if you wanted to telecommute, you should have said so earlier

I think I want to start a “turn-offs” series where I just complain about things that turn me off about candidates. (Or maybe, um, I already have.) Here’s the scenario for today’s:

We place an ad. It clearly states that the position is based in our headquarters in Washington, D.C. The candidate, who does not live in Washington, applies. We go through a phone interview. We go through an exercise or writing sample. We go through an interview.

At same point not at all near the start of this process, the candidate mentions, casually, that they’d want to work from their home in a city hours and hours away from D.C. I tell them that actually, as the ad said from the beginning, the position is based in our office, and that we’re committed to that for various reasons. They then act (a) surprised and (b) often, as if it’s too bad that we’re not open-minded and visionary enough to see why their plan is a better idea.

Look, I am a huge fan of telecommuting. Huge. I work from home on occasions when I need to, and I’m fine with others doing that too. And I have some employees who work remotely full-time. But for that latter group, the full-time telecommuters, they either (a) worked with us for years before converting to full-time telecommuters, so they knew our culture and expectations well, and we knew and trusted their work ethic, or (b) have jobs that require that they be based in some other city because of the nature of the work.

But with most of the jobs I’m hiring for, it’s far better for the organization if the person is based in our office … because they have to manage people, or work with others where face-to-face conversations help a lot, or absorb stuff that you’ll take in like osmosis if you’re physically present but really have to work to get if you’re far away, or whatever.

And yes, I know that all of that can be done remotely, and there’s technology that helps, but I have watched people try, and an awful lot of the time, it’s just not the same. At a minimum, it can inconvenience other colleagues. And worst case, the person never quite picks up on our culture and way of doing things and it shows. And that’s not a risk I want to take with a stranger when I don’t have to. Maybe if you’re a rock star candidate and I have no other rock star candidates. Maybe.

But I don’t like the bait-and-switch. I advertised the position as based in a specific city for a reason. If you want to know if being a full-time telecommuter is an option, raise it up-front, not halfway through the process. I know they’ve waited to raise it because they’re hoping to wait until I’m so impressed with them that I’ll be willing to be flexible on this point, but the problem is that it comes across as disingenuous to wait that long.

And that’s today’s turn-off.

{ 16 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Can we (the applying public) respond with the flip-side turnoff?

    Employers who don’t know what they want or post job descriptions that appear to be more like random thoughts than a coherent description.

    Yep, that simple. I apply even if I want to telecommute for a job that doesn’t say that telecommuting is OK because 99.9% of the time I’m talking with the recruiters, I find out that the job is different in some way from the position. So if the job is different, then there’s the chance that the location is, too.

  2. Evil HR Lady*

    I’m a huge fan of telecommuting and I did it at least part of the time for over 5 years. However, I worked on site for 2.5 years, knew the culture, came in frequently (sometimes two days a week), and did what it took to get the job done.

    It would have been really hard to start a new job as a telecommuter.

  3. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous, I think the problem with that approach is that it’s calibrated for employers who have already displayed incompetence, by definition. It may be fine for them but it’s going to turn off the good, competent employers — and those are the ones you want to work for.

    EHRL, exactly!

  4. TheLabRat*

    And from the employees; please don’t post a job as being a telecommuting position and then 1) try to convince me that it would be better to work on site and 2) tell me to my face that you aren’t hiring me because I want to work from my home office.

    Seriously, why doesn’t anyone say what they mean and mean what they say?

  5. llamaface*

    A few thoughts on this…

    Yes, the applying employee should have spoken up sooner about wanting to telecommute. However, as the hiring person, you should have also brought up the subject of where they lived. If they live several hours away it is important to find out how they plan on dealing with that. Will they be making the commute every day? Relocating permanently? Living in your city during the week, and their city on the weekend? It’s important to know!

    Ultimately, I agree, the person should have spoken up and the responsibility is mostly on him. But I think you should have mentioned it as well.

    When I was job hunting, I often didn’t know what company I was applying for, especially if I search craigslist (which was the best source in my city). When people called for interviews I would try very hard to match the phone call to the exact ad that I applied for. Since I applied for jobs that were very similar to each other, it wasn’t always easy or possible to do.

  6. Ask a Manager*

    llamaface, I agree! In phone interviews, with non-local candidates, I’ll ask, “How do you feel about the prospect of moving to ___?” These candidates usually say something like, “I’m open to it.”

    … and then later suddenly they’re not.

  7. Just Another HR Lady*

    Yes, I’ve had the “relocations flip-flopper” as well. You make it very clear that relocation would be required the very first time you speak to them, and they agree that they are prepared to move if they obtain the job..yes, yes, yes, they’ve thought about costs, their family, the adjustment period, etc. etc. Then suddenly, towards the end of the recruitment process they decide that they don’t want to relocate for a list of various reasons. Thanks for wasting my time! :-)

  8. Anonymous*


    The reason why employees START as “open to the idea” of relocation is because again, we assume employers really have no idea what they’re looking for. So if we can be EVERYTHING they’re looking for, minus where we live, it’s possible that exceptions will be made.

    From a negotiation perspective, this is the best way to play it – get the employer invested in the possibility of a good hire, then address the location issue.

    Otherwise, you’ll never even get to the point where they look at your competence level – they only look at the location.

    [Oh, yes, I’m the first Anon, too.]

  9. Charles*

    I agree with the first (and later) anonymous on this issue.

    Often I, too, am answering an ad which does not list the company and I am dealing with a recruiter who doesn’t have a clue. (Really, trust me on this issue – as a trainer I find most managers, let alone recruiters, don’t know squat about training and therefore don’t know how to interview for or what to look for when hiring a trainer)

    Even when I get to the phase in hiring when I am interviewing with the manager I will NOT mention anything that could plant a negative seed in the manager’s mind. Afterall, as so many managers and hiring folks say about getting hired – it is all about sales isn’t it?Why should I, the job seeker, bring up anything that could kill any chance I have of getting a job offer?P.S. AAM, from your side it may be easy to tell the difference between competent and incompetent employers. From the job seekers side it isn’t always so easy and when clues of incompetency present themselves many job seekers will still keep an open mind as the option of “blowing them off” and moving onto the next one is not very practical.

  10. Anonymous*

    Every piece of job seeking advice I have ever seen says that a candidate should avoid the salary discussion until the last possible minute.

    The location issue can’t be any different. Just as you are looking out for your organization, a candidate is looking out for himself. If a candidate absolutely refuses to relocate to your main office, he has no incentive to tell you that upfront — presuming that he believes there is some chance that you will permit the telecommute.

    And why would he believe that? Do you believe everything you see on a resume? (Reference the stats on fudged resumes). Likewise, why should a candidate believe everything seen in an ad?

  11. Anonymous*

    My non-profit organization had a real winner of a job candidate about two years ago. The salary grade and the pay range that went with the grade were provided to the prospective employee and it was posted as a full-time job. First the candidate asked for a salary above the top of the pay grade, then agreed to accept the salary offered in the middle of the pay grade. Then the candidate announced that he/she would be working part-time. Ummm, I don’t think so. Thanks anyway. Don’t let the door hit you and all that.

  12. Just Another HR Lady*

    I suppose it depends on the employer, but when I post something in an ad (like location), I’ve put it there because it’s a requirement. The times I get annoyed are when I’ve made it clear in the very beginning that relocation is required and the candidate tells me that they are absolutely ready to relocate. I then spend weeks working on the recruitment and getting to an offer, then at the last moment they decline due to location. As if it’s a shocker that they are going to have to relocate for the job.

    I realize that candidates (clearly) don’t care about wasting an employers time, but I am professional enough to be honest with candidates in the beginning about what we require, it would be nice to have the same courtesy in return. If someone is looking for a schedule or location other than what the employer is asking for, then they should be up-front about it. Some jobs we have the option to be flexible, others we simply don’t.

  13. Anonymous (not the same one)*

    I think the thing that disturbs me about the tactics described in some of the other comments is simply the deceit. Ideally, you would like to establish some level of trust between an employer and employee at the beginning of the relationship. Knowing that one of the parties has been deliberately hiding key information makes it much harder.
    The analogy I come up with is dating someone who has made it clear that they don’t want kids (not everyone wants to stepparent) and hiding yours until you get to the altar. Even if the relationship survives, is this really the best way to start it?

  14. Anonymous*

    I am interested in a position at an agency with offices in both Los Angeles and New York. The position is fantastic but I really do not want to relocate to New York. Would it be unreasonable to ask when applying if they are flexible with which office I work from? I currently live in Los Angeles. Their clients seem to be spread across the country, although there are a handful in New York specifically.

  15. CKL116*

    Eek, I recently did this, to a Washington-based company, no less. I totally understand why it’s annoying to managers, but as others have said upthread, you don’t want to plant a seed of doubt in the manager’s mind and take yourself out of the running during the application process. In my case, I really had to see the WHOLE compensation package before I could make a decision about either moving or turning the job down, and that didn’t come until I had an offer. It wasn’t enough for me to make the move, so I proposed telecommuting. (Disappointingly, while the hiring manager was OK with the idea, the higher ups in the company were not. I was bummed that we couldn’t make it work.)

  16. CKL116*

    Also, in the case of DC…the cost of living is so high that it can be tough to puzzle out what you need to maintain your standard of living, so I imagine this happens most frequently in high COLAs. Some of those applicants are sneaky; others (like me, I swear!) have a hard time doing due diligence to figure out what’s best for our careers (and our families).

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