my interviewer fell asleep — repeatedly — during our interview

A reader writes:

I applied for a very promising job opening at a startup company and had my initial interview this week with the recruiter and one of the managers. They seemed to be very pleased with me, and the manager left me with the recruiter to talk about compensation, where he told me they felt lucky I had come along. I was told to come back today for a final interview with the CEO.

However, when I arrived, I was told I would be speaking to the new recruitment manager instead, who had just come on board this week (the initial recruiter now reports to him). After some initial niceties, the recruitment manager asked me some standard questions, but despite my enthusiastic answers, he nodded off! At first I thought it was just a lapse, and that he must’ve just had a rough day or a late night, but he proceeded to nod off after asking every question! Literally fell asleep — he would ask his question, then nod and listen as I answered, and then after one of those nods, his neck would drop, and he would no longer acknowledging my points, leading me to believe he was sleeping. Whenever this happened, I would finish my thought and silently wait for him to snap back to consciousness, which would happen anywhere between a few seconds after I stopped talking up to a full minute or two later.

I felt too intimidated and anxious to call him out on it, however gently, since the plans had changed and he was now in charge of my professional fate. When the interview ended, he asked me to wait in the lobby while he provided feedback to the hiring team and that I would speak with the CEO after.

About 10 minutes, the initial recruiter came out to greet me and said that the interview with the CEO would be the following week at the earliest, as there were two other candidates up for interviews for the rest of the week and the earliest he could provide me with feedback was the next week.

What should I have done? Should I have called out the hiring manager for nodding off? Was it my failing that I couldn’t keep him awake during my interview? Should I tell someone? I already have a bad feeling I’m not going to get this job, but I need advice on how to handle this odd behavior– now and in the future.

I’m no sleep expert, but nodding off after every single questions sounds like more than sleepiness — it sounds like a possible disorder.

And no, this wasn’t because of you. Someone falling asleep in an interview isn’t doing it because the candidate is boring — they’re doing it because something else is going on (sleep disorder, extreme and uncontrollable fatigue, or perhaps in rare cases incredible rudeness).

As for what to do now, I don’t think there’s much you can do about it. Interviewers can wrongly derail the hiring process at any point in a variety of ways — asking the wrong questions, misunderstanding the attributes and skills needed to succeed in the role, having bad judgment, etc. (And now I guess we can add falling asleep to that list too.) You can’t really do anything about any of those those things; you just don’t have that type of control over how a hiring process plays out.

But I also wouldn’t assume that you’re out of the running just because of this. You might not be — who knows.

That said … If I were in your shoes, I’d say something to the employer. Not in an attempt to impact your candidacy, but because if you took the time to come in for an interview and the interviewer slept through it, it’s reasonable to point out that you basically didn’t have the meeting. Plus, there might be a genuine problem that someone needs to act on. So I’d email or call the hiring manager who you met with previously and say something like, “I feel awkward about saying this, but when I met with Bob, he fell asleep repeatedly in our interview. I hope he’s okay, and I felt I needed to tell someone.” (You’re phrasing this not as a complaint, but as a genuine concern about Bob.)

The hiring manager is presumably going to be shocked, and will hopefully address it internally from there.

After that, that’s about all you can do. From there, I’d put it out of your mind (as you should with any interview rather than agonizing over whether it’s going to lead to an offer) and let them get back in touch if they decide to move forward.

{ 58 comments… read them below }

  1. Rich

    This sounds like your interviewer has narcolepsy. I had a teacher with it. You did fine, and really the only thing you can do is wait and carry on. Don’t think it’s a bad thing, as he probably heard most of what you said.

    If you get the job, wonderful; if not, move on knowing you had no ability to deal with it at all.

    1. Anonymous

      As a narcoleptic myself, I would have to agree with that guess. It’s really unfortunate that your interviewer hasn’t figured out how to solve the problem (there are some excellent drugs out there!) or at least to warn you about it. (And I’d argue that someone with poorly controlled narcolepsy does not belong in a job where a significant amount of the work involves helping candidates from their first impressions of a company.)

      Anyway, yes, I’d say something — both out of concern for your candidacy and out of concern for this guy’s welfare. Hopefully management will deal with this the right way — urging him to seek treatment — and not just assume he’s a slacker.

  2. Anoymous

    I agree with that the OP should say something to the hiring manager about what happened but, unfortunately, the guy might deny it when confronted.

    1. Elizabeth

      He might, but this would be such a weird thing for a candidate to make up – especially if it’s framed very politely, as Alison did – that I would think it would at least make the manager look into it.

    2. AMG

      That’s true–another reason why I might be tempted to wait until after I have been rejected or offered the job before I said anything.

    3. Anon

      I don’t think the OP should bring it up as something the interviewer needs to “confront” but rather out of concern for the guy’s well-being.

      1. Anoymous

        I meant that even if the OP brings it up as a concern for the guy’s health, when the hiring manager asks the guy, he might lie and deny falling asleep during the interview.

    4. anonymous

      If he’s falling asleep multiple times during interviews, he probably falls asleep during the rest of the day as well. I’m sure someone else has noticed, even if the guy denies it.

    5. Vicki

      He can deny all he wants but unless he has gotten treatment in the intervening time, someone else is sure to have noticed by now.

  3. AMG

    This is a pretty rare thing for me, but I’m not sure I would say something to the hiring manager in this case before the next round of interviews. I would be tempted to see how it plays out, let the chips falls where they may and perhaps say something after I didn’t get the job. I would be sure to let them know that I wasn’t calling that out as the reason why I wasn’t selected, but frame it the way Alison does–out of genuine concern for the guy.

    1. Amber

      I would say something only because if you continue to ignore it, it will be strange to point it out after time as gone by.

  4. Ann O'Nemity

    I don’t think I could have ignored it in the actual interview! I probably would have said something like, “You seem to be falling asleep. Would you prefer that we reschedule this interview to a time when you’re feeling better?”

    1. Shane Watson

      I’m not sure if I could ignore it either. Much like not looking at someone while you’re talking to them, you can’t really tell if it’s an unspoken issue or blatant rudeness. If it were me, I’d be fighting the temptation to slip out during one of those two minute “naps” and look elsewhere.

    2. Jax

      Agreed. I would have said something like, “Are you alright? You’re worrying me a bit!” in a joking way. If he was a stern, gruff, old guy and I was really intimidated than I would have left off the joke and timidly asked if he felt okay.

      Total side note, but I walked in on my boss with his eyes shut, limp in his chair. Completely out of character. I crept up on him, scared, and called his name. He jerked, I jumped back, and then I screamed, “Oh my god! I thought you were dead!”

      His wife laughed every time she saw me after that.

      1. anonintheUK

        I once worked with someone who had left the military for health reasons. That probably contributed to the alarm I felt when I went to drop off something in his office, to find him lying on the floor with his eyes shut.
        He was fine, just napping.

        1. Vicki

          I had a co-worker who would occasionally do that, but he would stretch out under the desk. It was weird, but at least it was obvious that he’d done it on purpose, not fallen.

  5. JW

    How awkward! I would have done the same… sit and wait… not sure how to react.

    AAM is spot on with the response. I hope you can update us in a few weeks!

    1. Anonymous

      Yes, that’s a real possibility too. A relative of mine is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. Sometimes she nods off or seems very lethargic; we’ve suspected for a while now that she is mixing pills and alcohol or at least taking some form of narcotic.

      1. Anon for this

        That’s very sad. I’m in recovery myself and just lost a friend to this kind of overdosing. Not the first time, either.

        1. Anonymous

          I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m glad for you that you’re in recovery. It’s a long, tough road. I think there have been times when she was completely clean, but she had to have her teeth removed due to past heroin usage. Since she’s a recovering drug addict they wouldn’t prescribe the standard narcotics for pain so she had to make do with prescription ibuprofen. And I’m sure that wasn’t enough for the pain (mouth pain is awful!) so she started using alcohol again to get the relief she needed. Obviously I never see her drink, but I can sure smell it.

    2. Elizabeth West

      If it’s narcolepsy, he needs to see a doctor pronto. I have an acquaintance who has it and he has a helper dog (he has other health issues as well). He does not drive–what if this guy didn’t realize that was the problem and fell asleep driving home?

      If something like you suggest is going on, they need to know so they can deal with it.

    3. fposte

      Alternatively, serious drowsiness can be a side effect from some kinds of prescription medication, especially when you first start taking them.

      Hard to know unless you’re him what it really is, I guess.

      1. Lily

        I have narcolepsy as well– years before I was diagnosed I would even fall asleep in almost every class at college, along with many other times! For years my doctors thought it was a side effect to all the medications I took for severe depression. It took a few sleep studies to figure out exactly what the deal was! Now that my narcolepsy (and depression) is well under control I really pity the guy as falling asleep in public can be really embarrassing. And I hope for sure that he can find a doctor as good as mine.

  6. Ann Furthermore

    I don’t know how I feel about saying something to the hiring manager. I’d be tempted to say something privately to the recruiter first. True, the could have some kind of substance abuse problem, like Melanie said above, but it could also be some kind of medical or other problem that he doesn’t want to have broadcast to the world.

    I would consider a quick email to the recruiter first, saying something like, “During our interview you seemed to doze off a few times. This is a bit awkward but I did want to bring it to your attention, and I hope everything is all right.”

    This would help preserve the recruiter’s privacy and save him from some embarrassment. As a possible side bonus it could demonstrate to the recruiter that you are a person who understands how to be tactful and discreet. Now that I’ve typed that it sounds kind of calculating and manipulative, like trying to manipulate someone’s heath (or other) condition to your own advantage, but that’s not what I meant.

    In general, if I see a way to help someone from being completely mortified by something, I do it. Years ago I went to a long lunch with a bunch of work people. We all drank some margaritas and got back to the office feeling very little pain. A little while later I moseyed on down to a colleague’s office to ask him something, and saw him sitting at his desk, sawing logs. I knew that if I woke him up he would have been extremely embarrassed. So I went back to my office, called him, let the phone ring once, and then hung up. When I went back down to his office about 10 minutes later, there he was, working away and appearing to be very busy. LOL!! I never did say anything to him about it.

    1. Bean

      It’s funny how it does sound calculating and manipulative, and I feel that emails give off that vibe sometimes. Sometimes I will have a colleague ask me if I am okay because an email I sent them earlier made it seem as if I was upset…meanwhile I am in a great mood it’s just the way they read my words. I think maybe a phone call to the recruiter would be a better choice so that they can hear the tone of OP asking and not misinterpret it as anything other than a genuine concern.

  7. The Other Dawn

    I probably would have asked right then and there is he was OK. I would find it very difficult to sit there and not say something.

    I once had a manager who would close his eyes and sit back in his chair when someone was explaining a situation. It was his way of concentrating and taking in all the details, but I always found it strange. It always seemed like he was on the verge of falling asleep. There were a few times when I sat there waiting for an answer and…nothing. He was a self-described workaholic who would come in at 8 am and leave at 7 pm (he lived and hour away) and spend more than half the day on the internet. But I digress…

  8. Lanya

    Every time I think I’ve heard it all, there is another question like this. I wish my life were so exciting!

  9. Interviewer

    I would speak up now, out of genuine alarm & concern. (What if he drives to & from work?!) The company’s response should tell you whether you would want to work there, if they do make an offer. Good luck.

    1. Anon

      Yes! And it could be that the company knows he has an issue like this, and it just completely escaped them to mention it to the OP ahead of time.

  10. Not So NewReader

    I don’t see anything wrong with saying “hey, are you okay?” Or “Is there someone I should call for you?”

    If I saw it happen three times, I definitely would ask if he needed an ambulance. If nothing else that might jar him a little and help him to concentrate. But three times is enough for me to show a pattern.

    I would feel a little funny about saying something to others if I said nothing to him first. So even it’s just “hey, are you okay?” that would be enough to make me feel like I tried. Very seldom do people ask each other if they are okay UNLESS something major is going on. So the sentence itself might serve the purpose.

    But, OP, I think you did very well with the situation. It is hard to know when dealing with strangers what to do, and you had the added layer of complexity that he was your interviewer. You will probably never encounter another situation even similar to this and never meet anyone who has. It’s unique.
    At this point, I would just keep going forward with the interview process. There might be other red flags and you renege on the job offer or it could be that someone will explain that all to you later on because they all know about it. Definitely, as others have said the problem has nothing to do with you.

  11. Anon T

    When my wife and I were going through marriage classes at the church, our priest would turn on movies about marriage issues then fall asleep. He always woke up when the remote fell on the floor! He did have Narcolepsy, and we knew that before the meetings but it was still awkward every time he fell asleep. It did make the classes a little more interesting though!

  12. Joey

    Why would you want to say something after the fact if you had a pending interview with the CEO? Bringin it up shouldn’t count against you, but why chance it?

    I think you missed your opportunity to bring it up.

    Besides if you brought it up Id wonder whether you expected some sort of free pass to move forward.

  13. Working Girl

    I went to a doctor who was a specialist who had this – narcolepsy. I was unsure what to think at first. Quite intelligent and on point with his comments after the interview which he seemed to nod off as I answered his questions. I assume he appeared to be nodding off but was still able to hear me. I would be careful how you comment on his sleeping during the interview as you don’t want to appear judgemental to persons with disabilities. Wait it out for a reply.

  14. Loose Seal

    I worked with a guy who had very dry eyes. If he couldn’t get to his eyedrops, he would close his eyes for extended periods of time. If you didn’t know ahead of time, it was very disconcerting in meetings. Several people from other agencies that met with us would call me after a meeting with him saying he was asleep but took my word for it that he hadn’t been. After I had gotten a couple of calls about it, I suggested to him that he make a brief explanation to the group if he needed to close his eyes. He started to do so and that solved that.

    It does sound like this interviewer was actually dozing off and I’d probably bring it to someone’s attention must like Alison said.

    1. Dan

      This is a good point. Are you 100% confident that he was asleep? I have an employee who closes his eyes when he’s really trying to focus on what’s being said. I’ve always assumed there’s some underlying social anxiety or attention deficit issue, and it’s never affected his work. But to someone meeting him for the first time, they may think he’s nodding off when he’s actually trying to focus on you as much as possible.

  15. notshocked

    Ignore it. Wait to hear. I think most people can think of few things they have regularly ignored on a job. Yes, this is crazy, but it’s really just another disability. No, they should not be doing interviews w/o meds
    and/or warning you….BUT I can tell you from vast experience a narcopeletic interviewer while odd, can, in many instances, be the least strange aspect of some jobs.

  16. Jake

    Our QC manager sleeps in 30 second chunks 2-3 hours a day. This is not abnormal, and I wouldn’t mention it.

  17. Fatimat Adelabu

    Wow! Nicely written, I did have to chuckle at some parts. Although unfortunate, I don’t think you need to mention it, especially if you’re not interested in the position.

  18. Anony

    Is it possible that the interviewer was “pretending” to fall asleep to see what your reaction would be or if you would act professional and continue as normal? I had a professor who would give oral exams and do these little things such as nodding off on purpose which is why I am reminded of this.

    1. Bean

      I feel that if the interviewer was “pretending” to fall asleep, it would be the absolute worst “test” ever. I cannot even imagine how the interviewee’s reaction to the sleeping would assist in the selection process, but then again I cannot imagine why someone would “pretend” to fall asleep during an interview, so I am sure they would have some reason for it. Interviews are stressful enough as it is, the last thing somebody needs is to be tested without even knowing it.

  19. louise

    A little off-topic here, but when else can I tell this crazy story?

    I had a therapist who did this during one session. Each time she nodded off, she’d then bob back up with this big smile and extra wide-eyes and say “well, it sounds like you’re doing very well!” I was so surprised that I couldn’t think of what to do, so I ran with her assessment and finally said, “yeah, I really am. I think I’d just like to just come in on an as-needed basis from now on, so I’ll call to schedule.” I still kick myself for not speaking up to the receptionist when I checked out. I still begrudge that $40 co-pay, too.

    1. Bean

      I could not keep my mouth shut in this situation. I just imagine somebody going to this therapist for a very serious situation (life or death type of thing) and the therapist falling asleep on them. This could possibly cause some very serious damage.

      This reminds me of a co worker who recently started seeing a therapist because of her abandonment issues, and the therapist cancelled on her three times in a row after her first visit. She is now seeing a therapist who does not cancel on her, and she is doing very well :)

      1. LPBB

        I once had a therapist who was just godawful — she would decide things for me unilaterally and then spend the rest of the sessions talking about her daughter or her friend, who was the County Executive at the time — that I started to wonder if she was being that bad on purpose and trying to goad me into confronting her.

        Sadly, if that was her motive, it didn’t work and instead I just stopped showing up.

      2. louise

        At this point in my life, I would certainly speak up — first to the therapist in the moment, and then to someone with the power to waive my co-pay. :) But alas, it’s so easy to think now what I would do…

  20. M

    Yeah, I wouldn’t say anything now. The chance to speak up was in the interview. The first time it happened, I would have said something to the effect of “Mr. Pinkman, you seem a little drowsy. Are you alright?” If he said he was fine and it still happened a second time, I would say, “I don’t mean to bring this up again, but if you’re not feeling well, we can always reschedule.” During the interview, I think that comments on his behavior sound as if they’re coming from a place of concern or slight confusion. But emailing the hiring manager without talking to the sleeper first seems a little odd to me, almost like tattling.

  21. Kat A.

    OP, You mention that he was new. Is it possible he was in the process of moving for the job? We’ve done that, and it’s exhausting to move a household, find a new doctors/church/schools/whatever, esp. with kids.

    If this is the case, your mentioning it could jeopardize his whole family’s income and health insurance.

    1. Loose Seal

      But if he was truly asleep during her interview and, therefore, is not impressed with the OP, then it puts her income and health insurance at risk (maybe, if she doesn’t already have a job).

      1. Kat A.

        He did not nap through her interview. He asked a series of questions. None of us knows if he was really asleep during those very brief periods his eyes were closed. I think OP should give him the benefit of the doubt.

        1. Jennifer

          So did the guy wake up after the end of every answer? If so, then I’d guess he wasn’t asleep. But if he seriously was, I would wonder at his ability to judge as to whether or not I was good for the job if he slept through my answers!

  22. Anony1234

    One of my professors did that. He’d assign weekly projects, and you were responsible for your week. During the presentation, the prof would just nod off. We could see him just start to close the eyes and his head would drop. We all sat around the table and would nudge each other with our feet to signal he fell asleep. One person would try to stop the start of laughing. He even came to my thesis defense and my parents saw for themselves his micro-naps. One time he fell asleep with his head in his hand and his elbow slipped off the table!

    We never said anything to him because we didn’t know how to approach him and worried he’d take it out on our grade. But we just hoped that he would give us the benefit of the doubt when he went to grade our presentations. I just hope nothing was wrong with him – just overtired. He’s still there.

  23. GM

    I had a similar experience. Except it was with a priest. Inside a confessional booth.

    Maybe I just have really boring sins.

  24. Mander

    I probably would have asked if he was ok during the interview, but my first assumption would be that he had maybe taken some medication that was causing drowsiness. A lot of cold medicines, allergy tablets, and other innocuous things can do that.

    One of my old bosses had something like this happen to her — she was an older lady and had a few health problems, so it was not unreasonable to be concerned if something unusual happened. The director came into her office to talk to her about something, finding her slumped in her chair and apparently unconscious. He freaked out, thinking she’d had a heart attack. It turned out she was having some allergy issues and had taken a benadryl tablet that morning, which made her fall asleep in the middle of typing something up on the computer!

  25. shameema

    Wow…the one about the lady on the treadmill. Crazy stuff and the saddest part is, that these are the people We have to put on our most gracious behaviour with bcs they have the power to hide or fire. How sad yet true

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