Over the years, I have been on both sides of the interview table many, many times. But the strangest job interview I ever had happened a few years ago, at an unnamed company in the midwest.
I arrived at the company at 9am, as requested, and was ushered into a small conference room right inside the front door. For the next several hours, people came in and out to ask me questions, but I never left that room. At about 1pm, my host escorted me out of the building, right past the company cafeteria. No tour of the facility, no seeing where I would work, no meeting all my potential co-workers, no giving a talk on my research. Being very hungry at the time, I could only assume I had not done well, and they were not interested in hiring me.
To my surprise, a few days later I received a call offering me the position. After I got over my shock, I asked if I could come back in and have a tour of the facility. My host reluctantly agreed, and a few days later I went back in. They didn’t have employees chained to the walls, and I could not figure out what it was that they had not wanted me to see. They also seemed very nervous during the whole tour, which also struck me as strange.
After the tour I went home and contemplated their offer. I had no other immediate options, but did not feel good about that company. Something strange was going on, but I did not know what. Eventually I made the decision to turn them down, and ended up starting my own consulting business. (Which has worked out very well, incidentally.)
I remained in that geographic area for several years, and became involved in the local section of the American Chemical Society. Over time, I met several people who worked at that company, and eventually even one in the department for which I would have been working. I was finally able to find out what had been going on – the company had been under a hiring freeze, and the department was trying to get me in without the human resources department finding out. That explained all the secrecy and nervousness on the part of the people with whom I interviewed! I’m still not sure how they were going to hire me if I accepted – probably into a temporary position that would not have been frozen.
I often wonder what would have happened if they had been honest and told me about the hiring freeze. I would not have felt so uncomfortable, and probably would have accepted the position.
Still, when I look back I am sure I made the right decision. I didn’t feel comfortable there, and working under those conditions would not have been pleasant. I learned that when evaluating potential employers, you should trust your instincts – if it doesn’t feel comfortable, it probably won’t be a good match, and you should let the opportunity pass. In my case, another option did come along, even though it took me awhile to recognize it. But that’s a story for another day……
This article was written by scientific communication consultant Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants, and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists,” published by Oxford University Press (2006).