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How should an applicant react if a company invites him/her to an interview before any meaningful conversation occurred?
Here's the background:

  1. Company: places an anonymous advertisement on a job board. There's only brief reference to technologies used on a position. No company name whatsoever.
  2. Applicant: sends an email with several clarification questions (no résumé sent).
  3. Company: (not answering any questions from above, however providing detailed info on the technologies; again, no names) We will be glad to see you on an interview. (Asking several questions on Applicant's legal status etc)
  4. Applicant: (answered on legal status) I'm not yet confident I'm the best person for your position. There is a certain technology mismatch (sends a résumé, pointing the gaps). Can I learn a bit about your company? Can we arrange a phone interview first?
  5. Company: Can you please come to our office on Monday?

The Company is located within a 3-hour travel distance either way.
The position is a Mid-Senior level in I.T.
Question: What is the best strategy for an Applicant to follow?

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25  
Make sure this isn't a recruiter. They have nothing to lose making you travel 3 hrs for nothing. They may not even have an openning, but are builing their list of local devs. –  JeffO Aug 31 '12 at 16:39
    
@JeffO - Your comment is better than any of the answers - I bet you've nailed it. Unless they're selling time shares... –  psr Aug 31 '12 at 19:50
1  
Surly the office address and the interviewers name plus the use of Google will be enough to work out who the company is. –  Neuro Feb 21 '13 at 16:52
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5 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

I went to one of these "Interviews" 10 or so years ago. It was an hour away but the ad made it sound like NASA was hiring and though it would have been an hour drive each way I would have loved to work for NASA so I ignored the red flags. I was invited in met with the "Hiring Manager," went over my resume and answered a few questions.

Then the "Hiring Manager" tells me how he can help me learn to interview better and help me with my resume. That in just 2 or 3 weeks they can have me ready for an interview with an actual company. All of this for the low price of $5000.

Your story sounds exactly like the set up I had with this firm. It is also similar to one I had that wanted me to sell cheap electronic gadgets door to door after just a few weeks of unpaid training.

I am not saying that it is not worth your time to go to this interview or the service or position is not worth taking advantage of.(Though I have a bridge I think you could use more) But anytime a company tries to force them selves down your throat I would be wary. Also be wary of sales tactics like fear of loss where they make you fear that turning there offer down will have negative consequenses to you or your career.

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11  
The same scam happens here in Austin from time to time. If the 'hiring manager' had a real job, he or she would want to talk to you on the phone first, to avoid needless waste of his time and yours. This 'company' is going to try and sell you something. Something you don't want or need. –  Jim In Texas Aug 31 '12 at 19:30
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@JimInTexas exactly. Getting you there in person is likely a nasty psychological trick; abusing the sunk cost fallacy since you've already made the trip, fake hiring manager or no, you're more likely to be agreeable. Big red flag. –  Rarity Aug 31 '12 at 20:45
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+1: Almost fell for this one myself; someone called as if they were a technical recruiter and I set up an interview, then realized that no specific position had been mentioned. I called back and cancelled. An internet search for the firm name will probably be quite revealing. –  kevin cline Sep 1 '12 at 17:21
    
@kevincline - At the time we were struggling and I had to spend $10 in tolls to get across Orlando to where the place was. Just to find out their is no job was frustrating. I sat through the thing more because I did not know what to do and was not looking forward to the trip home(on city streets since no job to pay for the tolls). –  Chad Sep 6 '12 at 13:08
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I would probably respond back with something along the lines of "I'm extraordinarily busy in my current position at the moment (we're in the middle of project X) so I'm unwilling to take time away unless I'm certain this is a great fit for both of us, especially considering the large travel distance. Can you take a few minutes to answer these questions? Alternately, would it be better to talk on the phone first?"

They'll likely respond in one of three ways:

1) They'll answer the questions, and you go from there.

2) They'll ask you to come in again, and you respond back "I'm sorry, I won't be able to make it this Monday. We can try to schedule something a bit farther out", where you actually have no intention of rescheduling. If they're not bothering to answer the questions, you probably don't want to work there.

3) They'll ignore your response altogether.

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3  
I'd soften that a little to "unless it looks like this is a good fit for both of us". The reasonable possibility of a good fit should be enough to proceed (on either end); certainty comes much later and is pretty unlikely before you've spoken. –  Monica Cellio Aug 31 '12 at 18:07
    
@MonicaCellio: for the most part I agree with you, but the three-hour travel distance raises the bar for me (except in certain situations - planning on moving anyway, current job is not a good situation, etc). –  Adam V Aug 31 '12 at 19:04
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And I don't disagree with the thrust of your answer. OP should get a phone conversation before proceeding. I'm just saying that if a hiring manager hears that someone wants to be "certain" of a "great fit", he might decide you're going to be too finicky to work with. (Or maybe I've just met one too many primadonnas lately. :-) ) –  Monica Cellio Aug 31 '12 at 19:31
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This sounds like a form response. They're following a "script" meant to get people into interview chairs where questions can be asked and answered in person. Possible reasons:

  • HR doesn't know the answers, or has been instructed not to give any. Common at big companies with overly burdensome hiring policies.
  • Interview team (hiring manager(s)) has said they do not want any filtering at the HR level; they want to see all applicants and make their own judgments. Common at start-ups (well, we're not exactly sure WHAT we need; who we get and what they know determines the direction we'll move in) or when a company just needs bodies (if you can program at all, you'll get the hang of doing what you'll be doing pretty quickly)
  • HR is extraordinarily busy and is passing the buck to the interviewer.
  • HR is outsourced and you're talking to a recruiter who may be any or all of the above, and might be a non-native English speaker to boot.
  • You're talking to a script-bot.

Honestly, if whoever or whatever is sending the replies isn't bothering to take the time to actually read them and craft a meaningful response, I would decline and move on. How do you know this auto-reply HR isn't the kind of thing you'll have to deal with if/when you get hired?

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2  
Keith, you're giving too much credit to the idea that this 'company' is anything other than a scam. –  Jim In Texas Aug 31 '12 at 19:33
    
Given that one of the questions was "what company is this?", I don't think "HR doesn't know the answers" is even a remotely plausible explanation. –  ruakh Sep 1 '12 at 0:52
    
@ruakh - but 'has been instructed not to give any' is surely plausible, given that they've posted a no-name ad. –  Michael Kohne Feb 21 '13 at 17:50
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First off, I've not known actual companies to post anonymous ads on job boards. It may be that they do so, but I've never encountered it, and I can't think of a single reason why a real corporation would do so.

The only semi-plausible reason I can come up with is that has hired a recruitment firm to handle their hiring, and those guys are paranoid about you going around them.

Have they actually told you what the company name is, at least? You've clearly got some kind of name/address to go to for the interview - do some Google searches and see what you can turn up on the place you are going and any phone numbers they've given you.

If it's a recruiter's office and they are being mysterious, I'd tell them no. I'd also tell them that I believed they are not being entirely truthful about having a company for me to interview at, and that without more information I wasn't interested.

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It was possible to retrieve some nice details by looking into email's technical fields. Needless to say, you have to pretend you don't know anything before they tell. :) –  bytebuster Sep 1 '12 at 9:16
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.6. Applicant: Thanks for the offer, but I'd rather learn more about the position so I can prepare for the interview and perform due diligence on your organisation. Could you please forward a position profile as well as a summary on your business, or alternatively call me on 123456.


Even if this is a real job, if they are unwilling to give you basic details at this stage then would you really want to work for them?

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