't want to be in a position where I'm immediately labeled as incompetent because of their potential disorganization and miscommunication problems. But I was able to get some basic task priorities which was a bit reassuring. And the personalities of the people working there did not rub me the wrong way - they were actually really friendly and laid back.

I hear back from the job (hopefully) this week. I know I shouldn't be making a big fuss about a potential job but it's the only call-back I've had in awhile. On Thursday night, my first reaction was to run away from the position...Now it's a sort of "on the fence feeling" in that I could take it or leave it. I would accept the job though because I need the money as a college graduate living with her mother. However, if I did not get the job, I wouldn't fret about it at all.

Sorry for the long post. Thank you again!!

FrauTech said...

This sounds like one of those situations where they won't be organized enough to actually extend you an offer. But I'm curious to know if I'm proven wrong.

Anonymous said...

It seems that I may have accepted a job like this...and then was fired on the fourth day. They admitted all the same confusion and disorganization that your interviewers did. The boss loved to talk on and on about how busy she was. The HR director looked like a deer in headlights every time I asked a question.
I went ahead when they offered me a job. Our unemployment rate here is over 16%, so it felt like "finally a success!". I regret that they freaked out after four days and didn't really want to get organized. I regret that they had no reason. I feel that they just wanted the same old person in there who wouldn't try to help them get to the point of reaching their goals as a non-profit organization. Shame. However, I should have listened to my gut when I met the boss and she was more interested in what I was wearing than what I had to offer! I really hate to say it, but most of the women I have worked for have a problem with strong women working for them.