employer “appalled” by candidate’s questions to HR

A reader writes:

I’ve been working in a freelance position that is project based for a few months with a medium sized company. They have been working towards hiring me on more permanent part-time basis. The position would include working on an event basis but also office hours, and include similar but not exactly the same work as I am doing now by completing projects for all of the various departments.

My boss said once I had “applied” and references were checked, we could go over any details and negotiate salary. “Applying” was primarily providing references and contact information online – no resume, no cover letter. I received an offer letter with a lower salary than I am willing to take and no details about the position.

This offer was sent from an HR representative, and I sent an e-mail back asking about negotiating salary, receiving a job description, an outline of any benefits, the parking situation, and mentioned I would discuss a schedule with my boss. I tried to write the letter similar to examples I found online, as a proposal and to be further discussed.

The HR representative then forwarded my letter to my boss and one of the directors of the company. I was told by my boss that the director does not want to hire me as they “were appalled that I would email the HR person rather than talk to my boss directly” and I was “too demanding.”

They were terribly surprised when I said with all other previous jobs I’ve been offered, I have been asked to send these requests directly to HR. In fact, on the online form sent to “accept” the job said to email the HR person with any questions. After sending the email to HR (in which I also asked if any of my questions should instead be directed to my boss), I even emailed my boss telling him I had sent an e-mail to HR with these questions.

Is it bad form on the part of the company to get angry and suggest not hiring me over asking to negotiate salary, obtaining a written job description and a more detailed schedule?

They are still willing to offer me the job, but when we sat down to talk about a schedule and job description, I was given general “ideas” of what they thought I would be doing and the hours. Essentially “playing it by ear” once I start.

It’s a new position that only one person before me has held (for a month) – so I understand they don’t know exactly what will happen. The company and position title would look impressive on my resume, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to live up to expectations that no one seems to agree on or is willing to put in writing. Is this a red flag? How would you turn down a job offer on something like this?

Um, wow. I don’t know how badly you need to accept a job right now, but unless you’re desperate, I’d probably run in the other direction.

They were “appalled” that you asked perfectly reasonable questions to someone who it was perfectly reasonable to ask them to? Even if there were something unusual about you directing those questions to HR — which there isn’t — their aggressive attack in response is really weird and inappropriate.

And you’re “too demanding”? What are these people going to say when you ask for time off or a raise or a new computer?

These are not good signs.

I’m not as bothered by the fact that the job is still something of a work in progress, but you’d want to make sure you were reasonably aligned on how your success would be judged and what their overall goals for the position will look like. Yes, they’re playing it by ear a bit, but they still must know what they’d be happy with at the end of a year and what they wouldn’t be. And if they don’t know, now is a good time for them to figure it out with you.

I think I would say to these people something like this: “I’m really interested in this job, but there’s something that I’m unsure about. I was surprised by the reaction when I emailed my questions to HR. I thought my email was pretty reasonable, and I’m trying to understand why you were appalled and found it inappropriately demanding. I’m a big believer that cultural alignment is important and can predict a lot about a candidate’s chances of success once on the job, so I’m hoping you can tell me a bit more about why the company reacted the way it did so we can figure out if I’m the right fit for you or not.”

And then really listen to the answer. If you’re not comfortable with the response, you should have no qualms about telling them that you’re turning down the offer because of that.

{ 4 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I work in Human Resources for a fairly large company and I second AAM's response. I've had to respond to candidates who had very detailed or otherwise inappropriate questions about a job – one candidate asked very specific questions around our background check, including how long it would take for his fingerprint check to come back, which raised some red flags for us – but yours don't seem to be in that vein. I can also add that in general, it's better for both you and the company to know now that your style and theirs may not be a match, i.e. if they're very free-wheeling and you like some more firm parameters around your responsibilities & expectations. Better to be able to gracefully decline the offer, finish your project work, and move on, rather than get into employment that makes both of you miserable.

  2. raskal*

    I'm tempted to say Run because the offer was low and there seems to be no sense of hierarchy in hiring.

    Protocol would dictate if the boss is doing the hiring the boss should have been the one to communicate directly with you and address your concerns. Vice versa with HR.

    BUT .. "My boss said once I had "applied" and references were checked, we could go over any details and negotiate salary."

    Which leads me to believe HR's only role was the application and checks. That one detail would indicate you stepped outside the parameters, negotiating with the wrong party.

    Occassionally, when special approvals need to be given (say the salary being negotiated is above the capped range), it's faster to get the nod via boss communication rather than HR.

  3. Anonymous*

    I'm sorry, my original comment didn't seem to go through.
    Thank you for your reply, and for the comments from others.

    It's a difficult decision for me as it is a very good position title to hold and I haven't worked for a few months. On the other hand with the way they've handled this and the projects I've completed so far, I have doubts about how long I would remain with this position.

    I did receive a job description (though it is exactly the same as the job details when the open position was posted- mostly required qualifications and the equipment I would be using – including only some information on expectations and details of my duties).

    I'm afraid I don't align with their company culture. I need more organization and communication from management in order to preform my job efficiently, rather than be fired later on for not doing something I was not told to do.

    Thank you again for the advice.

  4. TaylorM*

    Wow. What an incredible story. I would say that the response to the (very legitimate) query letter was definitely a red flag. From what I can tell, they are trying to manipulate you and box you into a formal position with a lower salary than you were expecting, while simultaneously dangling a carrot in your face of a desirable job, with probably less flexibility than you have as a freelancer, because it means you'd be even more under their thumb than you are now. Not only that, they seem to have led you on, by having you "apply" for the position, implying that salary negotiations would take place, and then treating you like you are crazy to even suggest it. Yes, it's a hiring managers' market, but that doesn't mean a company should be able to jerk you around for the benefit of their bottom line. If they are trying to get more for less: don't let them.

    The other thing I want to say is that, from the way the story is written, I am going to guess that the person in this situation is a woman, even though it's never explicitly stated. I say this because I know the statistics of men's earnings versus women's, and more than that, I think women are just plain treated differently when either applying for or performing jobs, despite the many social advances we've experienced in the last few decades. I'm pretty sure than when a man asks for more specific information, or to negotiate a salary, he is seen as justified and just looking out for himself. When a woman does it, it's considered "demanding."

    It makes me sick, but it's true and it happens all the time. If the reader in question is not a woman, then I'll be very surprised. But either way, this story makes my shackles rise. I would say "run." Or at least don't take the deal. Stay where you are and keep doing what you are doing until they decide to offer you a deal that you really feel is worth taking.

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