9 ways employers turn off prospective employees
I am a software engineering student at Aberystwyth University, and as part of my degree I had to complete an industrial year. An internship with one particular company looked absolutely perfect for me, but I ended up turning down their job offer. This post looks at the reasons why: the nails in the coffin of my job offer.
The interview was with a small web development company based in the UK, and, as already stated, the job ad looked right up my alley: self-directed web-development work, exciting projects, further opportunities upon graduation, and so on. As a financially driven individual, I was also intrigued that the job description said salary would be ‘dependant on experience and academic performance’ (I was well on track for a first, and I had all of the required and desired skills in spades).
My application sailed through to an interview with the founder of the company, alongside the tech lead. Though our conversation was pleasant and somewhat informal, I was disappointed with the path that the interview was taking. The founder seemed far more interested in talking about himself and how he had grown his business – I don’t think he asked me more than 3 questions about myself. I could have been a poor candidate technically, or on the flipside I could have been someone offering exciting and professional solutions to the company’s problems; the founder didn’t seem interested in finding out either way.
Nail #1: Not showing an interest in the candidate.
The tech lead noted with interest my extracurricular web development experience and implied that I was more than qualified for the role, but wanted to put me through a coding test. I’d traveled three hours (and paid a fair sum on a student budget) to get to the interview, but they didn’t have a test for me to complete on-site, so sent me on my way with the promise of a coding challenge sent out via email.
Nail #2: Not utilizing the time the candidate has set aside for the interview process.
So far, reasonably good. We left on good terms; I sent the founder a LinkedIn connection request and told him I looked forward to the coding challenge. The challenge took around a week to arrive: I completed it within a day or two and sent back my solution. A day passed, and then another day, and then a week, and then another week, to the stage where I wasn’t sure whether or not they’d even received my response. While the company was examining my solution, I was applying for other internships.
Nail #3: Assuming yours is the only job the candidate has applied for. Don’t keep them waiting.
Eventually, the founder called me up and offered me a job. This was obviously good news, but again, I felt like he was doing most of the talking, and was discussing start dates and other details as though I’d already said yes.
He then somewhat apologetically said the job only pays £12k. Only a few weeks earlier, my university had helped clarify our value, saying that the average Aberystwyth computer science intern last year earned £14-16k, with some students in Europe earning up to £30k, and that we should expect a bare minimum of £12k.
Remember back to the job ad, which said that salary would be ‘dependant on experience and academic performance’. Given that I had more experience than was required for the role, and in light of my academic performance, I had hoped for an initial offer of at least £14k.
When pressed, the founder said that paying different salaries to different interns caused arguments last year and that he would now be paying everybody the same base rate. The performance-related salary outlined in the job description was not true.
Nail #4: Writing an inaccurate/misleading job description.
I asked if there was any room for negotiation – even 10% would have been helpful – but I was shot down immediately. The salary was completely non-negotiable, regardless of any extra experience I could bring to the company.
£1,200 would have been a drop in the ocean for the company, but it would have made a big difference to me. Had the founder agreed to a small pay rise, I would probably have accepted the offer on the spot.
Nail #5: Refusing to negotiate.
At one point in that phone conversation, the founder said that he’d be better off hiring a graduate; he only takes on interns because he wants to “give something back to the university”, from which he himself graduated only a few years before. He made it sound as though he was doing me a favour by giving me an offer, rather than giving me an offer because of what I could bring to the company.
Nail #6: Dismissing the candidate’s value to the company.
He allowed me some time to think about it. A few days later, I politely declined his offer by email. My email was never acknowledged, my LinkedIn request was never accepted, and I was never followed back on Twitter. It may seem petty to complain about that, but it underlines the artificial barrier between the company founder and his white-collar workers, in terms of social status.
Nail #7: Propagating a one-way relationship in social media.
A couple of weeks later I had an interview with a medium-sized software company. The interviewer was a very nice man and was the same one I’d spoken to in a phone interview a few weeks prior. He seemed genuinely interested in me and my experience, and excited about what I could bring to the company.
In the interview, he put me through some stupid tests, such as writing a short story, selling a pen, explaining how my shower works (at this point, I realized I had no idea and that showers are magical things). None of these were relevant to the job. I get that he wanted to test my communication skills and see how I respond under pressure, but there are better ways of doing that.
Nail #8: Irrelevant or inappropriate interview questions.
The tests must have satisfied the guy, because before long I was sent an email offering me the job. All seemed well, and I was also excited because I’d managed to secure an £18,000 salary offer from them, so felt as though I’d be genuinely rewarded for what I could bring to the company.
Then, it happened. A followup email from the software company said that “You will be earning £14,400, which is £18,000 after tax has been applied. You’ll be an ‘expense’, so you won’t be paying tax”.
I was so frustrated. WHY, when everything was going so well, does a company have to be stingy about a couple of thousand? What they were asking me to do would be illegal. Moreover, they were asking ME to take the risk of having to pay tax on my £14.4k if the taxman found out.
Nail #9: Compromising integrity for the sake of pennies.
I was at a loose end. All I wanted was a respectable job, at a respectable salary, where I was treated with… some respect. Luckily, I found it: I spent 13 months with the BBC Visual Journalism team in London, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
The BBC was an example to these other companies in terms of its recruitment process: engaging and encouraging interviewers, a fair salary, no irrelevant interview questions, reasonable response times. I was a great fit for the team and had the time of my life on my internship, gaining in confidence and easily learning more than the first two years of university combined.
My title was Trainee Web Developer, but within 6 months I was operating at the top end of a Web Developer level. By the end of my internship, I was one of the next in line for the Senior Web Developer position. Though still on a Trainee Web Developer salary, I was providing the business value of a developer of several years experience, and proved to be a great investment for the BBC. I now continue to contract for the team through my company.
I could have done this, and more, in any of the other companies that gave me job offers, had they made fair and ethical offers. For the sake of a few pounds, they lost a developer who would have been great value-for-money and a potential graduate returner.
I’d like to end this post with this: don’t undervalue prospective staff, especially interns. Be responsible, fair and considerate to encourage their success. By encouraging their success, your company will reap the rewards.