How to screen potential employers for their communication skills


What I find most frustrating about the job searching process is that interviewers/hiring managers/recruiters act as if: 1. They’re the only one’s getting something out of the deal, and 2. candidates are desperate for a job. This way of thinking results in the toxic work culture that we all know and love: the “you should feel lucky to work here” culture that allows employers to get away with taking advantage of employees and stops employees from advocating for themselves. Let’s get one thing straight: yes, employees get pay and maybe benefits, but let’s not forget what they give in exchange: 8+ hours of their time/attention/effort, 5+ days of the week. You see, this is a bi-directional deal and no one owes anybody gratitude without first being given proper respect.

Before you even get an offer you should be treating the interview process not only as a chance for you to shine, but also as a chance for you to break down the walls that organizations put up to block transparency. I wasted so many interviews just going with the flow—not really asking tough questions, saying “okay” to insulting salaries, and overall not advocating for myself. In my opinion, the same pressure candidates feel to be on their p’s and q’s, a potential employer best feel as well. Don’t be afraid to speak up out of fear of being judged negatively. For example, you’re afraid of negotiating salary, not only will you lose out on money, you’ll lose out on your chance to put the organization’s demeanor to the test.

The organization’s reactions to certain questions, feedback, and inquiries is pretty much going to parallel what your office interactions will look and feel like. It’s imperative to learn about how your potential boss or co-workers communicate and conduct business internally before actually working there. Their approach to tough situations is usually what’s accepted and valued internally.  You could be interviewing for the “best” organization on planet Earth, but if their front lines of defense (hiring manager, supervisor, interviewer, recruiter) don’t communicate well from the get-go, you can bet they won’t after you’ve accepted the offer.

I personally have pretty high standards when interviewing. I’m paying attention to literally everything going on, including the way communication is handled prior, during, and thereafter. I recently had two in-person interviews at one organization that went really well, although I think by the end of the second interview, we’d established that my interests in the realm of healthcare did not align with that of the position. As an aside, it’s sad that it took a more than the vague job description, a phone screening, and two interviews to figure that out, but it was a great learning experience.

What’s interesting and relevant about the whole thing was that after all of that, I received an automated email from the organization telling me that the position had either 1. Been taken down for business reasons, or 2. Been filled. It was obviously the latter, but I was pretty thrown off because instead of having the balls to pick up the phone and let me know, the recruiter seemed to have effortlessly pushed a button. What was more funny is that leading up to the last interview, the recruiter and interviewers were sure to keep in touch. I’d get phone calls and emails to set up the appointments, followed by a courteous thank you. But, as soon as I was no longer of interest, the almighty button was pushed.

I’m sure this happens to so many people and most of them guess about what happened, shrug their shoulders, and move on with the question mark at the forefront of their mind. I’m not most people. I’m honest and direct. I’m not afraid to ask questions, despite the fact that I’m young and “green.” People will say I’m just an entitled millennial, but I simply value bi-directional respect. I’m also the self-proclaimed follow-up queen. I figured the position was filled, but I wasn’t going to guess. They were going to tell me directly and I wanted those who I interviewed with to see the email I received (they might not be privy to the practices of HR and recruitment). I had everyone’s contact information, so I forwarded the automated email I received with a nice note asking about the status of the position. I also basically assured them that the world would keep on spinning if they told me to my virtual face that it had been filled, and that I just wanted direct confirmation.

Here’s a screen shot of the email I sent (I do notice the two different fonts!)

Within twenty minutes of me sending the email, I got two responses. One from the recruiter confirming that the position was filled and the other from one of the people who interviewed me providing some positive feedback about our meeting. You see, most people would not follow up, and thus not receive this feedback. They would spend an unnecessary amount of time wondering what happened. Most companies wouldn’t expect candidates to reach back out and would assume that you would accept their cowardice.

The real question becomes: if a company would auto-email you after meeting in person twice and speaking on the phone, what other shenanigans would they not follow through on? What other matters would you have to pretty much pull teeth to get a simple response for? Valid questions, if you ask me.

My friend, I urge you to advocate for yourself. The whole interviewing and job offer thing is 100% transactional and it goes both ways. By sending that email, I got my response, and the company saw that they lost out on someone who isn’t shy about getting or giving answers—someone who is a good communicator, who follows through on things. That is a RARE quality that many people just don’t have, as illustrated by my experience above. Don’t forget to screen your potential employers—they should also be in the hot seat. And trust me, you don’t want to work for someone who runs for the door at the first sight of a difficult conversation. You also don’t want to work for someone who is threatened by your self-confidence because you will never get ahead. So, what will you do to advocate for yourself and your career?

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