Let’s start with the obvious: of course we want the hiring process to go as smoothly as possible! In an ideal world, you’d show up, have a friendly chat with the hiring manager, and be presented with an offer that thrills you.
There’s a flip side to that coin.
Companies that have something to hide, companies that are looking to take advantage of you in a vulnerable situation, will sometimes rely on your not mounting opposition to pull off their shady tactics. It happens all the time. And it’s important to identify, and take countermeasures in these situations.
Situation #1: Say Yes….Or Else.
Statistics show that the most qualified person “on paper” only receives an offer about 38% of the time. That should make those of you with diverse and non-linear backgrounds very happy, because it means that more than 60% of the time, someone like you came in, asked deep questions to get beyond the job posting and start figuring out what’s REALLY going on at the company and what’s REALLY necessary do amazing at this job…and then actively tailored their presentation and answers accordingly. In other words, in the vast majority of cases a candidate sold a hiring manager a better vision of what they were hiring for.
None of this can occur in a company that insists on a Say Yes…Or Else hiring process.
Dehumanizing practices like 1-way video interviews, or insisting on salary requirements before you’ve had even a cursory discussion about the role. Refusing to answer even the smallest questions designed to help you understand what’s going on behind the scenes. Acting like Big Brother when you request to meet others on the team. These are all warning signs of a company that would rather bully you, and keep you at arm’s length, as opposed to collaborating with you and engaging meaningfully. And NO, you should not stand for it!
Countermeasure: The Hard Reset.
Companies that use bullying tactics are operating under the mistaken assumption that it’s the most effective way to hire. Use that approach against them. Interrupt the hiring process and ask something like, “Can we make sure that there’s agreement on what we’re trying to accomplish here?”
Next- identify the top 2-3 most important aspects of the role…and ask for buy-in at each stage. For example, “Am I correct in thinking that this position would benefit from someone who understands how to bring Lean Six Sigma practices into a complex manufacturing environment?” Yes or No?
Do the same for the other key aspects.
Next, ask for your interviewer’s permission to share relevant career stories relating to these aspects. That should enable you to demonstrate unique value, and open the door for this person to reciprocate in the form of new information and insights about what’s going on behind the scenes.
Situation #2: The Lovefest (that goes nowhere)
When you enter a “cold room’ and find a friendly person there, it’s tempting to just keep the small talk going and avoid making things awkward. But let’s be clear: this is a very goal-directed situation you’re entering into. And if things don’t get at least a LITTLE awkward from time to time, you’re probably not making real progress on that front!
Here’s what you want to get out of every hiring-related interaction:
-More information about what’s REALLY going on at this company. Getting past the job posting to get the “scoop”- what’s most important to accomplish within the first 30/60/90 days, where the unique alignment lies between what you do and what they need.
-More information about why they sought you out, and what about your background and skillset resonates with them. We want to play to this wherever possible, and build on that foundation.
-Critical information that YOU need in order to figure out whether this is an opportunity that is worth taking all the way…or a lower-tier opportunity that should be passed on.
Countermeasure: A Cheat Sheet
Enter into the face-to-face with a document that has 3 main parts. The first has 1-3 ideas on where this company is headed, and what you can contribute to making it happen. The second has 3-4 career stories you want to share. And the third has a few hard-hitting questions related to the bullet points above.
When the conversation needs direction, or needs to get back to a productive place, use this cheat sheet as your guide. It’s a LOT more proactive and outcomes-based than using your resume alone.
Situation #3: The Trial Work Period
There’s a big difference between showing value during the hiring process…and giving away your expertise for free. Don’t be naive about this- unscrupulous companies will interview people ALL THE TIME for non-existent roles, just to pump them for free insights and contacts. So it’s important to know the line, and stick to it.
-Stick to the 30-minute rule for any job-related “homework”- do what you can within 30 minutes, and stop. Any homework you do should function as a conversation-starter anyway, not a finished product.
-Refuse to do anything along the lines of an unpaid trial period at the job. No exceptions.
-Never be afraid to openly communicate the fact that you feel like a particular “ask” goes beyond what you’re comfortable with, or that meeting a certain requirement would be contingent upon a written offer.