abusive interviewer extends job offer

This letter from a reader is long but worth it:

My career experience has mostly been in the military, but I have recently completed a college degree in physics with a minor in education after stopping work to stay at home with my daughter. Currently, I am working as a high school science teacher, but I’m not happy with this career. Over the past 6 months, I have been sending out my resume to companies that are hiring entry level engineers.

I’ve been looking to make sense of what happened during a recent interview that resulted in a job offer. I submitted my resume and went through a large company’s application process to end up with an in-person interview, which was great. After the 10 minute interview with the HR director, who told me that I would interview with two supervisors in the department who were looking to fill four different jobs at varying levels, I was picked up by one of the department supervisors I was to interview with (I’ll call him Joe), and we went for a 50 minute tour of the workplace. During the tour, Joe was asking interview questions, and he seemed like a knowledgeable and reasonable person to work for. I really liked Joe. We discussed the positions he had to offer and how those positions related to my experiences and education. Although Joe’s job openings were entry level engineering and below, I was still interested in accepting one of those positions if they were offered. After all, I am looking to change careers, and I’m expecting to pay my dues to make this happen.

Next, Joe told me that we would meet with the supervisor (we’ll call him Jerry), who had a higher level engineering position open. After arriving at Jerry’s office, Jerry began to interview me. During the interview, Jerry asked me what sort of job I am looking for. Upon hearing my answer, he told me that his job opening is not for me. Jerry went further by stating that he really didn’t understand why I had applied for a position in that department because none of their work had anything to do with my background or education. At first, I thought Jerry was just asking the question to see if I could relate their work to my experience and education, which is quite straightforward. I have no problem relating my experience and physics education to the type of engineering practiced in that department, so I politely told Jerry how I felt my experience and background fit with that department’s mission and work. Upon hearing this, Jerry told me that he took a physics class once and failed, so he didn’t see how physics had anything to do with engineering. I explained where I felt physics and engineering meet and how an education and laboratory research experience in physics has helped develop my critical thinking and problem solving skills regardless of the problem set before me. Jerry continued with his mantra that physics has nothing to do with engineering and this is not the job for me.

As Jerry wrapped up his end of the interview, he commented about my current job as a teacher. He told me that his wife is a teacher, and only lazy people teach. I had to work hard to keep my jaw from hitting the floor on that comment. Jerry said that his wife only teaches because she has the summer off, and that certainly would not happen in this company. I told Jerry that I am well aware that the rest of the work force does not have the summer off or even more than one week of vacation for most people. Again, Jerry simply responded by telling me that the job is not for me.

The interview ended with Jerry asking me if I would rather work for him or Joe. There was no way I was touching that one with a ten foot pole, but I did have to say something. If I told Jerry that I would rather stick with a job I can’t stand than work for him, then I would have disqualified myself from all four job openings. Jerry, Joe, and the employees they supervise work on the same floor of the same small building, so I would have to see Jerry and work around him daily. I concluded by stating that I felt that I could work with either of them because I enjoy working with and get along with others. When problem solving, another person’s perspective can stimulate new and interesting solutions. I really expected Jerry to tell me that the job is not for me one more time just to jam his point across.

One month later, I received a call from HR offering me an engineering position for quite a bit more money than I expected. This was two weeks after Jerry had claimed he wanted his new employee to start. Not even thinking about the possibility that I was being offered the job with Jerry, I verbally accepted the job offer. I was told that I still had to electronically sign the contract after reviewing the terms of employment. While sitting at the computer reading through the contract, it occurred to me that I might actually end up working for Jerry. I called HR back to inquire as to who was to be my supervisor. To my dread, she said Jerry. I confessed to the HR rep that, although I was grateful and excited about the job offer, I did not understand why Jerry wanted to hire me because he told me that this job was not for me. Sally, the HR rep, proceeded to tell me how I qualified for the job because of my physics degree and that Joe thought my military electronics experience made me a perfect candidate for the job. She said nothing about why Jerry wanted to hire me. I questioned her about what Jerry thought because he really seemed to discourage me from proceeding through the employment screening process. She told me that she would ask Jerry and get back to me, but she did not. I even told her that I was on a time budget because the school was gearing up to present us with the next year’s teaching contracts. I really didn’t want to put my principal in the position of signing my contract and breaking it soon after. I like my current supervisor. I just don’t like my current career. I waited for one week, and my teaching contract for the next year was presented to me.

Having a definite job and only having a job offer that was not even through the screening process helped me choose to sign my teaching contract and decline the engineering job offer in writing. During the week that I waited for Sally to get back with me, I emailed and called her to inquire about the answer from Jerry and reiterated that my deadline for signing my teaching contract was rapidly approaching. The day after I declined the engineering offer, Sally from HR called and stated how Joe, not Jerry my prospective supervisor, thought I was perfect for the job. Sally said nothing about Jerry.

I am completely confused about how I was offered a job with Jerry in the first place. He made a point of telling me at least a dozen times that the job was not for me. I was certain that my interview with Jerry would not result in a job offer, at least not a job offer to work for Jerry. He told me that I am lazy. At one point, Jerry even asked me if I was dumb. How did those comments from him end up as a job offer one month later?

Secondly, I am not sure if I have burned my bridge with HR in this company. Sally from HR sounded really upset when she called and left her message after I declined the position. I haven’t heard from her since. Although I would never attempt to apply for another job with the same department in that company, I am interested in applying for engineering positions in other departments in the company. I was impressed with the company overall, and my college thesis laboratory research is directly related to work this company does. Would I just end up sending my resume
to a black hole and wasting my efforts?

Jerry is one or both of the following:
1. a jerk
2. someone who believes in stress interviews

I tend to believe that #2 is often a subset of #1. A “stress interview” is where the interviewer deliberately acts uninterested or even hostile in order to find out how the candidate responds to stressful situations. Whether they should be used at all is up for debate, but if they are, they should only be used where it’s relevant to the job at stake — litigator, say, or air traffic controller. I don’t believe in them at all, since I think there are other ways for a good interviewer to find out how a candidate handles stress, and they don’t exactly do a lot to sell good candidates on the job.

To answer your first question, about how someone so rude to you ended up making you a job offer: If it was a stress interview, you apparently passed it. If Jerry is just a jerk, he likely treats lots of people this way and his treatment of you didn’t have much connection to his actual opinion of your qualifications. Or Jerry hates everyone, but Joe pushed for you to be hired.

Regarding whether you have a chance with this company in the future, I think you certainly could, but you need to explain to Sally why you turned down the offer. Tell her that you got the strong sense in the interview that you and Jerry had very different communication styles and since Jerry told you multiple times that you weren’t right for the job, you didn’t think an offer to work with him was the right one for you. Explain, however, that you felt you clicked with Joe, that you are impressed with the company, and that you’d love the opportunity to work with them in the future.

Thoughts from anyone else?

{ 16 comments… read them below }

  1. Evil HR Lady*

    Jerry was a jerk. (I agree with your assessment of stress interviews as well.) But, my guess is that his veto got overridden by Joe. I wouldn’t want to work for Jerry under these circumstances. Blech. Nightmare.

    And teachers being lazy–ha! I used to teach one 8 hour class once a month and by the end of the day I was exhausted. I don’t know how full time teachers do it.

  2. The Engineer*

    It may be that Sally is upset because she let a good candidate slip away by providing the wrong information and failing to follow up in the time frame given by the candidate. After going through the HR vetting process and completing an extensive interview / site visit, Sally dropped the ball. Engineers are in tight supply right now (across all disciplines) and many firms and industries are working hard to fill slots. If I was supervisor Joe and Sally was honest with me about why the candidate turned down the offer, I would be upset (making Sally upset).

    I’d send a nice letter along the lines of what AAM suggests stressing that you liked the company, loved the field and possibilities, and thought Joe and you had connected well. Remind her that the offer was to work for Jerry, that you had confirmed that with her and asked for follow up, but faced a deadline. Let her know what the options are for you to leave your current “contract” and that you remain interested in other opportunities within the company. If you hear nothing, then “black hole” confirmed. Otherwise, you have all that preliminary HR stuff done and Sally can plug you into a position fairly easily at some future date. Both sides put a lot of effort in, one more letter is worth it.

  3. Kurr_Mudgeon*

    I used to work for Jerry. Jerry wanted to hire this fellow just so he could have the pleasure of firing him later on. Some of the Jerrys out there like to make their employees squirm a few months before giving them the axe and a bad reference to go with it. Always, when in an interview, determine whether the boss hates his employees or not. If so, decline the offer – always. No exceptions.

  4. Rachel Robbins*

    I think that HR and Joe wanted to hire you so they went ahead with it. I wouldn’t feel bad for the HR lady because she didn’t bother to call you back for a week to explain – that was just poor practice. I think it proves that you caught her in making a decision that Jerry wouldn’t like and she didn’t know what to do. If I were you I would keep in touch with Joe about your interest in the company and his department.

  5. Big Picture*

    Many angles to view this situation – my concern would be if you did get hired on at the company to work for anyone other than Jerry and then at some point down the road wound up with him as a supervisor. With all the vibes from the interview and the uncertainty that has followed, to me these would be signals to look elsewhere. And thank you for being a teacher – a most noble job !

  6. jane*

    Good suggestions to follow up with letter to Sally and Joe. The author did not mention if she sent “thank you letters” after the interview. It would make sense to write to the people she met and connected well with that she enjoyed meeting them, is impressed by the company, and is interested in the future job openings.

    No need to worry about Jerry, whatever his game is, she made the right choice. And she should apply to higher than entry-level positions, on par with what has been offered to her this time.

  7. class factotum*

    Was Jerry an engineer? If not, what was he doing supervising engineers? If so, how did he ever get an engineering degree without passing at least freshman physics? Civil, mechanical, and electrical engineers all have to have freshman physics; EEs for sure take at least one more year after that.

    Either way, the guy sounds clueless.

    1. Elaine*

      Yes; I’m a basic engineer and had to take 6 physics classes! But, we were on the quarter system; may have been “only” 3-4 on a semester system. Sheesh.

  8. just another HR lady...*

    I’m sorry you had to go through that meeting with Jerry, HR should be auditing his interviewing process, he’s going to terrify people right out of wanting to work for the company.

    Regarding burning your bridges, just from my own HR persective, honestly anything do with recruitment never “upsets me”. It’s not personal, it’s just work. If someone declines, I am sorry that it didn’t work out, but know it’s not personal, and I will tend to try and at least find out one or two of the reasons why they declined. Sometimes there is something I can do (i.e. Jerry’s behavior), sometimes not (i.e, money).

    If Sally is a professional, perhaps she was just stressed about trying to fill the position and having to try to deal with Jerry the idiot. I would agree with sending a note to thank them (Sally and Joe) very much for the consideration, and that you were not uninterested in the company, it’s just that the timing was not right. I might also stress that you really enjoyed meeting with Joe and hoped that you might have the oportunity to work together in the future. (don’t mention Jerry)

    As an aside note, Sally is not giving people enough information when she makes her verbal job offers (i.e. who the person would actually be working for! lol)

  9. Emily*

    I had my first “stress” interview about a month ago. I applied for a position that sounded really fascinating, and I went in for the first interview with my would-be boss. Seemed to go great but got an email the next day — one of those form emails saying thank you for my time, but they received many qualified applicants and I was not chosen.

    Next day, got an email from HR apologizing for a mix-up and asked me to come in a few days later for a second interview. I was set up with a panel of three people and they just drilled me. Telling me the guy I’d be working for is an asshole, is demanding, is impolite, and asking me how I’d deal with that. Asking me about if I have thick skin. Asking me like I was an idiot if I knew that there was a difference between marketing writing and journalism, and criticizing me for thinking I could go from one to the other. They stressed that their is no political correctness there, that everybody gets made fun of, that you can’t be weak, that they have no dead weight there, etc. Then they said I would basically be a workaholic. One guy said he goes home from work and turns his computer on and works three more hours. They slammed me with other difficult questions (“Are you an idea person? What do you do if your boss comes to you with a bunch of ideas and wants you to do something with them.” Um, what?), rhetorical questions that they expected me to answer, and saying things that made me feel stupid.

    I left thinking…so you’re going to relentlessly make fun of me, you think I’m an idiot, you just told me that my boss is an impolite and demanding asshole, you want me to work 24/7, and I have to have thick skin or I don’t fit in here? No thanks! Upon getting home, I emailed the guy I had the first interview with and told him the company just wasn’t for me. He said he was very disappointed but appreciated it because having a good fit is key to a successful job.

    It was the first time I’d ever gone through an interview that humiliating or difficult. I talked to my mom’s boyfriend that evening who is an executive and does a lot of hiring, and said some companies use that technique to see how tough you are, but I don’t think I’d want to work somewhere that tests people that way. I am so not my best in that kind of situation!

    Wow, sorry so long. Sally’s story just really resonated with me because of this recent experience!

  10. Darren*

    Whatever answer Sally might have come back with, I agree that you’re better off not working for Jerry. I doubt he treats employees any better.

  11. Just Another Manager*

    “The Stress Interview” wow. That may explain an interview I had a year ago. I had a GREAT interview with the actual manager that was recruiting me, I then went into the next level to deal with principal and ops manager.

    Early on in the interview he became upset that I was not more excited about the possibility of working there, asked me who I thought I should be directing my words to, who was the decision maker in the room and I should be careful who I address my questions and answer to. I told him as both of them were there wouldn’t it make sense that both of you are in this position – but if this something I need to be aware of why don’t you just tell me if you think this is important at this time.

    As a 50 year old, with a background in management and former business owner, I also grilled those two in that interview asking them about their background, how they got started in this industry and to what did they attribute their success in such a competitive environment. The man came up with purely ridiculous answers at which he expected others to laugh (but we just sat there with blank looks on our faces because we did not understand why he was responding the way he was). He let me know that he did not like that I was not going gaga over the interview and doing everythng I could to convince him that I was right for the job. I told him that I did not yet know that is the case, that is why we are all here in this interview and that I need to learn more about the company and the job – obviously I’m here to interview you as much as you are to interview me. He was stunned. I also told him that he is not talking to somoene right out of high school so my reactions and style are going to be from a level of my background as opposed to an entry level candidate. While I tried to give it every chance, after about 30 minutes of this I just wrote this guy and the job off. Started to end the interview – and he would not let it end! haha! Had to drag it on so that he could be the one to end it. OK, Mr. Man, hooray for your ego you get the last word.

    Well, I went home, and 30 minutes after I got home, called the ops manager, and said although I appreciate the opportunity I didn’t think it was a good fit and would continue my job search elsewhere. She started to say OK, I understand (she was there in the interview also and could see what this bozo was like) but I could hear him in the background telling her to ask why – so I told her: an experienced businessperson handles themselves differently in an interview than someone fresh out of school and if he can’t deal with or recognize this that tells me what I need to know about the job and the company.

  12. Paul*

    I just came back from this kind of interviews!! I did two interviews… The first was with department manager. ” it was a very successful technical interview” and I did VERY VERY well! …. He even said he wants me to work with him and I’m going to…but it’s not his decision alone, and I should meet the HR manager! …

    unfortunately! he’s someone who believes in abusive interviews! and kept asking strange questions! and wasn’t even looking at me while I’m answering, he looked like he’s not even listening to me! and kept questioning my honesty while I’m answering his questions…

    I really want the job however!! Do you think the department manager will be able to hire me? Please reply…

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