37 Ways Companies Stack the Deck Against You In the Job Interview Process

Nov 24

Even if you get the job, the interview process is set up for you to lose.

Companies want you to think that interviewing is a series of official tests you need to pass. If you can show you’re able to meet their standards, you’ll impress your potential employer and they’ll offer you the job along with a fair salary.

Many people blindly accept this, but we think it's extremely toxic to your happiness and financial well-being. The process sets you up to be weak and malleable, which employers count on to keep salaries low. Unless you knock it off, it’s going to result in consistently worse opportunities over the course of your career, and cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars during your lifetime.

You wouldn’t date a person who made you go through a bunch of tests to prove your worth because it would make you look desperate. It would poison the relationship from the start, and you’d be setting yourself up to be taken advantage of constantly. So unless you want to be constantly taken advantage of at work, why would you allow yourself to be treated this way for a simple paycheck?

We think the proper way to view the interview process is as a search for alignment. You and some companies are going to interview each other to see if you have business goals that line up. If that happens, and you can agree on a price that works, you can make a fair deal. Your employer gets a valuable addition to their team, and you get more autonomy and authority during your day-to-day grind.

So instead of buying into the recycled conventional wisdom of job interviews, we find it more valuable to focus on the fact that any job boils down to a simple business formula:

It’s you completing tasks or projects for money.

Maybe you feel good about what you’re doing for work. Or you believe in your company’s mission. That’s great. It’s a nice feature of some jobs and we should all be so lucky. But you can’t pay your rent or mortgage with job satisfaction. You can’t use it to pay down your student loans, car payment, or mortgage. You can’t feed your family with it and it certainly won’t support you in retirement.

Regardless of how you feel about your job, to the company it really is the simple financial arrangement we described. They put a bunch of systems in place to keep employees in line, then they take the work you do and sell it to their customers at maybe a 2x or 3x markup. And the less they pay you, the more money they make.

It cannot be stressed how important money is to a company. They have an entirely different attitude about money compared to you.

If you spent all the cash in your bank accounts and maxed out your credit cards, you’d have a pretty bad time. But you wouldn’t die. If a company runs out of money, they’re toast. They can’t pay their employees, buy materials or supplies, or provide services for their clients. Money is like air to them. If they run out, they stop existing. The lights go out, and they’re dead.

The effect of this? Companies have learned to be ruthless about cost reduction. Even at rare companies that pay their people well, the goal is always to get you as cheaply as possible relative to the other employees. And a really easy way to keep costs low is to hire people who are willing to work for less. This doesn’t just apply to people who pick fruit for a living – the company you work for operates the same way. The most common way they do this?

They break you down during the hiring process so they can lock you in for the lowest possible price.

They set you up to go through all kinds of trips and traps so by the end – when they put that offer in front of you – you feel relieved, happy, and grateful. In this state, most people readily accept an offer that's much lower than what they're truly worth.

Most people have an inkling that trying to negotiate is a good idea. Perhaps they give a half-assed attempt at another couple thousand dollars, but they'll capitulate if the company pushes back because they feel like they better not press their luck. Who wants to lose out on this opportunity to pay your bills? And you can’t bear the thought of going through that exhausting, degrading interview process again.

It’s in the company's best interest for you to feel this way. They do everything in their power to make you forget that you’re a specialized and valuable person. Here are some of the ways they do it:

  1. They call you a “job seeker” – even though they’re the ones seeking help.
    • Companies don’t arbitrarily create jobs for your benefit. They advertise open positions because they need someone to work for them. They’re the ones who have a need, but by classifying you as a job seeker, applicant, or candidate, they start to subtly shift the balance of power back in their favor.
  2. They pretend like the job description is some type of sacred document.
    • They set the expectation that you should worry about how good of a fit you are, but most times the job description is a copy-paste of whatever they used last time for a similar position. It was probably requested at the last minute by a busy hiring manager – and it was most likely written and posted by an intern or administrative person with very little knowledge of the actual business need. Most companies are in a mild state of chaos and it’s entirely possible that no one can clearly articulate what they need for this position.
  3. They encourage you to research them before the interview.
    • This would be like going on a first date and telling the person how much you learned by reading about them online. At best it makes you seem desperate, and at worst you’re creepy and weird. Either way, it immediately positions you below them.
  4. They offer you things instead of money.
    • They tell you how they have this great summer Friday policy. Or they show off the organic tea selection in the break room. Or they say you can bring your dog to work. Or that they’ll have someone come and pick up your dry cleaning twice a month, like a king! These things are nice, but we’d rather have the money instead.
  5. They make you talk salary with an HR stooge.
    • Just like when the car dealership has you talk to the “finance manager.” When it comes time to negotiate the price, they make you speak with someone new. This person doesn’t understand your value and you haven’t had the chance to build rapport with them. Typically all they can do is shrug and quote some made-up reason why the offer is so low.
  6. They bring in corporate lackeys.
    • Sometimes they’ll bring in other team members during the interview process to give you an idea of what it’s like to work there. These people are effectively paid actors who oversell the benefits of working for the company.
  7. They make you go through an outside recruiter.
    • Although we’re sure many will tell you they love their work, recruiters serve themselves – just like everybody else. They’ll gladly place you anywhere they can, and you are only one more dry-erase tally mark on the whiteboard in their office.
  8. They load up Glassdoor with fake reviews.
    • Just like all online reviews, these are mostly fake. Positive reviews have either been written by management themselves, or by employees who have been compelled by management. Deep down you already know this. The negative reviews are genuine but they’ve all been written by people who were just fired.
  9. They ask you to tell them your previous or required salary.
    • Under no circumstance should you ever disclose this to an employer. However they will ask you to do it in a way that makes you feel bad for not answering their question. It’s better for you to let them know you’d rather discuss that after you’ve determined how much value you’re going to add to their bottom line.
  10. They require you to write a cover letter to no one.
    • They ask for a cover letter or give you one of those generic text boxes to fill out. But they don’t tell you who to address it to. Forcing a cover letter means you’ll have to begin with the weakest of all opens: “Dear Hiring Manager.” You might as well address it “Dear Anyone Who Will Listen.”
  11. They dangle future promotions in front of your face
    • Companies love to talk to you about your future growth potential as a way to get you excited about taking the job for less money. Because you’ll do so much better in the future! As if depending on someone else to tell you you’re good enough is a sensible plan for self-improvement.
  12. They use misleading double-speak to encourage obedience.
    • “This isn’t the kind of place where anyone is forced to work on weekends” is double-speak for “we work on weekends a lot more than we’d like and you will feel immense social pressure to do so.” Or if they say they’re a “work hard, play hard” type of place, it means they work very long hours and drink a lot, and your life will be dominated by work. There are probably hundreds of these euphemisms and they all mean the same thing: the company’s needs come before your own.
  13. They ask you if you have any other positions you’re considering.
    • The only reason they want to know if you have other interviews is so they can gauge how easy it will be to control you during the process.
  14. They pretend they have a formal interview process.
    • For most companies, hiring is a completely reactive practice. Something changed about their business and they tried for a while to fill in the gaps. But now the team is overworked and they need help. It’s quite disorganized, yet they pretend like they’re at the helm of an official recruiting process to prop up their own authority and make you feel like they’re in control. If only you could see behind the scenes you’d realize it’s just as chaotic as everything else people do at work.
  15. They put you through a time-intensive interview process.
    • The more time you’ve invested in the interview, the more pressure you’ll feel to accept their offer. They want to make you feel like you should take the job because you’ve already put all this time in, and you’d hate to waste more by going through this process again with a different company.
  16. They make you complete a background or credit check.
    • Most background and credit checks have no business purpose whatsoever. We’ve met great accountants with terrible personal credit, and seen firsthand people with criminal records who work harder to prove themselves. But regardless of whether your background is perfect or checkered, companies use screenings to make you feel scrutinized and self-conscious. That way you’ll be relieved to “pass” their process.
  17. They give you loaded “what-if” scenarios.
    • They’ll ask questions like “If we extended you an offer today, would you accept it?” This is a trap. If you say yes, they’ll know you’re desperate and that they’ll be able to get away with offering you a low salary. If you say no, they can question whether you’re right for the job. Best to say you don’t typically speculate when it comes to your career, and that you’d rather make an educated decision when you have all the information you need.
  18. They make you feel like you need to be a good “cultural fit”.
    • Companies that say they have a “great culture” typically just mean they have a casual office environment. Probably with free coffee and snacks, and the occasional kickball game (fun!). In reality, company culture fluctuates organically as employees come and go. And all organizations have a similar mix of office politics, gossip, and time-wasting conversations with coworkers. More importantly, companies rely on people with different personalities to solve problems so it’s dumb to pretend all their employees are the same. If a company mentions their “great culture” to you, they’re trying to make themselves sound cool so you feel lucky if they accept you into their special club.
  19. They ask you for character or professional references.
    • AKA “fake reviews starring real people.” This absurd practice also gives you the unsettling impression that people are talking about you behind your back. Companies gain position over you by making it feel like you need other people to vouch for you. As if you aren’t the best person to speak about your own strengths. They want you to feel anxious about your qualifications and this is a great way to do it early on in the relationship.
  20. They expect you to have questions at the end of the interview.
    • Asking questions to seem interested or interesting makes you look like a tool. When they ask if you have questions, it’s better to say something like “I’m sure I will have many later, but I’m mostly interested in hearing about the day-to-day and how that's working for the other people who work here. How enjoyable is this place?”
  21. They make you take a pre-employment drug screening.
    • Nothing says “I own you” more than forcing you to pee in a cup. Then they ship your urine off somewhere to analyze it and see what you’ve been doing in your off time. As if it’s any of their business. Offensive and dehumanizing.
  22. They make you sign an NDA.
    • They prop up their authority by treating their completely normal and obvious business operations like they are some kind of top-secret government mission. Just another way they make themselves feel important, and make you feel grateful to be on their “elite task force” if you accept the offer.
  23. They make you show ID to get into the building.
    • Imagine asking the hiring manager for ID in an interview? Bet they’d act offended, yet the company just did the same thing to you.
  24. They fact-check your resume.
    • Notice how they make you prove the most basic facts about yourself, but never offer any concrete proof of their own claims about how great they are? Imagine you fact-checked the About Us page on their website. We bet you’d find a few inconsistencies.
  25. They try to make you feel like you shouldn’t talk about your salary with others.
    • They almost always position this like “we don’t want the others to know how much you make” or “let’s keep it between us.” This is a ploy to make you feel special, like you’re sharing a secret. Just another way to control you and put limits on your ability to make an informed decision by discussing what you’re worth.
  26. They try to make you feel bad for asking for more.
    • They act like they had to work really hard to get you the salary they offered you, and act doubtful that any attempt to negotiate would go over well.
  27. They don’t tell you the pay scale that’s in place.
    • Most medium to large companies will have a predetermined pay scale in place to avoid problems with existing employees. They won’t volunteer this information, but tt is actually crucial to find it out. Your main goal is to get on the scale as high as possible, but without the info you are toast. Our suggestion? Just ask. An employer can’t easily hide this info from a prospective employee when directly asked for it. And if you want to work for the government, keep in mind some organizations (like school districts) are required to publish salary scales.
  28. They make you an exploding offer.
    • This is when they tell you that the job offer expires within a certain amount of time. They might say the offer is good until next week, or that they need to hear back by tomorrow, or some other made up deadline. You can counter this with a far-point gambit, where you accept the offer under a condition that you control. For example, you might say that you accept the offer, provided you’re able to research the health plan they offer to make sure it covers your needs, or that you accept, pending your spouse is able to adjust her schedule to make sure the dogs get walked in the morning. It doesn’t really matter what you say, as long as you retain the ability to reject the offer if it doesn’t suit your needs.
  29. They make you do free or cheap work to prove yourself.
    • This is where they give you an assignment to complete before you even get the job. Unless they’re paying you your full freelance rate (hint: they aren’t) this immediately devalues your work. There is nothing more professionally insulting than this.
  30. They make you take a test to prove what you know.
    • Your years of experience and ability to speak to your skills proves what you know. Yet they sit you down like a kid in school and quiz you. As if the ability to do well on a test means anything when it comes to getting actual work done.  
  31. They make you apply through an Applicant Tracking System.
    • You know those terrible application websites where you upload your resume and it tries to fill in the application for you, then you have to go back and fix everything it screwed up? No one has a good experience with these things. HR departments say these systems are needed because it makes it easier to parse data from randomly formatted sources (i.e. resumes). So they make you submit redundant information through a frustrating process instead. These systems exist to reduce your valuable experience and winning personality to a data point. They want to test your patience for bureaucracy and ability to follow directions. It’s just another way to standardize you and make you feel small. Any sensible company should be able to get everything they need from your LinkedIn profile.
  32. They wear you down with a full-day interview.
    • When an interview is so long it takes up your whole day, it’s risky or expensive to have to keep taking days off at your current job. And when you feel like you’ve already invested so much time in the company, you’re more likely to accept their lowball offer at the end.
  33. They expect you to dress up in a suit when no one else in the office is wearing one.
    • Like a child dressing up for church. Unless you’re a banker or high-level executive, the expectation that you wear a suit to an interview is ridiculous. By forcing you out of your comfort zone and into uncomfortable clothes (which you have to pay to clean), companies exert control over your wallet and your basic appearance before you even start working for them.
  34. They have you sit in a silly small chair in the lobby under the gaze of a receptionist.
    • They have you sit there and act polite while Becky or Steve at the front desk peers down on you as they type away.
  35. They call the type of degree you have into question.
    • They’ll say or imply something like “we typically don’t interview candidates with this kind of degree.” Sorry, when was the last time you used something you learned in school at work? Typically used to try and get a discount on people who are obviously smart and will bring a much needed different point of view to the organization.
  36. They highlight where your skills don’t match up.
    • Simple negging. Even though the job description they wrote was a fantasy, they can always find a few areas where you’re not perfectly aligned. As if anyone is the perfect candidate. Sometimes done under the guise of “constructive feedback” this tactic is usually the precursor to a low salary offer.
  37. They make up reasons why this job is different or special.
    • They’ll call it a “hybrid” role, or say it’s something different from what it is. This prevents you from comparing salary with other similar jobs in your industry. In the extremely rare case it actually is a hybrid role, they’ll want to pay you the salary of the cheaper position, instead of properly compensating you for having to switch back and forth to fulfill a specialized need.

In our experience, companies really don’t like it when you call them out for this stuff. It’s not personal, it just interferes with their bottom line. Remember, companies need money to live. Giving you the upper hand by exposing their positioning tactics is like squeezing off a dying man’s oxygen; they're going to fight for it.

Here's what we think they'll say:

Armchair lawyer types will chime in to say how these tactics are to reduce company liability. These people will quote a made-up or irrelevant hypothetical situation to scare you into thinking they know what they’re talking about. Make no mistake, these tactics are not about preventing some one-in-a-million edge case, they exist to control you.

Corporate apologists will say companies do these things to ensure the safety of their employees. Excuse me? Employee safety? Take a second to think about your boss, or the HR person at your last job. Now think about how ridiculous it is for them to pretend they know anything about protecting people. Who do they think they are? Liam Neeson?

Even more offensively, they’ll tell you all kinds of reasons why it’s for your own good – to improve your happiness or job satisfaction. As if you, a grown adult, needs someone to tell you what makes you satisfied. They’ll say they do it to create a better work environment, or any other nice-sounding reason except for the real one, which is to influence you and save them money.

From the perspective of the business, we should be clear that we find nothing wrong with these tactics from an ethical perspective. They’re great at keeping payroll costs down and keeping employees in line. And if you’re trying to run a business, more power to you.

But most sensible people would resist if someone tried these kinds of manipulative tactics on them, because it’s wrong to let someone control us. So if you don’t actually run a business, you should be aware that your employer is going to try and use these tactics to gain position and power over you, starting well before your first day on the job and continuing through your entire tenure.

Their goal is to offer you less money for your time and effort. Our wish is for you to be able to see these tactics for what they really are. We don’t think we can (or should) change the way companies try to control their employees. Our aim is only to help. So if you can be aware they’re going to try these tactics on you, you’ll be able to navigate the hiring process with more ease and comfort. You’ll be more poised and confident, and that’s what will get you more autonomy and money in your next position.

Good luck out there.

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