It is critically important for job-seekers to remember that when you go on a job interview, you’re checking them out as much as they are evaluating you. Simply put, there are jobs you don’t want to get. They’ll hurt your resume and trash your self-esteem, and no paycheck is worth that. Sad to say, there are people who will lie to you outright at a job interview.
Our client Melinda went on a job interview for a Marketing Coordinator job, her second job out of college. “It was the strangest interview ever,” she told us.
“Why?” we asked.
“The manager told me that I’d become Marketing Coordinator, the job I interviewed for, after I passed a probation period. He said the length of the probation period could vary from three months to one year. That sounded really odd, and then he said that during the probation period, I would be his administrative assistant and also do errands for him — like get his dry-cleaning.”
“What?” we asked her. “Doesn’t he have an assistant now?”
“No,” she said, “he told me that in his company, it’s really hard to get approval to hire someone. He was able to get approval to hire a Marketing Coordinator, rather than the personal assistant he wanted.”
“What a toad!” we said. “Run away from that guy, Melinda. He’s telling you right up front that he lied to his own colleagues. What incentive would he ever have to promote you to the actual job you applied for, the job opening that was approved? He wants someone to pick up his dry cleaning. You’d be stuck doing that forever. Leave that guy in the dust!”
She did. If you ever hear the words “The job description is still in flux” or the variations “We’re still establishing exactly what the position entails” or “We’re still ironing out the details,” get out of the hiring pipeline as fast as you can. These folks are incompetent or they’re lying to you, or both.
Let me share a bit of my experience with you. I was a Fortune 500 HR leader for eons. When a manager is trying to hire someone, they are obsessed. They are so happy to have the approval to add a new person, they’re practically skipping down the hallway.
They know exactly what they need the newcomer to do. If they didn’t know exactly what the job entailed, there’s no way a tight-fisted CFO would have approved the job opening.
Nobody hires people for fun. They hire people when they have pain. Melinda’s hiring manager had pain — he wanted somebody to do his errands and his typing. Believe it or not, there are still lots of people in the workforce who can’t use email, or they don’t want to. They have their assistant print out their email messages and hand them a bunch of paper to read.
Melinda’s hiring manager didn’t know or care about marketing, or he would have seen that the right person in his marketing job could help his organization a lot more than a dry-cleaning-picker-upper would do. We think that people in the business world are rational and reasonable, but that isn’t always a safe assumption.
When you have pain, you desperately want to make that pain go away. When you go on an interview and they tell you “We don’t know exactly what you’ll do in the job” you know that something is fishy. How could they not know?
They do know what they need to have done, but there could be arguments and politics going on behind the scenes.
Here’s a typical scenario.
The CIO of a company gets approval to hire an IT project manager to lead large projects. That makes sense, because large organizations have big, internal IT projects that might involve dozen of people and lots of money. The CIO runs an ad for an IT project manager, and several dozen people apply for the job.
Then the trouble starts. Somebody in Organizational Development, another department down the hall from IT, hears about the CIO’s new project manager and brings that news flash to the VP of Organizational Development.
“If you’re hiring someone to manage projects in IT, that’s change management, so the new employee should have at least a dotted line to me,” says the VP of Organizational Development to the CIO. “Over my dead body,” says the CIO, but meanwhile, HR is already screening applicants for the job!
They have two interviews in progress right now, and two other applicants waiting their turn and sipping coffee in the lobby. If those applicants would listen closely, they could hear the VP of Organizational Development and the CIO arguing loudly and practically coming to blows just a few yards down the hall.
This kind of thing happens every day. When you hear “We’re still figuring out exactly what the role is” you know there is a disturbance in the Force that will affect you in a big way if you take the job.
In a million years, no one is going to tell you “There are some political struggles between two of our executives, so that’s why some of the details of the job — like what you would do all day if you were hired, and also who you’d report to — are still up in the air.”
You won’t get any more truth by asking questions. You’ll get a combination of blank stares, fancy verbal footwork and lies, lies, lies. Just get out of the process and save your energy to look for a job working among grown-ups. My Buddhist friends say life is long, but it’s still too short to spend getting caught up in political battles of someone else’s making.
Trust your sturdy instincts, and listen for the fateful words “The job description is still under construction.” Yeah, right!