job-searching is the real fright show

It might be Halloween, but for plenty of people, job searching is the real fright show.

(Bad puns like this are also scary.)

Here are eight scares you should hope to avoid if you’re in the job market this Halloween season.

1. Discovering that the job you’re interviewing for is completely different than the one in your ad. The ad seemed perfect for you – but when you show up for the interview, the job description has changed so much that the role now requires software that you don’t know or other skills you don’t have or work you aren’t interested in doing. Of course, by this point, you’ve taken time off work to interview, put an hour or more into preparing, and bought a new suit – and it turns out it was all for nothing.

2. Employers who don’t give you the full picture. As bad as it is to show up at an interview and realize the job is nothing like what you’re looking for, it’s worse to accept a job that you think is the right fit and then discover once you’re working there that the job isn’t what was described to you.

3. Online job application systems that seem to exist only to torture job seekers. More and more companies are switching to endlessly long online application forms that are often riddled with technical problems – meaning that you might spend an hour filling out a complicated form and then encounter an error that means everything you’ve entered is lost.

4. Interviewers who seem uninterested you. From checking email or texting to just plain looking bored, interviewers who make it clear they’d rather be doing something else can be the sign of a bad or disorganized interviewer of of one who has already determined you’re not right for the job. Either way, they leave candidates wondering why they were brought in at all.

5. Interviewers who know your current boss. If you’re like most job seekers, you go out of your way to make sure your job search stays below your current employer’s radar, so that you don’t get pushed out earlier than you’re ready to leave. That’s why it can rattle even the most composed job candidate to discover that your interviewer knows your current manager. Most interviewers will be discreet if you ask them to, but no job seeker likes having to risk that danger.

6. Recruiters who say you’re perfect for a job and then disappear. Anyone who’s been job searching for a while knows this drill: A recruiter reaches out, bubbles with enthusiasm and says that your resume is ideal for a job opening, and says she’ll be back in touch about an interview … and then never gets back to you or returns your calls. This frustrating experience is a normal part of today’s job market – but never gets less infuriating.

7. Flaky employers who can’t make up their minds. Does this sound familiar? First the job description seems to be a work in progress that keeps changing. Then you’re told that you’ll be reporting to Finance but later it changes to Administration and then back to Finance. And when the hiring manager tells you that she’ll confirm your interview time within 48 hours, a week later you’ve still heard nothing. If you’re frustrated now, guess what it’s going to be like to work there?

8. Employers who pull job offers after you’re already accepted. Easily the scariest of all are employers who make you a job offer and even set a start date – and then retract the offer, even if you’ve already resigned from your old job. Fortunately this doesn’t happen often – but it can happen, and it leaves job seekers in a terrible spot.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    #1 happened to me in a rather drastic way. I went in to interview for a basic bench position at a lab, and halfway through they told me that the position was filled and asked if I would be ok calibrating instruments instead. It was a terrible place to work but that specific experience was incredibly useful in finding my current job.

  2. AdAgencyChick*

    #5: Or interviewers who talk about your candidacy to their coworkers, one of whom happens to know your current boss…and all of a sudden you’re hauled into the boss’s office to be asked, “Why are you unhappy here?”

    Fortunately I got out of THAT scary story on my own terms, but I’ve never felt more sick to my stomach about a job search!

    1. Jessa*

      OH man being blindsided like that is a killer. You have to come up with something on the fly. Happened to me once, and forever after I’ve made up an advanced answer and practised it so it looks like I’m just “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Boss are you crazy?”

  3. Yup*

    #1 – My favorite was an interview for a research & analysis position, where it turned out that what they *really* wanted was a development assistant and event planner. And this was a think tank, so you’d think they know the correct definition of research.

    #6 – I got my payback on a disappearing recruiter years later. She vanished after an awesome interview, telling me I was perfect for Job X and to clear my calendar on Monday for an interview with her client, then never responded to emails or phone calls again. Fast forward two years, I was working at a different job that used a search firm for recruitment. Guess who joined the search firm and thus had me as a client? (I still get the warm fuzzes about the conversation where she realized she’d shafted me at her old job.)

    1. Jessa*

      I’m surprised you didn’t tell them that you won’t work with her on your accounts because this is how she treats potential new employees.

  4. Belle*

    #1 happened to me. In my case the job ended up being much more technical than I was told in the screening interview. I was told I didn’t need to know how to program. Well guess what? I got to the interview, and was immediately given a marker to draw some programming algorithm/logic on a board. It was soon evident that I wasn’t technical enough, and 10 minutes into the interview, I was escorted to the lobby area to wait. 5 minutes later I was told that I wasn’t technical enough and this wasn’t going to work out.

    1. KJR*

      This sounds like a classic example of the screening interviewer not properly understanding the parameters of the job.

    2. Jen in RO*

      I once applied for a tech writing job. In the phone screening, I told the (very nice!) recruiter that I can’t program, but I understand the basics and I can follow very simple code. Then she sent me the assignment, which consisted of a Java application that I had to document – that is, read the fairly complex code, understand what the app does, and write about it. I wrote back and told her that they’re probably looking for a Java programmer who can write, and not a tech writer with basic programming knowledge, and that they won’t get what they want unless they specifically require Java skills. (They never did change the job ad.)

      Then, out of curiosity, I asked my boyfriend (who *is* a software developer) to take a look at the app and tell me what he thinks. He said it was a programming test, not a tech writing one, and that even some of his developer coworkers would find it challenging.

  5. ChristineSW*

    I’ve had #2 happen to me. I thought I was going to do data entry with some phone work. Turns out I was the receptionist!!! I lasted all of 2.5 miserable weeks there.

    1. Vicki*

      My #2 was supposed to be an internal support position where I could use a Mac and occasionally support people using the application on a PC.

      When I arrived, I learned it was a testing position on a PC, never seeing or talking to users at all, no Mac possible. I made it through one week (as it just got worse and worse and farther away from what I had interviewed for).

  6. Elizabeth West*

    #1 happened to me many times last year. I would apply for an admin or receptionist position, and then when I talked to them on the phone or in the interview (grr), I would discover they left out all the billing/accounting they expected. Since I’m LD in math, I couldn’t proceed.

    Because of the recession, many companies had consolidated positions, so accounting assistant / receptionist became one thing. Or admin/accounting, or front desk / billing assistant, etc. It got so bad I could barely find anything to apply to. I finally went to Vocational Rehab and they sent me back to school. While still interviewing, I started asking up front if there were any core duties that weren’t listed in the job description. That helped me pre-screen positions I wasn’t suitable for because of my disability.

    1. Eva R*

      These is a coffee shop in my town which interviewed me FOUR times. Finally I just said “Look, are you actually interested in having me work here?” and it was explained to me that their policy is to interview all qualified applicants even if they have already chosen someone.

      I’ve taken a lot of jobs which advertised as what I’d call “half- time,” looking for someone to work 20-35 hours a week. I prefer to work full time but half time works in a pinch. Then I’d find out that the scheduled hours were actually between 8 and 15, which is very different. My SO once took a job that didn’t tell him they wanted someone to work the graveyard shift, which didn’t work for a full time student. The state I live in ruled that without telling him that, he was allowed to quit during training and collect unemployment.

  7. Sabrina*

    #2 happened to me. I was told it was an office/admin assistant job in a medical setting, which it was, but also had a lot of patient treatment interaction. I had to handle test tubes full of blood, they wanted me to assist with treatment, and I had to get a TB test and hepatitis shots. I drew the line at pouring urine from a colletion bottle into test tubes. None of that was disclosed in the posting or the interview. I found out that I was hired because I was unemployed and available fast, they needed a body because the previous person was leaving.

    1. Manda*

      WHAT?!?! O_O Does that not require some sort of special training and/or licensing? That sounds extremely unsafe. I have no idea what laws are like elsewhere, but at least where I live, you have the right to refuse to do work you feel is unsafe. I’m pretty sure I’d exercise that right. It’s not unsafe if you’re trained in proper lab procedures, but to just take anybody and expect them to handle bodily fluids is an accident waiting to happen.

  8. Cajun2Core*

    #3 Happened to me. The website said it could import my information from LinkedIn. I could never figure out how to get it to do that. In looking for a number in HR to call, the said if you have any problems with the application website to call the company that ran the website. So, I called the company that ran the website, and in thier introductory message, they said, “Sorry we can’t help you. Call the employer.” Talk about finger pointing!

  9. Erika Watkins*

    I was going to a interview and the person interviewing me keep asking me to help with the interview of the other people there and at the end of the interviews said i guess i should interview you for the job you are applying for I left with the job but I was applying just like everyone else

      1. Jen in RO*

        I think Erika means that she was in a group interview and helped the interviewer (even though she was just another applicant), and then the interviewer decided to offer the job to Erika because she helped interview the others?

  10. MR*

    This list is just the tip of the iceberg as to why hiring these days is more luck than anything else. From just being in the right place at the right time to not having to navigate any of the issues on this list, plus many more, it’s amazing anyone finds a decent job anymore.

    It’s quite something when the bar to a good hiring process is set so low, but it’s what things have come to these days.

  11. MissDisplaced*

    #3 drives me nuts! WHY ask to attach a resume and then force you to just re-input every single thing? WHY?

    On a similar vein… The disappearing job. You see the perfect job on some job board. The listing tells you to click and apply on the company website, but when you go there, the job has done a magic disappearing act.

    I’ve even emailed HR departments inquiring about these posted jobs, asking if they had a direct link and/or if the position was still open to applicants, only to be told “Apply on the company website.”

    Why would you post a job that didn’t exist?

    1. Manda*

      They really should remove the ad from every job board it’s posted at once they decide to remove it from their site.

  12. De Minimis*

    Had #2 happen, sort of, although a recruiter prepared me for it somewhat. I’ve mentioned this story before, the job was allegedly just a regular employee position for a tax prep company, but the owner was mainly interested in finding someone to buy him out, and very few of the questions were actually about the open position and they were all about the ability to buy the business.

    Glad the recruiter prepared me for it going in, although it was probably not appropriate to have me go there in the first place as a more or less entry level employee.

  13. Erik*

    My take on the list:
    #1 & #2 – This has happened to me more times than I care to remember.
    #3 – Don’t even get be started here. There should be a special place in Hell for the folks at Taleo! I looked at the online application process at one company and contacted the recruiter and told them that I refused to use it because it was so bad. They just took my resume instead.
    #4 – Been there, done that. Typically this is when they really have an internal candidate in mind and they’re just interviewing you to make HR happy.
    #5 – I would assume that since people are closely connected in Silicon Valley, this is a real possibility.
    #6 – This happens too often. Pisses. Me. Off.
    #7 – I’ve walked away from companies because of this. If they’re this sloppy during the interview stages, who knows how messed up they are internally.
    #8 – Thankfully I haven’t had this happen to me.

  14. Anonimous*

    A close cousin of #8 is when an employer recruits you away from a position and then, once you are hired, it turns out that they do not need you after all and you are laid off a few months later. Try to explain that in a future interview!

    Had it happen to me.

  15. Vicki*

    #9 (a variation on #8) – employers who don’t pull the offer but wait until you arrive to tell you the job you accepted is gone. That happened to a former co-worker. Between her accepting and arriving the woman she was to work with resigned, the department re-organized away, and the original job didn’t exist anymore in any form anywhere in the company. At least they had the decency to offer her something else, but who wants to show up on the first day and be told “oh, neither that manager, department, nor position are here any more.”

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