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I am interviewing for a position at a huge multinational company in Germany. I will have an on-site interview soon. The company sent me a travel expenses reimbursement form. This form was horrendously designed, both technically (.doc format which they somehow managed to be unable to fill out with Word) and stylistically (unclear where to put info, not enough space for some parts, way too much space for others).

Shall I bring this up at the interview? And how much of a red flag is this?

To make the motivation for this question clear: I have worked for a company with an incompetent administration before and it was a pain. And even that company took great care to ensure that everything that was sent to a third party was streamlined. If a significant part of a job involves fighting internal bureaucracy, I am not interested.

I am applying for a technical position. I will have nothing to do with marketing. My worries are about the level of incompetence or even malice that is to be expected when dealing with the internal bureaucracy of that company.

An update after the interview: The (small-ish) group I was applying to is operating independently of the huge multinational. Apparently, they do their own administration. I did not mention the form, and the interview went well. The lesson learned for me is to try not to overthink details which may have unexpected explanations.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Feb 20 at 21:06

11 Answers 11

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Assuming the company does not work in the business of providing forms or HR outsourcing services, this should not be a big deal.

I would not bring it up in the interview, other than maybe asking if you filled it out correctly.

It's obviously a form nobody cares about. You will probably not care about it either once your expenses are approved.

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    Maybe once you get the job, your first task will be to redesign the form! – Kyralessa Feb 20 at 16:43
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    Expanding upon the last sentence, probably some admin assistant or the like was told "we need this form", and they just crapped it out in their spare time because they had more meaningful work to do than make pretty, usable forms, and it was "good enough". – Doktor J Feb 20 at 19:02
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    @DoktorJ Might even have been supposed to be a temporary form. And we all know how permanent temporary gets. – Mast Feb 21 at 15:08
  • @DoktorJ There's a big chance that the company internally uses something different (like Concur) so they don't really care about an external form because most people only used it once. – Jakub Kania Feb 22 at 0:59
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    Why should it not be a big deal? If I don't work for a poisonous gas company, is it not a big deal if carbon monoxide is leaking into the office? If I don't work for an anti-bullying company, is it not a big deal if I experience bullying in the workplace? Not sure what your point is. – ESR Feb 22 at 13:59
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If the worst thing about the company is the reimbursement form, join up immediately.

Honestly, this may have just been thrown together at the spur of the moment to get you in there. Mention it at the interview and you will blow any and all chances of ever working for them. They will rightly see that as petty and ungrateful.

Just go in, and wow them in the interview and don't focus on minor things.

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    Also companies are legally required to reimburse travelexpenses for interviews in Germany. – Nacorid Feb 20 at 11:10
  • @Mawg maybe they've not reimbursed anybody for an interview combined with in Germany. Another factor could be that the old form is obsolete for one reason or another and they didn't need a new one until now. So, it's not correct to draw the conclusion you did from the information we have. – VLAZ Feb 20 at 12:59
  • In which case, it sounds like the OP was interviewing to become German employee #1, and when he is running the show he can sort things out :-) – Mawg Feb 20 at 13:12
  • @Nacorid: Definitely they are not! When I was supported by a social agency in Germany every time I wanted them (the agency) to reimburse my travel expanses, I had to hand in a written statement of the company that interviewed me, that they are not reimbursing any expanses I had. If they were legally required to, this whole process would be a farce. The only reason why most company's do it anyways, is cause they can hand in this reimbursement for their taxes. But they don't have to. – Zaibis Feb 21 at 9:47
  • @Zaibis §670 BGB clearly states that they are required to if they invite you for an interview, even if you do not get or accept any job offer – Nacorid Feb 21 at 11:34
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What does that say about the company?

Nothing meaningful. They might have the most amazing, easy to use Expense Reporting system ever created, but you need to be an employee to use it.

Shall I bring this up at the interview?

No.

And how much of a red flag is this?

None. It's entirely possible the people who are using this form are just as frustrated by it as you. They need it just for record-keeping.

  • And even if the expense reporting system isn't state of the art, that's not necessarily a big problem. In large multinational companies those systems are usually 3rd parties. The administration can go excellent on a poorly designed system and can be awful on the good ones. It's more about administration attitude toward employees (and candidates). They reimburse your travel costs and that's saying some positive staff about the company. – Ister Feb 20 at 9:47
  • @Ister "They reimburse your travel costs and that's saying some positive staff about the company." Due to workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/129517/… , not really. – ivan_pozdeev Feb 20 at 13:41
  • OK. Well, I haven't seen that. The thing is I had some trips for an interview (not in Germany though) where I wasn't reimbursed. Surprise, surprise, I didn't get those jobs either... – Ister Feb 20 at 15:28
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And how much of a red flag is this?

Depends on your perspective. If you care a lot about external appearances (things like travel reimbursement forms, email templates, email signatures, branding, logos), and the company doesn't, then it is a mismatch of values. I'm not sure I'd call it a red flag, but I would for sure be curious as to whether a badly designed form is just that or the tip of a giant "nobody cares about details" iceberg.

Shall I bring this up at the interview?

Any question is feasible at an interview, especially if it is important to you. It is however, crucial to frame the question in a way that gives you knowledge about the company instead of putting them on the defensive. Exclaiming that something is badly designed is just a statement, and frankly not that helpful.

However, you could say something along the lines of: I didn't have space to fill out the fields X,Y,Z on the form. Does this still look okay to you?

That way, you are simply asking for help and at the same time, looking for clues as to whether or not they actually notice the bad design of the form. I suspect that the latter is the most important to you (checking if they have the same eye for detail as you do).

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It might be a red flag if you are interviewing for a Linux position (LibreOffice still manages to damage bad designed Office-Documents) or if you are going to travel frequently for the company.

Definitely ask how timekeeping is done. In the worst case you have to fill out a similar designed timekeeping-form every day.

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Should you bring this up? No. What you should do is gather additional data points to make an informed judgement. Check out anything you can find publicly; website, etc. Take note of your surroundings when you go in for the interview.

If you do this and find that the form is the only thing that stands out, then it's probably a non issue.

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I work in UK academia and I've filled in reimbursement forms for several universities that I've worked at, visited or interviewed at. The quality of these forms have ranged from OK to pretty awful. I haven't noticed the quality of the forms correlating with anything important so, no, the quality of reimbursement forms isn't a red flag or really a flag at all.

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I am not going into the aspect top rated answers have already mentioned, as I totally agree with it.

I just want to add:

You say

I am interviewing for a position at a huge multinational company in Germany.

and

I am applying for a technical position. I will have nothing to do with marketing. My worries are about the level of incompetence or even malice that is to be expected when dealing with the internal bureaucracy of that company.

You are here comparing apples with pear. How they actually design Forms reveals nothing about the company's internal structure and supposed friction in internal bureaucracy.

The only thing this is telling you, is that who ever is in charge of creating/maintaining this form has for some reason decided to not improve it.

That is what you can assume for sure. Anything else would be assumptions.

Sure it might be, that the form hasn't been updated, cause the person administrating it is not willing to take the bureaucratic effort, required to make such a change. It could as well be that there would be no bureaucratic effort at all, and that person decided on their own just to not improve it, cause it fulfills it purpose.

Or anything in between that.

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Ditto to Kolsyra, especially his comment about "tip of the iceberg". Let me add:

Something like this MIGHT be typical of a million other things they are sloppy about and the company is total chaos. Or it could be one sloppy form for reasons other have suggested: they recently had to revise the form and threw something together in a hurry, nobody sees this form as important so they don't care, etc.

That's why you go on an interview. If when you get there no one knows who's supposed to interview you and the trash cans are all overflowing and the toilets are backed up and everyone is sitting around talking about sports and not apparently doing any work, etc, that would be a sign. If the place generally seems orderly and well-organized and this form is the only odd thing, I wouldn't make a big deal of it.

I certainly wouldn't make a big deal of it in the interview. I mean, I wouldn't say, "Wow, this form really sucks. It makes me wonder if your whole company is a bunch of idiots." Others have suggested making a comment about difficulty filling out the form, "I wasn't sure what this box was for" or that sort of thing. If the interviewer says, "Yeah, that form isn't well designed", then it's probably not typical. If he says, "Oh whatever, who cares?", that would be a bad sign. And if he says, "What kind of idiot are you? Of course you should put [whatever] in that space", I'd be concerned about that place for other reasons.

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Once a big German MNC send over a reimbursement form to mr created on survey monkey. It didn't work properly on my browser and was pretty ugly.

But my friends work there happily.

Bottom line there could be no correlation at all

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Can you do it better? I mean, if you know what the form is supposed to ask for, can you redesign it to be much better? If so, I would do it (or just mock it up with all your info already in it), print it out and bring it along with the official one. If the interview goes well, then when they ask if you have any questions: "By the way, is working outside of strictly defined roles OK? Of course I would not let these side projects interfere with my assigned work, but I like to improve things."

If the interviewers ask for an example, you can display the two forms with equal information side by side on the table. The improvement should be obvious in quality and usability.

I do not know German formal approaches, but hope they would take it as evidence interest in the entire firm instead of only your little part of it. Clearly you aren't the type to be a timeserver/clockwatcher.

  • In a large corporation, these forms are someone's responsibility, and responding to such "improvement suggestions" on an ongoing basis will create additional workload for them. Such a response can suggest a failure to understand this. – ivan_pozdeev Feb 20 at 15:02
  • @ivan_pozdeev: If that is the case, the interviewers will certainly know this and politely demur if it is best for the firm. – K.A Feb 21 at 1:34
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    @K.A No, the interviewers won't "politely demur". They will get the message that the interviewee is clueless about how companies operate in the real world, and hire someone else.. – alephzero Feb 21 at 12:24
  • @alephzero: If you are sure. – K.A Feb 22 at 0:12

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