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Job offerers and job seekers: the power dynamics of the job market

I remember some years ago, a friend of mine fuming for a job offer he had received.

He was at a bar, and this guy who had just received a bunch of VC money told him:

Job Offerer: Man, if you need a job, I will give you one

To my friend, a driven guy with his goal set on his own recruitment company, it was offensive that this dude would go to him and "offer a job". As if my friend didn't have a job already, or as if he needed this random guy in a bar to find him a job.

Now, to be sure, the way that guy had phrased the offer was particularly offensive.
Just look at it:

  • If you need A job = it implied my friend was gonna get any job coming his way, instead of carefully selecting what he liked, what fit within his goals, and what type of people he was gonna work with -which is the way high-value men approach the job market-
  • I will give you one = I have the power of giving jobs to people, and I selected you (consider yourself lucky)

These types of job offers are huge power moves, and the work-equivalent of sexual objectification. Except they are objectifying you not sexually, but as a repleceable laborer who should feel lucky for the power mover's magnanimity.

You must reject all job offers delivered with a similar tone.
They are demeaning for you, and you are giving all your power away to an asshole.

The Power Dynamics of Job Seeking

Luckily, most job offers are not like the above one.

But still, there are important power relations between job givers and job seekers.
And the normal power dynamics is that the job giver is the power up, and the job seeker is the power down.

That's why, when I interviewed for jobs, I often dropped hints or outright stated that I didn't really need a job. That always helped me to rebalance the power relation -and also increased the odds they'd want me-.

A good power position for job seekers to be in is interviewing while already having a job. That automatically says you don't need a job. You might want one, but don't strictly need it.
And just to further increase your negotiating power, say something like this:

You: Actually, I'm happy where I'm staying, I'm fast tracked to take more responsibility, and I think we're going to do great things. But I also love what you guys are doing here, especially the XYZ you've done. So I figured it wouldn't hurt to talk.

Now you put them in a position where they need to woo you away, and you also set a collaborative frame -one of the basic strategies for long-term power-.

The advice of interviewing at several companies at the same time, and letting the interviewer know, is also a good idea for the exact same reason: it decreases your need for the job, and it boosts your power.

The Psychology of Those Who Don't Like Being Offered Jobs

There are two types of people who are easily offended at job offers:

  1. Fiercely independent / high in power: they can't stand anyone having power or control over them and over their life and schedule (they can make for toxic employees)
  2. Driven people: they got their own goals, missions, and visions

Fiercely independent people will think:

"Who the f**k are you to think I need your job, and how on earth do you see me submitting to you, telling me what and when to do stuff?"

And people with their mission will think:

"What the f**k you think I'm doing, sitting on my ass waiting for your job? I barely got enough time to make my dream happen, let alone with you wasting my time"

This is the spirit the fuels entrepreneurship.

If you feel this way when someone offers you jobs, you shouldn't be working in a company. You will not like it, you might even resent your employer, and you will certainly find it difficult to give your best.

The Job Offerer Who Doesn't Get It

This is what this reader, who wanted to help me, didn't understand:

job offer email for lucio buffalmano

He was trying to be kind, but he was offering some random back-office podcast job to someone who's both fiercely independent and busy with his own mission.

Pitching a job to someone busy with his own vision and goal is like pitching a woman to a groom, at his wedding.
It's off-putting at best. If that guy was serious about his commitment, it's offensive to even imply he's gonna sway just because you're dangling a stale carrot -and all carrots look stale to someone who's steadfast on his own carrot-.

And it makes you, the carrot-dangler, look bad.
Like a guy who just doesn't get it what it's like to be hungry, driven, and in love -be it with a woman, or with his work-.

Once you will start feeling annoyed at job offers, you will know that you've found your calling.

Oli, Bel and Emily have reacted to this post.
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Haha, i'm subscribed to the offerer's (jamesclear) newsletter, and he indeed looks for somebody. BUT he offers money to anyone who refers the person who ends up taking the job, so that's how the reader wanted to "help you". i could gave you that referral link as well, only personalized to make me the one who takes the money. so yeah, let me help you to help myself.

speaking of that job offer, it leads to a form where you put in your info, resume, cover letter, usual stuff for an application. And at the end there is a question that sounds just a bit sneaky: "*How does this job fit in with where you want to be in the next 3 to 5 years? Share some of your long-term ambitions and how you feel this job will help you get there."

Based on what you've shown us so far (companies love to "stand up" for values - and here the value would be "how can i help your dreams come true") this seems a thinly veiled question, as in, "are you reliable on the long term? should i start looking for somebody else if you get the job? Should i hire the slightly less competent one but with less ambition" etc. i'd answer this question with care. It doesn't sound as a deal breaker question, and maybe i'm overthinking it. What are your thoughts on this?

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Hello Leon!

Yeah, such a small world :).

What I think he's looking for there is that you are applying for the job because what you want to do in life is related to podcasting.
If in 5 years you will want to be an austraunat, that will work against you because it means you're just taking the job out of temporary curiosity, and you'll be unmotivated, and likely resign very soon.
But if in 5 years you will want to have your own podcast, or start a radio show, that will be very positive, because you will be in the job as a passionate man who wants to learn.

I see what you're worried about: that if you show too much ambition, he will fear that you will move on soon.
That's a fair worry, as some employers prefer a "safer" option who's good enough and will stay long, to someone who's very good but who will leave to pursue his own thing -and maybe even become a competitor in the future-.
However, it's still safer to show ambition there if it's somewhat related to podcasting, rather than playing it too safe and pretend you want to stay there forever.

I wouldn't personally consider it a sneaky question in this case. I think James there wants to make sure that the interests are aligned, and that when you are being at your most selfish -learning for yourself-, you are still also adding value to his venture.
It's also one of those questions where it's not worth lying.
Lying here is like being someone you're not on your dates: you might even lie so well that you end up together, but you'd still both lose in the longer run.

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P.S.: an interview question I'd consider sneaky and that will push you very much down in power is something like this one:

Interviewer: What makes you different than all other candidates

This one basically says "prove yourself to us", which is the equivalent of "dance, monkey, dance".
If you follow their instructions here, you end up social climbing against people whom you don't even know. If you go overboard with your answers, you might also end up demeaning others, which makes you look poor, while trying to brag about yourself, which makes you look 2x poor.

Bad interviewer: I have 5 years experience managing project on adtech businesses, and few people can say that (how does he know?). I have always delivered on time all of my projects, and I doubt the others can say the same (what if they can say something even better about themselves, instead? Then you're already out)

There he goes, demeaning people he doesn't even know.

The way to handle it properly is by not dancing.
Something like this:

You: Well, I don't know the other candidates so I cannot answer that question properly (a bit of philosopher's frame control here). I can imagine there might be some other good candidates though, since you are a company with good reputation, and as much as this job attracted me, it might have attracted some other top caliber people (you don't social climb here: you build others up, while you build yourself up, coming across as a confident team player who doesn't need to demean others to feel good about himself)
What I can tell you is what attracted me to your opening, and why I think I can perform well... (and now you go back to your standard pitch, answering your own question)

With that answer, instead of social climbing others, you build everyone up, and you show high social intelligence and high social power applied in a value-adding way.

Makes sense?
You made me think about a potential lesson on power dynamics of interviews, by the way. It could be a good one...

Leonbw and Bel have reacted to this post.
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excellent point Lucio! wow, what a simple and, after all, a common interview question, and yet how inconspicuously sneaky it is, it's one of those questions where you can only undermine yourself.Sure you can present yourself in a good way through stating your achievements (the kind of necessary, and good in this situation, bragging, as in, selling yourself) without having to try to undermine others, but i think the approach you presented is better, it also shines positively on you (you're discreet when needed, humble, and a team player - and who doesn't want that?)

Haha, well, go ahead and write the lesson, can't wait to read it. I'm sure you'll find out a lot of material!

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano
Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on March 5, 2020, 7:50 am


A good power position for job seekers to be in is interviewing while already having a job. That automatically says you don't need a job. You might want one, but don't strictly need it.


Author Brent M. Jones says something similar in Networking With a Purpose:

Jones: "Why do passive job seekers have an advantage over companies looking to hire? Fear of making a hiring mistake is the driving force behind this practice. It leads to some employers judging job applicants by their employment status, although it has nothing to do with their talent or ability...

The employer assumes in these cases that they don’t need to worry about why the candidate left their last job and that the person must have value since they have a job. The employer puts themselves in a position of a buyer."

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Much needed info - wish I had learnt more about power dynamics when on the job market freshly out of graduate school.

Personally, I feel there is too much crap going out there in hiring (e.g., systematic issues of hiring such as corporate fear, ghost job openings, and incompetent hiring team) and it has been one of the most demeaning experiences of my life trying to find a job. I think all those demeaning questions/procedures can be summarized as a kind of chasing - they (employers) have little to no investment while you (job seeker) invest more and more. I recall my current employer as respectful in this process - which is a good sign for mutual fit. When I was looking, obviously I wanted to offer value, but the structural barriers made me feel that I don't even know where to start to show my value, hence exploring the possibility of entrepreneurship now. Also, the thought that a candidate is employed signals high value is almost a joke to me, this is like saying, some married person is definitely a good partner so I'm gonna try to start a relationship with that person.

For offering job info - I've done only a few times to friends who I knew were seeking jobs actively and I read everything in the job description to make sure that it could be a good fit - a couple people got jobs because of my leads (strangely I never got favors like this myself - some offered leads but I landed nothing in the end). If you offer to random people, we can call it "unsolicited job offers", and they are just as intruding as unsolicited advice.

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Lucio Buffalmano
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