The Unprofessionals

corporate boardroomThe last few months I have been interviewing with firms for the top IT spot. It has been difficult. I have come across several organizations with an interview process that is very unprofessional. I am not sure that this happens to other C level executives or just to CIOs. I would be interested in hearing how other executives are interviewed.

1. A small non-profit educational firm that specializes in charter schools wanted a VP of technology. There top spot, which is a new role as are other roles in the organization. They put the req online and I answer with my cover letter and resume. I get a first phone screen followed by a request to develop a one-year project plan with associated budgets and milestones. This was an odd request since I had very little insight into the process or applications. I requested an application list to begin research and got a fragmented list of software.

Not being one to let things go I spend several days researching what I could and developing a project plan. A plan I was proud of based on what little information I had. I had a follow-up phone interview to present my plan and answer questions. To my surprise I was able to answer questions and make it to another phone interview.

During this interview they gave me a hypothetical scenario. It felt like the Kobayashi Maru scenario. I was successful in swaging my way through. Next came 6 other interviews to discuss my background further. At this stage I was becoming pretty tired. This was followed by more phone interviews with junior IT staff and a technology consultant. I personally don’t like firms that have junior staff interview senior staff. Does this happen to the CEO or CFO? I doubt it.

Long story short. After running the gambit of multiple interviews and face-to-face meetings, with project plans and the Kobayashi Maru addressed I was eliminated because “I was unable to make a decision.” Talk about IRONY!!! I fell on the floor with this response. As a professional I thank them and wished them best on their search. Part of me was thankful I was eliminated. How would I be able to move forward in an organization that was required to have total consensus to have progress?

2. A small security firm in New Mexico gives me the call because they wanted a new CIO to help take the organization in new directions. Again I go through multiple phone interviews. Nothing was discussed about compensation, which I thought was strange after the third phone interview. Next came the call to fly to New Mexico for face-to-face. Shortly thereafter I get an email that the CEO will not be interviewing with me-Red flag #2. I get to New Mexico and arrive at a dusty little compound filled with trailers that they called their global corporate office. I sit through 4 hours of meetings discussing my background and why I want the job. At this stage I didn’t want the role due to the environment I would be working in. Let’s just say it was rural and unsophisticated. I started to ask questions from those interviewing about the mission, vision, brand and direction the company was moving in. The response I got was “it is still being developed”- Red Flag #3. I started to dig deeper about metrics and processes and got the same answer. So this was a firm that wanted a CIO but did not have a foundation to build off. I also discovered that they were loosing contract work due to the lack of technology experience. I walked out of the location quickly and jumped on the plane, thankfully to never see that company again.

3. A small nonprofit in Connecticut wanted a new Director. There old director was not cutting it and moved on. So they thought this was a good time to bring in a new person with new ideas. I go through the standard phone screen and found the role to be interesting. I go through other phone screens and eventually go for a face-to-face. The role was interesting even though it was less salary. But it seemed challenging and I was interested in pursuing. I had a great phone conversation with the senior director about the future of the organization. I saw the future and she was able to articulate the need for technology. I sent my thank you followup up email, followed by a phone call. No response to either. I sent a followed up email again. Again radio silence. I don’t mind if they reject me, just have the professionalism to say so. Considering I made the effort to travel and interview.

I am disappointed in organizations that treat potential candidates in such a way. Then they wonder why they are not attracting “great people”. Do other executives have similar experiences?

6 thoughts on “The Unprofessionals

  1. Your experience with the non-profit focused on private schools is very similar to the experience I had with a private school system in Dallas. They asked me to develop a plan for the coming years and present it to their board. Personally, I felt like they were shopping for ideas. After a similar experience as you, I ended up getting a phone call from their president telling me I wasn’t chosen because I didn’t provide enough detail in my plan. My response? I couldn’t provide enough detail because I don’t have any detail…you need to hire someone and let them get to know the business first.

    Turns out the person they hired lasted about 6 months and they fired him. Glad I didn’t “win” that job.

    • Thanks for the comment Eric. I am glad I am not the only one that gets asked to provide information like that. What bothered me most was they wanted a detailed plan. Like you said, it was hard to provide that with no other information but a list of applications. I put in a lot of time to the point where my wife said forget it – “it is not worth it”. But what really bothered me was to say that I “could not make a decision”. 17 years as corporate CIO running global projects, developed a one year project plan from nothing and I still “could not make a decision” — I found that statement ludicrous. I laughed when I got off the phone. Non-profits need to get a clue…

  2. Hi Arun – thanks for sharing your experiences. As Eric has shown, many of us have had similar experiences. In the U.S. there seems to be a horrible trend for companies to behave very unprofessionally towards the people they are interviewing for jobs. This includes a lack of respect towards very experienced and well-qualified professionals. Many of us have experienced the appalling practice of companies / HR groups never contacting candidates after extensive interview processes to give them a final status.

    I’m aware of many technology companies that compel job candidates to provide detailed plans for certain projects – and as in Eric’s and your situation, the candidates don’t end up being hired for reasons that seem ridiculous. The overall feeling from candidates is that these companies are using job candidates to generate business ideas for free, which is despicable.

    There is a lot that has become broken in hiring processes, no matter the size of the company, that are keeping companies from hiring great people – and then companies wonder why they are failing.

    • Thanks for the comment Julie. It is sad when companies try to get something for nothing. Then they wonder why they are not hiring great people. Maybe next time, if a company wants a project plan I will tell them what my hourly fee is for consulting working.

      • I love it! And actually it may well be worthwhile to “challenge” the company on asking for such projects: what’s the purpose, what will it provide for this hiring process, why do you think you deserve so much of my time…

        I’ve switched from working directly for technology companies to my own consultancy, to get away from corporate wrong-thinking and bad practices. It’s “disturbing” that companies pay better attention to what I have to say now that I’m an outside consultant. I’ve even consulted with companies that were previously my employers – same thing: they show more respect and pay better attention to my guidance. Quite a different story when I worked directly for them. Companies seemingly hire people for their expertise and strengths, and then seem to spend the whole time failing to take advantage of that expertise and skill. I’ve discussed these experiences with many other tech employees and all seem to have similar observations.

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