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Ask the Headhunter: Rude job interview? Don’t work there

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: Hi, Nick — I’ve been regularly reading your column for a few years. I wanted to share a very disappointing experience.

After three interviews, I was not offered a job as a sales manager at a medical devices company. Two months later, I applied for another position in a different division of the company. HR remembered me and set up a phone interview with a vice president, skipping the HR interviews since I had already spoken with them.

This guy was driving when he called and said he had forgotten my resume. He started asking me questions about surgeons I know in the area. I would mention one person and his response would immediately be, “Who else? Who else? Who else?” This pattern went on for several minutes.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: Why I’m sorry I gave my boss 2 weeks’ notice

It didn’t feel like an interview. I think he was just trolling for sales leads. This wasn’t a conversation. Then he abruptly said he wants to hire somebody from a manufacturer, not a distributor — which was where I was working. I had previously worked for a manufacturer in medical sales, but he hadn’t read my resume.

He ended the call abruptly. As he’s hanging up, I heard him say, “He’s terrible.” I don’t know if he was talking to himself or another person.

I feel like I missed out on this opportunity. However, I suspect this job is open fairly often because of him. One could sense this even in a brief phone conversation. It’s just too bad that you end up working for a person like this who would dominate your future in an otherwise decent company. What are your thoughts?

Nick Corcodilos: I frequently rail against HR’s behavior in the interview process. (See “How HR optimizes rejection of millions of job applicants.”) Sometimes we forget how bad hiring managers are at interviewing.

I don’t think you missed an opportunity. Your closing point should terrify people who run companies. When managers treat job applicants like this, their incompetence casts a pall on the whole company — and it costs them good hires. (See this oldie but goodie on my website: “Death By Lethal Reputation: The demise of an employer.”) There’s no way that manager could make a valid judgment about you with that call. But he made it easy for you to see the poor management at that company.

Of course, as you note, this also tells us a lot about how that manager probably treats his employees. However, I think you’re cutting the company too much slack when you suggest this might be “an otherwise decent company.” It might be decent, but consider that managers like this survive and thrive because someone lets them. What does that tell you about the company?

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: How did recruiting become so perverted?

I credit the HR department for paving the way for you to interview without meeting them again. But I wonder if HR knows how that manager conducts interviews. I don’t like “phoners” to begin with, but the manager should have been prepared. (Was he going to refer to your resume while he was driving if he had remembered to bring it along?) He should have been ready to discuss your credentials and ask you about how you would do the job.

If HR is going to exist in a company, its job is to make sure managers know how to interview and that they’re representing the company properly. (For my take on this, listen to this interview: “What’s HR got to do with it?”)

You may laugh or cringe at my suggestion, but if I were you, I’d call the HR person back and recount your experience with the manager. That’s right — I’d rat him out. I see no good reason to give this company a third shot at hiring you, so why suffer silently from the way you were treated?

If HR has any power, the vice president will get called on the carpet. Something might change. Could this hurt you? It might — the vice president might complain about you to someone else. But I’ll tell you what: This kind of behavior by executives continues unabated, because everyone is afraid of them. Cultivating an image of being forthright and of having high standards can have an upside for you. Word may also get around that you’re someone worthy of respect.

The choice is yours. Don’t do this because I suggest it. Do it if you think it’s worthwhile. Incompetent interviewers reveal poor management. Unless people stand up for what’s right, executives like that one will spend their careers wrecking companies and careers.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: Why you should tell employers, ‘I don’t fill out job applications’

Dear Readers: Is my advice extreme? Where do you draw a line when you get abused in a job interview — or on the job? Have you had such interview experiences? How would you advise this reader?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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