Timing is Everything

Whether the interviewer or interviewee, make lasting impressions

by Teresa Whitacre

The last few years have been a struggle for those seeking employment and those seeking to make a change, as the employment market has been difficult to judge.

Whether you are seeking work or looking to hire someone, it might help to consider these examples before proceeding with the hiring or interviewing process.

Take this one: A position needs to be filled soon, so recruiting starts. The candidate hears, "We have an urgent, immediate need." Candidates are interviewed multiple times and then the process just seems to stop.

This happened to a quality assurance manager who was looking to fill a long-needed position. Six months later, the position was still unfilled, and the process was in an indefinite holding pattern. What impression does this situation give the candidate and the hiring manager?

At the urging of the hiring manager, a second interview with one particular candidate was finally scheduled. The candidate, however, was no longer available because he had accepted a position elsewhere. The candidate probably thought to himself, "The position I accepted has more chance for success and better opportunities. If it takes [an organization] six months to even schedule a second interview, what would it be like to work there?"

Overall impression

Whether you are a candidate or an employer, the impression you make means a lot to future business relationships.

For example, consider one privately held organization with fewer than 40 employees. This organization was seeking a quality professional—in fact it was a newly created position.

When a candidate was approached for the position, the organization took one month to schedule a telephone screening and another month to schedule an initial interview. A third month went by before the candidate received a second interview. After five months, the candidate was contacted for more information. It was yet another month before the candidate received an offer—with five weeks until a start date.

From start to finish, it took more than seven months before the candidate received an offer. The candidate was relieved to finally get through the process—only to have the job offer fall apart three weeks later.

Impressions between the candidate and the hiring manager had taken a sour turn—in part because of this lengthy process but also because of communication problems. Days before the candidate was to start, the hiring manager wrote a terse email to the candidate, stating the candidate "lacked a sense of urgency and professionalism" and was a "poor communicator" because the candidate did not contact the hiring manager every day prior to the start date.

In this scenario, both parties were at fault. The hiring manager didn’t clearly state expectations for pre-hire communications, and the candidate didn’t ask if there were preferences. Both parties made assumptions about the other.

Patience: not always a virtue

How many times have you encountered a situation where, in terms employment, being patient wasn’t the best choice?

An associate of mine was told he was in line for a position with a company he liked and for a position he really wanted. He had gone through three interviews. At the end, the interviewers said, "We definitely want you to join us, but we are not quite ready. We need more time."

So my associate waited patiently for the offer call. He made a few follow-up calls, only to hear the same response. After four weeks, still nothing had happened. He really wanted the job, though, so he continued to wait, which meant passing on a job offer that was his second choice.

After eight weeks, he found out that his "promised" offer wasn’t going to materialize—the organization was bought out, and the new owners were closing it down.

In his case, patience wasn’t the best idea. He needed to be patient for the process to work, but he took his patience a bit too far in holding out for what he thought was a promised position. 

Hiring organizations are often guilty of assuming candidates will be patient with them. Often, the candidate decides something else, either out of best fit or necessity.

The hiring and employment process is a two-way street—the candidate and the organization are being interviewed. Process steps, reactions and timelines are all parts of the system and of interest to both parties. Both parties’ impressions matter—candidates will make their impressions, and the organization will make theirs.

When interviewing for a position or conducting an interview, consider the impression you are making from both sides of the table.

Teresa Whitacre is a quality assurance manager in Pittsburgh and a principal in Marketech Systems. She has a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Ashford University in Clinton, IA, as well as ASQ certifications as a quality auditor, engineer, manager and Six Sigma Green Belt. Whitacre is World Conference on Quality Improvement chair for ASQ’s Pittsburgh section, instructor for the section’s certified quality inspector refresher course and deputy regional director for ASQ Region 8. She is an ASQ fellow.

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