It was April and I was on the job market as an all but dissertation (ABD). An ABD is a person who is completing their doctorate and has defended their dissertation proposal but hasn’t finished their dissertation. I was seeking my first full-time academic position and was invited to a university for an on-campus interview. If you aren’t familiar with on-campus interviews, oftentimes the person seeking the position has traveled to the campus and spends one to two days interviewing with people from the department, the dean, meeting students, and doing one or more presentations on their research and teaching. It is intense, long, and arduous.
As I was walking with the chair of the search committee, he told me a story about an interview he had years ago. It was with a gentleman who was interviewing for an academic position (aka college professor). A few hours into the interview, the candidate told him that he was not interested in the position and was going home. I was shocked. How could he do that? Didn’t he know that people talk? He must have not needed that job. Did he just want a free trip to XYZ? What I realize now, years later, he was embracing the philosophy of “interviewing for job is a two-way street.” But, what does that mean?
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Interviewing for a job is a two-way street
What it means is that both parties (you and the employer) are interviewing each other. Just as the interviewer is trying to determine if you are a good fit in the organization, you should also be determining whether or not the organization is a good fit based on your career aspirations.
As nice as that sounds, job seekers receive the majority of their information on how to impress the interviewer to get the job. If you are interviewing the company, how does that work? What questions do you ask? What are you looking for?
Job seekers are vulnerable. He or she might be looking for a new job out of a miserable job or they have no job at all and need the job to make a living. In all my years of training and being trained, I have never recommended anyone to walk away from a job interview unless the company was acting unethical or practicing illegal activities.
For the first time, recently, I made the switch. I decided to stop accepting jobs that weren’t right for me. How and when did I do it and what changed?
Making the change
I’m always looking for opportunities to add to my revenue stream. I have a full-time job, multiple businesses, and freelance extensively. In the past 6-months, I had decided to look into tutoring part-time. I had two opportunities, one was with an online company that catered to Chinese students looking to improve their English. After getting props to set up my interview space, I had what I thought was a disastrous interview. They obviously did as well because I never heard back.
Strangely, 2 months after the interview, I got an email from a representative stating that they were still interested in me. I was originally supposed to get a response (either a rejection or an offer) within a week. 8 weeks versus 1 week, I’m pretty good at math and know those numbers don’t match. I promptly stated they I was no longer interested, and I hadn’t heard anything from them in months. Not surprisingly, crickets.
Shortly afterward, I was asked to participate in an in-person interview for a company who tutors students in the Atlanta, GA area. I had done some research and read some reviews and wasn’t impressed, but I take all reviews with a grain of salt. I had already supplied my resume and provided answers to a set of questions, similar to the SAT.
I have a PhD and it has been a LONG time since I had taken a test but felt I did OK but some concepts I knew I would need refreshing on (geometry yuck!) and I was OK with that. I obviously am smart enough to learn and have had 15 years of teaching experience. I showed up in my interview attire ready to wow them. I was taken into a room and given yet another examination. I started to work on it and thought, “this is ridiculous – I am not about to do this again.” I got up, grabbed my purse, went back to the receptionist handed over the test and stated, “I appreciate the opportunity but I do not think this is the right fit for me.” She thanked me and I moved on.
When I told people of the previous incident, they were shocked. I can’t believe you did that. Others stated, “good for you.” No one stated, “that was the dumbest thing you could have done.” So wait, taking on that motto of a two-way interview street is acceptable? Apparently so.
The final incident occurred when I was interviewing for a full-time position with another local company (similar to my current position). This was a large company and the job would be as an instructional designer. From the start of the interview, there were red flags:
- Some of the jargon the interviewer used
- Stating that I was expected to work nights and weekends
- Changing the time of the interview but not confirming it with me (I had to point it out minutes after the interview time was previously confirmed).
- Job was located downtown and would take 35-45 minute (on a good day one way to get there)
- Feeling like I was being grilled versus interviewed
The final straw that halted my progression was when I was given an assignment to showcase my instructional design abilities. Not a problem. The first issue was that I was turn in the assignment 24 hours after receiving the instructions. Not a problem. The assignment was to create a small 15-minute assignment and return it by 1:30 pm the next day. The assignment was to have an asset and a small video from me describing the assignment. Not a problem. After waiting, I wrote them at 4:30 pm stating I still hadn’t received the specifications of the assignment. When I did receive it at 5:30 pm, the time had changed to 5:30 pm the next day. Again, not a problem. But then, this 15-minute presentation was now a 2 hour presentation which I should incorporate as much creativity as I can. I had already started to feel uneasy, based on the previous information. I didn’t want to go to the interview but hated to think about what I would be missing.
What was the problem, Jocelyn? To create an adequate 2-hour virtual ready (meaning it would be provided on an online platform) on a subject (that I may or may not have had knowledge in – I did but that is neither here nor there) was going to take more than 24 hours to complete. Mind you, there was no asking me if that was reasonable, as a person who has been on hiring committees, I would have told them it was an unrealistic expectation. There was no consideration of my own personal time. What if I had kids and there was soccer practice? What if it was my anniversary? I actually did have an existing commitment that evening, I had band practice, and I wasn’t going to miss it. Afterwards, we go out for beers, dinner, and hang out. I wasn’t going to miss that. I figured I would wake up early and get started. But, I had other things. I needed to send out my social media post for my music business, Louise Catherine Music Studio. I needed to check in on my group from The Resourceful Professor. I needed to catch up on my online school’s grading. I had other stuff to do.
As I the time was approaching 12:00 pm, I started to panic. How would I get it done? There was no way I could get it done at the quality I wanted. I debated asking for an extension or asking about salary (I had no clue how much they were paying and if they were paying more than my current job. Then, I stopped and said to myself, “If the company is this disrespectful to you as an interviewee, how are they going to treat you as an employee?” Probably not very well. It was time to call it quits.
I have a philosophy on interviewing that I should have listened to earlier. During an interview, both the employer and the employee are going to reveal their best. If you don’t like what you see during the interview, you are going to hate what you deal with 1 year from now. I have the same motto with dating (if the person doesn’t respect you at the beginning of the relationship, you are going to hate how they treat you when the mundane kicks in).
So, for the third time in less than a year, I declined continuing with the interview process. I debated writing to them and telling them about why I made the decision or even offering to speak to them. I did think, “What if my current job doesn’t work out. (In fact, I’m finally writing this is 2023, and this occured in 2019 – I did get laid off in 2021 due to COVID). This is a good company to work for. I may have just blown it for all future jobs.” I didn’t care. For the first time in my professional life, I had finally decided that the interviewer (and thus the job) wasn’t right for me. I had finally walked down up and down that two-way street, I stopped, thanked them, then turned and walked away.
How did I feel? Awesome. I didn’t feel one bit of regret. Could I have walked away from more money, sure. Could this have been a fluke and it is actually a great company to work for, maybe. But, what I had was all I had to work with. You can’t make lemonade out of lemons that aren’t appropriate for consumption.
Perhaps age and wisdom. I had had two previously jobs that I didn’t want. But, I was hopeful.
I didn’t think about the future, I focused on the present. Instead of thinking about opportunities the job may have I thought about what I had in front of me.
I realized my value. I had jobs that previously hadn’t valued what I provided for them. If they didn’t value my time now, what makes me think I’d value my time in the future.
Perhaps I started thinking like a man. Had my parents groomed me too much to be polite as a woman and to not be so aggressive
My philosophies on job overall had changed. I stopped thinking about a job being my dream job and how the job would get me to my dreams. How could I work on my other businesses if I worked all the time? Having transitioned from higher education to the private sector, I had worked my ass off. Every day I worked. With the new job, I had weekends and nights off. I did laundry. I wasn’t tied to a computer and email. My life outside of work was finally balanced and I didn’t want to do it.
Now, if I didn’t already have a full-time job that I liked and was comfortable at, I may have jumped through those hurdles. I get it. There were times during job interviews that I should have walked away but I needed the money. The money monkey is a bitch to get off your back.
So what advice would I give to others?
If you need a job, do what you got to do. Put your big girl panties on do what needs to be done. I get it. But if you don’t, listen to that inner voice. Do you feel uneasy? Do you dread even going to the interview? Did you ever feel like “this isn’t for me?” Then walk. I know finding a job isn’t easy and I’d be glad to provide some career and resume revision for you through, Jocelyn L Steward, PhD services.
I am glad I walked away from all three and wish I had done it earlier. I wish we would teach young people to be realistic and be mindful of the things that are important to you. If you value your nights and weekends, don’t take a job that has you working nights and weekends. Yes, there are many compromises. Don’t worry about burning bridges, if you are respectful. Don’t look back. Stick with the decision and move on. A rear-view mirror isn’t your friend.
By the way, I didn’t receive any response from any of the companies when I withdrew as a candidate for job. As on 2013, I am working at a job that I truly love but am still looking for a perfect career.