Tech & Work

Hiring manager's indecisiveness isn't a reflection on consultant

Being called the 'top pick' by a potential employer is like being on the other side of a door when you hear keys being placed in a lock: You're certain the door will open. One consultant, however, has found out otherwise. Here's what he should do.


Tim Heard is a technical recruiter for JC Malone, a career placement service. Tim shares his career advice by answering questions from TechRepublic members or commenting on employment trends.

Question
Last December, I was laid off after six years with a consulting firm as a senior IT consultant. Since I have been an independent consultant and entrepreneur in the past, I had planned ahead and saved enough to tide me over for about 12 to 18 months. Therefore, I have been pretty selective in job prospects.

Last June, the manager of a past client referred me to a company looking to hire a permanent QA lead person. I contacted them and had a three-hour interview. There were a few brief contacts after that and then nothing until October. Then they contacted me again to see if I was still available and invited me back for a final interview as their top pick. I went back for another three-hour interview, during which I met three more people. I met with HR, discussed their benefit package, and filled out their paperwork. The hiring manager told me that he would prepare a job offer and get it to me within a couple days.

After a week, I contacted him to find out what progress was being made. He told me that HR insisted they post the opening internally, although he assured me there was no one qualified for the position internally. Later, I found out he was required by HR to post the job externally.

It is now November and I am still waiting. I lost one six-month contract position because I asked to delay my decision with them pending this promised offer, but they couldn't or wouldn't wait.

Do you think I should contact this company again? What should I say to them? I'm getting irritated and impatient. I'm surprised the hiring manager didn't know the company's HR requirements and wonder if they are still trying to find someone cheaper. They didn't sound like they would be able to meet my last salary, but I told them that the position was quite appealing and I would be willing to negotiate lower, but they haven't indicated what they are willing to offer.

Answer
First, I think that you are to be commended for having had the foresight to save some of your earnings for a rainy day. Especially as a consultant, you should always have a minimum of several months' worth of income to fall back on.

Regarding your situation, you are certainly not alone. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard similar versions of that story. My guess is that the position has either been frozen or it has been offered to another person. It’s hard to guess why without more information, but I would think it’s no reflection on you. Clearly, the manager liked you and was ready to make an offer.

You certainly are within your rights to follow up with the manager. Had it been me, I probably would have done so the moment I received the other offer. At that point, you are in a position of strength.

Also, hiring managers and HR managers are generally decent people. Though they may not be able to come completely clean and tell you everything that’s going on behind the scenes, they generally will give you enough clues to give you the hint that you should either hang on for an offer from them, or go ahead and take the other offer.

A polite call to the manager summarizing what has taken place and expressing continued interest in the position would not be taken badly. Try to avoid expressing your irritation or impatience. You’re right that the manager should have known that he was required to post the position internally, but you still want to keep things positive on your end.

Regardless of what the manager says or does, barring a firm offer in writing, you should always give very serious consideration to any other offer that you have in writing. That’s especially true right now, while the job market is depressed. A six-month contract may lack the stability that a permanent position seems to offer, but on the other hand, it may be just enough to get you through the slump in the economy.

Here are a few things to consider for future interviews:
  1. Try to avoid discussing your own salary requirements until you’re certain what the range is for the position. Sometimes this can’t be avoided. However, you aren’t always compelled to give a number. You can always say that you would expect to be paid a rate that would reflect your years of experience and training. Such a response basically means that you assume that they’ll treat you fairly, based on whatever salary scale they use. Rather than locking you into a figure and possibly scaring the employer away, it leaves you room to negotiate when an offer is extended.
  2. Be sure to send a thank you note immediately following the interview. This small act of professionalism has fallen by the wayside among most applicants, so it will draw positive attention to you when you do it.
  3. Make sure that you have a good understanding of the timeframe in which a decision will be made. Once that period has passed, it is certainly appropriate to follow up with a polite call.
  4. Whenever you receive another offer, it is immediately time to follow up, regardless of where the employer is in the interview process. If they really want you, they’ll give you strong signals at this point that they do.

I hope it’s not the case, but my guess is that this position was frozen by the company’s financial officer or else they found someone who is a better fit. If that’s the case, I wish you luck in finding something else soon.

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