update: my interviewer told me not to say I’m interested in professional growth

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose recruiter told her not to say in interviews that she was interested in professional growth because it would make hiring managers think she wanted their jobs? (#4 at the link) Here’s the update.

I wanted to send an update on my letter about the recruiter who told me not to say I want growth and development during a phone screen. I received an automated rejection email for the role yesterday, but it was from a different recruiter than the one I interviewed with. Given that the company has a very good reputation, and are well known for treating candidates well, I decided to send the below email to the new recruiter in response:


Thank you for the note and follow up! I appreciate being considered for the role at (Company). I understand (Company) has a fantastic reputation so I wanted to highlight a few things from my candidate experience that may be something (Company) wishes to address in the future so as not to risk losing high quality candidates.

My phone screen with Other Recruiter was, by far, the oddest interview I have ever encountered. So much so that I even asked around for advice from other professionals, to ensure I was not way off base with professional norms. Some things I wanted to highlight:

* She was over 25 minutes late to a 45 minute call and ended it abruptly. Much of the call covered the technology issues she was facing as the reason she was late.

* She wasn’t very present/seemed scattered, she had me repeat the same information about my roles and experience multiple times, while also saying she was fully aware of what teapot professionals at my current company do.

* When I highlighted that professional growth and development and recognition is important to me, she told me that I shouldn’t say that because a manager will assume I want their position and instead should say I want to diversify my skill set. This was the oddest part of it all, in which many professionals I spoke to were appalled by. Professional growth, development, and wish to gain leadership skills are such common career goals, it was rather alarming to have her stop and offer advice that quite frankly is very out of touch.

* She also seemed to not understand my questions about the role, and consistently offered responses that were very different from that of the description. An example is when I mentioned liking that the role was more internal corporate focus based role instead of a product, she told me that it was a product role.

I completely understand and very much respect the decision to not move me forward in process, and hope that you have found the perfect hire! I just wanted to share that feedback as a candidate so that future candidates may have a better experience.

To my surprise, the new recruiter called me within 30 minutes of my sending the email. She mentioned that she felt awful reading about my experience and wanted an opportunity to make it up to me. She clarified that they canceled the role, but given my resume I would have absolutely been moved forward. She outlined that although that role is no longer open, she was recruiting for another role in another city and wanted the opportunity to discuss it with me to make up for the terrible experience I encountered. She sent me the new description, and we will see what happens since I don’t intend to move at this time unless it’s the role of a lifetime. That said, I was genuinely impressed that not only did she respond, but she also felt appalled and wanted to make up for it. As an active job seeker, we are so used to being ghosted and not treated well by companies, that it was refreshing to have such a positive response to my expressing my experience and concerns.

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Radio Girl*

    Interesting. In my experience, companies want candidates interested in professional growth because they are not afraid to stretch themselves and take on new challenges.

    Good for you for providing feedback to the recruiter! Good luck with your next step and thanks for the update.

    1. pentamom*

      I think it’s fairly obvious that the first recruiter was simply incompetent. In that context, such an odd statement is less puzzling.

      1. ssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        But not uncommon. I once gave my 5 and 10-year hopes and plans, which was along the lines of growth and development (for a clerical position) and I was rejected for being too ambitious and not planning to stay in the position. It was a five to 10-year plan! Staying five years in a position is pretty good, whether 20 years ago or today.

  2. Jake*

    Internal recruiters tend to have really weird notions of what is appropriate, at least in my experience.

    1. LeahS*

      I have had some great experiences with inside recruiters but I’ll never forget one time when I asked what qualities the ideal candidate for the position would possess. The answer I got back was “Well, that wouldn’t be fair if we gave away our secrets, now would it?”

      It was my first professional interview and I legitimately thought I’d done something wrong by asking the question. Now that I’m older all I can think is holy shit did I dodge a bullet there.

        1. LeahS*

          I was so confused! I had phrased the question a little differently, but that was essentially it. It was one I found way back in the day on AAM. The post was a list of best questions hiring managers had been asked by job candidates.

          I felt so dumb, but luckily this site has never steered my wrong- I was able to realize how whackadoo that work environment must because of AAM as well.

          The interview was for a sobriety halfway house and was an all around disaster. I wonder to this day if it was maybe supposed to be one of those stress based interviews you hear about? It was a complete nightmare and she was oddly adversarial. Everything I said was wrong and irritated her and she let me know it. I’ve always joked I could build a rapport with a brick wall if you give me a few minutes. I’ve always been that way. I was so damn confused!

          I walked out in tears because everything I said was horribly wrong. I’ve never had another interview experience like that, thankfully!

          …A fun fact is that I was looking for a therapist recently and saw that the interviewer in question is now a clinician at one of the places that seemed really promising. Nope. Just nope.

          1. only acting normal*

            “Adversarial Interview”… I think I experienced one of those once.
            Not for a job, but my school (ill advisedly as it turned out) set up ‘practice interviews’ for any kids applying to Oxbridge. The interviewers were from the Rotary Club and it was the single weirdest interview I’ve ever had for uni or work. Adversarial sums it up neatly. Was the Adversarial Interview a “thing” in the 90’s?
            Backfired for the school – I dropped my Oxford application as a result (the right decision for me anyway, but for the wrong reason at the time). My headmistress flipped out and yelled at me; I was one of their hopes for making their stats look good (state comprehensive, not a big % go to Oxbridge).

            1. Cat wrangler*

              I think that I had one of those adversarial interviews once. I applied for the UK civil service which was running a joint recruitment campaign for two different agencies. You were asked to indicate a preference for which one so I chose one as requested. When I was interviewed, one of the interviewers on the panel kept asking me why I hadn’t applied for the other one instead and nothing I said seemed to satisfy her (I had thought that you might have to defend why you had chosen one, not the other way around). There was little discussion of my actual skills, work history or much of the actual content of my application form – the things that alongside my passing the entrance test, had got me an interview) I didn’t get an offer. I wish now that I’d asked for feedback but at the time, I thought she was crazy and went back to my day job shaking my head.

            2. PB*

              I dropped my Oxford application as a result

              I’m glad this ended up being the right decision for you, but this makes me upset. These sorts of things should be helpful and encouraging, not chase kids off of attending top universities. I hope that, in the long run, the headmistress rethought this whole thing, instead of yelling at more students(!).

              1. only acting normal*

                She was pretty good at yelling at students, but was also a fairly good head in other ways. A couple of my friends didn’t get the grades they needed for their chosen uni; she spent results day talking down sobbing pupils and phoning admissions offices getting people new places.

            3. Observer*

              Did you tell her why you changed your mind? And was she a reasonable sort who might actually take the feedback and consider it?

              I know that yelling at you wasn’t reasonable, but that could have been a momentary lapse.

              1. only acting normal*

                I focused on telling the Oxford college and the national application system that I was withdrawing that application and I thought that covered it. A week or so later I was summoned to her office to get an earful for not telling her; I was too taken aback to give her reasons she didn’t ask for. It was also the first personal interaction we’d ever had, other application type activity had been as part of a larger group.

          2. Observer*

            That changes things for me. Not that the response was reasonable. But I could see someone trying to avoid people trying to game the system by presenting themselves in a very specific, but possibly inaccurate, way to get the offer. But this tells me that she wasn’t thoughtful enough for that to be her train of thought.

      1. Leela*

        Reminds me of one time I was given time to ask questions at the end of the interview, and I still didn’t have a clear idea of what the role would entail so I asked if they could give me a brief day in the life of this role, and one of them scoffed rudely and went “did you READ the JOB description??” Yes, I did. The incredibly vague, scattered job description that was seemingly in my field but I couldn’t tell from how it was written or how it was interviewed. At the time I thought I’d done something wrong but good lord I’m glad I’m not working with that woman.

        1. Jennifer85*

          By far the worst interview I’ve ever had was for a college where it was very pretty adversarial (& I was 17).

          There was 3 of them, sat on a bench, where the two either side were grimacing at my responses and the one in the middle smiling and nodding. The worst bit went something like:

          ‘So why do you want to do this course?’
          ‘I’ve always loved subject and want to make a career out of it, and I’ve heard good things about this institution’
          ‘Ok, but really why do you want to take this course?’
          ‘Everything I’ve read about it sounds really good and it’s exactly what I want to do’
          ‘No but really, why do you want to take the course?’
          ‘I’m a bit confused sorry, I’m trying to answer but I’m not sure what you want me to say’
          ‘No no no don’t say what you think we want to hear!!! Say how you feel!!’

  3. Marie*

    “Not prepared to move unless it’s the job of a lifetime”

    Someday I hope corporate America becomes truly accepting of remote employees. I’ve worked remotely for 2 years, and my productivity is so much better when I can control the distractions and office environment. Plus taking meetings with China and India is so much easier.

    Job hunting however is kind of a nightmare because employers do not care about how difficult it might be for you + family to uproot.

    And the fact that you did uproot won’t prevent them from laying you off a year later… which I’ve also experienced.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      Working remotely is completely impossible for some types of work though. My job needs someone to be physically on site to do inspections, handle materials, and respond to emergencies. Remote work might be fine for the teapot designers, but someone still has to work in the teapot factory.

      1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        This is a very important point! So often people write about today’s work life or the future of work as if there wasn’t any other kind of work than sitting in an office using a computer. It’s true that many jobs can be done wherever and whenever, but I would say there are even more jobs that can’t, and will be even in the future.

      2. Wintermute*

        I would add that a lot of jobs that COULD be, like mine, really shouldn’t be. Yes slack and sharepoint and Skype for Business are a thing but they all add friction to knowledge transfer that’s not there when you’re in the same physical room and able to say “hey, anyone else seeing that monitoring screen spike?” It’s a great example of a job that on paper could be remote very easily, but you would lose a ton of efficiency and knowledge transfer opportunities.

        1. Kyrielle*

          My job could easily be remote, but I’m well aware that it would require more effort on my part (and my colleagues’ part) to keep it moving well. We actually are a geographically split team (two offices, same time zone though), and it is easier to coordinate shared projects when I can walk a few feet down the hall to talk to someone, vs. having to coordinate via email, phone, and slack. Both work – and I actually prefer email for some interactions – but it is so much easier to have back-and-forth exchanges in person.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      In almost all “coh in the wheel” type jobs WFH makes so much sense. So many people can’t get past the idea of “butts in seat” even when it’s not necessary.

    3. Database Developer Dude*

      Not to mention that if you do uproot, and they’ll lay you off a year later in a heartbeat and not bat an eye…by the same token if YOU try to leave a year later, they’ll have a fit about relocation expenses…

    4. Richard Williams*

      remote work: in a sense I’ve worked all over the world without ever leaving my desk. granted that was writing proposals but beyond the work all it took was a telephone, an internet connection, an awareness of time zones and some cultural sensitivity. and some 4 AM phone calls… and an awareness of various countries shipping prohibitions.

  4. Namey McNameface*

    This is such a classy, respectful letter. If I were the recruiter I would have been impressed as well.

  5. Cassandra*

    We hear a lot about horrendous recruiters here, so I just want to give a quiet cheer for Recruiter Two.

    OP, I hope you find your dream job.

  6. OP*

    OP, here! Thanks for everyone’s comments- it was definitely a pleasant surprise having recruiter2 be so responsive. I ended up not being the right fit for the other role, they were looking for someone with extremely niche experience. That’s all ok though, because I started a new job this last week at a great company with a solid pay raise. Even better, there’s significant opportunity for growth and a set goal of my being able to build a team out and take on a leadership in the next year or so.
    Huge thanks to Allison and all the commenters that helped me realize I wasn’t off base at all with wanting growth and development in my career!

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Great job all around! The letter you sent to recruiter2 was wonderful and I have no doubt you will be successful in your new position!

    2. Even Steven*

      And more hurrays from me! Great result – congrats! Glad you found a company that gets it.

      And you should be proud that you stuck to your ideals and your expectations. It is baffling that recruiter #1 wanted you to downplay any ambition. How could they not know the value that brings to an organization? If you advance your career to the point of being promoted, that allows a like-minded person above you in the org chart to do the same! And on it goes, up the chain. Everyone benefits. including the company! It gets skilled & motivated individuals who keep making things better. Kudos to you! Go celebrate!

    3. PB*

      OP, so glad to read both updates! Your letter to the recruiter was excellent. You were definitely not off base, and I’m glad you could send feedback to that organization. I’m so happy to hear that you’re starting a new job!

    4. Observer*

      This is such a nice update to the update.

      I’m glad it worked out for you, no bridges burned in the process.

  7. Artemesia*

    Well that was an unexpected outcome!!! Wow. So good to see courage rewarded.
    I have had the occasional adversarial interview but it was usually one person among a dozen interviewing throughout a day of interviews and I just chalked it up to every organization has a few jerks. So glad this has worked out so well for you.

  8. Bookworm*

    Just wanted to say I’m glad you had a good experience with the new recruiter! I find they are really rare (from experience they don’t return calls, don’t follow-up, don’t bother).

    Glad things are looking up. :)

  9. km85*

    It’s really nice to see that the recruiter owned up to her shortcomings and responded professionally!

    I think you, OP, also earned some mega karma points here for providing useful and thoughtful feedback without sounding disenchanted that you did not secure the role. You sound like the kind of person I’d really want working for my company.

    1. Ego Chamber*

      What shortcomings? This was a different recruiter who gave OP a pity interview, for a job they weren’t qualified for, in another location, to make it up to them because the first recruiter was terrible enough to be replaced.

  10. Bowserkitty*

    OP, this was written so eloquently and I am glad you reached out to them after their email! What a great outcome too.

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