bad interviewer behavior: a forcible, sweaty hike

I always enjoy nightmare interview stories, so here’s one for you.

A friend of mine recently went for a job interview that consisted of two parts — first an interview with an HR rep, followed immediately by an interview with the hiring manager. At the end of the HR portion, the HR rep told her that the next meeting was in a different building, but that “it will be faster for you to walk there than to drive.”

My friend believed her because … why wouldn’t you?

Her walk to the second building ended up being close to three quarters of a mile. She was in heels and a suit. It was a horrible east coast summer afternoon, meaning hot and humid. When she arrived at the second building for part two of her interview, she was, by her own description, covered in sweat and reeking quite foully.

She was then immediately sent into a small, hot, and apparently not air conditioned office to finish the interview … which she did, drenched in sweat and smelling what can only be described as terribly offensive.

She is quite understandably baffled and annoyed.

She also notes that it would have been faster to drive, parking wasn’t an issue, etc., so why the HR rep inflicted this on her is rather inscrutable. This was not a job that requires the ability to withstand unpleasant physical conditions, nor does it involve any sort of boot camp, so WTF?

So, a public service announcement: When you are interviewing someone, in general it’s both useful and nice to try to put them at ease, so that they have a decent experience and so you can get a better sense of what they’re like day-to-day. It’s also to everyone’s benefit not to direct candidates to do things that will cause a normal person to reek. And if you do somehow inadvertently push them into a forced march or a sweat lodge, you should apologize profusely and offer extended bathroom time for repairs.

What is wrong with people?

{ 12 comments… read them below }

  1. Sarah G*

    I had the same thing happen to a case management client of mine a couple years ago. Only not only was it hot, and from her account a 30-min walk, but she arrived there bleeding from her new heels and had to ask for a band-aid.

  2. Charles*

    Not that you or your friend would know – but it would be interesting to know what the second interviewer thinks of the situation. Did he/she noticed that your friend looked uncomfortable?

    Also, did your friend mention the inaccurate advice to anyone at the organization? Would you recommend that a job candidate in this type of situation saying anything?

    I have been in similar situations and have not been quite sure if I should say anything. I hesitate to say anything because I don't want to come across as a "troublesome" job candidate. However, on the other hand, I think that if someone doesn't tell them how will they know?

  3. Anonymous*

    I don't know why an interviewer would do something like this except that they are either sadistic or clueless.

    I've had to send candidates to a different building before. It is a little under a mile away. I advise interviewees that I prefer to walk to the other building and it takes me 15-20 minutes but also give them other options such as taking a cab (we'll pay for it), driving (and paying $30+ to park their car), walking to the train station and getting off at the next stop (still almost half a mile of walking.)

    This way, I've given them all their options and if they choose to walk and then get too hot, or their shoes are killing them, it's their problem, not mine.

  4. TisDone*

    When I had a job interview that included a 10 minute walk to meet with someone outside of our group with whom I would be working closely, the hiring manager took the opportunity to walk me across the campus. This accomplished several things – though obviously our conversation while walking was still "on the record" – the walk made it seem a little more comfortable, and allowed for a bit more personal interaction. More on topic to the post – if it had been an oppressively humid sort of day – one would assume the hiring manager would have the decency to make a joke about the subject, letting the next interviewer know that any effect on appearance or aroma is just due to the weather.

    Also – I would hope that in such a situation, the person notifying the candidate of the interview is telling them that the interview will including meeting with person X and person Y – and that there will be a XX minute walk to get from one to the other. A bit of notice is surely helpful to allow someone to make appropriate wardrobe and footwear selections.

  5. Ask a Manager*

    Charles, I think the ideal thing to do would probably be to say, "That was a longer walk than I'd anticipated" or something like that — cheerfully and not in a bitter way (although I'd be FEELING bitter) — but I don't think I'd make a bigger deal about it than that with the employer, because in that situation you don't want to come across as a complainer, even though obviously this is a legit complaint. But also I think it's really hard for most people to have presence of mind in that situation, and in the moment you're just thinking about getting through it and not letting it throw you off your game, which is one of the reasons why it's so important for the interviewer to be the one really thinking about this stuff, so it's not on the candidate to have to speak up and point out that their interviewing practices are somewhat torturous.

  6. Anonymous*

    I have two thoughts…. the location of your friend isn't listed – so maybe, the interviewer isn't a sadist, just socially unaware. For example, if she were in NYC, yes, it would be much faster to walk 3/4 of a mile than to drive and take the time to get into a garage.

    I do think the interviewer should have stated during the phone interview the distance of the walk, as TisDone stated. If there wasn't enough forethought to do that, then the interviewer should have mentioned to your friend the day of her interview, and given her the option for how she wants to travel.

  7. Ron McManmon*

    "If you can't fix it, feature it"!

    If a candidate is presented with a challenge (whatever it may be) the candidate should take the opportunity to have a laugh about the circumstances. I have heard that 75% of all people are hired because of chemistry and the candidate that can make lemon-aid out of lemons… you know being "SOLUTIONS ORIENTED", and have a positive attitude, will most likely get the job.

    I remember many years ago I was interviewing for a VP of Sales position (complete with a blue suit and red tie)and spilled coffee on myself about 10 minutes prior to the meeting- YIKES. I walked in and asked everyone in the room how they liked their coffee… We laughed and I was offered the job. If they did not find this funny then I would have identified a culture and environment that would not have been conducive to my personality and I would have have saved myself from making a bad decision!!!

    If you can't fix it have FUN with it:). Last but certainly not least, don't spill the whine… drink the wine!!!

    CHEERS Ron McManmon

  8. Rachel - I Hate HR*

    Torture test!

    On a recent interview I had a tour and then a sit down. At the end of the tour I was offered refreshments. I told them that I knew it was part of their torture tactic to make you walk around and then throw you in a room to be grilled. ;)

    But yeah, that is not cool what they did to your friend. I also wonder why that person didn't walk with her!

  9. Susan*

    I once had an interview where I had to walk about a mile between the HR interview and the hiring manager's office for the second interview. Luckily, the HR department let me know in advance that this was going to happen, so I was ready. Also, I find it strange that nobody accompanied your friend to the second location. It sound very impersonal and like the company really didn't think it had to make a good impression on the interviewee.

    I think the more startling part was your friend's arrival at a hot building for the second interview. If this was a position where one wouldn't usually suspect having to work outside in the heat or in a poorly ventilated building, then I might have asked about the physical work environment, unless I desperately needed a job. If the these are normal working conditions, then that could change your mind about continuing with this company if an offer is made.

  10. Construction HR*

    OK, who the heck ends up “reeking quite foully” after walking only 3/4 miles?

  11. Anonymous*

    I had a job interview once which included a tour of the organization and its facilities. 103 degrees that day. Afterwards, I was a soggy mess, but my interviewer somehow managed to walk around without even breaking a sweat (to this day, I have no idea how he accomplished this).

    Giving my presentation to 40 people about 15 minutes later, I made a quick joke at my own expense and moved on without a second thought. With a little self-deprecating humor, you acknowledge the situation/your appearance, your audience gets to chuckle (hopefully with and not AT you), and hopefully you get points for poise.

    While I didn’t get the job (as it turned out, this employer didn’t hire any of the finalists), that might have been the best damn presentation I ever gave, and I was pleased that was able to keep my cool about, um, not keeping my cool.

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