my interviewer said she was “disgusted” with my answer

A reader writes:

I had a second job interview where the hiring manager asked me, “What are your biggest pet peeves in the workplace?” I shared that I get frustrated when people want to sit around and talk about things at length but never actually do anything. I lightheartedly explained that in Texas we had a saying for people like this: “all hat and no cattle.”

She asked me to elaborate and give her an example, so I said I once had a supervisor who would make lots of long speeches about how we needed to “be strategic” or “be proactive” — but when it came to discussing how we would actually carry out something strategic, she would never actually do anything, nor would she allow us to do it. I also said I have been on teams with people where they love to sit around and talk about issues, but I end up having to shoulder their part of the actual work, and I get frustrated in those kinds of situations.

A week later, I hear back; I didn’t get the job. Ok, that happens. I asked if she had any feedback for my interview, and she said that she was “disgusted” that I was willing to “trash talk” my former workplaces in an interview, and that she realized I was a very negative and bitter employee . I was puzzled, so I asked for clarification, and she said it was my answer to the pet peeves question (I never named anyone specific, just gave generic examples like they are worded above).

At first I thought her response was unwarranted; after all, this is my biggest pet peeve in the workplace, and I want to be honest about what kind of culture I fit into! But then I thought — maybe this does make me look negative or bitter? Am I violating the “never trash talk your old boss” rule here?

I can’t say for sure without knowing exactly how you answered this question. It’s possible that you did sound bitter or overly negative. But it’s certainly feasible that you gave the answer you described here in a perfectly professional way that shouldn’t have alarmed a reasonable person.

I’m leaning toward the latter, because your interviewer sounds like a loon — she was “disgusted” by your answer? That’s bizarrely extreme, and so it seems likely that she was the problem, not you. (I’ve done a lot of interviews in my life, and I can only think of one time I was “disgusted” by a candidate’s answer to something, and that was because he made an anti-semitic remark. “I don’t like people who are all talk and no action” doesn’t even come close to something that should elicit disgust.)

Moreover, she asked you a question that directly solicited a negative response! What workplace pet peeves would she have found acceptable for you to mention? The brand of chips stocked in the office snack machine? The slight breeze from the air vent that occasionally displaces your papers?

She asked a question, and you gave her a straightforward, substantive answer. Unless you were far more negative than you came across here, she sounds like a bullet dodged.

{ 109 comments… read them below }

  1. Cruciatus*

    Wow, what happens when a candidate makes an anti-Semitic remark (or anything as offensive as that)? Do you shut down the interview immediately or continue on already knowing they are never going to get the job and the rest of the interview is a waste of time…and do you call them on the remark?

    And I agree that “disgusted” is an extreme word. The interviewer seems easily offended–who knows how else you would offend her if you got the job. “Red is the color of the devil. I’m disgusted you wore that shirt today.” Bullet dodged!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It was back when I’d barely done any interviews, and I’m ashamed to say that I was stunned into a silent rage rather than saying anything. I was doing the interview with another person, and I just let him take over while I sat there shocked and angry and having no idea how to handle it. I kick myself for that to this day.

      If it happened now, I’d tell them that what they’d said was offensive and we’d be ending the interview.

      1. Ruffingit*

        If you can share, I’m curious as to what the anti-semitic remark was. I just don’t know how one would fit such a thing into an interview answer or ever think it was OK to reference entire groups of people negatively. Then again, people are just weird sometimes or incredibly clueless and/or racist, so there’s that.

        1. Ruffingit*

          I see you answered this question below, sorry I didn’t read before asking. Clearly, this guy assumed that everyone shared his bigoted viewpoint and that is an extra layer of disturbing on top of his being bigoted to begin with. It always amazes me when people assume that others share their asinine world view, but it’s even more incredible that they would state something like that in an interview. For all the guy knew, the company was owned and/or managed by Jewish people. Did he really think he was going to score points by being bigoted?? GAH. My head wants to explode, this is a huge hot button issue for me.

              1. Ruffingit*

                I didn’t know Alison was Jewish, but then I’ve never given thought to it because it’s not something that crosses my mind. People I know run the gamut from atheist to devout Christians and Buddhists. I don’t give much thought to a person’s religion or belief system, but I’m more of a “if it works for you, rock on” type.

                In any case, it’s so beyond disturbing that this guy thought it appropriate to make known his bigotry in a job interview. Then again, my ex-in-laws were racist jerks, but if you asked them if they were racist, they would hotly deny it. No one wants the label despite the fact that their behavior indicates their stupidity.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I would be surprised it it were well known since I’ve rarely mentioned it and we have lots of new commenters or commenters who don’t read religiously!

                (Religiously! Ha ha!)

    2. Jen in RO*

      Somewhat related: my boyfriend’s coworker recently explained to the entire office that Chrome is the Devil’s browser because the logo is made out of three 6s and because “that Satanist” Lady Gaga advertises it.

      1. Jessa*

        Okay that’s a new one. The 6’s I mean. I never noticed that until you said it, and I still think it’s a HUGE stretch. Very odd. Not that I’m all that fond of Chrome anyway but still.

      2. nyxalinth*

        Did s/he also go on about New World Order and how they telegraph all their moves before carrying them out through weird ‘symbolism’? Seems to me any Satanist or big conspiracy would keep that stuff under wraps, but what do I know? I’m relatively normal :P

        I think every generation has public figures that some off-kilter group decides has ties to Satan, the Illuminati, etc.

      3. Jazzy Red*

        I always wondered, if “666” is evil, is “555” just kinda naughty?

        And no, I will not stop celebrating Christmas because you can rearrange the letters in “Santa” to read “Satan”. If you follow that line of thought, then I ought to get down on my knees every time I come home and my DOG greets me.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Well, in the Austin Lounge Lizards song, “The Neighbor of the Beast,” they refer to his girlfriend as 333.

        2. Lynda*

          Well, according to The Pixies song, “Monkey’s Gone To Heaven”: man is 5 devil is 6 and God is 7. :)

      4. Lizabeth*

        The Devil can be found in just about anything if you have the belief. Remember the Proctor & Gamble logo?

      5. Mander Marsh*

        Wow, that’s special.

        (That would probably have been my response in real life, had I been there. I mean, what do you even say?)

      6. Ruffingit*

        Lady Gaga’s a Satanist and Chrome is the devil’s browser? You learn something new every day. I mean, I’d buy that Hotmail is the work of the devil (even has the word hot in the title, good of the devil to do the whole truth in advertising thing), but Chrome and its various extensions is a blessing from God as far as I’m concerned.

    3. Liz in a Library*

      This was my first thought, too! I think I’d be too stunned to respond in any functional way. I mean, even if someone’s a crappy bigot, generally they’d know not to let loose in a job interview?!

      1. Ruffingit*

        You know what though? So many people see nothing wrong with their beliefs AND they think other people actually share those beliefs. I’ve known people like this personally. It’s stunning how many people will say nasty, racist things and expect that everyone around them will just nod their heads and agree. And quite often, people do nod their heads or at least they stay silent so these people think this is OK. It’s hard to stand up to bigots and challenge them on their beliefs. It’s something I’m still working on myself.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I do hate–I hate people like that!!!

          Actually, I just get really big-eyed and go, “WHAT?” when people say stuff like that. If they have to repeat it, it sounds really dumb. Sometimes they shut up at that point, and sometimes I just leave them.

  2. Sascha*

    If you had answered that your pet peeves were lack of preferred chips or an annoying slight breeze, you would probably be told you were too picky and sensitive. So yes, a bullet dodged.

  3. Lynn*

    She also asked the OP to elaborate… which calls for specific situations. So unless it was some kind of weird trick question, it makes sense that the OP would answer a question your interviewer asked.

    1. Jessa*

      Exactly, how do you elabourate without giving specifics. And it seems the OP named no names nor companies, just the “type” of things. It could have been one time or never, or yesterday or 20 years ago. How is that trash talking someone. I always thought that trash talk required an identifiable target.

      Unless of course the OP only had one job ever before this interview?

    1. Hlx Hlx*

      But to actually comment, OP, liking to have a productive work team would be a pretty positive ‘pet peeve’ to me.

      Like someone whose ‘drawback’ is that they’re a perfectionist, when they’re interviewing at a minute detail-oriented job.

    2. Another Emily*

      I agree with AAM, you dodged a bullet. Around here the expression is “all hat, no cowboy.” Great expression.

  4. long time lurker!*

    A) you do not want to work for this person. Total bullet dodged.

    B) I am stealing ‘all hat and no cattle’ and plan to use it at every possible opportunity.

  5. Yup*

    Your response sounds like a direct answer to a direct question. So yeah, “disgusted” is pretty over the top. But the “trash talk” categorization is interesting because it might be a clue to the office culture or the interview’s style.

    I worked in a place that had an uber polite culture that required extremely indirect ways of communicating. For them, a describing your former boss as someone who made “long speeches” but “would never actually do anything” would sound incredibly disrespectful. Not that it actually is, but that’s how they’d hear it. It’d be like using your regular speaking voice in a hushed, nearly silent library — normal volume would sound like shouting. To be palatable you’d have to say something like, “I find it frustrating when action is slow to follow talk. In my former environment, there was a lot of discussion about strategy but it took a very long time, or even never, to actually observe that strategy in action.”

    If that’s the case here too — where accurate description is seen as trash talk — you probably dodged a bullet. (Unless you enjoy vagueness and really like using the passive voice all the time.)

    1. Elle D*

      Agreed – I have a feeling this employer is a bit “too polite” as you described, or the interviewer recognized some of her own behaviors in the OP’s answer and felt offended.

      Either way this would not have been a good cultural fit for the OP. Bullet dodged.

    2. Lyda Rose*

      I worked in an environment like that for a time. I swear that place had more etiquette rules than the Court of St. James, things like don’t sit until all the people more senior have chosen their seats, never ask a senior partner a direct question, don’t speak in a meeting until called on, and (my personal favorite) never wear anything green.

        1. Lyda Rose*

          No idea for sure, but we had some pretty wild theories. My favorite was that since money is green, the owner was being reminded that he actually had to pay us!

          1. Jamie*

            I hate the color green and never wear it and I hate when someone takes my seat.

            I’d fit right in!

      1. nyxalinth*

        How do you ask a question indirectly? Or is it more of a “Ask Bob who asks Sue who asks Wakeen at the top” sort of thing?

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          Even the Court of St James has relaxed its protocol. I don’t think you have to curtsey or bow quite as much as you used to.

          Walking backwards out of rooms always sounds like a disaster waiting to happen as well.

          1. Jamie*

            I went through a stage as a child where I curtseyed all the time. It was my tiara wearing stage – I thought I was adorable but looking back I can see why my siblings were dying of shame to be seen with me.

            If I resume curtseying, can I wear a tiara again? I would so do that.

    3. nyxalinth*

      I was about to ask what would be the best way to communicate the same idea without coming across as ‘trash talking’ as the interviewer called it. I’m not the most blunt person on earth (that would be my partner!) but I also don’t want to work somewhere where I feel like I have to tiptoe between eggshells…and the spaces between them are filled with landmine-type mini-nukes. I probably play way too much Fallout series.

    4. Laura*

      That is interesting and reminds me of an article I read about the recent Asiana plane crash in San Francisco.

      There was a theory presented in the article that one of the contributing factors to the accident could have been the culture in Korea, which is that people in general are quite deferential to their superiors and/or elders. So a more junior co-pilot might say something like, “Excuse me, but I think we might have a problem,” instead of something like, “HEY!!! We’re about to crash!!” because the other pilot is older and more experienced, and to speak forcefully or yell would be considered disrespectful.

      Now who knows if that really happened, but it was an interesting observation nonetheless.

      1. fposte*

        That’s been the basis of Cockpit Resource Management theory for years, because that’s not simply a problem limited to Korea–you can hear pretty much that conversation go down in the transcript of the KLM (Dutch) cockpit in Tenerife in 1977, before the most admired captain on the airline slams his 747 into another 747 in in the worst aircraft accident in history.

        1. plynn*

          Interesting – the ‘Korean culture causes airline disasters’ idea is the basis of a much-criticized essay by Malcolm Gladwell (I think it’s collected in What the Dog Saw). I don’t recall him mentioning KLM or even the term Cockpit Resource Management.

          1. Anon for once*

            It’s not just Korean culture. Throughout East Asia there is a culture of respect for elders that can cause problems in areas of life where ideas must stand alone. My parents were part of a medical exchange with Japan, and one of the goals was to educate the Japanese researchers about the American attitude toward conflicting ideas. If a Japanese researcher found a result that challenged a senior’s statement, he tended to hide it, whereas the American would see it as a potentially groundbreaking revolution in thought. The former belief tended to slow scientific and engineering progress.

  6. Anonymous*

    Yes, bullet dodged. All of this does bring up an interesting question, though: in an interview, how should I best avoid trash-talking former employers when pressed specifically about things that I didn’t like about them?

    1. Yup*

      When in doubt — focus on how the thing disrupted work, and don’t be specific about who did what. Boss was a micromanager? “It was difficult to anticipate what details would be considered important, which meant that I had to spend a lot of time on low-priority work.” Management was a dysfunctional sh*tshow? “There were a lot of competing priorities and changes in direction, which meant that it was difficult to maintain consistency on a process or project.” Coworkers were inappropriate nightmares? “I didn’t fit into the culture well. I really prefer an easy-going but professional atmosphere without a lot of interpersonal drama.”

      1. bearing*

        Yes — it is certainly an extra (if, in my opinion, unnecessary) layer of diplomacy to take care to identify *behaviors* rather than *character traits* when mentioning something negative.

        I love the expression “all hat and no cattle” myself, but perhaps your interviewer was very attuned to hearing criticism of people’s characteristics as “trash talking.” Describing the environment is undeniably more diplomatic than criticizing the people who created the environment.

        1. Jamie*

          So much this.

          I was so careful when parenting to talk about negative behavior and not assigning negative labels that it’s completely spilled over to my professional life…but there is a difference between having an issue with behavior and assigning labels like all hat and no cattle to actual people…who are more than that one behavior.

          I know it sounds like it’s splitting hairs, and it’s crazy to be disgusted over it – who has that extreme a reaction – but it’s less professional than I would like to see presented in an interview.

          1. bearing*

            Like, for example, AAM was practicing good behavior-not-characteristics identification when she wrote,

            I can only think of one time I was “disgusted” by a candidate’s answer to something, and that was because he made an anti-semitic remark.

            She did not write

            “I can only think of one time I was ‘disgusted’ by a candidate, and that was because he turned out to be a bigoted anti-semite.”

            There is indeed a difference!

              1. Chinook*

                My guess is is there were other signs than using one phrase, but I think bearings point is important to remember because sometimes someone uses a phrase that they didn’t realize was offensive and would be horrified that they used it once they understood the meaning/conotation.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  He said he hadn’t liked the environment at his last job, and part of his evidence for why it sucked was that there were a lot of Jews working there, “if you know what I mean.” So it was pretty straightforward.

      2. the gold digger*

        I read once – maybe here? – to talk about a technical issue, not a people one. For example, “The sytems at my current job are really slow. It takes over a minute to open a powerpoint and over a minute to open an email with attachments. I find it really frustrating to have to wait and not be able to work on other things because my computer is grinding away.”

        1. AB*

          The problem with your example vs. the OP’s is that with people / culture issues, it’s easier for the interviewer to think “oh, we are nothing like that” (even if they are), whereas, with “computers too slow”, he/she might be thinking “oh-oh, better not hire this person, as she’d be really frustrated here, as our systems are way slow too”.

      3. Esra*

        Yup, you need to make a coffee table book full of these translations. I am woefully, woefully straight-forward and would give you serious cash money for such a book.

  7. Bagworm*

    I agree that this person’s reaction seems out of line and you are lucky you didn’t wind up working for her.

    I did wonder though if maybe you gave too many examples. You said in your letter that you gave an example of a supervisor and teams (plural) that had this issue. Without the full context of the interview, I can see how there might be concerns about negativity, especially if you hadn’t had the opportunity to give examples of workplaces where you excelled. It can certainly be the fault of the interviewer (or her questions) but I have been in interviews where the candidate never said anything unprofessional or excessive but still gave an impression of being negative because they didn’t really have any positive comments to make about past work experiences.

  8. Allison*

    IT’S A TRAP!

    I mean really, what did the interviewer expect? She asked about pet peeves, and then wanted an example, how do you answer that without saying something negative about your old workplace?

    1. JM in England*


      Perhaps the OP could have prefaced their answer with something along the lines of “This question is almost impossible to answer without it coming across negatively”?

    2. lol*

      With these negative answer type questions isn’t the rule of thumb to always turn them into a positive?

      She could have limited the example to one person in her office rather than 6-7 (which is a red flag to me that someone is entitled, selfish, and/or thinks way too much of themselves and/or has no empathy). She could have followed the example up with “but I do realize that people have different modes of operation so I did try to improve work ethic by encouraging my co-workers to follow up with their issues and assisting when possible.”

      Yeah people get frustrated at work all the time, but I think the purpose of that question could be to identify how one deals with them. Are you productive? Or do you passively seethe?

  9. ChristineSW*

    Sheesh…if the interviewer doesn’t like “trash talking”, then why ask the question in the first place? Okay, maybe the answers and examples were a little too focused on describing characteristics rather than environment, but the “disgusted” reaction is over the line for me. I don’t like interpersonal drama either, but I also wouldn’t want to work at a place where I’d be walking on eggshells.

    Adding to the chorus of “bullet dodged”!

  10. Lily in NYC*

    I hate that sort of question! It feels like a set up. I was asked what my least favorite part of being an executive assistant was, and I answered, “Well, does anyone love doing expense reports” and the interviewer scowled at me like I pooped my pants in front of her. I dodged a bullet – the job would have been working for a guy who later became big news for having his assistant procure high school girls for him to pay to have sex with (it was all over the news in NY when it happened because he is well-known). So whatever poor person got the job I interviewed for was expected to get him teenage hookers! Yikes.

        1. Tony in HR*

          Was it here that I heard about salesmen trying to submit strip club receipts on expense reports? Or somewhere else?

          1. FreeThinkerTX*

            That could have been me, Tony in HR. I was an exec asst back in the 90’s to a CEO whose expense reports included receipts for “escort services”; and the sales guys turned in receipts for strip clubs. Fun times. I lasted about 6 months. But the keg in the kitchen was pretty nice. :-)

  11. EW*

    Maybe the question WAS a trick question in that the “right” answer would have been, “I don’t have any pet peeves at all. All of my former jobs, bosses, and coworkers have been an absolute dream.”

    I agree that asking someone about something they didn’t like and then turning around and telling them they are too negative seems unfair and disingenuous.

  12. audiophile*

    It is similar to the question: “what was your favorite and least favorite parts of your previous jobs?”
    I listed some favorites, but declined to list least favorites, saying I didn’t have any least favorites. I elaborated saying, I’m always able to find something I enjoy, even when having a bad day. I was told this was a good answer.
    I think everyone’s had a least favorite job or least enjoyable task in previous positions, but I don’t need to dwell on it and certainly not in an interview. It seemed like the most diplomatic answer.

    1. Jamie*

      Depends on what the job is, I guess. If I were interviewing someone in IT I would consider this a non-answer.

      I assume everyone has things they prefer to others, and some things they hate, but I also assume that a competent professional can do those things if they agree and it’s part of the job.

      I guess in IT if you tell me you don’t have any least favorite things I think you’re lying or are so unbearably optimistic that this job will eat you alive within hours.

      1. nyxalinth*

        What would be the best answer in this case?

        In customer service, I always say it’s when I can’t help the customer either due to something in policy or its physically impossible to do what they need or want. Which is true: I just don’t add it’s because it makes my work three times harder and calls twice as long :P

        1. Jamie*

          The truth is all I’d want. Jobs like mine are so varied from day to day that no one will love everything and every IT will have some tasks when we get the call our first response is “oh crap, not this again.” Tell me what those are and that you still soldier on and do it anyway as efficiently as possible and it’s not a problem.

          Obviously if it’s a dislike to the point where you really don’t want to do it ever and it’s a huge part of the job both sides should know that.

          For me there is a certain software I hate. More than any other software (the evil is in the source code) – so when I hear it’s down my stomach lurches because I know I will spend at least the next hour swearing under my breath and wondering why the hell I’m in IT.

          So that’s what I’d say and I’d be honest, I’d take a job where this was a once in a blue moon thing, but if this was going to be a huge portion of my job I’d withdraw from consideration. Honest discussion about these types of things helps ensure it’s a good fit on both sides.

          1. Tony in HR*

            Hehe- I have the same sort of issues in HR. When I find out that someone is having a particular issue with their benefits, or I have to update employee files, or I have paperwork related to compensation, I curl up into the fetal position on the inside.

            Give me a difficult employee relations issue, a policy revision or training to give (even sexual harassment prevention!!) and I’ll be happy.

      2. Audiophile*

        I see what you’re saying here, Jamie. Maybe that’s the way my interviewers viewed my answer as well. (It’s hard to tell, though they seemed please with it at the time, I have yet to hear back.)

        I took my time and thought about it, before I answered that way. I feel I was being honest though AND hopefully that came across.
        I’m always able to find something and as I think back on previous jobs, even when I was at my most frustrated, something would happen that would make me smile or laugh and I was able to solider on. Maybe it is too optimistic and I need to craft a better answer.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      See, my answer is always something specific, like “I usually dislike X, because it [reason]. But I know it has to be done, so I try to get it done in the morning when I’m fresh and can work through it quickly. Then if I have any issues with X, I have the rest of the day to regroup or get more information.”

      I don’t know if that’s good or not, but if X is a huge part of the job, I’ll usually find out at that point.

  13. Tony in HR*

    I wonder if the problem was in your tone. Even if your tone wasn’t negative (or intended to be), people can infer way too much from what they perceive as even a slightly negative or critical tone. BUT you were totally set up in the question itself for it to turn negative, so this feels like a problem with the interviewer, not you.

  14. Emily*

    I agree that the OP’s pet peeve sounds totally legit and something appropriate and important to communicate in an interview. This could have been an issue of tone – one of those “it’s not what you say it’s how you say it” things. I could see phrases like, “she would never actually do anything” as coming off as a little juvenile depending on how it was delivered. “Always” and “never” are usually words to be avoided when criticizing people.

    Messaging closer to: “I have found that I tend to have a bias towards action and can get frustrated when I perceive others on my team getting comfortable in the planning and talking stages without seeing any movement towards implementation.” might have gone over better.

    1. Emily*

      Re-reading the letter, “who love to sit around and talk about issues” could have been another are where tone could make someone sound bitter as they deliver that – there’s almost sarcasm in the phrasing.

  15. CEMgr*

    I have seen many work environments where frank talk and frank appraisals of others was seen as just unbearably…unbearable. Everything (other than “Confidence is high and we are on the path of success!”) had to be said in such a mealy-mouthed way that all the meaning was drained out. Yes, even during performance appraisals. It seemed that factual reports of specific actual events were just too much to take. There was a strong preference for unsupported, conclusory remarks.

    Perhaps your interviewer was a part of such a culture. OTOH, I would never have expected such a harsh and critical reaction (“disgusted” – really?) from a mealy-mouthed person. Maybe just cray cray.

  16. Amanda H*

    I also wonder if the interviewer’s workplace was rampant with the sorts of pet peeves the OP described.

    But I agree: bullet dodged.

  17. Kerr*

    Ack! I hate these types of questions, because they demand a negative answer. Your answer sounds perfectly reasonable, and “disgusted” is way over the top.

    As funny as the “all hat, no cattle” comment is, I wonder if the attempt at humor pushed it over the edge. I’d be wary of using it in the future, if you ever get the same question. It’s a directly personal comment, being more about people than situations. For instance, sitting around in meetings that go nowhere, talking about stuff but never doing it, is a situation you dislike. But if you focus on the people who are doing the talking-but-not-doing, that may come across poorly.

    And I confess that the “in Texas, we say” part would probably hit me the wrong way, if only on a subconscious level. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it has a superior-sounding ring. I’d think it hilarious coming from a friend, but maybe not so much coming from an interviewee.

  18. Andrea*

    I agree with Emily. Not because I don’t appreciate frank talk (I LOVE when people are straight with me), but the OP’s phrasing in the letter definitely comes across as bitter, and it is phrased in such a way that it sounds like a personal grudge. Having supervised an employee whose grievances often took this tone, I’d have been inclined to stay away from hiring someone who spoke that way about a previous job.

    That said, “disgusted” is pretty strong (and also pretty personal) way to react to that situation. Bullet dodged, indeed.

  19. Laura J*

    Allison, I almost always agree with you, but not on this one. I use this question often, and one thing I’m trying to learn is if a candidate can reply in a way that shows diplomacy and tact. I don’t necessary care a lot about their specific pet peeves, unless they are frequent and unavoidable in our office (like an admin saying they hate to be interrupted). I do agree that the manager’s response was inappropriate and I wouldn’t want to work for her either – but, I do think this was a violation of the “don’t talk s*** about your old boss” role. There are more tactful ways to say what he said. Now, as a disclaimer, I’m in an industry were tact and diplomacy are absolutely essential, so I’m very picky. I need candidates who can deliver hard messages in a way that is sensitive and doesn’t cause drama. Unless the rest of the interview was truly outstanding, I would not have continued to consider this candidate after that remark. I would have been especially concerned if this candidate was relatively young with little work experience. I find that people who are new to the workforce who believe that they know better than their manager what should be a priority and how work should be done- and spread their view far and wide – tend to be dissatisfied with any boss. I mean, complain about your manager to your friends, but don’t tell your next manager that you know best. This could have been framed that he is someone who is really driven to get results and follow through, and his pet peeve is when there are barriers to doing that. Something along those lines.

    1. Niki*

      I never thought my first post to AAM would be a dissenting opinion, but at least I am not alone. I tend to be blunt to a fault, but reading the OP’s letter, I was severely rubbed the wrong way. As a number of the most recent commenters have noted, the OP’s complaints included comments about “types” of people, and he included both his supervisor and his coworkers when describing those types. (The type who is all talk and no action, the type who wants to talk all day…grr, makes me angry just thinking about it.) I think it would be very easy to explain that I have learned that i get very frustrated when processes seem to take precedence over action, and that I particlarly appreciate bosses who can take in the necessary information and then act decisively to make changes.

      Furthermore, if someone asked me about a pet peeve, I would assume they were asking aboyt a) something that bothered me which b) was pretty common and possibly unavoidable in my business setting, and which c) I had some self-awareness about in terms of how I needed to get over my peeve and work productively despite its presence.

      All in all, I would have been turned off by this applicant’s superior attitude. But disgusted? Not unless this attitude had affected the rest of the interview (which it might have).

      1. Laura J*

        I agree, Niki – I was phrased as being quite judgmental of others – grouping them into categories, instead of just talking about his own needs, preferences and style. I would never hire someone who seems to dislike most people they’ve ever worked with, and his answer gave me that impression. I think that talking about your pet peeves is a great place to show that you don’t take yourself too seriously – not that you expect everyone around you to cater to your preferences.

  20. Dawn88*

    It was a TRAP….to see if you’d let your guard down and spill your guts about former co-workers.
    If asked in an interview what my Pet Peeve was at work, I stick to office equipment:
    “When I run to the shared printer and it’s out of paper…it slows me down when I reload it!”

    NEVER say anything negative about a former company, office, boss or co-worker! Never say ANYTHING NEGATIVE, period. Don’t complain about anything, thinking it’s “small talk.” Don’t say it’s pouring rain outside, the parking lot was full, the freeway traffic was a nightmare….whatever. You are perfectly fine, happy to be here, glad to meet them!

    She was ruthless when she asked for “examples,” with her goal to pull that negativity out of you easy! You took the bait and fell for it. I did it myself when I was younger….lesson learned. Sure you are savvy, smart and can kick ass…just don’t show that side of you, or you’ll never get hired!

    Never consider the Interviewer as your “friend,” no matter how “nice” they appear to be. They are trying to eliminate you, not hire you…by squeezing any form of negativity out of you. Don’t fall for it! You LOVED every boss you ever had, you loved every job, every project, every co-worker…(hold your nose in your mind as you say it with a big smile). You learned something new and wonderful at each job, and still use that perfect wisdom to this day!

    Even if you get the “how did you handle a problem?” question….make your answer about neutral computer/equipment issues….not annoying co-workers:
    – Your printer broke right before you had to cut 500 checks to make a deadline (so you ran to the Office Depot on your lunch hour and got a new one for 50% off)…Golly gee!
    – The office power went out (but you were smart enough to have several lanterns handy and a bunch of flashlights, and saved the day for the whole floor)..what a trooper!
    – The lobby caught on fire (and you were standing right by the only fire extinguisher on that floor and knew how to use it, as you put the fire out…all by yourself)…Wow-she’s so brave!
    You get the drift.

    Yes, the Drama Queen went overboard with the “disgusting” comments…yet, you were lucky to get an honest answer…based on her regimented, unrealistic way of thinking. She actually let HER guard down by telling you! She probably lost sleep over that later on, when she realized what she did.

    Never let your guard down…especially toward the end, when you are feeling confident you survived it…and they’ve nodded in agreement to your Disneyland answers….that’s when they shoot that last arrow that may cause you to blow it. I’ve seen so much interview advice about “Be yourself.” HELL NO. Practice your acting skills beforehand, since you’ll find it almost impossible to not let ANY negative comments slip out!

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