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Friday, March 14, 2008

What has been your worst interview ever?

As I’m starting to put my resume writing, interviewing, and job search strategy book together, I want to inject a little humor and inspiration at the beginning of each chapter. For this reason, I'd love to hear your horror stories about the worst interview experience you've ever had as well as any “wow” moments where someone really blew you away during the interview process.

This one's a three-parter, feel free to answer any or all:

First, describe your most memorable experience in a truly horrible interview. What were you applying for, what happened, what made it so terrible, how did it all turn out, etc.?

Then, if you've been a hiring manager or a member of an interview team, what do you remember as the most cringe-worthy moment you've had while interviewing a candidate? What made it so horrible? Did you end up hiring the person?

Finally, again if you were an interviewer, do you recall anything in particular that a candidate did to really impress you? Explain why you felt the way you did. If possible, describe whether that candidate was hired, and how they worked out as an employee.

Thanks posters!!


Betsy Talbot said...

There have been a couple of worst interviews, but the one that really sticks out was my first full-time job. I was interviewing through an agency and knew very little about the company (this was pre-internet). It was a basic admin position that I would be using to pay my way through school.

During the interview, I was asked if I was married (I was) and if I planned to have any kids in the near future (yikes!). The manager then told me that even though the majority of staff wore jeans "the ladies" (of which I would be the second one) were required to wear dresses "with stockings." I ended up taking the job because I was naive and needy, and it was the hardest job I've ever had, and not in a good way. I learned a lot about right and wrong, mostly wrong, and I have never again let my brain override my gut in a job interview. If it sounds weird at the interview, it will get even worse in the job.

As for me interviewing, I did have someone ask me once if he could get an advance on his first paycheck. This was during the initial interview when we were nowhere near the job offer stage. He said he needed to know that day if it could happen and when the check could be cut or he would have to move on, so I wished him the best of luck. Weird.

The best candidate I ever interviewed showed up on time in appropriate clothes, had interesting questions that showed he had done his homework about the company and position, and he was able to tell me success stories with legitimate names/numbers/results to back up his experience claims. He also sent me a thank-you card and then a follow-up email outlining some of his ideas for the new job based on the interview. I hired him and he became one of my best employees.

I got the job! said...

Thanks Betsy! Good stuff. You have reminded me of an interview I had about 20 years ago, when I was asked the same, "Are you planning to have children?" question. The position was for a social services job. I remarked, "That's an illegal question," in all my self-righteous glory, which, of course, quickly led to the end of the interview. Perhaps it enlightened the panel member asking the question.

You bring up great advice, if it feels weird in the interview, it won't get any better!

Susanna said...

Hi Jill,

I only have a worst interview experience for you...

I was in college and about to graduate that June. I began applying at various companies before graduation so as to, at the very least, have an idea of the job market and get some interviewing experience. I had worked in offices before as a temp and was fairly corporate-savvy, but knew I wanted a non-mainstream job. I saw a posting for a Model and Talent Scout online and drove from Bellingham to Bellevue for a day-long group interview. We were put into small groups and given various assignments, such as identifying photos of people who are marketable for commercial, high fashion, and promotional modeling, coming up with agency names and target markets, etc. Everything was going fantastically. My group was doing well and the job sounded like fun. We broke for lunch, and when we came back, they dropped the bomb. This was a Friday, and they wanted us to start the next day, Saturday, and work for a week, full time, with no pay. Now, I understand getting trained in a particular job, but dropping your entire life at a moment's notice for no pay is a bit much. Also, I was scheduled to leave that week for a 5 day horse show in Las Vegas which had been paid for (horse hauling fees, stall fees, entry fees, hotel, airfare, we're talking hundreds of dollars, at least). The interviewer sneered at me and in her most condescending voice asked me, "Well, what's more important, a lifelong career or a stupid horse show?" I looked her right in the eye and replied, "Horse show," before walking out. Being young and pretty naive, I just couldn't believe they actually expected us to just drop everything. A bunch of single mothers in the group left with me.

I got the job! said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing. I wonder how many "employees" they get that way.

Do you think that what you know now about networking would have affected the outcome of that situation?

LIEvans said...

Worst interviewer:
I was just out of college and looking for a job in radio (I had experience). I went to this strange, hole-in-the-wall place back in the woods of Michigan. The owner was a former police officer, with a buzz cut and a belligerent manner. I remember at one point him asking me my parents occupations. "Are you allowed to ask me that?" I said. He turned red in the face and started shouting at me, assuring me that as a cop he knew what was legal and that he was going to run a check on my parents records. Thank God I didn't get that job! I should have listened to my gut and high-tailed it out of there.

Biggest mistake:
Again, a just-out-of-college mistake. I thought I wanted to write copy for an ad agency. I saw a listing in the paper that asked for resumés, so I typed one up listing every odd job I had ever done. I included things like babysitting, handwriting analysis at trade shows, and probably baton-twirling! I tried to spin it in a humorous, worldly, "look how versatile I am" kind of way, but in reality I just looked immature, foolish, and disorganized.

I got the job! said...

I posted this question on LinkedIn too and I thought my faithful readers might enjoy reading those replies:

Mary A. Independent Writing and Editing Professional

During a job interview when I was nineteen years old, the CEO with whom I was speaking suddenly began choking. He had been eating cashews from a silver bowl and one must have lodged in his throat. He stood up and then sat back down, looked at me in horror and actually began to turn blue. I ran around to his side of the desk and yanked him out of his chair, performing the Heimlich maneuver until he vomited all over his desk. He did not hire me. I was so shaken that I cried all the way home to Brooklyn.

John J. Student at San Jose State University

A horrific experience was when I was interviewing for a trainer position for the city government that I lived in. There was a question that was so unclear to me and I knew deep down it was a terrible question. Because not only was it a double barreled question that contradicted each other somehow. I could not go beyond it. I should have simply have said...that I was not able to answer the question. But my nervousness got a hold of me and I rambled incoherent thoughts. Based on that one question...I knew I was already disqualified. I had performed so poorly with that one question and it was difficult to recover from it.

Andrea D. Technical Writer

I interviewed with a small boutique writing firm and had one of those experiences where you immediately know that the interviewee dislikes you. This was before I hired you, Jill, and there was a typo on my resume. So, the interviewer was already pretty convinced that I shouldn't be hired. However, I tried my best, but noticed that she was trying as hard as possible to antagonize me. She'd ask a question, and when I would answer, she would immediately disagree with whatever opinion I'd offer. If I conceded that I understood her point of view, she would argue AGAINST her original point of view. Not politely, either. And this was BEFORE the actual interview started. We were talking about small stuff, like traffic, weather, and how it feels to work as a contractor at Microsoft. It was truly horrible.

Janet W. Author

In 1984, I was interviewed by the senior vice president of one of New York’s leading public relations agencies, which had a very large and prestigious commercial real estate clientele.

“Peter” ran the agency’s commercial real estate business, and I was there at his invitation. My resume was on his desk as I walked into his office, but it was full of large red marks – almost like a failing test being graded by a teacher.

Peter hadn’t bothered with my portfolio of published articles, seemed annoyed I was there, and began firing questions at me the instant I sat down:

“Have you ever done a press conference?” “No.”
“Have you ever used a Blue Book?” “No.”
“Have you ever done crisis management?” “No.”

By this time, Peter was so angry that without a word, he got up and walked out of his office. Obviously, the meeting was over, and I was never to darken his door again.

While Peter’s unprofessional and boorish behavior guaranteed I would never work for him or that agency, his blatant attempt to intimidate and humiliate me was unacceptable and would not be tolerated.

So, since I had nothing better to do that afternoon, and Peter needed to be taught a lesson, I just sat there. After all, he had to come back to his office sometime.

Twenty minutes later, Peter came back whistling and was shocked to see me. Clearly, this was not the first time he had tried to crush someone’s spirit to get rid of them, but it was the first time his cruel tactic didn’t work, and this made him really mad.

What made him even madder was that I picked up the conversation exactly where he had dropped it, saying how I wanted to do public relations and writing only for commercial real estate, and not for the agency’s other clients.

Infuriated, Peter stood up, clenched his fists on his desk and shouted at me, “YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN PR AND REAL ESTATE! YOU . . . CAN’T . . . HAVE . . . BOTH!”

So I stood up, clenched my fists on his desk and shouted at him, “WHY . . . NOT?”

And he shouted at me, “BECAUSE . . . YOU . . . CAN’T!”

With that, we sat down, and I calmly asked him: “Assuming I did go to work here, where do you see me? Churning out press releases with the new colleges grads making $18,000 a year?”

Peter smirked, “Well, maybe making a little bit more than that.”

I was 32, highly educated, had more direct experience in commercial real estate than most of his current staffers and was worth far more than chickenfeed, but not to him. With the meeting now officially over, I left, vowing I’d bake cookies for living before I ever worked for him or that agency.

Nobody tells me I can’t do something when I know I can.

A very short time later, I became Director of Public Relations of the most prestigious commercial real estate consulting and appraisal firm in the country, whose offices were a few blocks from the PR agency.

I was laid off three-and-a-half years later, and immediately started my own commercial real estate public relations and writing business, eventually representing a stream of local, regional and national companies in New York and later Dallas.

I also became a very busy trade writer, doing feature articles under my own byline and ghost-writing articles for clients for many of the industry’s top national magazines.

By the time I left real estate in 1996, I had been in the industry for 18 years, had worked as a professional commercial real estate writer and publicist for 12 years, and had been in my own commercial real estate public relations and writing business nine years.

Peter was extremely wrong. I could indeed have both.

John M., JD Owner

Another opportunity to share an HR horror story.

Once I interviewed at a large bank. I was sent to HR and was seated in a reception area that opened to a large open area surrounded by offices. As I waited I watched a group of people gathered around a table in the center of the room smok’n ‘n jok’n. About 45 minutes after the scheduled interview start time, one of the group walked over to me and introduced herself as the person I was supposed to interview.

After our interview she sent me back to the waiting area to wait for the interview with the hiring manager. She rejoined the chat session.

There was another person now waiting with me. We started chatting and I learned that he, too, was interviewing with the person I had just spoken too.

I pointed the HR person out in the chat group.

We spent about 20 minutes talking while we waited. It was clear the HR person knew he was there waiting for her just as she knew I had been waiting for her.

So the other guy suggested that, instead of our sitting there being jerked off, we just leave.

So we did.

I only regret that he came up with the idea.

Hai V. Software Engineer

Horrible interview moment:

It was a phone interview and I did my homework well, but not well enough. When the interviewer asked me what I knew about his company, I suddenly forgot the name of his company's primary competitor. It was not surprise that I did not get the job. Next time, I will write everything down for my phone interview.

Best moment:

I was interviewing for a software development position at a local company. The first interview talked more than asked. He told me that he already learned quite a bit about my ability through a mutual colleague. Next, he sent me off to a young developer to drill me on the technical details. My final interviewer only spent about 25 minutes and decided I was the one, so he promptly told me so right there on the spot. I felt victorious, but also justified for my countless number of hours practicing both on technical and non-technical skills.

Michelle M. Recruiter

I was interviewing for a Customer Service Manager position. I had two interviews one lasted 2 1/2 hours with a woman who had no clue what she was doing.

This woman kept sighing and looking around like a deer caught in the headlights, as she said over and over "I don't know what else I should ask you".

I heard her life story intermingled with how the company is a tad disorganized (DUH)!

As if that wasn't painful enough I then had to interview with the HR Manager. He couldn't even tell me what hours I would be working!! I told him that is some information I would really need to have in order to make a decision. (DUH)

Then toward the end of the interview with the HR manager he said to expect some resistance from the Customer Service reps. I said I understood there would be a transition period where adjustments would be needed on all sides. He then leaned into me and said "the majority of the CSR's are women and well you know how women can be."!

I couldn't believe what I was hearing! I was appalled at his statement, at the way the company was represented by such incompetent, disorganized, and downright rude people!

Oh, and I was made to wait 45minuites before i had the "pleasure" of being interviewed.

I was made a job offer which I respectfully declined!

I recently learned the company was "restructuring" and laying off people at that location due to a significant loss of money. Go figure!

Richard K. Executive Career Coaching, Recruiting {LION 1100

My story is self-reflective, which provided me knowledge for my future. As a career coach, I believe in learning from mistakes so they are not repeated.

My most memorable horrible interview was at the age of 40, when I was set up for a major step forward in my career. I have been courting an executive recruiter for more than 2 years and here was my chance to "cash in". Unfortunately, I let my ego get the best of me and totally blew the interview with the head of sales. I learned a lot from that failure and was highly successful in my future interviews because I learned to keep my ego in check.

Cristine C., Ed. D. Instructor Distance Learning

during the interview the supervisor bragged about getting the program de-funded. I was offered the job but when I inquired about benefits the offer was withdrawn. I called the funding source and told them that the agency was NOT interested in hiring a qualified candidate and was trying to sabotage the project.

Adam M. Systems Administrator/Helpdesk

I'd have to say any of my previous interviews that included 4+ people interviewing and lasted half a day or more. I find that simply unacceptable and frustrating. I don't mind having long interviews as long as it contains a group of people at the same time hearing the same answers. Having one person after another after another ask the same question over and over drives me to the brink of insanity. I can with utmost assurance know that they will all ask me how I'm doing, why I'm interested in the job, and what my weak points are. I find it good to write the precise answer to these questions ahead of time so that I may be able to recite the same answer each time. Heaven forbid each time the next person asks me How I'm doing and I continually down grade that answer from: "Excited", "Good", "not bad", "I'm alright" then to "it's been a long day".

In the end it's typically fine. Whether they were trying to tortue me by design or it just worked out that way atleast some measure of result is achieved.

Robert H. Senior QA Analyst

Many years ago when I was laid off and looking for laboratory work I had been sending off resumes and cover letters like crazy, without really paying much attention to where they were going. I interviewed with one scientific company that was truly horrific. The lab benches were horribly filthy and the rooms were a mess. The most horrifying thing was the 'mercury lab.' Based on the spit & duct tape condition of the room it looked like the goal was to bathe in as much of said material as possible. The shining moment of the interview came when I was told that I'd applied for a position that didn't exist. I can't remember which, if I'd gotten the position wrong or the company name, but I'd made a seriously fundamental mistake in sending my info to them and they still called me in. There was no way I was going to consider an offer to work there so I asked why they would call me in after I'd made such a careless error. I didn't get an answer to my question.

Kristin C. Strategic Problem-Solver & Creative Collaborator

A couple years after I graduated from college, I was working as a salesperson at Nordstrom and wanted to find a job that was more "professional." I was interested in the legal field, and I applied for a job as a legal researcher, an entry-level type of position working for a lawyer in a solo private practice. When I arrived, there were three other 20-something applicants waiting to be interviewed. We were all interviewed together, right there in front of each other. One question the lawyer asked me was, "Why should I hire you instead of these other people?" It was pretty intimidating for all of us and I'm not sure he got the result he intended. I was offered the job, but it turned out I was making quite a bit more from sales commissions than I would have as a legal assistant, so I just stuck with Nordstrom. I ended up working there over 10 years in a really diverse variety of jobs, from buyer to financial analyst to project manager. I'm glad I made the decision to stay since I got such a wide range of experience over the years there, which helped me determine what I'm really good at and truly interested in professionally.

Tom F. General Manager

This should make for an entertaining book. I haven't had anyone die on me in terms of horrific job interviewing. Horrific to me means interviewers not being held to the same standard as interviewers. There are interviewers watching TV, checking email - actuually reading and replying, and scolding a assistant all while in the act of interviewing me.