should I turn down a job offer I was excited about until I met the CEO?

A reader writes:

I’m in my 30s, and looking to transition from teaching (English) into something more scalable and content focused — entry-level marketing, copywriting, or editing. I’ve had some positive responses to applications, including an interview with my dream company, but haven’t landed anything quite yet (I’ve only been searching for a few weeks, and dream company rightfully went with someone with four years experience). I’m afraid, though, that my search might take quite a bit longer due to a particular combination of 1) potential employers seeming confused/cautious about my status as a career changer and 2) my own need to be thoughtful about logistical restrictions (I’m re-entering the workforce following a mostly-successful recovery from an injury; I can’t drive or watch videos for extended time periods, and need a 5-10 minute screen break every couple of hours to rest my eyes).

…Which brings me to last week. I found an entry-level marketing/editorial role with an educational company. It seemed like a perfect match. I applied, and then had a phenomenal phone interview with the content manager. We scheduled for 30 minutes, but went for 47. And the content manager transitioned quickly from curious about my career change to excited about the opportunity to leverage all of my varying areas of expertise. We scheduled an in-person interview a few days later and had much the same experience: the few questions/concerns I had were erased, and then I had a fantastic conversation with company’s CTO, who seems to do all of the day-to-day managing, loved my writing, and was overwhelmingly enthusiastic about my candidacy.

All signs pointed clearly (if not explicitly) towards “you’re likely our top choice” until I met with the company’s CEO. He eviscerated me. It didn’t matter what I said or what questions I asked: almost everything I did was met with some version of “No,” “That’s not true,” “You clearly haven’t thought this through,” or “You’re just not ready yet.” This constant negation/invalidation was such a jarring 180, and such a cumulatively humiliating experience, that I left the building feeling like an incompetent fool and cried when I got home. I’ll admit to having learned a few things from our conversation (mostly about being prepared for the C-Suite’s emphasis on the bottom line), but I still feel that much of the treatment was actively confusing, cruel, or dismissive. For example, when I mimicked the standard company format in my writing sample, he accused me of plagiarism; later, he told me I had to be an introvert or an extrovert, and refused to hear that I skew 50/50; even in the end, when I said I’d clearly made some mistakes to reflect on in our conversation, he just told me, “No.” What?!

It seemed like the CEO wanted me to fit into a nice cookie cutter and otherwise saw me as a waste of his time, while everyone else was excited precisely because I fit in multiple places.

I did due diligence and sent my usual thank-you notes, including some amended responses to what I felt became a severe underperformance under the CEO’s scrutiny. Content manager replied saying she hopes I can join the team soon, and CEO replied with a short, clean thank you for my thoughtfulness and asked if I’d be willing to start with them by consulting on a few projects. I said I’d need more details, and would wait until the whole team confers sometime this week on a formal offer (either for a consultancy or the original internship role).

I’m torn now, though: I loved the job description and the first two team members I met. I feel like they’d be a sincere pleasure to work with, and like I could learn a lot from them/the role. I could also certainly use the boost into my newly chosen field. At the same time… do I really want to work for this CEO? What would you recommend re: (dis)continuing the relationship?

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked, “Do you have a sense of how closely/frequently you’d work with the CEO?” The response:

Not at the moment. The CEO mentioned that he meets for at least 20-30 minutes a week with everyone on the team. I feel like I’d want some pretty serious reassurance that the tone of those meetings would be different before signing on.

Well, if you were going to work closely with the CEO, I’d say to proceed with extreme caution, if at all — just because it seems like it’s already clear that you two don’t gel well, and that’s not something you want to knowingly take on with a new job.

But given all the information here, if you get an offer I think the thing to do is to talk to the hiring manager — as part of the offer conversation— and say something like, “I got the sense that the CEO was pretty skeptical of my candidacy. I’m not sure how closely he and I would work together, but is that something I should be concerned about?”

I don’t know what the response will be, but whatever it is will probably tell you a lot. You might hear that the CEO wasn’t originally on the same page as everyone else about what they were looking for but now he is, or that yes he’s a bit prickly but most people get along pretty well with him. Or you might hear something more worrisome. But asking will get you a lot more insight.

Beyond that, you should really double down on all the normal due-diligence stuff here to try to get the inside scoop on what it’s really like to work there — for example, if there’s anyone in your network connected to anyone who’s ever worked there, try to get connected to them to see if you can get a candid take on what it’s like there.

And if you’re open to it, their mention of consulting on a few projects might actually be a good way for you to get more info about what it’s like there before making a full commitment to them.

By the way, I’d rethink whether really need to be applying for entry-level roles (let alone internships!). You’re changing industries, yes, but that doesn’t mean you need to come in at the absolute bottom rung, since those jobs are usually for people with little work experience. If you haven’t already, I’d put some energy into applying for jobs slightly higher than that and see what happens.

{ 179 comments… read them below }

  1. TotesMaGoats

    I agree with AAM on all points but I’d want to emphasize her last one. I would avoid internships entirely and look for mid-level stuff. People do this ALL THE TIME. Switching careers doesn’t mean starting at the bottom rung again. It devalues all you have done.

    1. fposte

      I was wondering if the OP was factoring injury-related stuff into the decision, but I think you actually get cut more slack above entry level anyway, so another note of agreement on not applying low.

    2. Cambridge Comma

      That’s true for many aspects of many jobs, but for editing, for example, you’d need an editorial assistant position so that you can learn how to edit (unless you already had a certification) so you might have to take a step down.

      1. anonnn

        it’s been my experience that editorial assistant work teaches you very little about editing and everything about how an editorial office works. The two don’t overlap, at least in book publishing and newspapering.

        1. Tuesday

          Agreed. My first editorial role was as an assistant editor at a magazine. We didn’t have an editorial assistant at that office, but my impression from job descriptions is that it’s usually more of an admin role.

          I think if you have a pretty good grasp on grammar and spelling, you can learn editing on the job at an assistant or associate level and there’s no need to start below that or have a certification. I’m speaking from strictly U.S.-based experience, though. Maybe it’s different elsewhere.

          1. Cambridge Comma

            In the places I’ve worked, in various countries but not including the US, there were admin assistants for the admin stuff. Editorial assistants did editing tasks only, but never a whole book on their own.

          2. TootsNYC

            At the magazines I’ve worked for, editorial assistant do BOTH junior editing tasks and administrative tasks. There is a focus on moving them up. (We don’t have any admin people, except for the very top editor’s assistant–sometimes that’s an edit asst. role too.)

            I’ve never, ever heard of an editing certification, though.

            1. Alienor

              I’ve heard of editing certifications, and I get a lot of offers for “learn to copyedit” courses, but I’m not sure how valuable they’d be. When I started editing, the only thing I really needed to learn was standard editing marks, and I don’t think those are even used much now that most editing is done electronically. I’ve worked with a few younger designers and art directors who didn’t know what they meant.

              1. CoveredInBees

                I had a much older colleague just about turn backflips that I know what “stet” means. Didn’t have the heart to tell her I learned it from always showing up in the crossword.

        2. MissGirl

          This is job-dependent. I started as an assistant editor and learned a great deal about editing. It wasn’t an admin type job at all.

      2. MillersSpring

        This job sounds very different from working in an editorial position for a publication (magazine, website, newspaper). The OP called it a marketing/editorial position and called the hiring manager the “content manager.” Many marketing departments are moving to this type of role and structure–the steady production of content, where they want people who can write compelling verbiage for their website and social media. Other writing projects in this role could be brochures, white papers, trade show graphics, presentations, e-books, webinars, etc. So a job candidate with superior writing ability would be highly valued and maybe be allowed to learn marketing expertise on the job. (OTOH many people have great marketing knowledge and experience but are not talented writers.)

        TL;DR This is not an editorial assistant position.

        1. Cambridge Comma

          I mentioned it as a possible reason the OP might not want to write off all entry level vacancies, not because it relates to the job with the weird CEO.

        2. OPforThis

          You are correct that the role is not in a traditional publishing venue. Part of the role would be simple proofreading, but much of the role would be part curatorial/developmental (providing broad-scale management of website, social media, and product content).

      1. anonderella

        YES! THURSDAY! means Blueberry Marinara Burgers to me! (Bob’s Burgers recipe)

        that said, I do like the idea of trying out the consultancy, as long as it is in terms that work for the OP. That, or looking for non-entry level work, where possible – I also like the perspective of focusing on your skills and what they can offer, rather than conventional steps toward beginning a new career/career focus.

    3. Editor

      Very much agreed – particularly in educational publishing where most folks were teachers.

      Transitioning from teaching to educational publishing is normal, and recent teaching experience is a strength.

    4. Tech Writer Person

      I totally agree with this. I moved out of journalism into technical writing and started as an entry-level writer. After about a year, I moved on to a mid-level technical writing position. You don’t need to start as an intern, especially with your education and experience.

    5. OPforThis

      This was probably the most surprising response to my letter, and also the most validating and encouraging. Thank you! In the time since writing this letter, I’ve been pushing towards more mid-level roles. I’m not getting quite as many responses, but the interest I am receiving seems stronger and more considered.

  2. Summerisle

    You might find the blog Dear English Major interesting. It’s about the different career paths people who study English go on to take and it has some useful information on the kind of roles you’re interested in (copywriting, marketing, editing etc.).
    Best of luck with your career transition!

    1. AJ

      Have you considered looking at staff positions in higher ed? Teaching experience will definitely be a plus for some roles.

      1. HR Jeanne

        This was me! I was an English teacher, who become a college admissions counselor, who then became the Circulation Manager at the university library, and now I’m in HR. I never had to do an internship or take an entry level job. English majors show up everywhere.

        1. OPforThis

          Have also been considering some roles within HR (hiring, onboarding, PD, etc).

          Will think more about higher ed! Just finished a round-one interview with General Assembly managing their students and instructional development.

          Still hoping for something more content-focused in the long-term, but figure the experience could be a good beginning transition (and it includes free access to GA courses, so I’d be able to take their Digital Marketing class free of charge, network extensively, and hopefully start freelancing or in a more mid-level role from there).

      1. TL -

        Most teachers major either in gen ed or their subject matter (and with English, it’s very common for the major in the subject matter). It’s a fair assumption to make.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I only ask because I come from a family of teachers, including English teachers, and none of them majored in English :) When I was in school, only two of my 6 English teachers had been English majors.

          I raise the point because OP is in her 30s, and her major is ostensibly much less important than her prior job when it comes to pivoting career paths.

      1. Adjunct Gal

        I’m going to check that blog out! I teach English (with a linguistics degree, no less), and I am looking to transition.

      2. JAM

        Right? In college I already felt like I didn’t know what else to do with an English degree if I wanted to do something other than teach. They told me if I had to ask I should change my major, so I did. I was a first-generation college kid who could have used a little more guidance. I’ve ended up okay but I would have appreciated a blog like that to help me focus.

        1. dragonzflame

          I got told to ‘get a good degree, it doesn’t matter what in as long as you do well at it because it shows you can think, and you can do whatever you want.’ So because English was my best subject at school, that’s what I majored in.
          Ha! Thanks, out-of-touch parents. My mother still hasn’t got her head around me being a self-employed copywriter, because she thinks I should have a ‘more secure job’. SMH.

  3. V

    When I applied for a job with a publishing company, I got along really well with my would-be supervising editor and her managing editor. Then I interviewed with the executive editor, who tore me to pieces. I called my boyfriend immediately after the interview, and told him that she hated me. But I was offered the job, I accepted, and the executive editor was never anything but nice to me in the following years. I think the harsh interview was a test, to see how I handled the criticism and pressure. … Just food for thought, since that might be the CEO’s game too.

      1. V

        I tend to agree, as I truly dislike making people uncomfortable. However, I can see how they might be useful. At my current job, we have volunteer helpers. There’s one who’s very interested in a job with us. But I recently saw her in a stressful situation, and she turned whiny. That’s not someone we’d want on our team, but we might not have learned about it in the course of a friendly interview.

        1. TootsNYC

          Seeing her in a stressful situation was illuminating, I’m sure.

          But I think someone who created a *directly hostile* situation, as the OP’s interviewing CEO did, is not going to get the same insights you were able to get from that stressful situation you were able to see as an observer.

      2. k

        Classic advice. If someone thinks stress tests are a good idea, that’s not the kind of person I want to work for. I’m already much more nervous in an interview than any stressful work situation I’ve been it, no need to pile on!

      3. Brogrammer

        Agreed! The closest I’ve ever seen to a logical rationale behind the “stress interview” is something like, “Well our customers can be pushy jerks, so I need to see how you function when dealing with a pushy jerk.” But even that’s not going to provide much useful information – I’m perfectly capable of keeping a cool head with a jerk customer, but that doesn’t mean I’d be okay working with a jerk boss.

      4. (Another) B

        Hah. Reminds me of when I interviewed for a reporter position at a newspaper in Queens about 10 years ago. These two older ladies literally yelled at me in the interview and were so nasty. They then asked if I could do a couple stories for them (not paid) the next day and when I said I had to work they got mad and told me to leave. Bizarre.

    1. Lance

      That’s what I was thinking, that it was basically a stress test, so to speak.

      Though, frankly, as someone who I’m sure wouldn’t deal well with that sort of thing (whereas I’d be fine in normal workplace settings, points of stress and all)… I’m not a fan of the idea. Just be honest with people; don’t back them needlessly into a corner.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I tend to be really skeptical when people think something was a stress test. They’re really rare, and it’s much more common for the interviewer to just have been a jerk.

        1. Engineer Girl

          Or their teenage son has snuck out with the family car and just got into an accident. And Dad is mad. That’s why it’s so important to find out a little more. Are they always like this or are they having a really bad day?
          Normally I wouldn’t give extra consideration for this but in light of everything else being excellent it’s worth a follow up.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            I had a really bad day last week. Nobody I work with could tell I was anything but a little quiet and remote.

            1. twig

              Yeah, people have bad days. Heck, I have bad days, but I don’t want to work for (or honestly, spend any time with) someone who takes their bad days out on their employees.

          2. OPforThis

            I’ve done some follow-through, and the CEO just seems to be bad with people (found videos of him online, and his tone, eye contact, etc. are all over the place).

      2. Greg

        I mean, none of us was in the room, so it’s hard to say for sure, but my first thought was less that it was a stress test and more that it was the CEO’s interview style.

        My college roommate once had the opposite experience. He came out of the interview convinced it was the single greatest interview in human history, and that he and the interviewer had achieved some sort of mind meld. So he was shocked when he didn’t get the job … until he happened to have a conversation with another applicant, who had had the exact same experience. Turned out the interviewer was just a very nice person who made people feel welcome.

        I’m reminded of the old joke about the guy who tells his fellow camper, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.” The fact that the company offered her the job even after what she saw as a train wreck of an interview suggests that she did, in fact, outrun the other candidates. So while I fully agree with AAM’s advice for the OP to share her concerns with the hiring manager, I’m not as inherently skeptical of the situation.

        1. Anonymity

          I’m a therapist, and interviewing is really confusing because we are all pretty good about being empathic and practicing active listening while maintaining boundaries. I remember leaving my traineeship interview and saying “either I did a fantastic job, or the supervisor is just amazing at being a supportive therapist. I have NO idea which!”

    2. Spoonie

      I had the same experience at an interview — the first two people were lovely and the CEO was…a jerk. The CEO continued to be a jerk after I was hired. So that theory doesn’t always hold true.

      1. V

        Definitely. The interview for my current job included someone I didn’t like. After almost a year, I still don’t like her. But I expected and accepted that aspect of the job before taking it.

        I think the OP’s CEO might be in the stress-test category because she said, “CEO replied with a short, clean thank you for my thoughtfulness and asked if I’d be willing to start with them by consulting on a few projects.” It sounded like a polite interaction, and the CEO might have called the OP “thoughtful.” That’s not the mark of a true jerk, IMO.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Still sounds like just a jerk to me — because they’re often not a jerk in 100% of interactions and are generally oblivious to when they have been.

          1. V

            I tend to think of jerks as being more like, “I’m going to do what I want because you don’t matter enough for me to care.” The kiss-up-kick-down types, or the ones who treat everyone with contempt.

            On the other hand, I know someone who says terribly rude things, but seems genuinely oblivious to how inappropriate those comments are. So I shake my head, but don’t consider her a true jerk. She’s like a child who just doesn’t know any better.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Unless that someone has a personal history or invisible disability that makes it difficult for her to pick up on social norms (even after trying to learn those norms), then she’s a jerk. Being an adult and behaving like a child who doesn’t know better is not acceptable or an excuse for one’s jerky conduct. The second part of your definition—”you don’t matter enough for me to care”—seems to describe the dynamic this person’s exhibiting.

          2. Jennifer

            Also it’s one thing to rip someone apart in person and another to leave written evidence of having done so.

        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          Or it’s the mark of a jerk who takes great joy in putting the velvet glove back on the iron fist, having showed the new pack member who was alpha, and uses kindness or the withdrawal thereof to manipulate his employees.

          1. LKW

            I was thinking he sounded more like “No one is as smart as me and let me tell you 17 reasons why.” For every thing she says that’s right – he counters with what she may have omitted. It’s a power play to make sure that everyone knows that you know more than they do.

            I could see this job working out if the typical weekly scenario is “This is what we’re doing but would appreciate your advice on how to improve”

            I could see this job not working out if the typical weekly scenario is “Thank you for providing feedback that requires us to completely redo everything we were doing because you’ve decided we are taking the wrong approach.”

    3. BRR

      I don’t think the stress test is that common. If this was what the CEO was doing, I might shift to not wanting to work for someone who does stress test interview.

      1. Alton

        To be honest, I don’t really see a difference between being a jerk and intentionally being nasty to put someone off-guard. I wouldn’t want to work for someone who believed in tests like that.

  4. Jessie

    We ALL need a 5-10 minute screen break every couple of hours to rest our eyes. And a short break every 20 minutes to look into the distance. Screens are hurting humanity’s eyesight.

    1. Emi.

      Yeah, seriously, don’t worry about that. Heck, I go to the bathroom more than once every couple of hours.

    2. AnonAnalyst

      Yeah, I wouldn’t worry about this at all. If the job you’re applying for is going to require a lot of videos or driving I might be more cautious based on what’s in the letter, but just taking a break from the computer for a few minutes is not going to raise any eyebrows unless you’re in a job that requires constant coverage.

    3. Engineer Girl

      I think it’s more important to get an ergonomic evaluation of the workstation. That will help with the physical stress.

    4. zora

      According to my eye dr., the short break every 20 min we should be looking into the distance and blinking a few times. We blink less looking at computers and it dries our eyes out, as well.

  5. Koko

    You know, that last comment of the CEO gives me pause there might be an alternate explanation.

    When I was interviewing for my current role, my great-grandboss was the last and highest-level person I interviewed with. The previous interviews with my boss, grandboss, and a panel interview with colleagues had all been very friendly and positive. Great-grandboss asked me a bunch of very pointed questions, and then no matter what answer I gave, would challenge it – “Yes, but what about consider X?” So I’d say, “Oh, yes, of course X for reasons A, B, and C.” And then he’d say, “But problems with X!” So I’d say, “Yes, that’s true, and we’d watch out for them/balance it against Y/whatever.”

    I didn’t feel totally like I’d bombed the interview, because every time he challenged/corrected something I said I felt like I had done a good job showing that I had the background and expertise to quickly grasped where he was coming from and elaborate on things he was suggesting. But at the same time I felt like I did not “shine” in that interview and wasn’t too happy with my performance.

    I ended up being hired and learning that great-grandboss is a deadpan snark who uses a somewhat adversarial conversation style but is actually one of the nicest, funniest, and most supportive people I’ve ever worked for. I’ve learned that he was the hardest interview everyone had and that he scared most people for their first couple weeks when he would be snarky with them and they thought they were in trouble because they weren’t used to him yet.

    The fact that at the end, when she said she’d made mistakes she needed to reflect on and he said, “No,” makes me wonder if this CEO is kinda like my great-grandboss. Maybe he just has a pointed/adversarial communication style and isn’t necessarily communicating displeasure by poking holes in all your ideas. Some people lead this way, they *expect* to be able to poke holes in your ideas, to prompt you to think about things you hadn’t considered without giving you the answer, and ultimately have the best outcome. It’s something you see a lot in academia, too.

    1. Animal Doc

      When I read “even in the end, when I said I’d clearly made some mistakes to reflect on in our conversation, he just told me, “No.” What?!” , all I could think of was ‘Splunge!’

    2. Mike C.

      Kind of reminds me of those graduate level exams where the questions become harder the better you do. Anyway.

      Speaking generally, I don’t really have an issue with that sort of interview style – you should be able to think critically about what you are going to be doing and be able to address others who challenge your answers. The questions aren’t asked to emotionally manipulate someone but to probe their experience, knowledge and judgement. I’m guessing you actually performed a whole lot better than you first thought – you did get the job after all.

      It can take some by surprise if they aren’t used to this approach (say, cultural differences where one might be accustomed to the use of lots of softening language, few if any questions around decision making, deference being prioritized, etc) but I think there’s a stark difference between what you experienced and what the OP faced. While you were asked detailed questions that arose in an ad hoc fashion based on your previous answers, the OP seems to have faced a great deal of personal attacks. It’s one thing to probe a design choice for flaws but being cruel and dismissive crosses a line for me.

      1. fposte

        Yes, this sounds like like an old-school boot camp approach. And sure, maybe there’s an advantage in being able to push back or withstand it, but I doubt that’s an advantage that relates to actual needed work skills.

        1. Anon, but....

          If it does, beware! In a previous job, stress-tolerance was absolutely something I watched for in candidates…because their actual boss was very stressful to work for. Fortunately, he was also in the interviews, so they did have a chance to get a sense of his style. I watched for how they handled it because that’s basically how every day was going to be.

        2. anonderella

          I agree with Mike C, in that my work tends toward first critically thinking through steps of a process (until I’m very familiar with it), so I do better with people who are open to discussing a process before I/we start on it. So, I understand that a tone can sometimes come off as harsh; what helps me is to understand whatever I’m working on so I can prioritize those goals over resolving a conflict with my boss.

          Also, seconding the “attacking” feeling; the CEO was berating her, not probing further for her expertise. I personally shut down with any kind of “boot camp” approach, ever in life; I can *become* stubbornness, reciting an internal monologue about what it means to be accepted by someone I don’t respect.

          Its like, I have anger problems/frustration/stress issues too, and when it’s heated to the right temp under the right circumstances (ie: screaming/berating), it just becomes a well-sealed wall around me. Used right, with a cool (interior) head, it can be a good defensive weapon against hotheads who are using their frustration as a primitive club.
          (was going to use a “cutting” metaphor, but I was already too close to rock/paper/scissors as it were)

          1. Engineer Girl

            The OP stated she felt eviscerated.
            There’s a huge difference between “you’re wrong!!” Vs “you’re wrong because of x, y, and z”.
            Some industries are harsher at critiques than others. For examle, engineers are extremely blind at a design review. It’s something you have to get used to.
            I am concerned about the plagiarism comment though. That’s extremely confrontational since this is a publishing house. That’s a serious charge.
            I’m also concerned about the CEO telling the OP that they’re not an ambivert. Short of a Meyers Briggs test how could he possibly know? Telling someone that they are clearly wrong absent any data is worrying.
            I’m wondering if this is a shoot from the hip manager. They drive introverts crazy.
            All of this points to further inquiry.

              1. Kyrielle

                I don’t know, I’m a software engineer and sometimes at deisgn reviews I can feel like one or another of us (including me) was being or is being blind also. Although usually someone is blunt about that if it’s happening. ;)

              2. Lora

                THAT TOO.

                Most recent design review:
                Analyst: We tested the sludge and it turned out to be poisonous slime. Here are all the pictures of the disgusting blobs and chunks which would be terrible for people’s health.
                Me: well it’s a good thing we are filtering it out then! I sure hope none of it is sneaking past the filter! Let’s do an experiment to be certain.
                Other engineer: hey, that’s expensive poisonous slime, we can probably do some stuff to make it not poisonous! I bet there is something good in there if we look hard enough and spend enough money.
                Literally everyone else: Um…I don’t know about that…
                Other engineer: See, it’s decided then, we will go ahead with the Poisonous Slime Recycling experiment which I’ve just made up.
                *silence while we all cringe in fremdschamen*

            1. anonderella

              totally agree re: the difference, and the industry; I’m in construction, and there Is No Sugarcoating.
              I have no clue what the CEO was getting at with the plagiarism charge.. forgot about that bit.. or the denial of ambivercy (yes, frankenword, LIVE!).
              The only further professional inquiry I have is how the “lovely would-be coworkers” get along with the CEO. I have a zoo-like curiosity in watching the CEO do any kind of PR-related work for his company, but that’s coming from a different place.

    3. AnonAnalyst

      This was what I was thinking. I work with a lot of C-level individuals in my current job, and in my experience this communication style is not uncommon once you get to that level in an organization. A lot of them are busy, so they’re direct and they’re good at cutting through what they see as fluff to get to the heart of what they need to know. It can feel harsh if you’re not used to it, but it’s not necessarily adversarial or rude; they want to get the information they need and understand how you came to whatever conclusion you’re presenting to them, but they don’t want to spend hours doing it. And Koko’s point about leadership style is also true – sometimes they want to understand how someone thinks, or try to get them to see something differently without just telling them the answer.

      I think AAM’s suggested question is great because it will give you good insight here. The fact that he said “No” to your last question makes me wonder if he was actually more impressed with you than you thought. Or he could just be a jerk. But it’s hard to know without more information, so asking someone who currently works there will be helpful.

      1. fposte

        I’m pretty tolerant of brusque communication, but I’d consider an accusation of plagiarism to be adversarial. That doesn’t mean working with the guy is unthinkable, but I’d say that’s beyond the cutting-through-the-fluff style.

        1. AnonAnalyst

          Oh yeah, I absolutely agree that this guy veered into jerk territory. But it sounds like he was that way from the beginning of the interview, so that makes me wonder if he was just blunt at the start and then things went downhill as the interview progressed and the OP started to get stressed. But he also could just be a jerk.

          I guess my thinking is more that I wouldn’t necessarily write this company off entirely based on this one interaction. I would definitely want to get more information if they made an offer, but I can sort of see something like this unfolding with some of the senior people I’ve worked with (though without the plagiarism accusations).

        2. Mazzy

          Yeah a lot of my peers are at this level and so I don’t think of them as a separate group of people and yeah, I agree, this CEO was adversarial and rude. And you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be all like “I want to be seen as a business guru” but “I suck at communication so bad that people have to endlessly mull over what I mean,” knowing part of business apptitude is communication

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            It’s the Cult of Steve Jobs. Everybody wants the black turtleneck.

        3. NoMoreMrFixit

          At the plagiarism comment I would have thanked him for his time and walked away. Yes that is burning a bridge but at this stage I think the bridge is already collapsing. Being abrupt or even difficult is one thing, but if an interviewer starts throwing out baseless accusations then it’s time to leave. That’s a clip full of bullets waiting there. I’ve worked for that type of boss. It only gets worse as time goes on.

          Additionally, plagiarism is pretty much the worst thing you can be accused of in academia. Which makes this even more rude. File this under lesson learned and move on.

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        “A lot of them are busy, so they’re direct and they’re good at cutting through what they see as fluff to get to the heart of what they need to know. It can feel harsh if you’re not used to it, but it’s not necessarily adversarial or rude; they want to get the information they need and understand how you came to whatever conclusion you’re presenting to them, but they don’t want to spend hours doing it.”

        It IS adversarial and rude. It IS harsh. It is possible to be direct, efficient, and cut to the heart of an issue without being a dick. Any CEO who believes differently is a narcissist with a talent for self-aggrandizing justification for being a dick. Unfortunately, the business world is afflicted with uncritical admiration for a very small number of brilliant visionaries who are dicks, like Steve Jobs, and a lot of not-brilliant not-visionaries seem to think they can wrap themselves in that mystique by being dicks. And then, for some reason, people seem to buy that line of self-indulgent hooey.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Yes, exactly this! I’m a little puzzled by the idea that he was simply “being direct” and that OP is misinterpreting the exchange as harsh. I’ve worked for bosses who were direct, cut-through-the-bull folks, and they were not assholes. The CEO, here, sounds like an absolute horror. He wasn’t grilling OP for details; he was attacking her intellectual capacity and her competence. For pete’s sake, he accused her of plagiarizing! That’s not a normal statement to make in any kind of interview.

          OP, I would run. People who are able to behave the way the CEO did usually aren’t putting on an act; they’re showing you their real personality.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

            And don’t be mollified by the complimentary follow-up “thoughtful” comment. Making a show of giving you a warm slurp after alpha-rolling you and snarling in your face is a standard manipulation tactic people like this use. You know the iron fist, and you do everything you can to keep the velvet glove in place after that.

            1. GrandBargain

              Sorry, way off topic!

              @IrritableScientist. I really like your description. Just to note it sounds incredibly similar to several recent episodes in the news… referring to unnamed individual’s phone calls with Mexican president and Australian PM. Hmmm.

        2. always in email jail

          Agreed. Many of the scripts Alison provides are “direct”. That does not have to be the same thing as rude.

      3. MillersSpring

        “A lot of them are busy, so they’re direct…they want to get the information they need and understand how you came to whatever conclusion you’re presenting to them…”

        I’ve worked with many C-level types with this kind of personality. At their best, they’re just trying to get quick answers but they’re still polite. At their worst, they have no ability to pause and understand a nuanced answer, and they make spot judgments about people and processes because they’re not taking the time to understand. Ugh.

      4. LBK

        Hmm, I work with several higher ups that I would describe as blunt or brusque. I’m personally prone to explicitly saying “What are you trying to ask me?” to people who dance around asking half-questions before they get to the point. That doesn’t sound like what the OP is describing. Compare your description:

        they want to get the information they need and understand how you came to whatever conclusion you’re presenting to them, but they don’t want to spend hours doing it.

        To the OP’s description:

        It didn’t matter what I said or what questions I asked: almost everything I did was met with some version of “No,” “That’s not true,” “You clearly haven’t thought this through,” or “You’re just not ready yet.”

        The directness wasn’t in the questions asked, it was in criticizing the responses to those questions. I think flatly contradicting someone like that crosses the line between blunt and rude, especially when you’re in an interview setting where if you don’t like someone’s answers, you have the power to just not hire them or even cut the interview short – no reason to sit there and berate them for an hour.

    4. bohtie

      “adversarial” is the word I was trying to think of! Bless you.

      I work with somebody like this and she is a PITA, but knowing it’s how she communicates and that it’s not about whether I’ve actually done anything wrong took an enormous amount of stress off my shoulders. (But I also don’t report to her, although she likes to make me think I do sometimes, so it’s definitely a different power dynamic.)

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        That’s not “how she communicates.” It’s her being awful. Don’t sugarcoat it.

  6. Sabine the Very Mean

    I simply wanted to express my admiration for the OP. I can’t believe you had the strength to stay and continue, to not walk out and to cry only once you got home. I guarantee I would have done that weird, breathy, hyperventilating cry the second I was out of his sight. You know, where your husband or mom can’t even understand you? Wow.

    1. Frustrated Optimist

      I wanted to say basically the same thing. I had an experience where a panel member interviewer was very rude and dismissive with me as well. Pretty sure I had tears in my eyes just walking to the car. And when I got home, between his treatment of me, and the hiring manager telling me they couldn’t meet my salary expectations, oh yes, I came home and full-out cried as well.

      1. Lily Rowan

        Oh man, I had a terrible HR interview one time (I still to this day can’t imagine what kinds of answers she was looking for from me) and was definitely crying when I got to the second person I was meeting with, the actual hiring manager. That was brutal. Surprise, surprise, I did not get that job.

        That was 15 years ago, and I have a MUCH thicker skin now.

        1. bohtie

          This happened to me at my current job! The HR interviewer was the rudest, most awful human being, like she was horribly inconvenienced by having to talk to me for twenty minutes about my employment history, berated me for every question I asked, and when I called back to check on how the hiring process was going (government job, so it took FOREVER, and I had another offer), she actually said, “How DARE you!” and hung up on me.

          I know we hate the term “dream job” here, which I totally understand, but I love my work, and my boss, and my work environment so much and sometimes I think about how I almost turned it down because she was so nasty to me and I couldn’t imagine having to work with people like that.

    2. OPforThis

      Thanks!!! I was feeling very thin-skinned after the interview, and it really was all I could after about 10 minutes not to just throw up my hands, cry, and leave. The remaining 20 min were excruciating. It’s validating to hear people thought I was brave/not weak for crying at all.

  7. Relly

    later, he told me I had to be an introvert or an extrovert, and refused to hear that I skew 50/50

    This is absolutely a thing. The technical term for it is “ambivert.” I used to think I was a weird anomaly in that I wasn’t really either, but it happens.

    1. Bonky

      Yup – I’m an ambivert too. Myers Briggs tests are always very interesting; if I’m taking one with my work-face on, I always come out ENFJ, but if I’m taking on in a personal context (personal coaching is where I’ve bumped up against this; the work example comes from an 18-month management course I did with a very heavy emphasis on workplace psychology), it’s always INFJ – but in both instances I slew around the middle, and am just a little more strongly expressed in one direction or the other depending on what persona I’m wearing. On all occasions the tests have been professionally administered.

    2. V

      In pop psych, it can be a thing. But in the original Jungian terminology, it’s not. They’re two very different ways of experiencing the world. (FWIW, I think Jung’s theory is far more interesting than MBTI.)

      Maybe the CEO was just a Jungian. :-P

        1. V

          It’s been a while since I read Psychological Types, but wouldn’t excessive extraversion (or introversion) be problematic? The shadow would grow pretty fierce to compensate — and then we’re talking about degrees of dysfunction.

          And regarding your comment below: A huge problem with the “energy” model is that it’s ONLY asking about social interactions. It’s basically determining if you’re an extroverted feeling type, not if you’re an extrovert in general. So 3 of the 8 types aren’t getting proper representation on the I/E scale, and people wonder why there’s so many ambiverts.

          For anyone who’s curious, Jung’s original theory distinguished extroverts and introverts by their objective vs subjective natures. Do you orient yourself by objective data from the outside world? Or are you more strongly influenced by subjective factors, by your inner world?

    3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      The extrovert/introvert dichotomy is kind of false. The operative question is whether you gain energy, or spend energy, on social interactions. Generally people are one or the other, but I know very socially outgoing and engaged people who are fundamentally introverts, and I know people with social anxieties who are fundamentally extroverts.

      1. MillersSpring

        This is exactly me. I come up as ENFJ, and I’m very friendly and social, even with strangers. However, I use evenings and weekends to decompress; I need to balance time among people with alone time because interactions can drain me. I truly enjoy spending time with my friends, coworkers and family, and I can chat with any cashier or waiter, but afterward I need to recharge alone.

      2. Raine

        It can depend on the degree of social interaction though. I gain energy from smaller groups of people (3 -4) but have to spend energy in larger groups (6+). So I could spend all day at work, grab beers with friends after, and come home with plenty of energy to spend on household tasks. But if I had to spend the same evening grabbing beers with all my co-workers (some of whom are also friends) I’d come home exhausted. Same with the home, if it’s just me + parents I like hanging out in the living room with them more than I like being alone in my room. But if they’re having a social gathering of more than one or two people then I prefer my room to the common area.

        1. LBK

          Yeah, 3-5 people is my ideal range. One-on-one is a lot of pressure to constantly keep the conversation up, and 6+ starts to get overwhelming (especially if it involves coordinating anything, like food orders).

      3. Brogrammer

        Definitely a false dichotomy. Interestingly enough, if you measure introversion and extroversion as independent characteristics rather than treating them as opposite ends of a spectrum, it’s entirely possible for a person to score high in both categories.

      4. Witty Nickname

        Yes, on this. I always describe myself as the most extroverted introvert you will ever meet. Most people are surprised to find out I’m really an introvert, but I need hours of time to myself just to recharge from a normal work day – add in any social engagements, and I need a lot more. I need that time more than I need sleep.

    4. Barney Barnaby

      My guess is that he’s not making an actual comment about ambiverts, so much as looking for her to just commit to an answer and then assess where that personality type would fit it and fall short of various aspects of the job.

    5. Myrin

      I don’t know if that’s me but I don’t understand this whole “energy” business in general. I feel neither drained nor rejuvenated by social interaction and don’t personally get where energy comes into play there.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        It’s pretty simple; as an introvert, I enjoy and value social contact and situations, but they’re fatiguing, and if I spent a lot of time being social I need to take some time for myself afterward to recharge. When I’m stressed or unhappy, my impulse is to do something solitary. An extrovert finds being alone to be effortful, even if enjoyable, and being in a social situation revitalizes them and gives them strength.

        1. Myrin

          Oh, I get that in theory (I’ve read it often enough, after all!), it’s just not something I experience with regards to energy; “energy”, for me, is a purely physical thing, I get exhausted by being on my feet all day but it doesn’t depend on whether I’m with people or not.

          1. Engineer Girl

            But with introverts it really is in their head. “I’m too (mentally) tired to deal with you.”

      2. LBK

        If you’re alone for a while, do you find yourself getting to a point where you say “Okay, I’ve had enough of that, I need to go be around another person?” Or vice versa, if you’ve been hanging out with people for a while, do you find yourself thinking “Okay, had enough of people, need some alone time?”

          1. Myrin

            Yeah, same. Or, as someone in another thread said, these aren’t really opposites to me as much as different character traits. I enjoy being alone but I also have no problem being around people.

  8. A.Nonymou.S.

    When people show you who they are, believe them.

    I once nearly walked out of an interview before it began. My would-be boss, when we passed by a related team with an urgent question in the hall, responded so snidely and rudely before strutting off – I watched the shock of his comment wash over their faces, nothing like “I’m in the middle of something”, just pure sh|ttiness – that I knew right then it wasn’t the place for me.

    The in-house recruiter told me afterward, “oh, yeah, he will pull things like that just to keep people on their toes.” The question is, what kind of person feels like they *need* to pull things like that? To show me people can be hateful in the office? Is that news? What, I’ve seen you at your worst so I’m to assume the rest will be better? No. I’ve seen you at your *average*. Which made you, OP, feel horrible.

    Do the due diligence and see if this was some sort of basic joke. And remember you will get other interviews where you will like *everyone*.

  9. Anon Anon Anon

    I turned down a job many years ago because the person who would be my boss’s boss interviewed me that way. All I could think is how much stress I would put myself under each day dealing with that sort of attitude. I’ve turned down four jobs in my life and they’ve all been because the person who would be my boss or my boss’s boss seemed very hostile. So I second the idea of proceeding with caution.

    1. Lily in NYC

      Me too! And they couldn’t believe I turned it down and kept raising the salary offer. I finally had to be honest and say that there was no way in hell I’d work for the CEO after seeing her in action (as her EA, which would have been a nightmare). She reminded me of a female version of Dieter from Sprockets (SNL). And the recruiter who sent me on that interview dumped me because he said I made him look bad. Hmph.

    2. Karo

      Me too. Mostly because I knew I’d have to work closely with the person that made me feel so uncomfortable and small and it genuinely wasn’t worth it.

  10. Jeanne

    I’m wondering how big a company this is. It sounds like about 10 people working for the CEO/founder. That type of company works great for some people, not for others. It’s something to think about.

    I don’t think after that I would be interested in the job. If you are still interested in the company, maybe you could try some freelance projects. That might give you a better chance to understand the culture. Despite other commenters’ stories about this type of thing working out, I wouldn’t be willing to take the chance of going through that every week.

    1. Bonky

      To add to that – if it’s a small organisation (which is what it sounded like to me, as well), be aware that culture always comes from the top, and can be quite concentrated in small companies.

      The “it might have been a test thing” – well, I don’t think I’d be very happy working in an environment where that sort of “test” was considered a reasonable thing to do to someone, especially given what we all know about how stressful the application process can be. My company would never use tricks or tests on applicants, and nor would the vast majority. It’s either a weird and rather unkind thing to do, or, if it was genuine, is a good demonstration that the CEO is not great to work with. Both of these things are probably indicative of culture – and culture is one of the most important things to consider when you’re thinking about taking a job.

    2. k

      Consulting/freelancing on a few projects sounds like a great option. Best case, it turns out the CEO is great, they love you, and you get the full time job. Worst case, he is always that way and you hate the job, you have to suck it up and finish that project but leave with some great experience to add to your resume and never have to see him again.

  11. Editor

    This is almost exactly a description of my current company (although pronouns/titles are different enough that I think it’s not actually it). I would strongly echo what Alison recommends about finding out via your network or further conversations with others what the mood and tone of the office is day to day. For better or worse, I think that’s often modeled from the top down, and in our case, one strong personality at the very top is causing difficult situations for the rest of the (smart, dedicated, caring) team below her.

  12. JobSeeker017

    OP, congrats on your recovery and for successfully making it through multiple interviews for what sounds to be a challenging position!

    As many AAM commenters have mentioned, the CEO could have been engaging in a stress interview with you. Given how friendly and engaging your previous interviewers were, I agree with this theory of the leader’s motives. He could have been testing your ability to accept blunt criticism and thinking quickly.

    I would ask that you ponder the following questions prior to deciding to either serve as a consultant or accept a full-time position with this particular company:

    1. How would you handle strong and direct critiques of your writing and formatting style on a regular basis? (Could you develop a thick skin, or would you find yourself becoming upset frequently?)

    2. Would you enjoy changing your writing style and formatting to accommodate the responsibilities of the position?

    3. Can you write an honest list of the pros and cons of accepting a consulting or full-time position with this company? The idea would be to be through and examine it warts and all.

    Given that I have a degree in communications and have changed careers myself, I am excited for your success.

    Please keep us posted.

    Good luck, OP!

    1. Sparrow

      The consultant route might be a good middle ground where you’re able to get valuable experience but don’t have as much face time with the CEO (I presume). But since this is for an internship, I feel like it wouldn’t be unreasonable to take a bigger risk than one might ordinarily be comfortable with when applying for long-term employment. If the pros outweigh the cons (i.e. if the OP is more enthusiastic about the experience than concerned about the CEO, or they learn that the CEO isn’t actively involved in the day-to-day, etc.), then it may be worthwhile even if the CEO is less than ideal. Obviously, due diligence would be necessary to know what you’re signing up for, and OP would have to feel personally comfortable with the trade offs, but I wouldn’t write it off altogether.

  13. My 2 Cents

    For what it’s worth: My interview with my current boss was harsh. Not as bad as OP’s experience, but not in any way, shape, or form something I thought I did well at, he GRILLED me (A lot of it was about this being a career change, so similar to your situation)! Despite this I was offered the job, accepted, and he’s been a fantastic boss! I’ve been here over 3 years now and absolutely love it.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Yes, but that’s so different from attacking you. I’ve been in tough interviews where I’ve been grilled, but if someone accused me of plagiarism and repeatedly attacked my competence, I wouldn’t take an offer.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        I wouldn’t finish the interview. “I don’t appreciate your accusation, but it does make clear that this is not a position I would be interested in,” mic drop, peace out.

    2. Mazzy

      Right but there’s also huge value in not having to decipher and analyze and mulll over everything other people say, as OP will most likely be doing with CeO

  14. Serafina

    I beg you, LW, DON’T DO IT! Your instincts are sending you a loud and clear warning, as is the CEO himself. This is someone who wants you to be aware that he will be abusive to you – this is his standard operating practice – and soften you up for it from the very beginning.

    Yes, this is my own baggage talking – I recognized an abusive supervisor from day one, and endured almost three years of vicious bullying, telling myself it was better than being unemployed. It wasn’t. He waltzed off to a new, higher paying position, taking all the major accounts with him, and resulted in me and multiple colleagues losing our jobs.

    People who start out by aggressively “negging” are the kind who are in it only for themselves, want to keep their subordinates on edge and pliant from day one, and there will be neither short-term NOR long-term benefits to enduring that abuse. Learn from my mistake. Your hesitance now is your instinct reacting to a very bad situation – heed it.

  15. kckckc

    Run. Run for your life. If he talks to someone he doesn’t even know that way, imagine how he talks to employees.

    1. Jennifer

      Seconded. I’d talk to your other contacts as Allison said, but if the guy likes to eviscerate a stranger, I’d want HUGE reassurances from everyone else that he’s only a douche on first meeting before I took the job. IF they say anything else….

  16. galiana

    Nope, don’t do it. I say this as the veteran of many start-ups. Nasty bullies like the CEO end up driving away decent people, and the climate of fear and mistrust never gets better. The #1 indicator of how much you’ll enjoy working in a start-up is the quality of the CEO.

    RUN, do not walk, away.

  17. Barney Barnaby

    “I’ll admit to having learned a few things from our conversation (mostly about being prepared for the C-Suite’s emphasis on the bottom line), but I still feel that much of the treatment was actively confusing, cruel, or dismissive.”

    So I have no problem whatsoever with the first part. You’re coming from a place wherein your salary and benefits were likely negotiated by a union and paid for by the government; your work hours and work load were negotiated up front; and it’s not an environment wherein a start-up school would open a block over and put you out of business. It’s such a different environment from corporate America that getting teachers and corporate-types together can be tough.

    I do have a problem with the “cruel” part. There’s no need for that.

    I think you should ask why the role opened up (did someone else have problems with the CEO and leave?), how long people tend to stay in the company, what people like about working there, and what they dislike about working there.

      1. Barney Barnaby

        Was that to me? I’ve been in the private sector my entire working career, but have a lot of friends who are public school teachers or work for the government.

    1. Leapdaywilliam

      That really depends on where you live. In Chicago, for-profit charter schools treat their employees poorly, focus on the bottom-line, and steal funding from public schools which is driving them out of business. That’s some late-stage capitalism realness.

  18. MommyMD

    Could it be that after the positive interactions you were taken aback by pointed questions? In retrospect were most of the CEO’s questions and concerns valid even if delivered in a salty fashion? I agree you may be devaluing yourself with the mindset that you need to start at the bottom. I don’t think it can hurt to see up a freelance agreement. You could always quit. I can see how mimicking the company’s writing style could backfire on you regarding your personal writing samples. I started out in journalism and prospective employers like to see authentic work as a reflection of your skill. Good luck.

    1. Lord of the Ringbinders

      Sure, in journalism it’s important to show authentic work. In marketing it’s far more important to show that you can write in different voices, adhere to brand guidelines, quickly pick up style norms and generally get the nuances of changing your voice for different audiences or clients.

      Marketing isn’t journalism. And it’s not easy
      to coach people who can’t see the difference between x client’s style and their own voice and need nannying through that.

  19. DCompliance

    Given my personality, I would have to turn this down. I try to live by slogan “say what you, mean and mean what you say”. I don’t have patience for someone who is saying “you haven’t thought this through” or “you’re wrong” and then, when I say “I am going to reflect on my mistakes”, he responds with “No!” Well, if I made no mistakes, then stop telling me I am wrong.

    If this was supposed to be a test, still, NO! You want to know how I would deal with “pressure” situation like this interview? I am going to act like a lady and turn the job down. Why? One tactic for dealing with stress is cutting out all unnecessary stressors and this just seems unnecessary.

  20. 2 Cents

    OP, if I was accused of plagiarism(!?) when I’d simply mimicked the company’s writing style, I’d be really, really offended. What a tool. You don’t say that to a writer unless you have proof. Is there a way to mention it as “this was bizarre” to any of the other people you talked to at the company? To me, that goes beyond “prickly” to outright adversarial.

    What’s more, if you *can* easily mimic styles and different voices/points of view, a marketing agency would *love* you. A copywriter / content creator / SEO writer writes (very) frequently on behalf of clients, in keeping with the brand guidelines. Writing for SEO basically boils down to: can you make this piece of content mention these keywords (and variants) in a natural way, so the content is high quality and informational? When I’m screening writers, as long as they have some writing talent, I can teach them what I need.

    And I agree that you should be look at positions in the range of 3-5 (or whatever) years of experience rather than competing for jobs/internships with recent grads. You have many transferable skills, including teaching skills (so you’re not afraid to make presentations…I hope), organizational skills, evaluation skills, and more.

    1. Marin

      This is a really good point. It suggests to me that the CEO doesn’t understand what plagiarism is, which doesn’t bode well for his understanding of other editorial conventions and terminology. In turn, that doesn’t bode well for the editorial standards of the organisation.

      I’m an editor and this would be a tablecloth-sized red flag to me.

    2. OPforThis

      Thanks for the affirmation! I’ve decided not to go with this particular offer/option, but appreciate your confirmation that I seem to be headed down an appropriate path (and may be underselling myself).

      1. The fabulous executive

        Good decision . If you foresee that you won’t get a positive career change out of it, it’s best to move on and find something new.
        Best of luck to you !

  21. Anna

    What I’m asking myself is why I keep reading the post title as “Should I burn down the office I was excited about until I met the CEO?”

    This probably has more to do with my current mood than anything else.

  22. Chickaletta

    Having thick skin, knowing how to respond to hard questions, being able to hold your own – those are all great traits. Doesn’t mean you should work in an environment where you’re tested on them everyday though.

    Life is too short to surround yourself with jerks. Sometimes, the bravest, smartest thing to do is knowing when to walk away.

    1. Lord of the Ringbinders

      “Having thick skin, knowing how to respond to hard questions, being able to hold your own – those are all great traits. Doesn’t mean you should work in an environment where you’re tested on them everyday though.”

      +1 million!

  23. Isabel

    Wonder if someone can tell me whether this is against the rules/frowned upon…

    I am also looking for a job and happened to hear about an opening yesterday that is not quite right for me but looks PERFECT for the OP. I am not affiliated with the hiring company. The job is listed publicly; a friend emailed it to me. Would it be out of bounds to either post a link or let OP know which job board I found it on and/or some search terms?

  24. Lord of the Ringbinders

    Remember Alison’s advice that there is no such thing as a dream job vacancy. You want them to be a perfect match so you’re disregarding important evidence. Remember the adage: when someone shows you who they are, believe them?

    I wouldn’t want to work for someone who accused me of plagiarism because I correctly adopted the house style in a sample I prepared for them. He’s rude. Do you want to work for someone rude who makes you feel like you’ve underperformed?

    Do you love this opportunity? Or do you love the idea of it that’s been shown to be not quite the reality?

    I’m an ex-journalist who moved into working for non-profits. I know a few teachers who used educational publishing or marketing or journalism (e.g. for magazines aimed at teachers) as a way to sidestep into a new career. You can totally do it. Good luck.

  25. Lord of the Ringbinders

    One other thing. OP, if you’re in the UK (which you’re probably not, but just in case) I would strongly recommend you talk to an accountant and to an organisation like IPSE before you work on a contract or freelance basis as opposed to PAYE (being on payroll) because if you are getting paid gross, you will have to register with HMRC and complete a tax return – and in doing so will stop paying the class of national insurance that entitles you to contributory JSA should you need it. (And you can’t top it up voluntarily.) If you are working set hours on-site and do not have a limited company you should be put on payroll because of something called IR35.

    This is off-topic if OP isn’t over here (and the reference to C-suite suggests you’re not) but seemed worth mentioning. Over here doing a bit of freelance work is something to go into armed with knowledge of the tax and benefits rules that apply and I thought I would mention it just in case.

    1. Zombii

      It’s not that far off-topic. :) There are tax differences for contractors vs employees in the States too (but the UK differences sound more dire?), and it’s better to be aware of them up-front than to be surprised in April because you thought the company was still taking taxes out for you, or you didn’t realize you had to pay taxes more than once a year.

  26. The fabulous executive

    I’d compare the consultancy contract with the employee contract and not to mind the CEO that much, as you all are going to meet in a team capacity on a regular basis. Gel with the team and pulse how they get along with CEO.
    Try not to overthink and give it a shot. If the situation becomes unbearable , you can always withdraw during probation. That’s what probation is for.
    Btw, jerks are everywhere, whether it’s the messenger or a senior clerk, see this as a people reading challenge.

    1. Leapdaywilliam

      It’s different when the jerk has power over your livelihood–it robs you of agency and makes you feel small on a daily basis. In that situation, your power is in being able to sell your labor to someone else. But I think contract work is a great way for OP to gauge whether or not s/he can work with this CEO.

  27. Leapdaywilliam

    I’d like to share my experience. I applied for and got a job that looked great on paper. The team seemed really great and the work seemed like it would be rewarding both personally and professionally. However, the CEO threw up serious red flags. I took the job anyway and seriously regretted it, because his management style trickled down through the entire organization, and there were plenty of people who took their cues from him and thought nothing of being disrespectful towards each other. Regarding your experience, it’s clear that the CEO saw the need to put you in your place, so I’d worry about his attitudes permeating the company culture.

  28. Allison

    LW, I feel you!

    About nine months ago, I applied to an internal job posting at my company. My boss and boss’s boss really like me, and I recently won an award for my work. So, I was surprised when the person doing the hiring criticized my work and later told me that a statement I made about a certain type of teapot style I enjoy “elicited some eye-rolling”. He said that he wanted to find a project for me to do so they could see my work, and I haven’t heard a peep about the job in the months since, despite reaching out. I had written it off as a dodged bullet when my boss’ boss called me into his office the other day, apologized for the way I was treated by the hiring manager and told me he’s heard from one of the hiring manager’s coworkers that he’s an asshole.
    SO this interaction may give you helpful insight.

  29. NikkiStowe

    For what it’s worth, at one of my previous jobs I had great, constructive interviews with my future manager and coworkers, but in my interview with Big Boss, he played “bad cop”. It definitely took my confidence down a few notches and I no longer considered myself a strong candidate. However, the people I’d be working with closely really liked me and offered me the position. In the end, it turned out I rarely even saw Big Boss. If your position is anything where you won’t really need to interact w/ the CEO, and the other interviewers loved you, than I say go for it. After all, they are the ones you’ll be working with and a good rapport with them early on is hopefully a great indication of how working with them will be!

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