Leveling the (Interviewing) Playing Field

Given the tight economic conditions over the last five years, and the buyer’s market that this has created in terms of the employment scene, a great many job hunters have expressed frustration with how they’ve been treated by potential employers — and some of the crazy hoops they’ve had to jump through in pursuing opportunities.

The stories (we’ve all heard them) range from having to fill out pages of redundant application forms to being overtly disrespected to being offered ridiculously lowball salaries to being completely ignored by a company, even after multiple interview rounds.

In fairness, of course, the more negative stories tend to get circulated a LOT more than the positive ones and you can’t paint every employer with this same broad brush.  There are unquestionably many employers out there who continue to maintain a wonderfully civilized hiring process, treating candidates with courtesy (even if they don’t hire them) and practicing the golden rule at every step along the way.

But as the job market continues to improve (see the latest economic report here) it will be interesting to see if the power differential shifts a bit — and if candidates are able to recapture some of the leverage they’ve lost during recent years.  In fact, I’ve recently come across several articles discussing this notion and proposing some specific ways in which a candidate might push back and demand fair treatment from organizations.

One recent article, posted by Nick Corcodilos in his Ask the Headhunter blog, contemplates the idea of whether employers should actually compensate job applicants for the time they spend interviewing.  Or at least reimburse them for any of their time that gets wasted when the company drags their feet, reschedules interviews at the last minute, and/or doesn’t follow through on their promises.  Wouldn’t that be a turn of events?  Give a quick read to the piece here and see what you think.  I personally don’t think this day will ever come, but it’s an interesting notion to contemplate, regardless.

Along those same lines, the above article also references a “No-Nonsense Interview Agreement” you’ll find here that was written by Conrado Hinojosa, suggesting a specific contract framework that a potential applicant might ask an employer to uphold, prior to moving forward with hiring discussions.  Again, I have to believe that this idea Mr. Hinojosa is proposing is a symbolic one, not a serious suggestion, but it’s still fun to entertain the idea of job hunters regaining this much power in the process.

Lastly, I also came across another intriguing piece here in the terrific Ask the Manager blog, by Alison Green, that discusses the question of whether job applicants should ask for references from their prospective managers — basically along the lines of “Now that you’ve checked MY references and decided I’m good enough to work for you, I’d like some specific proof that you’re a good manager and somebody I’d enjoy working for, in return.”  Personally, I’ve never heard of an interview candidate doing this, at least in the direct manner suggested.  And from my perspective, a candidate would have to have a massive amount of gumption to pull this off, since they’d risk alienating the person across the desk and losing the offer.  But read Alison’s thoughts on the subject in the article and see what you think.

(which reminds me, Alison also published a related article here a few years ago, too, discussing whether it was time for a “Job Hunters Bill of Rights” to be created; also a thought-provoking read on the subject of candidate treatment during the hiring process)

At any rate, just wanted to share some quick thoughts on this topic that seems to be heating up, in parallel with market conditions in general.  So for those of you out there who have been feeling a bit disenfranchised lately, who knows?  Perhaps some relief is on the way…

4 Responses to “Leveling the (Interviewing) Playing Field”

  1. Matt, great ideas, but I can’t see job hunters getting a bill of rights given the position of power the employer holds in the process. I think it was 20 years ago (before LinkedIn, etc.) the first time I heard of a job candidate turning down a position after doing their own ‘background check’ on my employer at the time. I remember thinking ‘kudos’ to them for getting the goods on the group they would have worked for if they’d taken the job.

    What I have seen – working in a technology area – is a lot of pressure from the business on HR to get viable candidates. This, in turn, has resulted in more collaboration between the business and HR, and somewhat higher offers for skilled positions.

    As is the case with many local companies, mine subscribes to salary survey services. They work hard to keep the salaries down, but there is supply and demand at work.

    My own company could improve in the hiring area communications and courtesy from what job candidates have told me. The best advice is the old advice – to keep that network going and find even a tiny bit of leverage through a contact inside the company – something I know you are a big advocate of because it still works!

  2. regarding jobs….lets look at each company by department……
    one could easily say that each department has their own set of responsibilities which are pretty much standard, meaning each company has the same departments and pretty much have the same responsibilities…
    therefore….a candidate that has worked for any one of the departments w/in a company pretty much qualifies to work for any company in the same department….
    all software programs are learned on the job…..even when a company converts from one software to another….hence..when job descriptions require knowing a certain software program….to me this translates to…which other companies are using the same software and we are only interested in the candidates that come from those particular companies….when i see job descriptions that require certain software program knowledge..it makes little sense…

  3. I am personally all in favor of an interview candidate requesting references of his/her potential manager(s) although I agree that it could be a risky request at most stages of the interview process. HOWEVER, I think that a candidate who has received an employment offer and therefore has a fair amoung of leverage could certainly make the request during the final “negotiations dance”. Something along the lines of, “It would be most helpful if I had the opportunity to speak to those whom you have previously managed so would you mind sharing a few references with me?”

    If the employer suddenly decided to withdraw the employment offer, how do you think that would look? And if the potential employer feels they have a right to ask this of you, why don’t you have the right to ask this of him/her?

    Another way to uncover what could be potentially helpful information is to put on your “private investigator” hat and utilize resources like the Internet and Linkedin to find past employees of a company (including your potential future employer) and reach out to them. Granted, there are the former employees with an axe to grind that you want to steer clear of and take what they may say with a grain of salt but there are also people who left a company on good terms and who will likely provide you with helpful, unbiased feedback. Heck, they might even personally know the individual you’re inquiring about.

    Remember, companies do this ALL THE TIME with potential new employees (and even current ones); why don’t you think you can do the same? In this respect, it IS a level playing field because job-seekers have just as many tools available to them as employers do for “digging up dirt” – we just have to work a bit harder to find those tools.

  4. regarding references…..i understand the idea…..the only part that was not mentioned in the article regarding references is privacy…personally i do not like to have the previous employers and all employees w/in the company there know/chatter/gossip about which company was calling and where i will potentially be working….if i left the company it is usually because there is no advancement opportunity, no salary/pay improvements, culture too stifling ie. “you were hired to do…such and such…..do not get involved in other areas of the company”….if i was lay ed off…..on the majority of the time its bcz the company is suffering financially; the other most popular one is “power plays”…remember….premise #1 at all companies in all departments…job security/turf is in action at all times

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