March 17, 2014

Play Hardball With Slowpoke Employers

Filed under: Changing jobs, Job Search, Q&A, Stupid HR Tricks

When your job search stalls, two things stand out as big culprits: resumes and wishful thinking. Last week we discussed how your resume can hamper your job search. In this edition — Part 2 –, we’ll discuss how slowpoke employers can distract you from your goal of landing a good job.

In the March 18, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks what to do about employers who take forever:

fingers-crossed-2I’ve been interviewing with a company for about a month, including several phone calls and local interviews, and a flight to their HQ for five more interviews. It’s been three weeks since our last meeting. They say they are working through my references, but my references confirmed they have been contacted. All the while, the company is actively interviewing other candidates for the position I interviewed for. Am I’m being strung along until someone better shows up, or what? Also, how often should I follow up with them?

Nick’s Reply

There’s no explaining why a company takes so long — you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out. Don’t. Are you talking yourself into believing “this is a sure thing?” Don’t.

Is the employer hedging, stringing you along while it looks for a better candidate? Why worry about it?

Your question appears in a different form in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8, Play Hardball With Employers, in the section titled “How can I push the hiring decision?” Here’s an excerpt from my advice:


This is a very common mistake when job hunting. The next act in the script is normally “the offer,” so job candidates ignore the clear signal to leave the stage. They desperately launch into their next speech — even when there’s nothing doing. I’ve seen top executives in utter denial when the employer stops the process, and they make fools of themselves trying to “get the process back on track, because I really want this job.”

Don’t try to push an employer that has told you it doesn’t want to go. Instead, move yourself toward your next opportunity. (If they call you back later, that’s great — if you’re still available.) Otherwise, you’ll waste precious time on a company that can’t make a decision. Be grateful they were honest about it. But move on. If you pester them, you’ll tick them off. (“Didn’t this person hear us? We’re not making a decision right now. We’re busy.”) Annoying puppies get kicked — no matter how enthusiastic they appear.

Reprinted from Fearless Job Hunting, Book 8, Play Hardball With Employers, “How can I push the hiring decision?” p. 14. Book 8 includes:

  • Put the manager on notice
  • Skip The Resume: Call the CEO
  • Do they owe me feedback after an interview?
  • hardballWhat’s the secret to the thank-you note?
  • Avoid Disaster: Check out the employer
  • How can I push the hiring decision?
  • Playing hardball with slowpoke employers
  • One interview stalled, one moving too fast
  • Line up your next target
  • Thanks is not enough
  • Due Diligence: Don’t take a job without it
  • Judge the manager
  • Get an answer at the end of the interview
  • PLUS: 8 How to Say It tips
  • PLUS: 4 sidebars packed with advice to give you the insider’s edge!

I’ve seen people put their job search on hopeful hold for weeks if not months, waiting for “the job I really want” to come through. When the slowpoke employer doesn’t come through with a job offer, they realize they’ve wasted precious time. Their motivation and job-hunting energy has waned. Their enthusiasm has turned to helpless depression. And it all shows as they try to revive a moribund job search.

Don’t take a rest while you wait for just one employer to “decide,” no matter how promising the situation looks!

But there’s another important reason why “moving on” is a good strategy. You might find that the employer you’ve been waiting on is just a slowpoke who finally gets back to you with an offer. If, rather than waiting, you have cultivated other opportunities, you’re suddenly in a much stronger negotiating position. With other options in play, now you have choices. Having options may empower you to negotiate a better offer — and even to avoid taking a job you don’t really want, just because there’s nothing else.

Play hardball with slowpoke employers. It’ll keep you out of trouble, and it’ll make you feel better, too. Follow up once. If an employer is being a slowpoke and hedging its bets by trying to find better candidates for a job, your best bet is always to control your job search by continuing your efforts to find more opportunities.

What’s the excuse the employer gives you for its decision delay? It may be legit, or it may be a hedge so it can find a better candidate. Who cares? How do you spend your time while waiting on a job offer?

: :

 

21 Comments on “Play Hardball With Slowpoke Employers”
By Larry Kaplan
March 18, 2014 at 2:32 am

A lot of employers are filling jobs because they have the budget for them, not because they really need them filled and often not because they have given much thought to what the hire might do.

So they are not motivated to fill the position quickly, and sometimes discover in the middle of the search process that they can live without the position, shift work around, perhaps use a contractor and show greater profitability.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen this with clients, which makes me glad that I only have to sweat out dealing with clients, who at least are only contributing to a portion of my revenues, and therefore only taking a portion of my time and energies!

By Chris Hogg
March 18, 2014 at 6:59 am

Let’s say a farmer is plowing a field, and has one blade behind the tractor. Back and forth, back and forth, all day, for one field.

Another farmer is plowing a field, and has four blades behind the tractor. This farmer will plow the same size field as the first, but in one-quarter of the time.

Or the second farmer can spend the same amount of time as the first, but get four times as much ground plowed up.

When looking for work, we need to be like the second farmer, cutting several furrows at the same time.

By Jim
March 18, 2014 at 8:16 am

This happened during my last search in 2009. I went through a series of phone and on-site interviews with 2 companies. One company made a full, written offer first, while the 2nd company continued to grind through the process. The second company called for yet another round of interviews on the day that I accepted the written offer. They seemed shocked that I had the sheer nerve to accept another offer before their next round of interviews. I wished them well.

By Dave
March 18, 2014 at 9:30 am

I agree with the article.

I recently had three oppurtunites that I was pursing or that were pursuing me. It sure seemed like a slam dunk at the time. None of them worked out – I was rejected by 2 and ended up ignoring/rejecting the third.

You need to “Always be looking” :-)

By Hank
March 18, 2014 at 9:36 am

Bottom line, if the company wants YOU they will make all haste in getting to you to make the offer. If they don’t, they are stringing you along. If you are working through a headhunter / recruiter do not rely on them to tell you straight as they may have several candidates submitted and want to maximize the chance of ONE of their people getting an offer so they will get the fee.

@Jim,
I had the same situation, multiple interviews and visits, did not hear, and I accepted another offer a couple of weeks later. I kid you not, 3 months later the first company HR rep called and “offered” me the position. I incredulously asked them if they thought I had been waiting next to my phone all this time for their call? They responded with, “So, you don’t want the job now?” I responded with a polite refusal although I really wanted to give them the “are you kidding me?” routine. Just more evidence of how reality must not be a part of these people’s job descriptions.

By Trish
March 18, 2014 at 9:37 am

What you said to do is logical, if a business is dragging their feet and not telling you the truth; that they are still interviewing other prospects, why would you want to work for them? It is possible that the department you will work for and HR are not in synch, and one does not know what the other is doing. Some people might interpret this as yet another reason, why you would not want to work there. Until you know more about their corporate culture it is hard to figure that out.

I think what someone needs to do in a situation like you are in is to pretend a friend has come to you with your problem. What would you tell them? It is hard to be objective about your own situation… but much easier if this happens to someone else. At this point in time, you need to follow Nick’s advice and move on in your job search. Wasting time having wishful thinking is not productive. You need to put this potential opportunity on the back burner, so you do not loose focus in your job search.

By Addie
March 18, 2014 at 10:04 am

Often these posts are good life lessons generally, not just for job hunting. This is one of them.

By Nick Corcodilos
March 18, 2014 at 10:44 am

@Jim, Hank: I’m betting the two companies that got back to you both TOO LATE also told you how cutting edge and competitive they are.

HR says: “So you don’t want the job now?” That’s precious. “You’re canceling the fries with that?? We already put in the order!” Gimme a break.

Think about this seriously. I certainly understand these companies want to interview multiple candidates and choose the best. But if they were truly competitive about hiring, they would protect all their positions during the process by staying in close touch with all their candidates. As a headhunter, I of course had situations where a client company interviewed a few candidates from me, and took time to decide. My job was to make sure each of them was aware of the process, where they stood, and that no decision had yet been made. Like any thoughtful employer would do, I had to keep them all “warm” because I didn’t know who would get an offer. I wasn’t stringing anyone along – I was keeping them apprised of the process and trying to keep them motivated. In a race, if one runner takes the lead, the rest don’t just stop running. Unless they totally lose their motivation.

The question is, why wouldn’t an employer keep all candidates apprised out of self-interest?

By Kimberley
March 18, 2014 at 11:07 am

I get that sometimes employers can take their time, but it is unprofessional for them to have already contacted references. That is usually, or at least should be, the final stage in the recruitment process. If the references were not stellar, call the candidate and let them know that they are not longer in consideration. It makes no sense to keep interviewing one candidate while you are checking the references for another.

By Ellen
March 18, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Hmmm…where have I heard this same advice? Ah yes, GUY hunting! If he doesn’t call, don’t try to analyze why…just move on. In both situations I think we want to END the search so much that we hang onto a hope.

By Don
March 18, 2014 at 12:25 pm

On both sides of the table a good rule of thumb to guide job hunters, headhunters and inhouse HR/Recruiters is “it isn’t over until it’s over..and you’re sitting in your chair with a badge” No matter how great it looks and feels.
As long as you’re honest about it. As an inhouse recruiter I tell candidates where the search is…still interviewing, offer pending, etc..and as a job hunter tell the people you’re interviewing, expecting an offer etc. If that’s inhibiting, disengage. And on one’s feelings will get hurt.
I’ve recruited in house in intensely fast growth scenarios and the opposite. Even in the former situation where you’d expect managers wouldn’t screw around…you’ll find managers who make slowpokes look like greased lightening…working alongside peers who go after recruiting like pitbulls after raw meat. That’s the reason behind Nick’s advise of don’t try to figure out what’s happening. It’s a combination and permutation and composite of every managerial behavior you’ll find in an organization. Don’t waste a second waiting for the hallowed offer..keep on trucking.
If you really feel strongly the company is great and you want to get aboard…check back in, in 3 months and let people know you really are interested in them..because things happen things change. perhaps they hired someone else..guess what it may not work out..or another job opens up…but don’t watch your phone, smart or otherwise waiting for them to call.

By Dave
March 18, 2014 at 12:55 pm

@Hank
“If you are working through a headhunter / recruiter do not rely on them to tell you straight as they may have several candidates submitted and want to maximize the chance of ONE of their people getting an offer so they will get the fee.”

Or the job really sucks and they are trying to pull a fast one/place anyone as fast as they can.

The job opp I walked away from recently was a classic bait and switch/pushy and rude salesman. I literally was getting called/emailed at least once a day by the guy. And the job eventually became a big ask.

By Some Guy
March 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm

@Ellen, you are right. These are lessons for love as well.

Unfortunately, HR gets in the way of logical hiring and is filled with choosy women who are holding out for the Prince Charming/purple squirrel.

When companies get back to you after months of searching for mythical creatures, hum this old Sam Cooke ditty:

“You’ve done me wrong.
I tried to be kind….
’cause you told me you were mine o mine…

But you walked out
and left me behind…
So there’ll be no second time!”

By Bryan
March 18, 2014 at 2:21 pm

LOL. I’ve been invited to this “dance” many times. Never took anyone up on it.

Years ago, a F-500 company recruited me from out-of-state, paying for my plane ticket, hotel and rental car. I ran their 4-hour-long interview gauntlet, then interviewed at another company in the area (I arranged the second interview before I flew into town).

I didn’t hear back from the first company before the second company extended me an offer (the very same day). In fact, I didn’t hear back from F-500 for several weeks. They spent a lot of money for…nothing.

A couple of lessons:
a) Strike while the iron is hot! If the candidate is good, make an offer, don’t dilly-dally hoping a better candidate will walk through the door.

b) Do not ever interview via “gauntlet”. It is too taxing on the candidate, your interviewers ask the same stupid–yes, stupid–questions over and over again, and then it takes longer to get together to discuss the candidate.

c) A sloppy interview process belies a sloppy company.

Sadly to say, that F-500’s brand disappeared a few years later when they were bought by another company and broken up for parts.

By Nick Corcodilos
March 18, 2014 at 3:48 pm

@Ellen: My (former) editor at Penguin Putnam would love your comment. When we started working on my book many years ago, Julia Serebrinsky claimed most of the job search methods and tactics I advocate are all found in the world of dating… And I agree.

@Kimberley: You’re hinting at another problem. Employers who want references up front are lazy. It means they did not find you through careful research and trusted contacts. They need quick confirmation about who you are. That’s not recruiting. That’s being an undiscerning pig. Worse, when they contact everyone’s references early in the process, guess what happens? References get ticked off due to all the calls. It’s well worth withholding valuable references (that you don’t bothered unnecessarily) until an employer is at the offer stage with you.

By Nick Corcodilos
March 18, 2014 at 3:51 pm

@Don: Great point about getting back after a few months. If the employer has rejected you, but has other openings later, they already know pretty much who you are. It’s less work for them to reactivate an old (3 months) candidate than to check out a new one. Don’t expect much from this, but don’t ignore a free pass, either.

By Jay
March 20, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Nice article. I am exactly in this situation now. Phone interview went well and the manager led me to believe that face to face was only a formality. Arrive for the face to face only to be told that they are rethinking the position. I really didn’t know how to handle it in the moment. I smiled and continued on with the interview. (Hindsight: I should have said something about how this goes to show that these kinds of resource requirements can be changing targets depending on the corporate goals. I felt that the manager wanted me to acknowledge his predicament somehow)

Anyways, I did my usual thank you e-mail and I am off to my next application. If they call me back and I am still available, I will pick up the thread, else I will politely decline. Either way the only time I feel I am obligated to put my job hunt on hold is when a company makes me an offer. Only at that point do I think they are serious.

By Karsten
March 21, 2014 at 6:42 am

A rejection can be OK; if it is swift and polite, it shows that the company takes its hiring seriously and gives candidates proper feedback.

“Sorry, but not now” can create mutual trust, and be a good brigde to talk again in the future.

The bad things are when they do not give feedback at all, but just og radio silent, or retorts to evasive foot dragging. It could be a harbinger for how well – or bad – the company is organised in general.

By Nick Corcodilos
March 21, 2014 at 10:49 am

@Jay: You got the point. Until a company makes an offer, the ball is in their court. What so many job seekers find hard to accept is that there is no decision for the applicant to make until an offer is on the table. Until then, the smartest next step is to move on to the next opportunity. Anything else is wishful thinking.

By marybeth
March 23, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Excellent article and good posts, all.

I dislike slowpokes and time sinks in the job hunt as much as anyone, but I do recognize that in some fields, with some employers, that is nature of how job searches are handled. Academia is notorious for being slow. If you’re looking to fill a faculty position (tenure track or non-tenure track, and even adjunct), plan on it lasting about a year or at least nine months from the writing up of the description and forming the search committee to the new hire starting his job. Some staff positions take equally long, but typically these can be filled in less time, but it is still a slow process and will take months. It isn’t just the state schools, but it can happen in the private schools too. And yet, depending upon who is backing you (the more important the people are who are backing you and your hire decision), you might be able to get your choice in faster.

I’m not saying that quick hires don’t happen in academia–they can and they do–but they’re rare.

As for the non-academic world, I don’t know why employers are dragging their feet. The longer the job goes unfilled, the more burnt out the other workers get, or the more behind you get on projects. Surely that isn’t a good thing for anyone.

A couple of years after I finished college, I was looking for a new job. I’d found two, and applied for both. Both had résumé/application deadlines, and since I got mine in early, there was a waiting game–the jobs didn’t close until a posted date, and only once that date had passed did they begin to review the applicants and start calling people to schedule interviews and, in the case of one of the jobs, testing. I was called to interview at both. I was called for a second interview at one, to schedule testing at the other once I’d had my interview, and when the first one called me to ask for my references (I provided them), I heard back from her quickly (she had reached my references and was pleased with what they had to say) and had an offer. I accepted it, gave notice at my job, and moved on. I didn’t hear anything (queue the sound of birds chirping) from the other, but I had the offer and the other job, so I wasn’t concerned. It was well into the following year that I got a call from the other employer, asking me to come for a second interview, at which point I thanked them but said that I had a job, and wished them well. Both employers were town governments–the job I took with town A was in the library; the other job with city/town B was for their police dept. I don’t know why the police didn’t follow up sooner–maybe I was 2nd or 3rd or 8th on their list, and after their first choice either didn’t work out or turned them down, they went down the list of the others they’d interviewed, though I would have thought that if someone else had been hired and left, they would have posted the job vacancy again. Or maybe not.

Sometimes a lack of an immediate response is not an indication of a lack of interest but just the process. But what I think would be most helpful would be if employers would explain this to candidates upfront–tell them that it will take at least 9 months before a decision is made. This way no one is waiting by the phone or not taking advantage of other opportunities should they come along. And if they don’t provide this information, then I think Nick’s advice is sound (as usual)–don’t wait for them. Keep looking. If you’re still interested after a length of time or unemployed or another job didn’t work out, then if there is an offer you can still take it, if you want. But I would also ask “why did this take so long?” It could be that the employer is an unorganized scatterbrain, but it could also be something else. My brother has been in a new job for two years; when he took his last job, he’d applied for the same job he now has, but had been told that they had to wait for funding and that it would be a while–turned out that he waited over four years. Then he had to wait while they wrote the job description, tailoring it so it fit him, then the job had to be posted, with deadlines, etc. And yes, this is the “state” too. When you have to rely on your funding from the governor and when there’s a recession and budget crisis, with cuts first made to education and social services, followed by lobbying to the muckety-mucks as to why the position is needed, it takes time.

By Nate Weymouth
May 1, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Nick,

Excellent article and advice. Can’t you take a more assertive approach? After many of these situations, I tend to believe that it is always a money issue; they don’t have the budget. Companies often collect resumes and conduct interviews w/o having the money in place. I saw a University keep several teaching positions open for a year before canceling them.

Recently, I interviewed with a company four times over a period of 3 months. The same hiring manager and HR people. I was given 3 behavior assessments. It is complete drag on the confidence. Finally, I got an answer by calling a VP who initially referred me. It was a budgeting issue and my assessments were ok.

People want what they can’t have; so create some competition for your services. My hardball approach would be tell them (if true) that you are in your second round at their competitor. However, before I accept their invitation, I want to hear back from “slow poke”. I consider “slow poke” my first choice because…….” Be sincere in your reasons. Sent the letter after 1 month of delay to the hiring manager and VP in that department. Then call up the hiring manager 2-3 days later.

Post a comment