by Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
Interviewing for a New Role
As a many-time layoff survivor, I have done quite a few job searches and had lots of interviews. Recently, I read an article about a job searcher who opted out of one hiring process. He did this after making it through three rounds of interviews, and having the organization ask about arranging the next six (yes, six) rounds of interviews.
I felt compelled to share my own story about one seemingly never-ending interview process. Like with many things in life, it took a bad experience to teach me how to make better decisions.
Job Interviewing Boundary Setting is Hard
Let me start by taking a moment to acknowledge that this is not always easy to do. When you’re hip-deep in a job search, especially when you’re unemployed, it is hard to set boundaries. The longer the search goes on, the easier it is to tell yourself that you’ll summit Everest if a potential employer asks you to as part of possibly FINALLY getting a paying job.
Consider this your reminder to realize that jumping through more and more hoops doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll end up with a job at the end of the process. Do your future job-searching self a favor and think through what your boundaries are when it comes to participating in a given company's hiring process. (We'll revisit this a little later.
The Perfect Job! (or was it...)
During this particular job search, I was laid off at the end of the summer. From previous job searches, I hoped to find a new position before Thanksgiving because otherwise, it might be until February or March before I secured a new role.
I was very excited when I ran across THE PERFECT JOB! It was an opening for a training director position within an easy commuting distance where I even knew someone who had connections within the organization.
Lesson Learned: Don’t fall in love with a job. Even if it seems like “the perfect job,” it is not yet “your job.” Apply, and hope for the best, but keep on applying. Until you have an actual accepted job offer, it is not “your job.
The Inside Scoop
I met with my professional connection, and they filled me in. I learned about the organization, their clientele, their mission, the key players in the hiring process, and helpful background information. My connection even put in a good word with the organization (they had left on good terms.) I also learned that the company had some turnover in this position, so they were trying to make sure they did their due diligence and hired the right person this time around.
Lesson Learned: Gather and synthesize information even when you’re excited because you found THE PERFECT JOB. This company having gone through two people in the role in a relatively short time period and being concerned about making another hiring misstep is something I heard and noted. Still, I didn't really take it to heart. In this case, the company was trying (maybe a little too) hard to hire the right person for the role. It may have also indicated something about the company or the position that caused people not to stay. My future self knows to synthesize information more carefully--and not overemphasize only the good things.
The Phone Interviews
I applied, and my connection put in a good word for me. The company quickly reached out to me for an initial phone screen. Then a phone interview. Then another phone interview. Then yet another phone interview. After four phone calls—each where the new interviewer seemed excited about me as a candidate and talked about who else I needed to talk to—I started to wonder what the game plan was for this whole process (aside from their overwhelming and often stated goal of not to make a hiring mistake).
Lessons Learned: In the initial phone screen or the first interview, ask about the hiring process. This includes their estimate of when this process will be over (a week? a month? 6 months?) and the critical steps in the process. Decide your boundaries and be ready to decide the number of hours you are willing to dedicate to interviewing for this role.
Remember, you are interviewing them, too. Make no assumptions. Don't get so excited that they keep wanting to talk with you that you keep going, not knowing how many hoops there are to jump through.
The Work Samples
In addition to talking to different interviewers on multiple occasions, the company wanted to see instructional design work samples from me. I emailed work samples and reviewed them with a subject matter expert who was well-versed in adult education and instructional design. They complimented me on the trainer guide, videos, and job aids I had created. They told me they were impressed with my work and learned from what I told them. At this point, they told me the next step was for me to meet with the company founder.
Lessons Learned: Have a portfolio online that people can access, or let people know that you are happy to review work samples (and your process) with them in an in-person or Zoom meeting. I keep my work samples online with a note that these are intended to showcase my work and that they are not to be downloaded and distributed.
The Zoom Meetings
I was excited to meet the company founder, who was also a published author. In preparation, I bought and read their most recent book, researched their accomplishments, read their blog articles, and reviewed their body of work. During the interview, we had a great conversation, which included a lot of “when we work together” and “next steps” language.
This meeting was followed by multiple Zoom meetings with different stakeholders (again, one at a time) explaining the next steps in this process—which they called an “in-box experience.” During this phase, I would come into their office and work for a half day. I would have a chance to interact with multiple people I would work with, including consultants and a client. This would require me to sign a non-disclosure agreement, work on a project for an actual client, and present information to a client.
Lessons Learned: No matter how many interviews you have, or how much they seem to like you, remember you do not have the job until they have made you an offer and you have come to an agreement about your compensation. Remember that the goal of this process is that the employer decides if they want to work with you, and you decide if you want to work with them. Looking back, I'm frustrated with myself that I invested SO MUCH TIME with this potential employer without talking about salary expectations.
The In-Box Experience
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, at 8:00 am, I arrived at the company's downtown office location for my in-box experience. I brought my computer and the work I had done so far. (BTW--there was a project and pre-work that I did, which took way too long. Holy time suck.) I was told that I needed to use their computer for my work that day.
During the four hours that I was there working (for free) for them, I had an in-person panel interview with people I had talked with via phone, interviewed via Zoom with a consultant, ran a project meeting, completed work on instructional materials for a client, and got feedback on my performance along the way. I had a final conversation with one of the decision-makers before ending my day. I was told I'd hear back early the following week.
Lessons Learned: Determine ahead of time how much you are willing to do for a role, and when to call it. Remember, you're interviewing them, too. And, for the love of God, don't do a ton of unpaid labor for a business that is not paying you for your work product.
Thanks, But No
In the middle of the following week, I got a call. It was very brief. Thanks for my time, but they had decided not to proceed with me as a candidate. If I like, though, they would be willing to add me to their possible consultant database for future contract work.
Lesson Learned: Never again. In short, I spent about 45 hours total, including about 15 hours of unpaid work that I did for the company, to end up with no job offer. Time to transition all of these lessons learned into new personal guidelines.
My Fancy New Job Search Boundaries
Remember the boundary setting I mentioned before? Here's where we revisit it. After going through this process (and getting mad all over again while writing this article), I am reminded of the outcome of those lessons learned for me.
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7-time layoff survivor Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady, waxes poetic on layoffs, job transitions, & career resilience.