My most recent job interview was yesterday morning, out in the northwest suburbs. For those of you keeping score at home, this is the interview for the mystery position where I was instructed to tell the receptionist I was there for a meeting, and not to mention an interview. Since I also was unsure about what position it was, exactly, I had some hope that I might be interviewing for a job with the CIA.
Wednesday’s adventure began with Google Maps taking me to the wrong building. The street the company is located on goes through several suburbs, and for some reason one of them, Rolling Meadows, has the even numbers on the east side of a north-south street, which is…well, honestly I don’t know what is customary, but in Chicago the evens are on the west side and odds on the east, so it seems like Rolling Meadows is Doing It Wrong. At any rate, when I crossed the boundary into Palatine, the numbers switched back to the “standard,” unbeknownst to either Google or me. When the disembodied voice told me that my destination was on the right, I took it at its word and pulled into the parking lot of the unnumbered building on that side of the street.
It took a while to discover that I was at the wrong place, since it had the look of an office park with several buildings around back. However, I eventually found a sign for Northrop-Grumman. Northrop-Grumman, if you aren’t already aware, is a designer of aircraft. Military aircraft, to be precise, which is probably why I soon found another sign declaring that all vehicles and drivers were subject to search at any time. By the time I passed the next sign (this one for Security Post #3), I found a place to make a u-turn and fled. Upon turning back out onto the main road, I figured out where the company was ACTUALLY located, and since I had 20 minutes to kill I drove to a car wash a block away and parked. I pulled out my notebook to write a few things down and reviewed what little I knew about the company before the interview.
So…let’s review. I pulled into the parking lot of a government contractor, drove around the back of the building, left in a rather hurried and conspicuous manner, and then parked a block away and started reviewing papers and jotting down notes. I’m sure an outside observer wouldn’t have found that to be suspicious at all. After ensuring that there were no black helicopters closing in on my position, I went back down the street to my interview.
And oh, what a grand time it was. I’ve interviewed for a lot of jobs in my life, but rarely have I encountered so many red flags in the course of a 90 minute period. Here they are, in no particular order:
- The first interviewer had left his laptop at home, so email was being routed to his phone. To his credit, he didn’t look at it while we were talking. After the thing beeped several times in the first few minutes, though, I began keeping a count. Dude received 37 emails in the 60 minutes we were talking. He mentioned off-handedly that these were almost certainly all internal. In my experience, this is a sign of a company with a clogged decision-making process, at the very least.
- At various points during the interview, he mentioned the following things:
- “I believe in work-life balance. That’s very important.”
- “Having the right personality fit is really key. I mean, if you’re going to spend 50 hours a week with these people, you want to get along with them.”
- “For many of us, we see our coworkers more than we see our families.”
Again, I’ve interviewed for a lot of jobs. I will say that in my experience any company that says they believe in a work-life balance probably doesn’t. Also, the estimate of the workload mentioned in an interview is pretty much guaranteed to be downplaying the situation (so that 50 hour job is probably closer to 60). And finally…I have a family, and I like them quite a bit. The idea of seeing your mug more often than I see any of them is not really appealing.
- Back to that whole clandestine interview thing. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that they already have someone in this role. According to the people I met with, though, she isn’t really working out, and based on some of the things they mentioned, I would tend to agree that they need to make a change. However, when I asked what they’ve done to improve her performance, the answer was, “I assure you, I’ve done a lot.” Not exactly a confidence-inspiring comment, so I followed up with, “Okay, let me be a little more direct. Is the incumbent going to be shocked when this staffing change is made?” The answer: “Not if she’s been paying attention.”
- After the first interview, I had a chance to meet one of the owners. In the middle of our 15 minute meeting, he took a 5 minute phone call. Not an emergency call, just kind of shooting the breeze with his business partner. Way to make me feel like my time will be respected if I’m your employee, man.
- During that same 15 minute conversation, the side door to the building opened, which is right next to the owner’s office. He crossed the room to close his door, then turned and whispered to me, “I’m sure you know about our staffing…situation with this position, right?” So, um…the communication at this company is so good that you’re literally whispering to me in the middle of your office about a position at your own company? What?
Now look, many of these aren’t all that big a deal. Every company has quirks, and no job is without things that could be improved. I’ve never had a perfect job and honestly I don’t expect my next one to be so. There are good reasons for these particular red flags to stand out for me, though. My last employers were also terrible communicators, and often made staffing changes that took the employee in question by surprised. They also made a habit of taking phone calls or responding to emails in the middle of meetings – a particular pet peeve of mine, since I don’t like feeling like my time is being wasted. They, too, had exceptionally high expectations for the amount of time that their salaried employees would put in, particularly in times of growth for the company. That’s certainly fine, of course. But at the end of the day, a 60 hour work week plus a 30 mile one-way commute, plus doing a job that clearly needs at least 2 people to complete well (at least based on the information I got in the interview)…all for owners that don’t seem to have a great deal of respect for their employees? This sounds eerily familiar. I did that job for the last 5 years, thanks, and I don’t particularly want to do it again.