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Saturday, August 23, 2008

abusive interviewer extends job offer

This letter from a reader is long but worth it:

My career experience has mostly been in the military, but I have recently completed a college degree in physics with a minor in education after stopping work to stay at home with my daughter. Currently, I am working as a high school science teacher, but I’m not happy with this career. Over the past 6 months, I have been sending out my resume to companies that are hiring entry level engineers.

I’ve been looking to make sense of what happened during a recent interview that resulted in a job offer. I submitted my resume and went through a large company’s application process to end up with an in-person interview, which was great. After the 10 minute interview with the HR director, who told me that I would interview with two supervisors in the department who were looking to fill four different jobs at varying levels, I was picked up by one of the department supervisors I was to interview with (I’ll call him Joe), and we went for a 50 minute tour of the workplace. During the tour, Joe was asking interview questions, and he seemed like a knowledgeable and reasonable person to work for. I really liked Joe. We discussed the positions he had to offer and how those positions related to my experiences and education. Although Joe’s job openings were entry level engineering and below, I was still interested in accepting one of those positions if they were offered. After all, I am looking to change careers, and I’m expecting to pay my dues to make this happen.

Next, Joe told me that we would meet with the supervisor (we’ll call him Jerry), who had a higher level engineering position open. After arriving at Jerry’s office, Jerry began to interview me. During the interview, Jerry asked me what sort of job I am looking for. Upon hearing my answer, he told me that his job opening is not for me. Jerry went further by stating that he really didn’t understand why I had applied for a position in that department because none of their work had anything to do with my background or education. At first, I thought Jerry was just asking the question to see if I could relate their work to my experience and education, which is quite straightforward. I have no problem relating my experience and physics education to the type of engineering practiced in that department, so I politely told Jerry how I felt my experience and background fit with that department’s mission and work. Upon hearing this, Jerry told me that he took a physics class once and failed, so he didn’t see how physics had anything to do with engineering. I explained where I felt physics and engineering meet and how an education and laboratory research experience in physics has helped develop my critical thinking and problem solving skills regardless of the problem set before me. Jerry continued with his mantra that physics has nothing to do with engineering and this is not the job for me.

As Jerry wrapped up his end of the interview, he commented about my current job as a teacher. He told me that his wife is a teacher, and only lazy people teach. I had to work hard to keep my jaw from hitting the floor on that comment. Jerry said that his wife only teaches because she has the summer off, and that certainly would not happen in this company. I told Jerry that I am well aware that the rest of the work force does not have the summer off or even more than one week of vacation for most people. Again, Jerry simply responded by telling me that the job is not for me.

The interview ended with Jerry asking me if I would rather work for him or Joe. There was no way I was touching that one with a ten foot pole, but I did have to say something. If I told Jerry that I would rather stick with a job I can’t stand than work for him, then I would have disqualified myself from all four job openings. Jerry, Joe, and the employees they supervise work on the same floor of the same small building, so I would have to see Jerry and work around him daily. I concluded by stating that I felt that I could work with either of them because I enjoy working with and get along with others. When problem solving, another person’s perspective can stimulate new and interesting solutions. I really expected Jerry to tell me that the job is not for me one more time just to jam his point across.

One month later, I received a call from HR offering me an engineering position for quite a bit more money than I expected. This was two weeks after Jerry had claimed he wanted his new employee to start. Not even thinking about the possibility that I was being offered the job with Jerry, I verbally accepted the job offer. I was told that I still had to electronically sign the contract after reviewing the terms of employment. While sitting at the computer reading through the contract, it occurred to me that I might actually end up working for Jerry. I called HR back to inquire as to who was to be my supervisor. To my dread, she said Jerry. I confessed to the HR rep that, although I was grateful and excited about the job offer, I did not understand why Jerry wanted to hire me because he told me that this job was not for me. Sally, the HR rep, proceeded to tell me how I qualified for the job because of my physics degree and that Joe thought my military electronics experience made me a perfect candidate for the job. She said nothing about why Jerry wanted to hire me. I questioned her about what Jerry thought because he really seemed to discourage me from proceeding through the employment screening process. She told me that she would ask Jerry and get back to me, but she did not. I even told her that I was on a time budget because the school was gearing up to present us with the next year’s teaching contracts. I really didn’t want to put my principal in the position of signing my contract and breaking it soon after. I like my current supervisor. I just don’t like my current career. I waited for one week, and my teaching contract for the next year was presented to me.

Having a definite job and only having a job offer that was not even through the screening process helped me choose to sign my teaching contract and decline the engineering job offer in writing. During the week that I waited for Sally to get back with me, I emailed and called her to inquire about the answer from Jerry and reiterated that my deadline for signing my teaching contract was rapidly approaching. The day after I declined the engineering offer, Sally from HR called and stated how Joe, not Jerry my prospective supervisor, thought I was perfect for the job. Sally said nothing about Jerry.

I am completely confused about how I was offered a job with Jerry in the first place. He made a point of telling me at least a dozen times that the job was not for me. I was certain that my interview with Jerry would not result in a job offer, at least not a job offer to work for Jerry. He told me that I am lazy. At one point, Jerry even asked me if I was dumb. How did those comments from him end up as a job offer one month later?

Secondly, I am not sure if I have burned my bridge with HR in this company. Sally from HR sounded really upset when she called and left her message after I declined the position. I haven’t heard from her since. Although I would never attempt to apply for another job with the same department in that company, I am interested in applying for engineering positions in other departments in the company. I was impressed with the company overall, and my college thesis laboratory research is directly related to work this company does. Would I just end up sending my resume to a black hole and wasting my efforts?

Jerry is one or both of the following:
1. a jerk
2. someone who believes in stress interviews

I tend to believe that #2 is often a subset of #1. A "stress interview" is where the interviewer deliberately acts uninterested or even hostile in order to find out how the candidate responds to stressful situations. Whether they should be used at all is up for debate, but if they are, they should only be used where it's relevant to the job at stake -- litigator, say, or air traffic controller. I don't believe in them at all, since I think there are other ways for a good interviewer to find out how a candidate handles stress, and they don't exactly do a lot to sell good candidates on the job.

To answer your first question, about how someone so rude to you ended up making you a job offer: If it was a stress interview, you apparently passed it. If Jerry is just a jerk, he likely treats lots of people this way and his treatment of you didn't have much connection to his actual opinion of your qualifications. Or Jerry hates everyone, but Joe pushed for you to be hired.

Regarding whether you have a chance with this company in the future, I think you certainly could, but you need to explain to Sally why you turned down the offer. Tell her that you got the strong sense in the interview that you and Jerry had very different communication styles and since Jerry told you multiple times that you weren't right for the job, you didn't think an offer to work with him was the right one for you. Explain, however, that you felt you clicked with Joe, that you are impressed with the company, and that you'd love the opportunity to work with them in the future.

Thoughts from anyone else?
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