Interviews are like dating - both people are desperately trying to find a 'fit'. One is head over heels (i.e. the job-seeker), the other is taking cautious first steps. One is (usually) more seasoned, and generally has the upper hand.
Nonetheless, the tension is palpable.
One of the biggest career hacks I recommend to my colleagues is to invest in having great professional relationships with recruiters in their domain. Stay in touch, recommend qualified candidates, help them out. You need each other to grow. They can hit you up with insights on career planning & how companies hire, you can help them close roles within snug deadlines, and save them from the music.
It's a truly rewarding experience, to say the least.
But there are times you're stumped by interviewers - big-shot CXOs, founders, CHROs, even recruitment consultants. They leave you questioning yourself, wanting to drown your self-doubt in an ice-cream tub at midnight.
Here are a couple of instances over the past 6+ years that left me scratching my head. All brand and personnel names are (obviously) withheld to safeguard their privacy.
#1. "We can't afford more. Your CTC is too low..."
This happened at a time when I was comfortable in my current role, and wasn't actively looking for new opportunities. A couple of bright colleagues from my company had joined a startup, and I was curious. I got in touch with them, both spoke highly of the founder, and the company culture.
That got me interested.
I met the founder, he called me to his home. He seemed to be a genuine person, with an exciting vision for an insurtech product that could be game-changing.
I was told it was a juicy 'international role' where I had to work closely to build the brand's reputation across the US, China and India. Mind, this is a 24-year-old with limited international experience. The founder said he wants a fresh face who can bring in 'new perspectives'.
Cool. Cool. Cool. Cool. Cool. Cool. Cool.
After the second meeting, I was told to create an international PR strategy for the brand within a week. So I did, and the founder & CHRO seemed convinced. Within a week, I was asked to share my payslips and was offered an 11.11% hike on my already meagre CTC. I had to also profess 'in writing' that I will accept the offer beforehand.
When I mentioned that the responsibilities in the new role would be 10X, and my pay must have some parity with the job offered, the CHRO shrugged, and said, I quote "we don't want to garner a reputation that we give crazy hikes. If you're able to prove yourself within a year of joining, we'll revisit your pay."
I politely declined.
This is a recurring theme. I once had a recruiter say the brand would offer a max '30% hike on ANY CTC'. I asked ANY CTC? She said, ANY CTC.
Am I stupid? Is there something I'm missing?
#2. "You gotta decide now. Like, right NOW!"
A leading MNC in India was hiring for a communications role, I got to know of it via an employee, and got interested. I was called in for a formal interview, was asked to submit a bunch of paperwork for background verification.
Then everything stopped.
Months passed, my memory of the incident faded. I'd drop my customary once-a-month reminders - there were 'ongoing processes', the company was 'restructuring' its talent pool, it would drop 'anytime now'.
The ghosting bit is quite common actually. Faced it from two (rather influential) fintech entrepreneurs, and multiple brands. Feels horrible.
After close to a year, I receive a call - I was selected. I received the offer by afternoon and had to reply before sundown unless I want the offer revoked. I was also to join immediately, with no provision for a notice-period buyout. I was desperate, but this was bad. Really bad.
#3. "Everything is the same, only your designation has changed."
Having worked in both MNCs and startups, I realise that startups demand flexibility. The JD is not set in stone, and you'd find yourself going above and beyond, for 'the call of duty'! That's how startups roll. It's a part of the excitement of working in a setting like that.
But imagine being put through 3 interview rounds for a role, and being offered a different one!
This happened at a 'unicorn', no less. The HR said with a straight face, "everything remains the same...we've simply created a linear team structure. You're still the Communications Lead, but we'll hire someone with 15+ years of exp as the Head Of Communications."
Now that's a riddle I still can't solve.
One other e-commerce unicorn offered me a role where I would be in charge of the brand's wholesale business. When asked about the team structure, the recruiter replied, "So we have 5 category leads, and the Head Of Communications." I asked, so who do the leads lead? Are there other members in the team?
She seemed stumped. I was double stumped.
#4. "Great candidate, but we'll have retention issues."
Another 'international role' that demanded chops to work in North American, Australian and European markets. Young team, young founder with a bunch of awards. After the second round, the recruiter was told 'such bright candidates have issues. Retention issues."
*Memories of my insecure teenage crush.*
#5. "Your assignment was great. But you're too young."
This was from an upstart fintech brand giving big players in its segment a serious run for their money. They had a new CMO, a young energetic chap. I was told to submit a content strategy for the brand. Stayed up two nights and created a kickass 30 slide deck with all the bells and whistles. The staying up at night part was not on them, though. That wasn't mandated.
After the interview, the feedback to the recruiter was "the assignment was great, but the candidate is too young for such a senior role. We need someone with 15+ years of experience." I argued, you simply can't have an Indian 'fintech' expert with 15+ years exp. There was no fintech in India over a decade back, my man! I requested a second round of feedback, and the recruiter was told the interview was not as dazzling as the assignment.
Point well taken. I fumbled.
P.S: This is, in no way a diss of recruiters or HR personnel, in general. I've had some truly enriching career-related conversations with talent acquisition managers, most of whom seemed genuinely interested in scouting the fittest candidate for the role. I see these instances for what they are - outliers.