As a job hunter, it can feel like you’re completely at the mercy of your potential employers.
They ask you to come in for an interview at a time that’s inconvenient; you say, “I’ll make it work.” They give you a take-home assignment; you put off everything else on your plate to get it done. They call; you answer.
It’s a classic “they say jump, you ask ‘how high?’” kind of situation. You want the role, so you do whatever it takes to get it. That’s just part of the process—to a point.
In some cases, companies may ask you to jump a little too high—and it’s absolutely within your rights to push back (or flat-out refuse). Here are a few situations you simply shouldn’t tolerate.
1. Making Unreasonable Demands on Your Time
I recently read about a job hunter who was invited to complete a phone interview. She was instructed to be available from 9 AM until 1 PM, with the expectation that the interviewer would call her at some point within that time frame.
That may fly for your plumber or cable company, but it’s not reasonable for a hiring manager who can easily schedule nice, neat, 15- or 30-minute calendar appointments. You simply shouldn’t have to block off half your day in anticipation of a 20-minute call.
Or, maybe your prospective employer asks you to complete an assignment, which, by your expectations, won’t just take a few hours—but several days of your time.
Should you flat-out refuse to comply in these situations? No. But you can push back appropriately. For example, if given a wide window of time for an interview, it’s reasonable to say, “I’ll be at work that day and will need to arrange my schedule so that I can step aside for those 20 minutes. It would be helpful to establish an exact time for the call, so I can put it on my calendar.”
Or, for the assignment, ask a couple of clarifying questions, such as “How much detail are you looking for?” or “What amount of time is it reasonable for me to spend on this assignment?” Maybe instead of creating an entire project proposal, for example, an outline would be sufficient. Or, maybe you discover that the interviewer expects you to spend a maximum of 45 minutes on the assignment, which can help you put the level of effort and detail into perspective.
2. Offering You the Job Based on Crazy Contingencies
The hiring process has grown considerably more complicated in recent years. Now, instead of a single phone screen and in-person interview, the process often involves personality and skills assessments, presentations, take-home assignments, and multiple interviews with different stakeholders throughout the organization.
It’s clear that today’s employers are serious about finding candidates who are the right fit, who are going to succeed in the company and mesh with the culture.
While that level of evaluation can also be beneficial to the long-term success of the job seeker, at some point, it can also become a risk. Some companies, for example, hire employees on a trial basis only—converting them to true full-time employees only if they successfully meet expectations during the try-out period. In one case, the company doesn’t even determine the employee’s full-time salary until they’ve determined his or her true value over the trial period.
The point here isn’t entirely about job security (because really, if you’re not meeting expectations, you can get fired at any time, trial period or not), but it may be a red flag if a company is truly that hesitant about committing to you as an employee, even after an extensive interview process. And that kind of contingency could easily leave you job searching again in just a few short weeks. Do you want to risk that?
3. Asking You to Fly in for an Interview—on Your Own Dime
Maybe you’re open to an out-of-state opportunity—and great news! You landed an interview. Then they drop the bomb: You’ll be responsible for all your travel costs.
While companies find lots of reasons to justify this (e.g., “It’s not in the budget,” or “We have several local candidates to choose from, so we don’t need to spend resources on out-of-town applicants”), it raises some red flags. Is the company financially stable? Are they serious about considering you as a candidate?
OK, but maybe it’s your dream job. Could shelling out the cash be worth it? Allison Greene, Ask a Manager's writer, suggests taking a few precautions before booking your trip. First, ask to have a phone or Skype first-round interview before flying out, so both parties can make sure this is worth pursuing.
Then, before the next step, ask the hiring manager how strong of a candidate he or she considers you. “Pay close attention to the answer,” Greene recommends. “There’s a big difference between ‘You’re our leading candidate’ and ‘We’re interviewing six people, and you’re all about evenly qualified.’” Based on that answer, you can make a smarter decision about whether the trip is worth the cost.
4. Handing You an Exploding Offer
After a phone screen, multiple interviews, and maybe even a take-home assignment, a company offers you the job—and gives you a mere 24 hours to make up your mind.
An “exploding” offer like this—one that pressures you to make a decision in an unreasonably short period of time—signals some red flags.
According to professor and author Adam Grant, an exploding offer could mean that the company is desperate for candidates (which can signal that they have high turnover or have had a hard time keeping an employee in this particular position). Or, maybe the company even realizes that you could probably get better offers elsewhere—so they want to make sure you take theirs before you have the chance to make any comparisons.
Whatever the reason, it begs the question: Do you really want to work for a company that feels it has to pressure you into a job?
When there’s a job at stake, there probably aren’t many requests you want to decline. But in these extreme circumstances, it’s worth really thinking about whether it’s a role you want to pursue. In some cases, you might decide it’s worth the extra effort and risk, or you may decide that it’s time to move on to the next—even more promising—opportunity.