The bad job interview: do you push back or back out?

'It is reasonable for a candidate to push back in a polite and professional manner if the recruiter is asking for unreasonable amounts of time and input.

It’s standard practice to be asked to complete certain tasks during the interview process – but what is reasonable and what isn’t?

A rigorous recruitment process can help employers find the right candidate, but some interviewers take their demands too far. 

Providing a potential employer with extensive insights or work samples can constitute free consultancy. Candidates might be asked to complete a cost-benefit analysis or review a set of accounts, says Melbourne-based career and interview coach and Relaunch Me director, Leah Lambart.

Other applicants could be asked to attend an excessive number of interviews during the hiring process, often during work hours. “This puts pressure on the candidate to make up excuses for leaving the office,” Lambart says. “

In some cases, candidates feel that it is so difficult to fulfil these requests that they decide to resign before accepting a role.”

Indeed, she describes how one client was asked to attend eight interviews over a three week period for an executive assistant role. 

“This included multiple interviews and tests, coffees and lunch with the team.” Each appointment occurred during work hours, which posed significant difficulty to the candidate, who worked in a small office across town.

“At the final interview, the HR manager gave her a hug as she got into the lift and said she would be in touch with an offer in the morning,” Lambart continues. 

“She didn’t hear a thing for weeks and only became aware that she had been unsuccessful when she saw the role readvertised shortly afterwards.”

Accounting recruitment

Benjamin Jotkowitz, director of specialist accountancy recruiter Benneaux, says that while these types of excessive demands are rare, candidates vying for accountancy roles should expect some testing during the recruitment process. When it comes to choosing the right candidate, he says, there are limited tools available to hirers. 

“We can interview, we reference, but then it comes down to testing technical ability and skill.”

Some employers ask candidates to complete a small technical task to assess skill level, such as looking at a set of accounts. However, it should not take more than 15 minutes and usually depends on the seniority of the advertised position. 

“You’re not going to ask a CFO to do it – it’s more for junior roles,” Jotkowitz says.
"I would be wary of working for employers that take advantage of candidates during the recruitment process and don't treat them fairly." Leah Lambart, Relaunch Me

Other common tests include literacy and comprehension, particularly in a market with a large volume of international job seekers, as well as psychometric testing, which candidates can usually complete online in their own time.

Applicants should be prepared to attend numerous interviews – at least three or four for junior roles, says Southern Cross Coaching and Development founder and CEO, Simon Smith. “If it’s a more senior role, then I’d expect to be meeting with a wide range of stakeholders.”

In a competitive employment market, candidates may be reluctant to decline an interviewer’s demands, even if they believe them to be unreasonable. Smith acknowledges that it’s difficult to push back against these requests. An alternative approach, he suggests, is to ask the interviewer about the rationale behind a request to complete a specific work task, and use the answer to determine whether you think it is credible and justified.

Reasonable requests in the job interview process

Most requests are reasonable if they come from a sincere desire to assess a candidate’s suitability for a role and cultural fit for an organisation, Smith argues. “Multiple interviews, for example, could be a sign that an organisation is committed to finding the right person. So often, [because] people don’t put the effort into recruitment they don’t get the right person and end up having problems.”

If you are suspicious of a possible employer’s intentions, add a copyright note to any documents you submit clearly stating their content is not be reproduced without permission. 

“That would send the right message to the employer: one, that you value your work seriously and you don’t want them using it, and two, that you have an idea about what your rights are,” Smith says.

Assess how much you want a job before agreeing to go along with unreasonable requests, Lambart advises. “I would be wary of working for employers that take advantage of candidates during the recruitment process and don’t treat them fairly. It is reasonable for a candidate to push back in a polite and professional manner if the recruiter is asking for unreasonable amounts of time and input, particularly if you are not yet a preferred candidate. 

"However, if the recruiter doesn’t take this well, you may have to be prepared to walk away from a potential new role.”

Read next: Use the right CV keywords and beat the machine scanning your job application

Like what you're reading? Enter your email to receive the INTHEBLACK e-newsletter.
May 2019
May 2019

Read the May 2019 issue of INTHEBLACK magazine.

Each month we select the must-reads from the current issue of INTHEBLACK. Read more now.