Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

The phrase "Don't call us, we'll call you" is an old saying that stems from the theatre industry in regard to auditioners facing rejection. I'm going to co-opt this phrase and twist it a bit into how companies that interview candidates hold all the cards and act in a manner consistent with information asymmetry.

I recently interviewed for a senior managerial position doing something akin to DevOps for a startup. I asked a number of questions about the type of work and such, very technical and job-specific in nature. I then asked about some things that appeared in the job description (see section "Job Description"). The interviewer (who was new to the company herself) said that she didn't know the answer and that I should forward the questions to the in-house recruiter with whom I spoke with earlier. It seemed like a totally reasonable response, so I whipped up an email later that night and sent it off the recruiter.

  1. Can you clarify what is meant by "comprehensive benefits"? For instance: - a. If health/dental are provided, what are the plans like or what %s are covered? - b. For vacation, how many weeks are provided? - c. What is the sick day policy at REDACTED. - d. Are there other benefits provided, perhaps training budget or equipment budget?

  2. What does "opportunities for career advancement" mean to at [sic] REDACTED?

  3. Can you describe what is meant by "Bonus"? To me, it can mean anything from Xmas bonus, performance bonus, profit-sharing, equity offering, or stock options.

  4. With regard to "flexible working environment", do you have core office hours?

Now, I didn't care about the in-office massages, nor did I care to ask about what "competitive" means when talking about salary. The former because this is just a perk that I am unlikely to use or care about in employment negotiations, and the latter because companies really get uptight if you start talking about money. I received a simple response,

Sorry for the late response. While I would love to answer all of your questions it is quite early to get into the details of it at this point …

"Uh-oh," I thought, was I not allowed to ask those questions? Because I was specifically told to forward those questions to this person. Undeterred I sent a reply.

My apologies REDACTED, there must have been a miscommunication. I was asked to forward these questions to you specifically. I did not intend to rush or insinuate anything.

Within minutes of sending that reply I received a reply (I definitely appreciate the turnaround time!).

No worries Scott. Those are validated [sic] questions if we get into the compensation part during the interview process.

Wait a sec. I am being told that these are valid questions, but that there is a specific phase of the interview where the company will talk to me about how I will be compensated for my time. This raises two questions for me:

  1. Why does the company 1 feel the need to call the shots at every point of the interview process?
  2. Why can't the process be more even-handed and we all act like adults?

And this gets to the heart of the "don't call us, we'll call you" mentality. People go to work for a number of reasons: money, something to do, mental stimulation. Psychologists call these incentives, and they can be extrinsic (money) or intrinsic (a sense of accomplishment). But one fact remains, companies pay people to work, and when a company advertises on their job description various benefits of working there, but uses vague language, it should be acceptable for a candidate to ask for clarity.

Now, I'm not naive to state that a candidate should ask these questions in a phone screening interview, but if a person has been brought in for in-person interviews, that means they have been short-listed and are a potential hire. This is the exact time that these questions should be asked by a candidate, but I have now seen multiple companies dangle these extrinsic incentives in front of me and not allow me to ask or even glance in their general direction. Companies need to realize that candidates are also human beings with their own set of feelings and emotions, and nobody likes games to be played, especially when employment or financial matters are at stake.

To companies: please, when asking probing questions to a candidate about what they can offer you, don't get bent out of shape when a candidate asks what you can offer them.

To candidates: if you ask a company about their "comprehensive benefits" and they do not respond with an answer or start to get upset, take that as an indication that things may not be what they seem 2. If this is the case, consider applying at another company.

Job Description

The following is a snippet of the job description that corresponds to the benefits offered by the company.

What We Offer
- Competitive base salary
- Bonus
- Comprehensive benefits package
- Flexible working environment
- Monthly office socials
- In-office massage
- Opportunities for career advancement


  1. I'm tarnishing the whole company here and this may be overreaching. It could just be a heavy-handed HR/Recruiting department, but since I am coming at this as an outsider, this is how I am perceiving their company. 

  2. As another example, I spoke with one company and when I asked what benefits they offered, the CEO immediately snorted "None," paused and then reiterated, "oh, you mean health and dental and such?" I nodded to confirm that is what I meant and she reformulated her response with "well, we are planning to get a health and dental package later this year." So had I accepted that job, I would have had to fund my own health and dental package out of pocket.