Recently, I’ve had two job search experiences where the companies’ behavior bestowed little trust in me — the job seeker and potential recruit. However, trust works both ways. In both examples, I learned to always trust my own instincts. In today’s economy, many people think just landing a job is hard work — and I agree — it really is. However, I learned that it’s in your best interest to interview prospective employers as much as they interview you, and pay attention to the red flags along the way.

From Flickr user rvw via Creative Commons

Today I’ll talk about Company A — a six-year old B2B technology company with offices throughout the U.S., and a rosy financial outlook. When they offered me a senior role, I should have trusted myself a little more.

It was obvious from the first interview that the hiring manager, who would be remote from me but available during the work-day via video chat, was going to be a micro-manager. If you’ve ever experienced a micro-manager, then you know what I mean. A bit of neediness mixed with a bit too much curiosity about my life … you can just tell. After 8 years as a freelancer, I knew I wouldn’t respond well to her management style, but I so much wanted to work for a technology company that I ignored this first red flag.

After a series of videoconference interviews, the next round was in-person with a C-level executive. I was early and overheard another candidate’s interview in the other room, as the door was wide open. Inappropriate? Yes, but I looked at it as getting an edge on my competition. I learned that she was opposite of me in age and specialization. During my interview, the exec was distracted. He fiddled, checked his email, counted $100 bills he had in his desk, looked for his phone (which kept notifying him of new text messages), allowed people to barge into his office and ask for his input, and on top of it all, he drilled me on topics that seemed not-quite-right for the job. Overall, another red flag.

In the end, I was offered the position. But they offered $20K less than what I’d determined was my target and $10K less than what I really need. So I held firm and said “No – this is what I need to live on.” I should have said “No,” period. In the end, they almost came up to my minimum and I caved and said yes.

By the time the offer letter rolled in, the title had changed from Senior Instructional Designer to simply Instructional Designer. Titles make a difference for future jobs and salaries. I immediately said something to my manager. I never would have even applied for the job if it hadn’t been a Senior level position, so this was a big deal for me. “The committee will discuss it,” I was told.

Next, I was sent into the office to pick up a Mac I had been promised, which turned out to be a Windows PC. My manager told me, “Well, IT told me we had no Macs but they had PCs sitting around.” That was disappointing, but fine, until I called IT about something else and I learned getting a Mac wouldn’t have been an issue at all. Macs were also sitting around.

I know that the OS and hardware is a small thing, but look deeper. In reality, my new manager lied to me right off the bat. So at this point, before I even start the job, Company A has lied to me and pulled a title switch. Other red flags were raised before I even started the position. For instance, there was pushback on finding a resolution to the title issue; my upcoming speaking engagements were called into question; I sat through a two-hour meeting with my manager to talk about things we might do on my first day, and so on. I realized I couldn’t work for Company A.

My lessons learned from Company A were big:

  • An interview is my chance, as the job seeker, to interview the company and the manager. It’s quite within my rights to ask a question such as “How do you see your management style?” It’s easy for job seekers to forget that we’re interviewing the companies too.
  • Listen to your instincts. If the company or interviewers do something that raises red flags for you, either address it directly or research it. You may not want that job, whether it’s management style, location, culture, history or anything else. If the job really doesn’t seem right for you during the interview, there’s a reason. If you can, listen to your head, not your desperation.

Maybe the issues at Company A were more me than them. I’m willing to accept that. But I know that if I have that many personal red flags, it’s time to listen to myself and trust my own instincts.

While companies aren’t doing much to instill trust in the job seeker, we really need to trust ourselves too. There’s something to be said for being happy, and recognizing when that isn’t going to happen and how it may affect your work environment and your life. As job seekers, we have a responsibility to ourselves to interview the company as well as sell ourselves — and it’s worth remembering.

Michelle is a recent, wide-eyed transplant to the San Francisco Bay area. She still runs Write Technology, where she specializes in training, social learning strategy, and social marketing. Michelle is the executive editor of My Wine Education and recently started steps towards becoming a sommelier just for the hell of it. Michelle also blogs at Total Learner, where she intends to wax poetic on what should be and what isn’t within the field of learning. Oh, and she’s looking for a “real” job so feel free to reach out.

Note: Technology press releases should be sent to michelle[at]writetech[dot]net.

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