Everyone likes to be in control. In control of the choices we make each day. In control of our lives. In control of our own future. When that control is taken away, it can make us feel uncomfortable, nervous, or downright angry about whatever situation is now out of our hands.
While we don’t often think of it this way, the job market is just like every other commerce-based market out there. It’s driven by supply and demand and in the case of employment, there are two demand curves that work in conjunction with each other. Companies are looking to offer up jobs in exchange for a salary and benefits package. As a job seeker, you’re looking to sell your talents, time, and effort to beat out the other candidates and get the job offer. Because there are so many candidates looking to fill each individual position, the power always lies with the hiring companies because the demand (number of candidates) is always going to exceed the limited supply of positions available.
In the case of the recent economic downturn, the demand for jobs is higher than it has been in a very long time. Companies are running on less manpower than they were a few years ago and the supply of available jobs has severely diminished. This gives employers even more of an opportunity to assert their power over job candidates. Employers can be a lot pickier about who they choose to fill their job openings. Great news for employers. Not so great news for job seekers.
They say “Jump.” You say “How High?”
Has this ever happened to you at the end of a job interview? You reach the end of a long session, give your pitch on why you’re the best candidate for the job, and answer all of their questions to the best of your ability. When the time comes and the interviewer asks if you have any questions for him, you ask a harmless and seemingly-logical question:
“Do you know when you’ll be making a decision about this position?”
Then they say something like this:
“We’re going to interview the remaining candidates over the next week or two. We then have some internal discussions that need to happen before we bring our recommendation to our director. If he clears the decision, we can then call back that candidate with the offer.”
That loosely translates to:
“We’ll call you when we’re good and ready and not a minute earlier. If we don’t choose you, you’ll likely not hear from us again. Don’t hold your breath.”
No one likes to hear that they’re walking into an uncontrollable situation, but that’s exactly what happens when you go through the job application process. You submit an application to a company and there’s a good chance that you’ll never hear from them again. If they happen to like your application, they’ll call you and schedule an interview. “We have you scheduled for Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m. We’ll email you your interview schedule later today.” Some companies provide some flexibility when it comes to the date or time of your interview, but they won’t like you postponing your interview without a good reason. They have a job to fill and they need it filled now. Your needs come second.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven over 30 miles in snowstorms to interviews (in reality, it’s happened 3 times, but that’s still a lot!) In one case, I left two hours early for an interview and still just barely made it on time. When I finally got there, the parking lot was completely full so I had no choice but to commandeer a patch of grass as a temporary parking spot and sprint from the parking lot through the snow (laptop and interview supplies in hand) to the interview site. I reached the front desk with 25 seconds to spare. After all, they told me to get there early.
Interviewing also requires a time commitment. Aside from the time you’re taking off from your current job, you also spend time preparing for the interview. Once you get there, the interview might be scheduled for two hours, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that your 9:00-11:00 session will be getting out a 11:00 sharp. In fact, my interviews have only ever gone way under the allotted time or way over it. In the case of some interviews, the schedule ran late by almost two hours.
“Et tu, Employee?” Turning your back on your current employer.
All of this time spent interviewing raises an important ethical dilemma. You’re essentially forced to go behind your company’s back (on their time) to interview somewhere else so that you can leave your position behind for something new. Under the strictest of standards, you are required to use your vacation or personal time to go on these interviews. A personal day on Thursday is no big deal. But what happens when they call you Friday and want you back for a lengthy follow-up session on Monday? I once had a second interview at a company that was accommodating enough to let me interview with them from 7:00-8:00 a.m. so that I could make it to work for my normal 8:30 start. The interview went very well and I had no choice but to stay there a lot longer than I was scheduled for. I got to work at 10:30 and in one of the greatest “think on your feet moments” of the past decade, I told my boss that I had a “dental emergency” that I had to have fixed that morning. Of course, I was talking to him without any difficulty, looked like I was in no pain, and had no visible face swelling. Maybe someday, I’ll teach you all my winning secrets to successful excuse-making. After all that time spent, I ended up not getting that job anyway. It was no sweat off their backs and I was back to square one in my search.
According to most company guidelines, you are required to give at least two weeks’ notice that you are leaving your position. Some companies require even longer notice times than that. Things don’t always work out that way though. Hiring companies often like to bring in new employees at the start of a pay cycle. Others want you to start on the 1st of the month. Once again, the hiring company has a significant impact on when you start working for them. Some corporate policies go beyond normal human comprehension. My father once interviewed for a company that required a reference call with his current boss as part of the hiring process. He ended up not taking the job and I’m sure his boss would have been thrilled to receive this call:
“Hello? I’m calling from *Company X* about your employee *Employee Name*. He’s leaving you to come work for us in a few weeks and we want to make sure he’s a good employee.”
I’m sure his boss would have no ill words to speak of the employee he just found out was leaving. Come on, employers. Have some common sense!
There is one very important aspect of the hiring process where you, the job seeker, have all the power. It’s a concept that I try to drive home with every job hunter I talk to. Once a company makes you an offer, the power balance shifts in your favor. Keep your salary requirements to yourself and once you get the offer, you’ll find yourself in a great position to ask for more money or other benefits.
Though the trials and tribulations of interviewing are often not as convenient as we might hope, it eventually comes to an end with the acceptance of a job offer. The interviews might be long and you may need to make up some excuses to leave work, but it’s almost always worth it in the end.
Do you have a story about a crazy request that an interviewing company made to you? Am I way off base in my analysis? Did I miss something that you’re just dying to discuss with the community? Let’s hear it!