Surviving a Job Hunting Nightmare

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If your job search has turned into a living nightmare, you’re not alone. Untold numbers of tech pros can tell stories about how hard they planned and prepared for a job hunt, only to run into a truly terrifying hiring manager or downright weird set of hiring requirements.

As scary as these tales are, there are lessons to be learned about how to manage the things that go bump in the night… err, the hiring process. In the spirit of Halloween, we’ve also included some examples of bloodcurdling situations that happened to ordinary tech pros during a job search:

The Cat Got His Tongue

This tech professional, who prefers (for obvious reasons) to remain nameless, was so nervous when he settled into the interview chair that he literally forgot how to speak. Unable to communicate with the hiring manager, his only option was to retreat, according to Jason Haug, principal, technology recruiter at Bradsby Group.

Lesson: Freezing up under pressure isn’t unusual (even if the above example is a bit extreme). It’s okay to admit that you’re a little nervous, especially if you lose your train of thought or can’t remember a simple answer. “After all, the interviewer is human, too,” Haug noted. Make a point of circling back later when the answer comes to you, which demonstrates follow-through and attention to detail.

Vampire Encounters

A software engineer ventured back into the job market after spending several years at a tech startup acquired by a larger company. To his surprise, the interviewer seemed more interested in extracting details about his financial gain from the acquisition and the names of his former bosses or colleagues than discussing the possibility of a position. Being treated as nothing more than a source for new leads and competitive information really sucks.

Lesson: If the interviewer fishes for referrals or insider information, flip the script, advised Bill Gates, VP of Recruiting at Hirewell. Say something like: “It’s great to recall my successes at XYZ Company, but let’s talk about your needs and what I can do for you.” If the interviewer persists (and this one did), you can also explain that you can’t answer those types of questions because you signed a confidentiality agreement.

An Untimely Demise

The candidate represented herself as a JavaScript expert during the hiring process and managed to score a trial run on a contract basis after passing a rudimentary coding test. But things began to unravel several weeks into the project when her teammates discovered that she was copy-and-pasting old code and passing it off as her own work. As you might imagine, her association with the company came to an untimely end.

Lesson: “Be honest about your skills and experience, or it may come back to haunt you,” Haug said.

Trick or Treat

Interviewing over lunch can be stressful enough, but it can be totally unnerving when the entire executive team invites you into the conference room and polishes off their lunch right in front of you. To make matters worse, they don’t offer a reason for their actions or ask the candidate to join them in actually eating.

Lesson: Frankly, other than making a joke or going with the flow, there’s not much you can do under those kinds of circumstances. However, when the ordeal ends, you may want to consider whether this is the right company and environment for you.

Oh, Doggone It!

After surviving a pair-programming exercise and three rounds of interviews, a financial software developer was presented with an offer and consent to a criminal background check. However, the employer pumped the brakes when they discovered the candidate had a misdemeanor on his record… for violating a local dog-leash law. A less-than-stellar credit report put the kybosh on the deal.

Lesson: Many people have made mistakes, but if you proactively explain the situation and what you’ve done to resolve it before an employer runs a background check, you have a better chance of surviving the hiring process than someone who simply ignores the problem.

9 Responses to “Surviving a Job Hunting Nightmare”

  1. Please read the 1st paragraph carefully. Maybe twice.
    Let me tell you my interpretation:
    “Untold numbers of tech pros” had a very tough time job hunting.

    So the job market is great, tech pros change jobs, unemployment is very low, yet
    scores of tech pros had difficulties…
    It sounds a bit contradictory to me.

  2. After a year and a half of job hunting I finallly decided to retire.

    I have discovered the job placement companies have down loaded my resumes and simply do key word searches. References have either back stabbed me or followed up a year late.

    My conclusion: The tech market in broken. Even great skills doesn’t help “old” issues.

  3. Wise Old Cat

    None of these are news. I had #1 happen in a particularly egregious way several years ago. The phone interviewers first tried to get a free fix for a network problem. When I gave some general remarks, but said I couldn’t go further without a contract for the work, she switched topics. The new topic? Pumping me for leads on stories for their web site (they were a gossip-journalism site). I was non-committal on that — if there are any juicy things, I’ll write them on my own, get the credit and the hits, thank you. After that, I was told that the job I applied for didn’t really exist, or perhaps that’s what they said to get me off the phone after not getting free work from me. I applied for a full-time with benefits job; the claim was only a part-time, entry-level or internship thing was open. I was told I had a “real career” so would not want that.

    At another job interview back in 2003, the very large, well-known company was so disorganized. I cooled my heels for the better part of an hour while security first claimed the didn’t know who the people were, then couldn’t find them. The only way I got in was when I finally got through to a personal contact on the phone, and he came down to security (he wasn’t answering for a while; it’s not like I sat there for an hour before I called him). When I got to the interview, the hiring manager seemed disgusted with me, as if I were late for the interview. She was flat-out rude. Threw papers on the table, took of her shoes and put her feet up on a chair, then all she did was complain about how overworked she was and how lousy the workers were. Red alert! Leave now! A while later a friend ended up working briefly for that group, and he (1) got paid but never had a contract the client signed (only the job placement agency) and (2) got a shared desk. A regular-sized desk that he was expected to use with two other people at the same time.

  4. Shannon B

    The rights of employers to scour your background and not hire you based on minor things that have nothing to do with the advertised job is basically out of control and needs regulation by the government. If the job for which you applied does not require directly managing money (like a CPA or CFO), employers and HR should not have the right to a credit check. If the job does not involve dog walking (from the story) or a commercial driver’s license, your dog-leash use and driving record should not matter. In point of fact, most HR people say they are only interested in Felony records, anyway. Let’s face it, nobody’s perfect: people (and their dogs) have accidents. They’ve paid their fine for something that has nothing to do with work, but the hazards of life. In many cases these minor items (including traffic violations) can’t be expunged from your record whereas Felonies can. The implication is this: serious criminals could get hired–usually they are able to expunge their crime after 1 year–while the miscreant dog walker or careless driver won’t be. Simply put, employers should not permitted free rein to delve into the private affairs of people’s lives to know every bit of dirt on them that is irrelevant to the job. In terms of financial checks (also mentioned in the article) it is very possible that an unexpected job loss, layoff, or long-term unemployment was the CAUSE of the bad credit and not exuberant spending; denying people employment for bad credit only denies them the chance to for financial recovery. Employers are digging into the private side people’s lives unnecessarily, invading their privacy, because they CAN and because the cost of paying for the checks are CHEAP. Let’s face it, a job in the commercial world is NOT a job protecting secrets for the government that requires a security clearance (for which there is ample reason to conduct these types of checks): but that is pretty much what businesses are allowed to do. If they say that they are only going to potentially exclude hiring someone due to felony a Felony record, then their access should be restricted to obtaining ONLY felony records by law, and their employment applications should ONLY ask if the individual has been convicted of a Felony crime. Following that, misdemeanor records (including traffic violations) should not be a question asked in the application or interview process, unless under the special circumstances mentioned above.

  5. I had a good laugh at the last example. I was denied a position, before they asked me to allow a background check, because apparently someone in another state has the same name and was currently doing time for 5 felonies! How did they think I was able to show up for the interview? Work release? Admittedly, I have an unusual name, but my maiden name is on my resume and the other ‘me’ certainly didn’t have the same one. (I checked just to make sure it wouldn’t happen again)

  6. That is a nightmare? com’on, give me a break!

    A nightmare is when the phone rings at 5:15 in the morning scaring you that there is a family emergency, and on the other end is a recruiter who does not know that the continental United States has 3 time zones.

    Over a low-bandwidth Voice over IP line with crackling noises and loud voices of a call center in the background with a heavy foreign accent the poor slob tries to offer you a position in Hartford “KUT”(that is how he pronounces CT) or “local in CA.” You ask “Where in California,” and they reply “California,” not realizing that CA is 1,100 miles long, and Sacramento is not local to San Diego where you live.

    Then they try and describe the position itself and you quickly realize that the poor soul has not as much as glanced at your resume, and if he did he would not understand it anyway because he does not know the industry you are in, and the contact information was pulled by some dumb keyword-driven Applicant Tracking System and the position has nothing to do with your qualifications or area of expertise. A 5 second glance at the resume would have saved the “recruiter” 30 seconds of a phone call!!

    When asked, the caller tells you that they are calling from Princeton, NJ, or St. Paul, MN, (yeah right!!) but when you ask them how the weather is there they are stymied 🙂

    And the nightmare continues when you have 15 of 20 such calls, (albeit not all at 5:15 in the morning), day-in-day-out.

    THAT is a nightmare. The recruiting business has been outsourced, going to hell in a hand basket.

  7. Here is one of my stories. I am in my mid-fifties; people usually tell me I look 15 years younger. I have a college degree and 20 years of experience in IT with a couple of well-respected certifications as well. In my last face to face interview which was the second one with the same company. I was one of five applicants in the waiting room. The second interview went extremely well, I answered almost all the questions, and the chemistry with the panel was excellent. All the applicants were gone and I was the only one left, I was asked to wait, apparently to fill in an application for employment l. I was so excited and went home thinking I got the job and I sent a thank you email to the hiring manager. I didn’t hear anything from that company for two weeks so I called the hiring manager a couple of times with follow-up emails but there was no answer to my calls or to my emails. I have no criminal record, and my credit is average. You be the judge!

  8. Mo. I would look in the obituary column to see if the Hiring Manager was run over by a truck, and if not, then I would not want to work for such a manager/company under any circumstances, since they do not show normal business courtesy so why get into the swamp?

  9. Debbie Woodall

    I agree with the post by Shannon B. what right to go through our credit and our driving record unless you will be driving for them. My credit has nothing to do with how I work, I have had 2 divorces and I going towards a third. They have all ruined my credit I worked so hard for. But that is not me and how I work on my job. My credit is for buying a house or a car not for a job. When they asked about running a criminal background check, I noticed they had already run it, so why ask permission. No this has gotten out of hand. I have been off work for some time now taking care of my terminal husband and now I am looking for work. I am in my 60’s and I am screwed. They do not want to hire me. So, what do I do now? Live on the streets I guess.