A Test for You? Or a Red Flag on Them?

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Over at Ask a Manager, Alison Green once fielded a question from someone who had apparently confirmed a job interview for a Saturday at 6:45 a.m. This was for a job advertising typical weekday hours.

The writer wondered what this might mean, and volunteered that some of his friends thought this might be some sort of test.

After explaining why she doubted that theory, Green offered her own best guess: That the a.m. was a typo for p.m.

But what if this wasn't a typo? Green covers this possibility, too:

"I don't know any hiring manager who would be willing to come in at the crack of dawn on a Saturday just to see if you'd show up." -- Alison Green (Image by Roland Samuel, via Unsplash, license.)
To be clear, the issue isn't the early interview time -- that's certainly odd, but it's not the big problem here. The big problem is that they're acting like this is normal and not anything that would require apology or explanation, and that's what really signals potential issues. It's similar to how it wouldn't be completely outrageous for an employer to ask you at 10 a.m. if you can interview at 3 p.m. that day, but it would be a red flag if they didn't acknowledge the short notice. A lack of any acknowledgment or context would tell you that that company was probably fairly disorganized and chaotic and not especially considerate of people. It's the same thing here -- the fact that they're not acknowledging that this is unusual tells you that they don't think it's especially unusual, and that's a flag.

So yeah, ask about it at the interview. Say, "This is an unusual time to interview -- what are your hours normally like?" (And If they're surprised that you're surprised, that's an additional red flag.) And ask about typical hours, overtime, how last-minute projects are handled, etc.

Overall, though, the thing for you to keep in mind as you move forward is that this indicates something. Your job during this hiring process is to figure out what. [emphasis in original]
Green combines and applies two of the most valuable lessons I have learned from following her blog over the years. First, regarding the workings of management, never forget that the managers are human beings. Second, job interviews exist for both parties to learn about each other and determine if there is a good fit.

For many, it seems easy, in relationships and other situations where there is or seems to be a power imbalance, to forget that the "stronger" side is human, with its own concerns and the possibility of error that implies. I think that that is in part due to our culture's underlying altruism, which grossly deemphasizes the nobility and practicality of self-interest and its social corollary, the trader principle.

It is not too hard to imagine, absent the implicit idea so many seem to have about potential employers having them over a barrel, someone seeing a time like 6:45 a.m., laughing, and shooting off a quick email to the effect of, "Do you really mean 6:45 a.m.?" Instead, we have folks driving themselves to distraction, trying to understand what's "really going on" in the mind of Mr. Big Boss, while forgetting to think that maybe this isn't Mr. Right Boss.

-- CAV

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