Confessions of a benefits manager: Candid gets headhunted


I want to make it quite clear I am not actively looking for another job. I am just sitting here minding my own business when a headhunter called Jeremy gets in touch. He asks if I know anyone who might be interested in a head of benefits role paying nearly double my salary. Hmm. Let me think.

I spend the next evening updating my CV to make it look like I’ve been acting head of benefits all along, which is very nearly true; nobody else does much around here. I feel sure I can do any benefits heading-up on offer.

I double check that my CV demonstrates the list of requirements on the job description. Experience in a multi-national environment? Check. Deep knowledge of global benefits? Of course; I know more than our advisors, Smarmy Consulting, much of the time. Executive benefits? My specialist subject. Car schemes? Naturally. An intimate knowledge of pensions? I’m not sure about use of the word ‘intimate’ in that context as it makes it sound like I have a thing going with the Department for Work and Pensions, but basically yes I have a good knowledge of pensions too. Clearly, I was made for the job.

Jeremy is effusive about my CV. He suggests a Skype interview to see if the job will meet my requirements. I’m sure he really wants to see if I am presentable and if I can string a sentence together before putting me in front of his client. We arrange a call for that evening, and I rush back from work and put on a jacket, arranging the camera on my PC so that it doesn’t show any clutter behind me.

Interview technique

Jeremy doesn’t put his camera on, which is hugely unfair. He probably didn’t even bother to put on a jacket to talk to me. Not only that, he suddenly becomes terrier-like in his line of questioning. How do I manage conflicting priorities?  Well, I do the most important things first. What if they are all important? Well, I will look to see what things can be delegated or deferred. What if they are all things requiring my immediate attention? I will work until I get them done.

That seems to satisfy him and he moves on to a new series of questions. Can I describe a time I managed to win over a difficult person at work? What would I do if someone in my team burst into tears? How do I react when someone shouts at me? How do I cope in stressful situations? Quite frankly, I am getting a bad feeling about this.

After the call, I study the brief again. Yes, I had done this beforehand but that was mainly to scan for areas to highlight in my experience. Now, I am looking for signs of a psychotic manager, which is different. I rather wish I had done that earlier. For a start, the job description runs to three pages, a sign of micro-management if ever there was one. This is meant to be a senior position; it could outline the broad areas of responsibility rather than listing every possible thing the jobholder will be involved in. I am beginning to hope that Jeremy didn’t like my jacket.

Jeremy loved it. Well, he is effusive about the interview at least and he tells me he has already sent my CV through to the client. Erm, I thought the call was to check if the job met my requirements?

Advantages of the job

Despite my reservations, I am flattered to be put forward. I consider it an achievement to be even in the running for a job paying nearly double my salary. The really cool thing is the client’s office is a much shorter commute, yet located in a funky area with loads of nice cafés and shoe shops. Naturally, that much was not in the job description, but I happen to know where it is. I’m getting excited now. I keep looking at my phone to see if I’ve got through to the next round. It goes quiet. So quiet, I can hear my colleague humming under her breath. I can hear the faint hiss from my laptop fan but sadly no beep to signal a new email from Jeremy. Sigh.

A day later and Jeremy still hasn’t been in touch. My dilemma is this: do I call him and risk looking desperate, or continue to wait and perhaps come across as lacking enthusiasm?

While I am trying to decide, I read the job description again. The person specification is scary. There are giveaway words like ‘resilient’, ‘tough-minded’, and ‘calm under pressure’. Key phrases leap out at me for the first time: ‘willingness to travel regularly to Detroit, with occasional trips to Swindon’. How utterly ghastly. Finally, I see that it is looking for someone who ‘thrives on ambiguity and conflict’ and who can ‘smile in adversity’. How did I not notice that before? Who wants to work in adversity, smiling or otherwise?

Left in limbo

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I never do hear back from Jeremy, but that’s just fine with me. He didn’t have the bother of delivering bad news, and I can pretend to myself that the client would have loved me really, that perhaps it just decided to restructure or offer it to someone internally. I might even have turned it down. The upside to the whole experience is it made me think that for all the problems I have here with Big Bad Boss and the other Higher Beings in the executive team, there might actually be worse places to work.

Next time…Candid runs a staff consultation.