Tech & Work

An assertive job candidate vs. an aggressive one: Here's what you said

We all want to be at the top of a candidate list for a new position. But be careful about how you get there. Several TechRepublic members talk about the fine line between being aggressive and being assertive.


First impressions count, but your last impression may be the one an interviewer remembers. TechRepublic columnist Nick Corcodilos says that the end of an interview is when job candidates should, but don't often, take control of their fate. Corcodilos said candidates should go on the offensive by asking where they stand among other candidates and when a hiring decision will be made. That advice in a recent column drew a lively response from TechRepublic members. Corcodilos suggested that job candidates ask an interviewer: “By what date will you make a decision? Please understand that I respect your need to think about this. But, just as you must judge me by my words and actions in this interview, I must judge you by whether you do what you say you’re going to do.”

Sounds fair. After all, you have a right to know when an employer will make a decision. Many of the posts in the discussion of the column, however, said Corcodilos' suggestion was out of line. Members said being assertive, but not aggressive, was the right approach. Here are highlights of the discussion, including responses from Corcodilos.

Aggressiveness won't get you a job
Some members thought Corcodilos’ approach was too forceful and, if used, would put the candidate at the bottom of the interviewer's list and not at the top.

“Someone who starts our relationship by telling me how he or she is going to ‘judge me’ is not my idea of the start of a good relationship. I'm not on trial. I'm looking for a team member,” said C. Ricer.

That’s the gig, said Corcodilos in response. “Interviewers sit in judgment of candidates...the point is to be forthright about it. If we all knew by what criteria we would be judged, we’d be a far sight better off,” he said.

Pat Muia  said a candidate with an aggressive attitude wouldn’t be right for his IT team. “If you presented this type of attitude, you're not a fit for the organization. It's OK to ask when a decision would be made, but you’re not in the driver's seat. You are asking to be hired. Present yourself well and with confidence, but don't make demands,” Muia said.

Corcodilos’ response was:
  • “One, a smart candidate is as much in the driver’s seat as the employer. Remember that the employer needs to have a job done.”
  • “Two, a smart candidate isn’t asking to be hired. She’s assessing an opportunity. A manager who regards a candidate as some sort of beggar is revealing questionable intentions.”

It can't hurt to ask
The other view offered in the discussion focused on changing an aggressive stance into an assertive one. Many members said asking when an employer will make a decision is proper, but asking where you stand among other candidates isn't, particularly if Corcodilos' suggested language is used.

“There's nothing wrong with asking when a decision should be made, but the phrasing in the article seems threatening. I wouldn't hire someone who makes that kind of a statement because I would expect them to be overly demanding (and possibly disgruntled) as an employee,” said Carol Resor.

Andree Miller  agreed that Corcodilos’ phrasing was too strong. “I wouldn't be comfortable using the script in this article, and I don't think an employer would respond favorably to it,” said Miller.

“The phrasing does seem rather strong. However, I often ask, ‘When can I expect a decision?’ and expect it when I interview. The answer to this question can be an excellent barometer of the prospective employer,” said Tony DeRosa.

Corcodilos said the wording he used might be too strong. “I was trying to make a point in as few words as possible. I trust that when I provide such examples, people will tune them to suit the situation,” he said. He stressed that being strong-willed in an interview is necessary.

For example, when a manager makes you an offer, the manager wants a decision as soon as possible. Imagine if a candidate put off a decision about an offer for two weeks or a month, said Corcodilos. “Yet, managers think nothing of letting a candidate hang in the breeze while they…make a hiring decision,” he said.

Corcodilos said he didn’t mean to suggest that you be flat-out aggressive in an interview but that an interviewer should understand your need for information.

“On the one hand, managers are offended at the idea of a candidate being so assertive. On the other, candidates feel that managers aren’t responsible enough in the way they treat the people they interview. The only way to elicit better treatment from managers is to be responsibly assertive,” said Corcodilos.

“If a candidate isn’t assertive—I didn’t say ‘impolite’ or ‘pushy’—chances are enormous that the candidate will have no idea where he stands a month later,” he added.

Some were in agreement
A few members said they would follow Corcodilos’ approach, especially when interviewing at a large organization that scheduled first and second interviews with a human resources representative or with someone else who wouldn't be making the hiring decision.

“Since a lot of the interviewing is done by (people) who don't do much of it, it's good advice. Who wants to hire someone who's willing to just stand around and wait to be told what to do?” said Myke Cooney.

Being aggressive tells a potential employer that you're serious about the position, willing to commit to the organization, and capable of making your own decisions, said Cooney, which may reveal more about your abilities than your answers to the questions an interviewer asks, he said.

“I like that approach,” said IT manager Tom Rule. Rule said that being bombastic and arrogant at the end of an interview was probably not Corcodilos’ objective, but rather to let an employer know that you need answers in a timely manner.

“How many times have employers…been lax about contacting the interviewees regarding progress in the hiring process? The point Nick is making—which jives with his overall philosophy—is for the interviewee to take charge of their own destiny and not sit back and wait for the job to just happen,” said Rule. (Corcodilos offers these thoughts on the interviewer’s responsibility.)

Although he said the language he used initially was strong, Corcodilos stands by his advice. “I don’t think it’s aggressive. I think it’s assertive, and it’s necessary,” he said.

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