I scored an interview last week, the first one in this area. It wasn’t a recruiter either. It was a real job. There have been no listings for controllers or CFOs in this area. I decided to lower my sights some. Now that we have offloaded so much of our stuff and cut our living expenses to the bone I can actually get by on a lot less money than I’m used to making. The job I interviewed for was an assistant controller position for an outfit that publishes contract bid lettings for construction contractors. The salary range is less than half what I used to make, but realistically that’s still four times what I get in unemployment benefits. It’s amazing to me how many different ways I’ve had to adjust my thinking.
The HR manager called to set up the appointment. She e-mailed me directions to the office. Included in her e-mail, which I didn’t actually read until it was too late to respond, was a request to reply to her explaining why I was willing to work for so much less money. I figure this has to be as problematic for potential employers as it is for me—maybe more so. Anyway I went to the interview without responding. The interview was with the controller, a pleasant enough young man probably 20-25 years younger than me. His concern was whether I would be able to adjust to working for him when I had obviously been used to having a lot more authority and autonomy in my previous positions. This is a good question, one I wasn’t really prepared for as I hadn’t really thought about it. I was more hung up on the money issue.
I think I answered it pretty well. I told him that I was all about the work and that as long as I was engaged and making a contribution it didn’t matter to me who I was taking direction from. Besides with 30 years experience I wasn’t going to need very much direction, a happy circumstance that was going to free up some of his time that would otherwise be applied to managing me. This seemed to satisfy him. We got along very well. He told me the office was full of women—the whole office, not just the accounting department. He said that in terms of men it would just be him and me.
I told him about the question the HR manager had asked in her e-mail, and that I hadn’t been able to respond. He said they were worried that once the economy had recovered I would bolt for a better paying position. I knew this. It’s certainly a legitimate concern. The truth is that of course I would. Who wouldn’t leave a junior position for more than twice the money?
I knew I had to lie. The controller knew I had to lie, else he would have asked the question right away. It was the only thing either of us really cared about.
I did have a pretty good story though. I told him about Nelson. I told him that I knew I was going to be settling for less money when I decided to move down here to take care of Nelson, that money wasn’t the issue anymore. I was here because my family needed me to be here, and I had altered my lifestyle and my expectations to make it work to everyone’s benefit. I wasn’t about to change all that for more money.
It was a good lie because it was almost true. He acted like he believed me, but I didn’t get the job. The HR manager e-mailed again on Friday to tell me they were going with another candidate.
Here’s another problem with the economy. How many people besides me are regularly put into positions where their only logical recourse is to lie? I’m guessing millions. And why is that? We’ve got this whole shell game built up around the process of finding a job to the point where everybody is spinning everything on both sides of the desk.
Employers are spinning stories about the health of their company and the nature of the workplace environment. Candidates are spinning stories about their experience and its relevance, about their willingness to do stuff they’d really rather not. The interviewers are asking questions calculated to determine the best liar from among the candidates that were chosen based on how compelling the fictions were in their résumés.
If they videotaped the process and hooked everybody up to polygraphs, no one would ever get or take a job. Is it any wonder, given the nature of the selection process, that we have the occasional crisis of ethics in the business community? This is how it is in the best of circumstances. A recession just exacerbates the whole mess.