potential employer sent me weirdly patronizing “interview tips” before the interview

A reader writes:

I was asked to come in for a face-to-face interview with a potential employer. Along with the confirmation email, a two-page document was attached, titled “Preparing For Your Interview.” The top of the page read:

“When preparing for your interview, it’s important to remember first impressions count. You want to arrive timely with some knowledge about the organization, and present yourself in a manner that inspires confidence in your abilities. Below are some additional tips.”

This document contained advice on prepping for the interview, covering the usual topics: how to research the company online, what to wear (and what not to wear) to the interview, arriving early, bringing an extra resume, etc. The information is certainly good advice for any job seeker, but this is something that I would expect a college career counselor or a government unemployment office to hand out, not a professional recruiter hiring experienced employees. One part that seemed patronizing was this instruction on asking questions:

“You will be asked “do you have any questions?” during your interview. This is your opportunity to learn more about the position. Be prepared with three questions that will help you learn more about what the position will entail and what your responsibilities will be. What do you want to know about the role? This is your opportunity to find out.

Your three questions should not include inquiries about dress code, benefits, or pay. Once you have asked three position specific questions, you may ask about benefits, dress, and pay, but not before!”

The second page covered their expectations of employees. Here’s a sample…

“Expectations of every Chocolate Teapots, Inc. employee:
(this applies to internal and external customers, vendors, suppliers, contractors, and other business associates of Chocolate Teapots, Inc.):
Welcomes and greets in a friendly manner, in person or over the phone.
Takes opportunities to assist customers, staff and others.
Listens with attention and shows interest; provides good eye contact and body language
Goes the extra mile to meet others’ needs.
(The expectations continued…)

Again, not bad information, but I’ve never had a recruiter send me a document like this before an interview. (To be clear, this wasn’t an external recruiter either; it was someone at the company itself.)

The role I’m applying for is not an entry-level position nor an internship. I’m a professional with years of experience in this field. Providing this tipsheet seems rigid and condescending. In regards to the instruction on asking three questions, I feel it’s my time to ask questions, and I will ask what is needed to make my own decision about the company; just like they will about my candidacy. The order in which I ask questions is my prerogative, and, of course, they may infer what they will from that. I’m not giving demands on how many questions they may ask me before I get the inevitable “tell me about a time you dealt with a difficult person” question.

Am I off-base in my approach to this, and thinking this is maybe well-intentioned but not a wise choice in recruiting experienced candidates?

Nooooo, you are not off-base. This is weirdly patronizing/infantilizing and overly rigid.

I mean, I’m all for leveling the playing field and making sure your candidates aren’t missing out on some kind of secret playbook that some will know about and others won’t. And if you were interviewing for a very junior position, this might come across differently for that reason. But someone with years of professional experience doesn’t need to be told that first impressions count, or that you should arrive on time.

If that’s all it was, though, then fine. A little eye-rolly maybe, but not the worst thing in the world.

Same thing with the document about expectations of employees. They appear to be rather basic expectations, and that might tell you something interesting about their culture (or how high their bar is for performance), but fine, okay, it’s not that different than companies that send core values and such ahead of time, to try to help familiarize you with how they operate.

But their instructions on asking your own questions pushes this across the line into ridiculous. You’re absolutely right that it’s your time to ask questions, and they should welcome you asking whatever you need to ask to make a good decision about the job and the company, just as they will with you.

“Once you have asked three position specific questions, you may ask about benefits, dress, and pay, but not before!” is especially … ugh. You may ask whatever you’d like to ask, in whatever order you’d like to ask. It’s certainly true that the questions you ask and how you prioritize them may reflect on your judgment … but that’s fair game and it goes both ways, and it’s not to anyone’s benefit for them to try to micromanage the process to death like this.

You know, I could see them thinking up something like this if they were getting a bunch of candidates flubbing the candidate-questions portion of the interview … but that’s something you typically see for positions that don’t require a ton of professional experience. If that is indeed what led to this document, it doesn’t make sense for them to be using it at all levels. And even at very junior levels, there’s no need to talk to people in such a condescending way. “We’d rather focus on your questions about the work itself before we get to things like benefits and dress code” is far better than their scoldy language … and frankly, it would be even better for them to just provide that information up-front if they’re getting a lot of questions about it.

Anyway, yeah, I think you’re right that it’s probably well-intentioned, but that it might reveal some pretty weird stuff about their culture or how they think about their candidates/employees. Or who knows, maybe it’s one person in the recruiting department who missed their calling as a third grade teacher and doesn’t realize how this is coming across.

I’d go to the interview but keep your eyes wide open for other signs that they might have a weird perspective on the adults they work with.

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