Six Reasons to Run from a Job Opportunity

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We hear about the frustrating aspects of job search all the time. I’m always writing and speaking about the soulless Black Hole recruiting systems and weeks of radio silence from employers. We know about the stress and isolation of a job search. Anyone who’s been job-hunting lately knows it’s no picnic for most job-seekers.

There’s one aspect of job-hunting that doesn’t get nearly as much ink or airtime as the grueling parts, and that is the Vortex. The Vortex is the thing that overtakes you when a given employer (or more than one!) is interested in you for a job. The Vortex kicks in when a headhunter or the company recruiter calls you to say “Good news. They’re really interested in you.”

The Vortex is dangerous, like the Bermuda Triangle. It sucks job-seekers in and whirls them around. It’s easy to lose your bearings in the Vortex, because it’s so novel (and let’s face it, so intoxicating) to have people like and appreciate you.

If you’re conducting your job search in stealth mode, your flirtation with another firm feels like having an affair (not that I would know anything about that).

My current company takes me for granted, they don’t understand me, they nag nag nag at me all the time. But you, you adorable other prospective employer, you pay attention to me. You tell me I’m smart and powerful! You really get me. You could be the one…

That’s the Vortex talking. Like dear Sally Field at the Oscars, we love to be liked, and no one ever likes you as much as a hiring manager who’s about to make a job offer. (Flip side: no employer will ever like you better than they do at that moment.)

That’s Vortex is dangerous, because it can make common sense fly out the window. It’s why so many people take sucktastic jobs that they end up quitting or getting fired from. It is easy to miss red flags in the Vortex.

There can be red flags all over, but once you’re in the Vortex it’s hard for you to see the situation clearly. You can overlook glaring signals once you’re close enough to the job offer to taste it.

To help you spot some of the most common signs of an undeserving work situation when you’re in the tumultuous tail end of a selection pipeline (see how awkward it sounds when I switch from English to zombiespeak?) here’s the Human Workplace list of Six Reasons to Run from a job opportunity.

Any one of these red flags is good reason to hit the bricks, but a combination of them is a sign from God to shoot higher. Recognize any of these Six Reasons from your job-hunting past?

Who’s on First?

Our client Lisa went on an interview for a Director of Online Strategy spot with an IT firm. “It’s so cool,” she told me after the interview. “The CEO is really a visionary.” Lisa went back for a second interview. “It’s confusing,” she said. “The VP of Marketing thinks this position is more about customer engagement overall than just online strategy. But their customer mix is also changing dramatically as we speak.” Lisa went on a third interview. “They can’t decide on their strategy,” she said. “I think the CEO and the CFO aren’t speaking.”

Lisa bailed on the opportunity just as the headhunter was calling to arrange Interview Number Four. It would have been fun to hear what new developments had emerged. Maybe the company had become a flavored-popcorn vendor, or picked up and moved to Fiji. When there’s no consensus on the nature and purpose of the role you’re interviewing for (much less the direction of the company) your best move is to hail a cab, and peace.

Problems? Us?

It is fun and fizzy to interview with people who are excited about their work. It is creepy and alarming to go on multiple interviews and have trouble pinpointing why there’s a job opening at all – because everyone you talk to says that everything in the company is tremendous, operating perfectly, and absolutely dreamy.

Either the people you’re meeting are afraid to tell you the truth, or they’re clueless. Either scenario spells trouble. If you meet your hiring manager and can’t get any pain out of him or her, catch a bus and carry on with your life.

Just a Few More Things We Need From You…

When I teach workshops on hiring, I tell participants that a selection process has two equal parts. Half the story is selling candidates on your company and the opportunity. Sharp people need to be sold – and who can blame them? If a candidate isn’t worth your time and energy to sell to, why are you talking with him?

The other fifty percent of the process is vetting – making sure (through conversation, not insulting tests and assignments) that a candidate is suited to your assignment.

If an interview process is so weighted toward vetting that there’s no selling at all, and if the process involves crawling over successively larger piles of broken glass, you will not enjoy the job if you get it. Back out of a hiring process like that, and go in search of employers who understand that without talented people, they have nothing.

Go Paint Your Apartment

I was on an online chat with the headhunting guru Bill Vick. Someone asked the question, “How long should a candidate wait to hear from an employer after an interview?” I said, “Ninety-six hours should be enough. If the employer is interested, they can follow up within four days.” Another search guy said “That’s way too short. It can take weeks. Companies are slow.” Bill said “Ninety-six hours is too long. I tell my clients I won’t make candidates wait to hear from them. They can pick up the phone if they want to keep a candidate interested.”

Now you see why Bill is legendary in the recruiting world. He tells candidates “Don’t be a doormat.” In the same discussion, another search person said “I disagree. I tell candidates to take some time off while the company is mulling over its decision. Paint your apartment, or pick another project.”

Would we counsel our friends to allow romantic partners to treat them like dirt? We would not, because we believe that people should have healthy social relationships. Why would things be any different in the professional realm?

Sorry, That’s Classified

If you’re contemplating joining a new organization, you need all the information you can get. If they won’t show you the Employee Handbook, the benefits plans and the details of any compensation system that could affect you, it’s time to get out of Dodge.

Why would any employer withhold information from a finalist job-seeker? On Day One when you walk into New Employee Orientation, they’re going to give you a handbook and require you to sign it. Naturally, you need to see it in advance. If the firm balks when you ask for a written offer letter, that’s another sign from the universe that your bread is best buttered elsewhere.

I’d Introduce You To the Team, But They’re Chained to Their Desks

Our final Reason to Run concerns your could-be co-workers. If you’re not invited to meet those people, you have my permission to flee the scene and go find some tasty gelato. The biggest red flag in the world is “Oh, you’ll meet your co-workers once you start working.” That is the kiss of death, and so is the brush-off “I’d show you our work area, but we don’t have time.”

I’m going to sit in this office for eight or ten hours a day, and we don’t have time to walk me through it? Sprint away from a deal like that. That’s not just delusion (expecting you to accept a pig-in-a-poke work environment on faith) but very bad manners as well.

How to Escape the Vortex

Since we can predict that your radar may be impaired in the Vortex, your best bet is to enlist a cynical and truth-telling friend to coach you through the last part of your job-interview process. (Someone from North Jersey is perfect.)

Run down every conversation with your coach, leaving out no details. As you recount the blow-by-blow action and replay the conversations you’re having, your friend will call out anything that smacks of these-guys-don’t-deserve-you energy.

You won’t find the people you should be working with if you’re wasting your time in Vortices where the energy will never improve and people will never get your harmonic structure nor you, theirs.

Kiss those situations good-bye and consider yourself lucky. It’s so much better to walk away and celebrate having dodged a bullet than to take the wrong job and let it dim your precious flame.


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  • I had an interview last week in which first the hiring manager and then her peer, with whom the person hired would often work, went on and on (and on!) about how stressful it was to work there, they have no executive support, and department priorities are changing all the time without notice so they “embrace the chaos”. They were absolutely shocked (SHOCKED!) when I turned the position down.

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