“I understand that ‘kids’ nowadays ... are addicted to their phones and feel comfortable in their setting — but this was ridiculous.”
Q: I recently interviewed with two human resources representatives for a job as an executive assistant to the chief executive of a big company. Both were in their mid-20s. Within five minutes, one pulled out his phone and began scrolling, and texting or emailing, occasionally looking up and making a comment before going back to his phone. Even when he asked a question, he sometimes focused on his phone.
I wanted to say, “I can see that my talking is interfering with your scrolling, so I can wait.” Or to smack the phone from his hand and leave. Afterward, the other HR rep escorted me to the elevator and dropped several F-bombs in “conversation.”
I’ve never experienced such unprofessionalism. (Not to mention I was in a suit, and they were wearing jeans and T-shirts.) If their rudeness reflects the company as a whole, do I really want to work at such a place?
I understand that “kids” nowadays (I sound like my parents) are addicted to their phones and feel comfortable in their setting — but this was ridiculous. Maybe I should have just left, but it was very frustrating. What advice can you give if this rudeness should happen during a future interview? — J.K.
A: In defense of young people nowadays, or any time: They’re not all the same. I can attest to many conversations with 20-somethings who did not look at their phones. And I’ve encountered people a generation older who definitely seemed to think their devices were more important than nearby humans. What you experienced was a variety of rudeness that transcends demographics.
But it was, of course, completely unprofessional, and your basic instinct was correct.
The person who really needs advice in this situation is the CEO. Surely he or she does not want the organization represented in such a haphazard, indifferent way, with HR representatives belittling potential employees and sending them back into the world with a thoroughly negative view of the entire enterprise. Throw in casual explicit language, and the message these workers are sending is: We do not take this business seriously, so why should anybody else?
A job interview isn’t just a forum for a candidate to be judged. The interviewee is — or should be — also forming judgments. Do the company’s reps seem competent? Does their demeanor or presentation hint at the company culture? (Jeans and T-shirts aren’t inherently bad, but they may suggest a workplace different from what you seek.) Such impressions can hardly be decisive. And who knows, maybe this was all a fluke and the job would have been terrific. But some signals are hard to ignore.
As for the specific problem of conversing with someone who is zoned in to his phone, maybe just try more lightly saying, “I see you’ve got something going on there; I’ll wait.” That doesn’t need to be confrontational (you can say it with a sympathetic smile), but if you make it clear that you’re not going to talk while your interviewer’s attention is elsewhere, the message ought to be clear.
If he can’t manage to proceed as if the conversation means something, then it probably doesn’t. In which case, do your best to wrap it up — and show yourself to the elevator.
Q: I have some advice for the couple looking to ditch their careers and move from New York City to a small town in the Catskills.
I would recommend securing work before leaving. I left the city (Boston) several years ago and moved to a small town in Vermont. I was in the hotel business, working for a national chain. I knew I could get a job in the industry, but not at the level I enjoyed in Boston. So I took what I could get and moved around within one company for years until I got back into my preferred field, sales. I now have my own business.
Small towns are lovely for bringing up families, but the services they may be accustomed to are limited. But if the couple can accept that and they are prone to “making things happen,” it can be a good move. — Karen Zaretzky, Mendon, Vermont
Turns out plenty of readers had advice for that couple.
“Don’t do it!” one bluntly warned, describing a move from New York to the Albany area for family reasons and discovering, on arrival, a vastly different job market that didn’t match his skills. “My suggestion,” this reader continued, echoing the one above, “is to have a job lined up before you make the jump.”
Doing homework on your potential new hometown, per that column’s advice, should absolutely include scrutiny of the job market. Maybe the results will make you think twice — but maybe they’ll just prepare you for the idea that your career is going to follow a more winding path than it might have. But there’s no reason to be ambushed by that reality upon arrival.
Another reader ups the ante on the Workologist’s suggestion that your homework include spending weekends in your potential new hometown: “If you can survive and even enjoy a stretch of weekdays in midwinter, then the fresh realities of the country may be for you.”
Agreed: The more you challenge yourself during the research phase of this adventure, the less likely you’ll be challenged by the rest-of-your-life phase.
Let’s finish this on an upbeat note. “I did it,” another reader declared. “Moved to the Catskills, to telecommute and commute some days, 22 years ago. Best move; can’t beat the quality of life.”
Submit questions to Rob Walker at email@example.com.