A reader writes:
I have spent the past 10 years building up a small client base in my industry. I’m a terrible self promoter, so this is very small and I really need to ramp up or get a full-time job. I applied for a position pre-COVID-19 and did a phone screen. I was successfully added to a list of folks for an in-person interview the following week. But that Friday, shelter-in-place orders were issued for two weeks. I was interviewed through a video conference call. Apparently that went well too, because they wanted to bring me in to tour the facility before making a decision; I was told it is between me and two other candidates. Unfortunately, we’ve been extended out another month for the sheltering.
I got an email saying they want me to do another video conference interview, but need to talk to my references first. I told them I would connect them with a current client after a conditional offer was made, and provided three other business references. One is a former supervisor, one is another business professional whose business dovetails with mine and we have worked closely together, and one is a current client. I know these are solid references. They contacted the references and then told me they planned to have me meet next week with other folks in the organization by video conference and would then like more references from current clients.
At the start of this, their plan was the phone screen, single interview, references, then decision. Now they keep adding components to the process and have changed the layout. I know this is a result of our current new reality and we’re all operating in a strange place. But, I have concern over them dragging this out. I don’t want interviews just for the sake of keeping in touch through the crisis. I am still actively working, as my field is in high demand right now. I worry that I will damage my current client relationships if they know I am looking for a job and I don’t ultimately get the job. I don’t want to give up current client references.
I suppose I also want to make sure I’m right in thinking if next week’s round of interviews goes well, I don’t want to accept a job without ever having seen the workplace. But I can’t realistically see it for at least a month and I don’t know if it’s fair to put that on them. It would have to be a month, see the facility, then give me a few weeks to give closure to my clients. And that doesn’t seem right either. (And woah! I am putting the cart before the horse on this one, but I can’t help thinking about it!)
Do you have thoughts on navigating all of this? How should the recruiting picture look in these times? Is this all reasonable?
Well, they have to change the process because they can no longer bring you in in-person. It sounds like they’ve only added one piece to the process. Their original process was a phone screen and single interview. Now they’re doing a phone screen and two video interviews. That’s not unreasonable even in normal times, and it’s definitely not unreasonable to take the time for you both to be extra sure since you can’t meet in person.
But they’re being unreasonable about the references. Of course you don’t want multiple current clients knowing you’re looking for a job, since that may prompt them to start looking for someone to take over the work you do for them, which will be a problem for you if you don’t get the job (or if you turn down the offer). Insisting on reference from current clients before making a conditional offer to you, when you’ve explained your concerns, isn’t that different than employers that insist on a reference from your current manager; both can jeopardize your livelihood.
You already gave them one current client as a reference. You gave them two other references as well, including the previous manager (the gold standard for references). They’re out of line in insisting on additional clients at this stage. Or at least they are if they understand your concern — so importantly, have you spelled it out for them? If you haven’t, do that, because they may not realize you feel they’re jeopardizing your business with the request. (But also, any chance you have a former client or two who you could use? That might solve it.)
As for accepting the job without ever seeing the workplace, I understand why you want to see it — but it probably isn’t realistic right now. It’s unlikely businesses will have reopened a month from now, and you’ll probably need to make a decision without seeing it. But think about what types of deal-breakers you’d be looking for if you could see the space, and figure out if there are ways to ask questions to get at those things remotely.
In fact, it’s even okay to say, “Normally I know you would have shown me the space before we got to this stage, but of course that’s not possible right now. Can you tell me about the facility and what the workspace for this position is like?” (And employers who really want to be on top of recruiting right now: consider that this is a concern for people and think about creating a video tour.)