You're not the boss of me, yet...

The hiring process is a negotiation from the first email, and you can always walk away

Good morning! Today we’re talking about the importance of holding on to your power during the hiring process; you can always say no to things that don’t work for you.

As a reminder: we have a lovely little Slack community where can get feedback on your outreach emails, commiserate with fellow job seekers, and share your wins and goals.

Also, please note, there will be no newsletter next week as I will be OOO for the holidays.

You’re not the boss of me, yet…

The hiring process is a negotiation from the first email, and you can always walk away

A few years ago, I was pursuing a job at a startup I was very excited about. I had a great preliminary conversation with the CEO, and then hounded him for about three months before being referred to the hiring manager. My conversation with the hiring manager went well, too, and I was excited to keep moving forward in the hiring process.

But then they sent me their take home assignment.

Take home assignments can be a valuable tool for both the candidate and the hiring manager, but they can also be problematic when not utilized correctly. Here are some of the common mistakes hiring managers make when designing take home assignments:

  1. The assignment is unpaid. If you expect people to produce work for you, then you must pay them. There should be laws about this.

  2. The allotted time is unrealistic. If you’ve done a a few take homes, than you know that hiring managers are often unrealistic about the amount of time the take home will require.

  3. The assignments is poorly designed. Though this occurs less frequently than the other problems on this list, hiring managers do occasionally require take home assignments that are not very relevant to the role itself.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the take home I received had all of these problems. The take home was unpaid. It was supposed to be completed in under four hours. And, it was disorganized and scattered in its design.

The take home included five sections that covered market analysis and positioning, branding, storytelling, strategy and execution. They wanted to see checklists and collateral related to execution tactics, a drafted blog post, a branding exercise, and a GTM strategy.

I estimated that producing a deliverable that would have gotten me hired would have taken 20 hours of work! But the worst part was the way it was structured didn’t make any sense. It felt like they had lumped an entire quarters worth of work into one take home assignment. And the sequencing was all wrong.

All of this was a big red flag for me.

After gas-lighting myself for a while (“Is it me? Does this assignment actually make sense and I just don’t get it!”) I finally designed to double down on my own expertise and common sense and sent the following email to the hiring manager:

Hi [Hiring Manager], 

Thanks so much for sharing the take home assignment. 

As I said in my earlier email, I really enjoyed our conversation, and I'm a big fan of [Start-up]. That said, I gotta be honest, I've reviewed this take home and imo it would require considerably more than 4 hours to devise a compelling deliverable that answers all of the questions posed in the assignment. Even in a fast paced startup environment I would anticipate spending at least a few hours on a competitive analysis alone, for example. 

Regrettably, I don't have more than a few hours to give to this project.

I appreciate how important it is to be certain that a candidate can actually do the work of a role before hiring them. If you're still interested, I'd be happy to chat with you about a scoped down assignment that provides you with the information you need.  

I understand if this assignment is an essential component of your hiring process. If you're open to an alternative assessment of my skills, though, let me know! I remain super stoked about [start-up], and I'm confident I would kill it in the PMM role.  



I thought there was maybe a 5% chance the hiring manager would appreciate the wisdom of my words and collaborate with me on an alternative assignment, but they passed me off to the recruiter who politely informed me that the assignment was nonnegotiable.

So I left it at that and walked away from the opportunity.

I don’t regret my decision. I’m fortunate that I am in a position to make that kind of decision. I know that, depending on your liquidity, it can feel sometimes like you don’t have any choice but to do whatever the hiring manager tells you. But often time people do have choices, they just don’t exercise them.

You can always walk away from a hiring process. The hiring process is your opportunity to assess the company, the team and the hiring manager as potential employers. Are they suitable for you? Will they meet your needs? Will they enable you to do your best work? These are all questions you can and should be asking throughout the hiring process.

You are also free to negotiate throughout the hiring process. You can have preferences and needs related to the timing, pacing, and components of the hiring process. Expressing those preferences will reveal a lot about the expectations and attitude of your potential future employer.

So trust yourself, and exercise some agency where you can. You’ll get better outcomes in the long run. You don’t report to the hiring manager until after they actually hire. And, as much as you might want a job, its always better not to waste your time on opportunities that aren’t going to be right for you.

🤝 Do you need more individual help? 🤝

I take on a limited number of coaching clients for individual professional development work. If you’re interested, we can explore your professional path together, and help you find your way towards a more nourishing, rewarding and ambitious professional future. Send me an email (at [email protected]) with the word “coaching” in the subject line, and I’ll share more information.

Next stop: Downton Abbey  
The 9.9 Percent is the New American Aristocracy ~ by Matthew Stewart for The Atlantic
If you want to understand the story we are all living in, this is where you should start. This was published in 2018, but it’s still super relevant today.

From housing to tax reform, education to occupational licensing, Stewart shows how privilege accrues and calcifies for the top ten percent of Americans. (I shared a gift link so the first five to click will get free access).

How to protect labor from AI  
When You Want to Fight Unemployment, Shorten the Workday ~ Paul Prescod for Jacobin
The words of a 20th century union leader are salient today: “There are going to be hundreds of thousands of workers made permanently unemployed by automation and other new developments unless we get our workers employed and the country ready for a four-hour day.”

New to informational interviewing?

Are you new to informational interviewing? Here are a few articles and resource to get your started:

That should get you started. For more related and adjacent informational interviewing content, visit the Art of the Informational Interview!

How did you like today's newsletter

Let me know so I can keep improving!

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.


or to participate.