my interviewer was obsessed with anger management

A reader writes:

I just had a second interview meeting with the director of the department for the region I would be working in. He does work in a different location so my interaction with him would be primarily limited to phone and email.

During our short interview, he questioned me about anger:  “What was the maddest you have ever been at work and how did you handle it?” I was a little thrown off by the question but told him about getting a little heated (internally, i.e. heart racing, etc.) with a customer in a retail environment. I explained I stepped away from the situation allowed myself to calm down and then re-approached the situation. Well, this answer didn’t seem to suffice. He kept harping on what I’ve done in the past and seemed to want an answer where I went into a rage. I told him I don’t rage or throw things when I get upset.

He then asked if I have ever been yelled at by a superior. I said no, which seemed to be another answer he didn’t want to hear.

His next question was if my parents had ever yelled at me and the maddest I had ever been at them and how I handled that situation. I was starting to get really nervous and I knew he sensed that. My father was abusive to my mother and me, and for some reason, his question brought me right back to those moments. My previous abuse does not affect my daily life so there was no need for me to bring this up to him. I tried to skirt around this question and he asked me what I was keeping from him. (Hello, that I was a victim of abuse and it’s none of his business.) I should also mention this topic seemed to cover about a third of my 40 min. interview with him.

Is this a normal question for an interviewer to ask? If so, should I be more prepared for questions such as this? How do you work around personal questions that you don’t feel are applicable to the position? I should have asked how this was all relevant to the position and if people often go into fits of rage at this office. But hindsight is always 20/20.

No, this is not normal. It’s weird, and it’s a huge, huge red flag. It sounds like there are real anger issues in the office, and he was trying to suss out how you’d handle that, and doing so in a really inappropriate way. If that’s the situation, what he should have done was be straightforward with you:  “This can be a pretty intense environment. Some people here yell, some people will have what will seem like unfair or unreasonable expectations of you, and our customers can be especially trying. The way we’d like you to handle all this is ____, but I realize that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Have you ever been in an environment like this? How did you handle it?”  Etc.

Alternately, it’s possible that he was burned by an employee with their own anger management issues in the past, and now he’s trying to make sure that he never hires anyone like that ever again. (In my experience, managers are always haunted by the last bad hire they made, and they tend to fixate on making sure the don’t get that particular set of problems again … often missing other problems in the process.)

Either way, though, his method of handling it was downright bizarre and inappropriate. And the fact that he didn’t see any reason to explain to you why he was fixated on one pretty unusual topic is a problem.

Ideally, when his questions and reactions first got weird, you would have simply asked what was up:  “These are a lot of questions about anger. Has that been a challenge here?”

And certainly when he asked about your parents, ideally you would have said something like, “That’s a surprising question. Why do you ask?”

It’s too late for that now, but if you’re still interested in this job, I’d strongly recommend asking someone else there about this. You said this was your second interview, so you’ve probably talked to someone else there, HR or a hiring manager or whoever. The next time you have contact with someone there, ask about this. Say something like, “There’s something I wanted to ask you about. When I talked with Roger, he spent a lot of our time on how I handle anger and people being angry with me. Do you have any insight into why that was his focus?”

But overall, it’s a big red flag. Of course, it’s easy to say “don’t take this job,” but the reality is that not everyone has the luxury of turning down a job, especially in this economy. And it’s also true that some people (not most, but some) are just fine in this kind of environment; they just want to show up and work and they’re going to tune out things that would make others miserable. If you don’t feel that you have the luxury of just walking away, then you’ve got to know yourself and know what your own deal-breakers are.

Overall, you want to make sure that you have as many facts as possible in order to make a decision. And right now, you have a big glaring red flag that you need to learn more about.

{ 28 comments… read them below }

  1. Yup*

    Not exactly the same thing, but a friend once interviewed for a job where the CEO asked, “Do you cry easily or often?” Big red flags a’flying.

    My friend waited a beat and replied, “Is that a common occurrence here?”

        1. Yup*

          Hmm. If memory serves, the reply was a evasive comment about some people who have trouble with “stress” and “feedback.” I don’t remember the specifics, but the implication was clear: the CEO was caught way offguard by an interviewee making it a two-way street.

  2. Joanna Reichert*


    We all have baggage – some of it painful – and of course experiences as a kid will shape our thinking and reactions. But why in the WORLD would you prod into someone’s childhood for an adult, professional situation? That reeks of unprofessionalism and being, well, obtuse.

    Methinks this director needs more than a handful of PR courses.

  3. DJS*

    Ummm, I think his motives could be even more sinister than they sound on the surface.. and it creeps me out. RUN.

    1. Andrea*

      Yeah, I have to agree. Asking about whether your parents yelled a lot? Um, no. I guess if you’re interviewing a potential partner in childrearing, that’s an appropriate question. But otherwise no.

      Remember, just because a question is asked doesn’t mean that an answer is required. Asking doesn’t entitle someone to information that is irrelevant and none of their damn business.

    2. Anonynous J*

      Yup. That’s exactly what I was going to say: RUN.

      OP, I sincerely hope you have other options and are not stuck having to take a position with this place!

  4. Under Stand*

    I work in an industry that unfortunately has a tendency to draw the yellers. And we still would not dare ask some of those questions. If you say this is how you handled it, great. I might would ask “how do you handle people yelling at you for something that is not your fault?” Not to judge them but rather to warn them because that should set off all kinds of red flags. But asking about your relationship with your parents?!?! Just WOW! Of course, if you had decided you did not want the job, then you could have had a little fun like answering “Why, do you know where the Witness Protection people put them?”

    1. Katie*

      If you’re going to work in customer service or working with children, it is good to ask how people handle intense situations with others or how a person handles their own anger. However, this should not be a standard interview question for most industries, and this guy went about it in a completely inappropriate way.

    2. Anonymous*

      You wrote: Of course, if you had decided you did not want the job, then you could have had a little fun like answering “Why, do you know where the Witness Protection people put them?”

      LOVE IT.

  5. kc*

    I had an interview like that. I was interviewing for another position and this guy had more seniority and needed someone too, so for my second interview they put me in there with him. He was the angriest interviewer I ever met. They offered me his position, not the one I really wanted. I turned it down. Three times. I really didn’t want to work with someone who was that angry. I was finally convinced to take it. It turned out that his previous assistant had just quit in a big ugly scene about an hour before the interview, totally screwing him on his current deadline. The managing partner came to me and told me that they he wasn’t usually like that and they actually had a “no abusing the staff” rule that was pretty strictly enforced. I told the new boss that he was also on probation, it wasn’t just me who was under scrutiny for the next 90 days. Turned out to be one of the best bosses I ever had. The interview was the last time I was yelled at.

    I would definitely try to figure out why the interviewer was so obsessed. It might have just been a really (really) bad day.

  6. Wilton Businessman*

    “Did your parents ever scream and yell?”

    ” Only when they were having sex.”

    What a tool.

  7. Natalie*

    Wow. That is messed up.

    For the parents question, I’m not even sure I would use that “Why do you ask?” question. The interviewers question seems across the line enough to merit a “I’m not comfortable sharing that information.”

    Of course, it’d be vastly preferable if they’d just come out and say what the issue is. I just saw a job posting recently that specified that the position entailed dealing with angry and aggressive people over the phone and in person. Thanks, I will not be applying!

  8. class factotum*

    My first job out of college, the VP asked in my interview, “How do your parents feel about your having a career?”

    My jaw dropped. What a stupid question to ask! But I just swallowed and said, “Of course they support me.” And of course they did. It’s not like they wanted me to move back in with them.

    Years later, I asked the VP why he had asked me that question. He said, “I just wanted to see how you would react.”

    My favorite interview question, years later, was “How do you feel about long hours and tight deadlines?”

    Talk about a huge red flag. The recruiter might as well have asked, “How do you feel about working in a very poorly managed organization where they constantly make unreasonable demands on you?”

    1. Jamie*

      I was once asked how my husband liked being married to someone in IT. I said I had no idea, you’d have to ask him.

      I really think small talk should be punishable in some way.

  9. fposte*

    Fridayitis makes me want to go to this interview and start pounding on the table and shrieking “HOW DARE YOU CAST ASPERSIONS ON MY PARENTS!!!”

  10. Anonymous*

    Good question about anger management: “Have you every had a situation where you have dealt with a customer who made unreasonable demands or became angry at you? How did you resolve that situation?” Bad question: “What was the maddest you have ever been at work and how did you handle it?” Absolutely unacceptable and just down right creepy question: “Did your parents yell at you? How mad have you been towards your parents?”

  11. Harry*

    That was my initial thought that this was a question to see how you react to ‘off the topic’ questions. But to cover this topic for 1/3 of the interview is not normal. Totally agree with AAM.

  12. Charles*

    interviewer: “What was the maddest you have ever been at work and how did you handle it?”

    me: “never have been mad at work; but keep asking dumb questions and I might just get there . . .”

Comments are closed.