A reader writes:
I have been offered a job that I’m really excited about and can’t wait to get started in. At least, that was the case a few weeks ago, but now my enthusiasm is starting to wane. The reason? The incredibly long, bumbling recruitment process. In total, if I get the contract in the next few days, by the time I start work it will have taken five months to go from first contact to starting work. Almost half a year!!
I’m starting to think that if this process represents the organization fairly, I’m not sure I still want to work for them. In your experience, does the recruitment process reflect the organization as a whole? I’m worried I’m going to spend my working life frustrated by slow and inefficient processes. Its not a question I can really put to them without alienating them, but they don’t really explain the long delays, although they do often apologize for them.
Well, first, a five-month hiring process isn’t necessarily indicative of a problem, particularly if it’s a fairly senior position and especially if that’s the time from when you first applied to when you’d start work. Plenty of places move slowly and deliberatively (which is a good thing when hiring because the right fit is crucial), and plenty of places have to iron out budgets or other issues that come up unexpectedly and need to be resolved before they can move forward.
However, let’s assume for the sake of answering your question that it’s not just the length of the process that’s troubling you, and that you’ve seen additional red flags (which seems likely, since you characterized the process as “bumbling”).
In that case … I wish there were an easy, black and white answer to this, but there’s not.
Often, yes, a disorganized and chaotic hiring process does reflect what it will be like to work there. But other times, weirdly, it’s not entirely representative.
One thing to look at is whether you’ve been dealing with HR or the manager you’d be working for. If it’s been the manager, then yes, assume that this is a fair representation of what she’ll be like if you take the job. Even if she’s not the source of the disorder herself and is instead at the mercy of a bumbling HR department, you’ve got to assume that she’s either not able or not willing to assert herself when another area of the organization is impeding the work of her own department. If you’ve ever had a manager who won’t stand up to another department that’s getting in your way or won’t push back against policies that are impeding your work, you know how frustrating this can be. (And yes, sometimes a certain amount of bureaucratic nonsense just needs to be tolerated, but stuff that affects hiring is serious and worth pushing back against.)
On the other hand, if your sense is that the problems are all coming from HR, the picture is harder to figure out. It’s possible that the people you’d be working with would be great and that HR is its own isolated island of incompetence. But there’s a pretty strong argument to be made that an organization that allows a department to be an island of incompetence has a culture that’s problematic at best. Great cultures don’t produce or allow that kind of thing — in any area, but especially not in hiring.
Of course, there’s also the possibility that what you experienced was a fluke. The fact that they were apologizing for the delays might support this, since it indicates that they at least recognize that it’s not something people should expect.
So where does that leave you? Two things might help: First, what else do you know about how they operate, based on what you’ve observed about their culture while interviewing? Aside from their hiring practices, do they generally seem on the ball and like they’re running a tight ship? Are they action-oriented and reasonably decisive, or more wishy-washy? Do they seem to have a high bar for performance, or do you get the sense that they’re not especially rigorous?
And second, why not just ask about your concerns? If you get an offer, why not simply say something like, “I wonder if you could tell me more about the culture there. I noticed the hiring process took a while. Was that anticipated from the start, or if it took longer than you had originally expected, is that pretty common? What I’m wondering is about is whether you’re generally able to move pretty quickly when decisions need to be made, or if it’s a slower, more deliberative culture?” This is a completely reasonable question to ask when you’re considering taking a job, and if you can’t ask it without alienating them, that in and of itself is a big red flag.