Jane Bradley: A job interview is a two-way street

Employers are seeking vital information but so too are job seekers, and questions are valid, writes Jane Bradley

I was out for a drink with my friend, a dentist, when she told me she was going to “look at a new job” the next day.

Assuming I had misheard her and that she meant “look FOR” a new job, we continued chatting. Then I discovered that I hadn’t heard her wrong.

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For in her industry at that time, demand for her skills was such that she did “look at” jobs. It was a two-way street.

She visited a dental practice which needed a new member of staff, had a chat with the head of the surgery – and they both asked each other questions and decided whether or not she would be a good fit for the role – and what her working conditions would be. It was as much her decision as theirs.

Which is the way it should be.

Of course, not everyone has that luxury. Not many industries need a member of staff as much as the employee needs the job, creating a different kind of culture – and not necessarily a particularly healthy one. A report out this week from CV-Library showed that Scots are most likely to ask awkward questions during job interviews, just under a third saying they would enquire what the salary for the job was going to be – far higher than the rest of the UK, who admitted they we too scared to enquire about this crucial piece of information.

Companies regularly make it difficult to find out what an advertised job is likely to be paid, in hope, presumably, of luring more prospective staff through the doors – then hooking them in before disclosing the true amount they are likely to be paid. Yet, a “competitive salary” can mean anything from minimum wage to a benefits-stuffed six-figure sum for a senior management role.

Not only is this a waste of time for the employee, who will have put themselves through interview preparation and potentially had to take time off their existing job, only to find that it pays significantly less than their current employment and is therefore not even a consideration – but for the company itself, which could have interviewed another candidate who is more suitable for the role.

It is the same as when some estate agents price a house at a significantly lower “offers over” price than they know the house is worth – or that they are aware the vendor will be happy to accept.

Once they have tempted would-be buyers with a smaller budget through the door, the theory is that they will be so in love with the house that they will take it – no matter what the cost. Yet in reality, this is unlikely to happen and the only effect will be the need to replace the hall carpet after an unfeasible number of time wasters are traipsed through the front door.

Companies advertising a job without a full disclosure of benefits, salary and conditions are essentially doing the same – a pointless exercise on both counts.

And from the point of view of a normal member of staff, it smacks of a lack of understanding from company bosses. Workers, they seem to believe, should be grateful to have a job – any job. Whether it is paid a few thousand more or less will make little difference.

Of course, what is just a few thousand to a well-paid company director – they may well happily drop that on a luxury weekend away – the difference between a salary of £15,000 and one of say, £20,000 is huge to most people.

But if they want the job, employers seem to argue, it shouldn’t matter what they are paid. Not if they are really dedicated.

The reality is that people have lives. Families. Responsibilities. Bills and a mortgage to pay. Finances are delicately balanced. A few pounds either way can mean the difference between keeping a roof over your family’s head for another year – or not.

Of course, it may be that for some people, the pay is not a huge issue. They may be young, living at home or renting a cheap flat with friends. They may value the experience higher than a larger salary. And that is fine. But even they should always be armed with the information to make that choice.

Worryingly, a list of questions which the vast majority of people surveyed felt were entirely inappropriate in a job interview included things like whether the role required long hours, whether they offer sick pay – or what the holiday entitlement was like.

This fear is backed up by recruiters interviewed by CV-Library, 58.4 per cent of whom think there are questions candidates should not ask in an interview. This needs to change. There should not be questions which we cannot ask. Some people may need a job with flexible hours or holidays in order to meet family requirements – to cover school holidays, or to spend time with elderly parents. Others may have time-consuming hobbies which they prioritise and would not be keen on taking up a job – however fantastic it was during working hours – which prevented them from pursuing their passion in the evenings and weekends.

If a person with these requirements takes up a job without knowledge of what the role entails, then they are unlikely to stay in it long once the truth reveals itself – not a good situation for either employer or employee.

A job interview should be as much about whether the job is a good fit for the candidate as the candidate is for the employer. Would-be employees need to weigh up whether the salary is appropriate – whether they can live comfortably on it or whether we would rather work somewhere else which is better suited to their needs.

Most importantly, we need to foster a culture of asking the difficult questions.