was I right to turn down this job?

A reader writes:

I recently turned down a job with a major corporation, and I’ve been feeling uneasy about the decision I made–and also the entire interviewing and hiring process–for weeks now. I was hoping you might be able to tell me your impressions of the company’s hiring practices, because I can’t seem to make heads or tails of them. I also don’t know if I am blowing the whole thing out of proportion and perhaps talked myself out of a great job for no good reason. Here’s what happened:

During my first interview, I met the guy who manages the position. I was warned that he was a bit of a large personality, and not to let him rile me (I’d gotten the interview and was referred through a connection). We sat down together for about 45 minutes, most of which consisted of him talking about his own job, his family, and even his views of women in business (he said something to the effect of “I see women as people, [not as women]” which I found bizarre and a tad offensive in a way I still can’t pin down). He also let out a few four-letter profanities here and there, but nothing so offensive that I felt insulted. He didn’t ask much about my work history–just why I wanted the job–and then when I asked about what the chosen candidate would need to do to be successful in the role, his first answer was to “get along with the girls” on the team. Speaking of which, he also noted that he “takes care” of his team, and takes them out for dinners and drinks (and then said that all other departments wonder why the gals are so happy, and then want to work for him). After this, he thankfully said a couple redeeming things about how to succeed in the role that actually pertained to professional aptitude.

I was pretty thrown by the interview, and didn’t know how I felt about the role after this meeting. I do know that the culture in this particular industry is less buttoned up than many other fields. But I still wasn’t expecting an interaction like that. I did follow up with a phone call when I didn’t hear back from them in a week (I figured a polite cold call would be fine) and then was immediately called back by HR for a follow up interview. That interview with HR was more professional, but only about 15-20 minutes, and again, when I asked a few questions about the actual job, I was given more information about the company and its culture than the specifics of the role. HR said something about me being a top candidate during that meeting, but I wasn’t sure how to take it at the time. (I think I was still trying to get a sense of the job, and frankly, still confused.)

Turns out that I should’ve taken it at face value, since I was offered the job exactly two weeks later.  I was completely shocked, and knew I’d need more information about the role in order to make a decision. They did offer the salary that I asked for–which is more than I currently make–so that was a big deal for me. I decided I would get back on the phone with HR, ask them a handful of my remaining questions about the position and then two pertaining to the package/start date. When I did, the HR person said, in a tone that conveyed annoyance, that he had “no idea” how to answer my questions–and then gave me the phone number of the head of the department I’d be working in because the manager of the position was not around that day (so someone who’d been totally uninvolved until this point). He also said, sternly, that he needed a decision “very soon” after I spoke with this department head.

Long story short, I breezed through a couple of my questions with this department head–but felt so thrown by the way HR reacted to, and handled, my request that I don’t think I was even fully listening. Based on this interaction, the information I had about the job at that moment, and knowing HR wanted an immediate answer, I declined the job.

I sometimes dramatize things when I’m taken aback by them. I’m aware that HR may have done exactly the right thing–connecting me with this other person who could answer my questions–when the manager of the position was out. But based on the facts of the situation in its entirety–am I crazy for being uneasy about the company and about accepting the job? Do you think I had too much trepidation? Would you steer clear of a boss like the guy I met, and do you think his behavior points to what it may have been like to work for him? Do you think there’s something I could have done better to find out more information at any point during this process?

I think you got plenty of information during the process!  You’re just not trusting what you perceived.

People generally show you plenty during a hiring process about what they’d be like to work with. This guy showed you a lot about how he operates: He doesn’t put a lot of stock in learning much about the people he hires (bad management sign #1), he thinks you’d prefer to hear about his own job and his family rather than the work you’d be doing if hired (sign #2), he speaks oddly of women (sign #3), he says that the most important thing the person in the job will need to do is “get along with the girls” (signs #4 and #5 — “the girls” being #4, and “getting along with people” rather than any actual achievements being #5), and he thinks that having happy employees is about taking them out for dinner and drinks rather than giving them clear goals, useful feedback, the resources to do their jobs, etc. (sign #6).

(By the way, I think the reason you found his statement that he sees “woman as people” so bizarre is because for most people, seeing women as people goes without saying. When it doesn’t, there’s usually something not quite right.)

I don’t think HR’s behavior was too weird — it made sense to connect you with the person best able to answer your questions while the manager was gone — although they certainly shouldn’t have sounded annoyed about it. But the manager’s behavior counts for a lot more than HR’s anyway, since he’s the one you’d be working with if you accepted the job.

In general, believe what people show you during a hiring process about how they operate. (And if you’re feeling like a hiring manager didn’t tell you much about the job, that’s actually useful information on its own — this is someone who doesn’t know how to hire and doesn’t think that you should need much information about how you’ll be spending 40+ hours a week. Those are danger signs.)

When candidates try to talk themselves out of the impressions they get during a hiring process, they usually end up regretting it. I’d move on with no worries about your decision.

{ 35 comments… read them below }

  1. ChristineH

    I think you did the right thing by declining the job – in fact, I probably would’ve steered clear after the first interview! Good luck in your continued job search.

  2. Lore

    This is so relevant to me today! I got a job offer Friday afternoon where they’re pressuring me for an answer today or tomorrow (even though their office is closed and, you know, it’s a major holiday for a lot of people even if apparently not the hiring manager…). On paper it seems like a really good opportunity in certain key respects compared to my present job. Nonetheless, the hiring manager–who would be my supervisor–has behaved in ways that raise concerns for me. Nothing as serious as what the OP above mentions, but things like, for example, informing me on Wednesday that he needed to get a reference from a supervisor and would call my current supervisor Thursday morning–fortunately, including the caveat “with my permission” which I obviously did not give! However, one of my other references got a really good impression from him when they spoke (and in fact seems to have come out with information about the position that was not presented to me in the interview process, which is odd in a different way). I definitely have concerns, but I don’t know to what extent I’m being change-resistant and to what extent I’m picking up on signals that are highly relevant. It’s been a long time since I’ve changed jobs in this way (I’ve had a number of related positions in the same company), and some of this is no doubt me, not them. Having a hard time sorting it out.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      One option is to say that you’d like to set up a final phone conversation with the manager before giving a final decision (and you could even add, “because of the holiday, could we aim to talk on Wednesday?”).

      1. Anon

        What’s a reasonable timeframe for a company to expect an answer? Obviously this particular one is weird because of the holidays, but in general, I’ve never found it that odd to ask a candidate for a response* in a day or two, because if it’s a “no”, we want to move on to our second choice.

        *A response might be, as you suggest, another conversation about concerns that remain unaddressed, but in general, I wouldn’t find it that odd to put an offer out on Friday afternoon for someone to consider over the weekend and answer on Monday.

        1. Lore

          Generally, yes–I think the weirdness factor for me arises because as of Thursday they’d explicitly told me they thought it almost impossible that they’d make a decision till after the holidays, but then they followed that up with an offer at 3:30 pm on Friday when their office and mine are closed through January 2 (which they are aware of). To be fair: I think they know I’m ambivalent or perhaps think I should be (every one of the 7 or 8 people I interviewed with seemed skeptical that I would want to leave my current job for this one), so they’re probably just hedging their bets to move quickly if I say no. Which is totally fair. I’m just really torn about the best possible outcome for me here. (And compared to the OP here, my concerns seem fairly petty!)

          1. Anon

            Oh, agreed, your situation is different…asking for a response while the office is closed is pretty weird. I just mean that, in general, it’s fair to ask for a quick response as a candidate, because that is one of the things that makes it possible for you to respond to other candidates. We all know how much it sucks when we wait ages to hear back from a potential employer; when we sit on job offers, we are causing others to have to wait :-)

            1. Lore

              Actually, I just had a semi-awake epiphany about something that based on my regular reading of this site should be a huge red flag: they can’t give me a written offer till January 2 when their office reopens and they put in the paperwork but they want my answer a week before that.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                You can certainly tell them that, based on what you know of the offer so far, you intend to accept it (if indeed you do), but that obviously you need to wait to review the paperwork to give an absolutely certain answer. Meanwhile, don’t stop job searching until you have the written offer — but you can certainly give a verbal yes in the meantime.

                1. Lore

                  Just as an update: I did a lot more research and had another conversation with the manager that didn’t really alleviate any of the concerns I had about him/working for him. So ultimately I said no. I think in terms of the job itself, there were one or two strong pros and one or two strong cons (and almost no difference in benefits or salary), so I had to trust that my feelings about the manager were leading me in the right direction.

  3. BW

    Oh dear. Red flags everywhere! Maybe it’s a good company to work for, but probably not so much if you’re working for this guy. Holy crap! This is another way interviewing is like dating. People are supposed to be on their *best* behavior on that interview, like on a the first dates. You have to assume it’s only downhill from there.

    When I read “I see women as people, [not as women]” , it reminded me of what one of my ex-bf’s told me near the end of that awful relationship. He said his mistake was he “should have treated me like a human being and not like a girlfriend.” Oh. Really?

    1. Laura L

      “he “should have treated me like a human being and not like a girlfriend.””

      SERIOUSLY? Geez, people. It shouldn’t surprise me that some people think like this, but it always does.

  4. Annamaison

    The OP sounds like an open-minded, self-aware person who has the ability to see different perspectives. These are good things to have! But they can also make coming to a decision hard, and lead you to second guess yourself. Sometimes when we’re focused on being logical and analytical, we have conflict when gut reactions kick in and say “run away!!” If you’re rational person who prefers to make decisions from a logical point of view, you probably don’t experience many gut reactions and may want to discount them because they’re not cut & dried. All the more reason to pay attention to the few gut reactions you do have. Something about the situation was trumpeting “not right for you!” I think the the OP made a good call, and need not question her decision any further.

  5. Anonymous

    My gut was twinging just reading this. They didn’t give you a job description in writing that you could refer to and ask questions about? Did you meet any additional members of the team that you were supposed to ‘get along’ with? If it’s so crucial for success in the role, why wouldn’t the whole team have at least met you and gotten impressions of you first? What if you had joined and were the new favorite and the other ‘girls’ were jealous/felt threatened because the main way to ‘succeed’ in the job is to be liked? No thank you. Happy Holidays!

  6. Not So NewReader

    “Those are danger signs.”

    It would be interesting to do a list of danger signs…

    Think of yourself as being given a holiday present on this, OP.
    I am picturing your first day of work. “Oh, the girls will explain it all to you. Friday we all go out for drinks. That is everything you need to know.” sigh.

    I just had a interview that was vague like this. However, the interviewer explained why. Not only is she new to the job but the system I would be using is new, too. She laid out the nature of the difficulties she had been having. I feel that I can help her with those problems or I can find someone who will have a solution for us. She also explained her plans to fix up our work area and our working conditions. I liked how she just put everything right out in the open. I walked away from the interview with many ideas about how I can make a contribution to her work. And she could see that.

      1. Girasol

        That was worth the reread! But please save for your next article the ones women need to watch out for that signal – as this interview does – that women are being hired not for a specific job but to fill a quota. Standing around eight hours a day being pretty and nice but unable to get any real work is crazy-making, not to mention bad for one’s career.

        1. Another Ellie

          I don’t think the manager’s behavior is indicative of a quota. Sounds more like there happen to be several women working for him, and his misogynistic self is very uncomfortable about that. Hence all of the bizarre comments about “the girls.”

  7. Steve Levy

    As crass and off-color as this might be, sometimes jobs really do look like crap…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eY7ZX6ngOSs

    The interview is always as good as it gets with respect to company behavior; yes, it’s all downhill from there – even if the slope isn’t that steep. The very same skills one uses when assessing whether to go out on that second date are the same skills used when in a job search.

    Caveat emptor…

  8. EM

    You dodged a bullet, OP. It sounds like your interviewer was determining how tolerant of sexual harassment you would be as an employee.

  9. Janet

    I am a firm believer in trusting your gut during job hunts. It’s as much about them figuring out if you would fit in the position as it is about you working with the company. Twice I went against my gut after very strange interviews and accepted jobs I had worries about – and as much as I’d try to make it work, the very things I worried about were true in both cases and it just didn’t work. I think you did the right thing.

  10. Harryv

    HR was riled because you should’ve asked those questions during your first interview. So many people are timid and feel they must be respective during interviews. This is very much a two way street. You are finding out if this is the best fit for you. If the interviewer goes in a tangent, I would interject say something like “that’s great to hear but I have a few questions to ask about this role”. Almost always they will get back on track. Be assertive!

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I agree, but HR also should have taken that as a cue to talk to the manager and make sure he’s encouraging questions and being responsive to them (and perhaps check up on his interviewing skills in general).

      1. OP

        Yes, Harryv, HR actually did say that later on, when I said I had remaining questions. He said, “didn’t you ask these during your interview?” I wanted to say, “no, X-person talked about X, Y, and Z the whole time, and I didn’t have the chance,” but I didn’t want to insult the hiring manager and an employee of the company so I just said, “I didn’t have the chance before X-person had to go.”

      2. OP

        Also, to Alison’s point, the company doesn’t seem interested in reining the manager in (especially since I was warned of his personality beforehand). I don’t know if that says something larger about the company, or just that you need thick skin in this industry.

  11. Steve

    What folks here commonly refer to as their “gut” isn’t really some mystical feeling – it’s always based on data (answers or non-answers to questions) coming from a source (hiring manager, recruiter, HR). Whether you have the ability to interpret your queasiness and then listen to it is another issue. I can assure you that Kreskin you’re not…

  12. tangoecho

    I think our gut does play a part. But sometimes we overlook it because of desperation. I know I did with this last job I accepted. Its a good company overall. Seemed to be some high turnover in the position but the majority of people transferred to other intercompany roles (I asked) verses leaving the company so if nothing else, I knew there were advancement opportunities. One hiring manager wasn’t really warm and fuzzy but since the department has three managers and the other two were quite friendly, I just went with it. I felt the positives outweighed the negative and overall the hiring process was timely and professional. Being it was only my second interview in six months of looking and I was in the process of divorcing and needed a JOB I chose to hope for the best and accepted the offer.
    Fast forward 8 months. The job duties have changed, the supervisor sucks and all my co-workers dislike her and they have eliminated lateral inter-company transfers out of my department due to high turnover. They are tired of hiring people, putting in all the time to train them to have them transfer after they’ve been there a year. So yes, I say trust your gut if you can but sometimes we don’t have the luxury of just waiting for the perfect job to come along when we have to support ourselves. In my situation, I just look at the positives I have gained such as new skills, more work experience and the knowledge I have done really well at the job in less than perfect circumstances. Even crappy interview or job situations are learning experiences!

  13. OP

    Tangoecho, thanks for this added perspective. This is the other side of the coin–the fact that sometimes you just have to deal with less than perfect (and really, is there ever a “perfect”?) job situations and go with it. I think rising to the challenge, even if the challenge is a difficult boss, is necessary. Maybe it’s even necessary to grow and get better at, well, navigating life.

    What you say here, especially, resonates with me, because this job offered more money that I could have used to put myself in a better living situation: “So yes, I say trust your gut if you can but sometimes we don’t have the luxury of just waiting for the perfect job to come along when we have to support ourselves.”

    Perhaps that’s part of why I’m still questioning my decision.

  14. Trust your gut

    I overlooked my gut feeling recently because I was so desperate to make a career move after 10 years of doing the same stuff. I turned a blind eye to some stuff that should’ve caught my attention.

    I couldn’t have foreseen issues in some cases, but ultimately I didn’t dig deep enough in the interview about the work environment….
    1) the timing from application to hire was 6 months. Not completely unrealistic given today’s economy, but I figured out after I started my new job that this was the case because my boss is 100% hands off. I’ve been working 8 weeks and we still haven’t met to discuss goals (yes, I asked). There was no onboarding at all….I did ask about this stuff during the interview but i guess i should’ve probed more into specifics.
    2) the interview consisted of 3 behavioural questions and there were no reference checks. I asked a ton of questions, but I wonder if I asked the right ones or fully absorbed the answers.
    3) I had additional questions for my boss and wanted to negotiate the salary before accepting the offer. I left a message and it took her 3 days to get back to me. Meanwhile, HR was pressuring me for a decision. Sure, things come up (which is what I thought at the time), but my first few weeks have been stressful because no one is available to point me in the right direction when I have questions. Sink or swim, I guess!

    Something seemed off during the offer process, but I ignored it. Good for you for trusting yourself……there will be other job offers, and this experience will help you navigate the process next time.

  15. Jennifer

    Good lord, were you interviewing at Sterling Cooper (Mad Men)? The whole getting along with the girls and taking staff out for dinner and drinks really does seem like an attitude that was long ago abandoned in the business world.

  16. Grapefruit

    I WISH I had gotten any signs or feelings on the interview for my last job. It was a quick interview and I was hired on the spot and everything was great up until a few weeks into my assignment. Once I started working, there was so much going on in terms of office politics and just terrible communication; as an example, my boss was going away/on vacation every few weeks but she would be answering emails…..when I asked her for something, she sent a (what I felt was) snarky reply. There were a bunch of other things that happened with her, both during the job and after I left. I still feel kind of feel bad because I worked hard at that job and I had spent way too much time and energy stressing out and kicking myself for the mistakes I made….t hat it never occurred to me that she was also being unprofessional to an extent and I could have called her out on it.

  17. Grapefruit

    and I want to echo what I read upthread… i think nowadays more and more people are in a situation that they can’t really afford to always follow their gut, so hence the constant second guessing. For me, it comes not out of being logical or rational but making sure my decisions aren’t based on emotion, which I’d regret later on.

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