I had to prepare a meal and entertain 20 people for a job interview — and so did 19 other candidates

A reader writes:

I recently had a job interview for an entry-level program coordinator position. I walked in and there was a panel of interviewers sitting behind a table but there was no chair for me. This was the third of five interviews as part of an all-day interview process, and every other session had a clear chair for the interviewee. There was a chair shoved into the corner, and after I introduced myself to everyone, I said something along the lines of “If it is alright, I’m just going to grab this chair” and pushed the chair into the proper position. It made the whole interview process feel like a mind game.

As a candidate who had been through two phone interviews and was enduring a 15-hour in-person interview process, games like this just seemed ridiculous. I thought I really wanted this job, but the interview process was full of games like this. They also made the 20 final candidate cook dinner for and entertain the senior staff at the executive director’s house. We were given 2-1/2 hours to plan, shop, and cook for 40. We also had to find the address of the director’s house, which turned out to be a 30-minute drive away.

Do I have the wrong attitude? Are these tricks and games really a good way to test candidates and, if so, what is the best way to respond?

Wait, what?! The chair thing is weird, but the cooking dinner thing is even odder. I wrote back and asked for more information. The letter-writer said:

When they invited me for the final interview, they made it clear that it would be a whole day affair. A few days before the interview, I asked for an agenda/schedule and was told “All I will share is that interviews will last from 8:30 am to at least 9:00 pm, and you will have individual interviews as well as time to mingle with fellow candidates during the day.” When I arrived at the interview, I was given the schedule for the day, which included five individual interviews and said that from 5 pm onwards, there would be a group activity. At 5, they simply announced that our group activity was to shop for and prepare a meal for 40 with entertainment, to be served at 7:30 at the director’s house. We were given a budget of $350 and information about food allergies in the group. No other information was given (we even had to figure out the director’s address) and they didn’t give any sort of reason/context. It wasn’t clear if it was supposed to be an evaluation of our skills, but the senior staff spent the majority of the night drinking and dancing. The evening didn’t end till 10:30 pm, when it moved to a local bar.


That is the sound of me being shocked into silence.


These people are partly insane, partly sadists, partly narcissists. No, this is not a good way to evaluate candidates. Nor is it a good way to treat people in general.

The chair situation is the least of the problems here. It’s weird, sure, but it’s nothing compared to the rest of this buffoonery.

First of all, 20 finalists? This isn’t an audition for drill team. This is an entry-level job. And even if it were senior level — even if it were for the CEO of The World — it makes no sense to have 20 finalists. You have 3-5 finalists. Maybe a few more in some cases. You don’t have 20.

Second, what’s up with the group meal preparation? This isn’t Top Chef. (Wait, was it? That would make it make sense.)

Third, why the hell did they have you cooking a meal at all? The job doesn’t sound like it involves cooking or entertaining.

Fourth … no, I can’t even go on. It’s too ridiculous.

All you can do is accept that you somehow got mixed up into a group of loons or maybe some sort of delusional cult, and count your blessings that you escaped before they made you perform an interpretative dance (choreographed with the 19 other finalists) and give them massages.

These people are whackjobs. Do not engage further.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 643 comments… read them below }

  1. De Minimis*

    40 finalists for one position is flat out insane. All I can think is that they decided to cheap out on catering.

    I have been in situations where they had a large number of finalists, but they were cases where they were hiring a large group.

      1. Josh S*

        20 finalists, each preparing meals for 40 staff?

        I think this is somehow the “month of partying” for the company. Ridiculous.

        This will make the ‘end of 2014’ most ridiculous posts. If there are entries to top this, I will…I don’t…even what?

        1. Anna*

          I wasn’t sure if it was all 20 preparing a meal together or individual meals. However, I will say that there should be no secrets for this company. Name names, because people should know who these nutballs are.

          1. MiaE97042*

            I agree! This letter made me laugh out loud, I can’t believe this is a thing that really happened. She should email this post to them.

    1. Nancypie*

      I have so many questions! What was served for dinner?

      Were the 20 finalists served dinner, and if so, were they part of the group of 40, or was it really feeding 60 people on that budget?

      I would be SO super angry to find put about he cooling challenge after having already spent the entire day there.

      1. Nancypie*

        Sorry, bad iPhone typing. That’s “the cooking challenge”, not “he cooling challenge”.

        1. RJ*

          So I get that the dinner poses an organizational-type of challenge, but what if you weren’t a good cook? What if, a la Top Chef, you got stuck making the dreaded dessert course? I just … don’t know.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      Dear original poster:

      Run screaming into the night.

      Yes, you. No, now.

      I…I…am so bleeping speechless.

  2. MR*

    I think this whole situation gives you permission to call them out on all of their BS if you get a job offer. If you get one at all.

    If the company wastes all of this time during the interviewing process, what other kinds of time and money are they wasting? I’m sure this company isn’t going to be around for long (assuming it’s not a small branch of a larger company).

  3. RCB*

    I am desperately curious to know the name of the company who put OP through this ordeal…because this is just nuts.

    1. Sunflower*

      Me as well. The only thing that could *maybe* justify the dinner is if it was for a company(maybe non-profit) that cooks large meals and part of the job would entail the person purchasing on a budget and making/serving the food on time constraints. And something in me highly doubts that

      1. fposte*

        It doesn’t matter. An all-day commitment with a ton of free work for an entry-level job? There’s no justification.

        1. Noelle*

          Once I had an interview at 1:00pm, and it ended going until after 7:00 because they made me take a bunch of tests. Then I had to go in for ANOTHER round of interview that took all afternoon. At the end, they didn’t just not offer me a job, they said “we don’t have any openings at this time.” I wasted over 15 hours interviewing with this company and I thought that was bad, but this letter takes the cake.

          1. nyxalinth*

            Well, that’s either amazingly stupid on their part (why put someone through all that for no openings? Even if they’re doing it to have people ready to go through should an opening arise, it’s dumb to make you go through all that) or things suddenly changed and they didn’t want to give the truth of it. I’m sorry that they included you in their stupid :(

      2. Elizabeth*

        If that were the case, it’d be reasonable to have (a reasonable number of) finalists write up a plan/budget for how they would pull off such a dinner, but not to actually DO it.

        Especially so if the organization is a non-profit. In general I’m not a fan of nitpicking about how non-profits spend their budget, because I assume they’re in a better place to determine that than an outsider is, but if I donated to Charity X and then found out they’d spent $350 on a weird interview/senior staff party hybrid, I’d never donate again.

        1. glennis*

          $350 on a dinner for 40 people is only $8.75 per person – just how did the candidates manage to pull that off? One hot dog and a coke for each?

          And “with entertainment”?

          1. TychaBrahe*

            My mother made Passover Seder for 20-40 people each year and spent in that neighborhood. The $350 doesn’t bother me. It’s the 3.5 hours, including shopping and drivin that bothers me.

    2. Yup*

      I want to know what business they’re in. Hopefully not nuclear power, handling explosives, or some other field that would make me incredibly nervous about their general existence. Because Holy Moses on Pop Tart. I have no words for how messed up this company is.

  4. Sunflower*

    Speechless. This is actually the most insane thing I’ve ever read. I’m dying to hear how the OP (and other 40 finalists) reacted and if OP actually cooked the dinner(and what they cooked).

    1. kdizzle*

      Right? I’d love to know what they cooked.

      “Here, try my special pie. I got the recipe from Minny Jackson.”

      1. BeenThere*

        Oh you absolutely win at the internet today!

        I had many passive aggressive thoughts running through my head about what I would serve ranging from one tin of caviar with nothing to put on it to a big pile of items from the $1 menu. The pie
        takes the cake.

  5. Lar*

    I read twenty finalists. In interview round 4 the finalists vote another finalist off the island. The 19 remaining go back to camp to search for the hidden immunity chair.

  6. Chocolate Teapot*

    USD 350 divided by 40 works out at USD 8.80 per head. A job lot of frozen pizzas and crates of booze perhaps?

    1. A Bug!*

      It’s 8.80 per head for food costs only though; the “finalists” are working for free!

      If I had 20 people to do the actual work and didn’t have to pay them I could make a proper feast for 40 people with nine bucks a head for ingredients.

      1. Bryan*

        and the one where the guy’s wife was encouraging the OP to shack up with her husband so their number of affairs would be even.

      2. Catzie*

        The curse one is still my favorite.

        “Black magic is one of many occupational hazards.”


      3. Not So NewReader*

        SIXTY people bought into this. Think about it- 60 people were some how persuaded that this was a good idea.

    1. The IT Manager*

      IMO, I think it might. This is group/company-wide insanity while the coworker moonlighting as a prostitute and the employee casting magic curses are both single odd-balls. This is a completely wack idea from an individual which was bought into by at least 40 others.

      On the plus side, it tells you a lot about company culture and the LW needs to run away, now.

  7. Just a Reader*

    My mouth is hanging open.

    Well, selfishly I want the OP to call and ask how he/she did with the cooking portion of the interview, and what skills that was meant to evaluate. Be earnest and interested in the feedback. But that’s really just to satisfy my drama llama.

    In the OP’s shoes I would run.

  8. Anoners*

    Wow. So, so crazy! How would they even evalutate your skills during this dinner, since there’s literally 20 other cooks in the kitchen? “Oh, I really liked the way James mashed these taters, you’re hired!”

  9. PoohBear McGriddles*

    Wow. They are lucky y’all didn’t serve Minny’s Chocolate Pie for dessert. Sounds like somebody got their interviewing skills from watching Celebrity Apprentice.

  10. Random*

    “The evening didn’t end till 10:30 pm, when it moved to a local bar.”

    WHAAAAT? So basically they wanted to throw a dinner party without doing any of the work .. why not have interviewees do the work for them?

    RUN OP! ruuuuuun!

    1. cofax*

      Yup. Looks to me like they figured this was cheaper than hiring caterers for their holiday party.

      All this for an entry-level position? The mind reels.

    2. Kara*

      Heck, I’m kind of surprised they didn’t require the candidates to chip in and pay for the dinner themselves.

        1. iseeshiny*

          I picture someone backing out of the interview and getting a call the next day that they’d gotten the job. “You stood up to me. That WAS the test.” And then the lucky winner jumps up in the air and the movie ends on a freeze frame before fading to black.

      1. Kelly O*

        I have to admit, and no offense to the OP, at what point someone realized this was ridiculous.

        Did any of the twenty (lord love a duck) “finalists” drop out when they received the itinerary for the day? At any point in the day did someone look up and say “y’all, this is crazy” and just excuse him or her self?

        Because realistically if you present me with a twelve hour (lord LOVE a duck!) day long interview full of secrets, I am probably going to say thank you but no thank you and go find a Starbucks. I may be crazy, but… I mean, that goes beyond the pale for me personally.

        1. Anonymous*

          I was wondering if anyone dropped out too. If I got the agenda the OP got and I were interested in the position, I probably would have gone to the interview anyway since it was only the end of the day that had the “group activity” (and I could see that being something like a networking happy hour or something if they were bringing in several candidates). However, I would have been gone when the “activity” was revealed to be this bizarre impromptu dinner party. Just…. no.

        2. AVP*

          I was thinking that but…it’s entry level, and all of these people are probably just out of college and have been reading arils about the bad economy and crazy things people do to get jobs for years. I can see how people wouldn’t know better, or would be desperate and unable to back out.

          BRB, moving to China now.

      2. Marmite*

        I went to an interview once that was an all day thing. There were about 15 candidates and after the introduction, which lasted maybe 30 minutes, there was a short break to fill out some paperwork. One of the other candidates asked if there was a corner shop nearby so she could buy a drink. She was given directions, left and didn’t come back. I guess she decided it wasn’t for her, but she’d traveled 10 hours plus by train to get there so she must have been sure it wasn’t worth her time!

        Perhaps the OP & other candidates had already put so much time, travel money, and effort into it by the time the cooking was announced they thought they just ought to see it through.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          I honestly would have done it, just because it would be fun. I probably wouldn’t take the job if offered, but that is one interview process I would feel no guilt about continuing just to see what happened, long after I’d decided it wasn’t the job for me.

    1. Lillie Lane*

      Yeah, when they were all cooking together, didn’t *someone* bring up the fact that this was absolute lunacy?!?!

      1. Heather*

        That’s what I’m wondering. Why do people go along with this? I mean I get that the job market is tight. All day interview? Ok I could let that one slide – maybe it won’t be a waste of time. Weird thing with the chair? Ok let that one slide.

        But shopping for and cooking a meal? What? I don’t even cook for myself! Forget it. I’d be leaving.

        1. Piper*

          Also, all day interview lasting longer than the workday (i.e., until 10:30 at night) is utterly ridiculous.

          1. BeenThere*

            It is crazy however as someone who was unemployed for a whole year I probably would have tolerated this over being stuck at home for yet another year competing for jobs. I’m not saying I would have been happy working for them however I am saying that some job seekers don’t have a choice.

          2. Lena*

            Well, if you’re applying for a tenure-track faculty job at a university, a day-long interview – where you give a presentation to the department too – is not out of the ordinary. That said, part of that “day-long” includes a tour of campus and the city or town, lunch and dinner.

        2. RJ*

          I could see myself going along with this even while thinking it was insane. I already invested all day, I’m fatigued and not thinking critically, and suddenly I’ve been assigned the amuse bouche. I don’t know if, in the moment, I would have had the clarity to recognize the insanity and bail.

    2. Piper*

      This. I would have left on the spot if someone told me I had to cook a meal and find entertainment for 40 people. Unless this is for a catering company, this is absolutely insane.

      1. Marmite*

        Here it’s actually more common to get these day-long interviews for entry level positions than higher ones. Graduate programs (companies that take multiple graduates and put them on “fast-track” paths) all seem to use these. I’ve interviewed for jobs that involved multiple day-long interviews. I even went for one that was a three-day residential interview for a crap-pay, entry-level position. Needless to say, I was desperate for a job, any job at the time!

        I have never been asked to do anything as outrageous as cook for 40, but there were various odd tasks such as leading fellow interviewees blindfolded through a forest obstacle trail at night, competing in small teams to make recognizable landmarks out of old newspapers, and lots of weird role plays.

        1. kdizzle*

          leading fellow interviewees blindfolded through a forest obstacle trail at night

          Ex-squeeze me? A-baking powder?

          1. Marmite*

            Those examples were all from different interviews, not one super crazy one! This type of weirdness is just kinda normal here for graduate entry level jobs. Personally I think it’s the influence of reality TV, like the Apprentice.

              1. Marmite*

                I applied to some varied stuff when I’d just graduated, but mostly non-profits. I have friends who’ve been through similar interview processes for graphic design, economics, IT, and government jobs!

                1. kdizzle*

                  Wow…I’ve spent a career as an economist and non-profit / government worker. If any of my interviewers tried to give me newspaper to sculpt, I think I’d poop a brick.

  11. Lillie Lane*

    This sounds like a weird audition for a combo of ANTM, Top Chef, and the Amazing Race. Loons, whackjobs, delusional cult indeed!

  12. Noelle*

    I’m a little disappointed that the letter writer didn’t ask, “Is this legal?” I have a sad feeling that it probably is, but good heavens, it shouldn’t be.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I am going to be a pedant here and disagree that it should be illegal, because companies have the right to be loony in their interviewing methods if they want. (And it’s good for candidates to see that before they take a job there.)

      1. Rayner*

        I’m going to be awkward but wtf could you actually point out as illegal in this situation? Candidates didn’t have to pay out of their own money, and they cooked a meal. I’m assuming they could leave, and nobody told them their job was under threat if they left.

        IDK. I don’t disagree that it’s terrible, mean, and extremely unfair, but what’s actually illegal here?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, I think Noelle is saying that it isn’t illegal but should be. I’m arguing that it really shouldn’t be, because you don’t want the government micromanaging how employers structure their hiring processes.

          1. ChristineSW*

            Exactly. You can certainly have “best practices”, but yeah, legislating every facet of hiring and managing would be insane.

          2. BethRA*

            They may have a right to be loons, but is it really legal to ask people to provide a real service for free, though? Because this company had their finalists provide free catering services for their private event. I’m not a fan of legislating to the lowest common denominator, and I am a newbie here, but I am dubious of the legality of not paying people for their work.

            I am also having a hard time believing this really happened.

            1. k*

              >> They may have a right to be loons, but is it really legal to ask people to provide a real service for free, though?

              What do you think volunteering is?

            2. Jennifer*

              I also have a very hard time believing this actually happened. What was the position, again? If it didn’t involve working in food service, this just doesn’t even make any sense.

          3. Rayner*

            That’s what I meant – what element of it could you define as illegal? Overall, it’s crappy, but there’s nothing in there that could ever be pointed out as specifically illegal/in future, either.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Hmmm, actually, it’s possible that it violates minimal wage law, given that the work they were asked to do doesn’t really relate to the hiring process.

          1. Noelle*

            In the past there have been posts about interviewers expecting applicants to work for free (design a website, write a grant proposal, etc.) as part of the application. I’m not sure if that’s illegal or just unethical though. This situation sounds like they just wanted cheap labor to throw a party and decided to screw over desperate job seekers instead of paying a caterer. It not only has nothing to do with the job, but it also can’t even be a useful part of the interview process if everyone is getting drunk instead of evaluating the candidates. I think that should be illegal, but I assumed it probably wasn’t.

          2. fposte*

            That’s what I’m wondering. “It’s an interview” isn’t carte blanche to put people to work in the fields for weeks. If it’s a for-profit, it wouldn’t be legal for the candidates to do this as volunteers, after all.

            1. Marmite*

              A friend of mine had to do two-weeks unpaid “training” when he was trying to get a job at McDonalds. At the end of it they didn’t hire him.

              1. fposte*

                Should add “if you’re in the U.S.” since the U.S. is not Marmite’s natural habitat :-).

                1. Marmite*

                  This was here in the UK. Although, I am surprised it’s legal here, I assume calling it “training” gets around that somehow.

      2. Anna*

        Couldn’t it fall under the “if you can pay someone to do it, you can’t shop it out for free” clause?

        1. Lizabeth*

          I think all the “finalists” should get together and send 20 separate invoices to this company for their time (at a decent consulting wage).

      3. Jinx*

        I guess we should assume that either none of the candidates uses a wheelchair or the director’s house (and kitchen!) are fully accessible.

    2. pgh_adventurer*

      It most likely is legal–but the unpaid 15 hours of real work raises some questions. The OP should tell a local news agency about the interview, I’m sure they would have a field day exposing the craziness of this company.

      1. Anonymous*

        I would have used my phone to video tape some of it and contacted news media. No one should be made to jump through hoops like that to interview for a job, any job, ever. While reading it, I was remembering parts of the movie “Rat Race” where the people in positions of authority gambled/placed bets on what people would do or could do in certain situations. Sounds like the whole process was a big game the company was playing. In my eyes, it was abusive and makes me cringe thinking about what employees might be forced to do to keep their jobs.

        1. Anonymous*

          OT- Loved Rat Race! The OP should call in and ask “did I wiiin” in the Enrico polonium accent hah!

  13. Katie the Fed*

    This is awful.

    What a humiliating, demeaning way to treat people. You’re basically making them perform and entertain on command for the mere chance of a job. Google is known for tough interviews that really assess a candidates creativity, and they would NEVER pull something like this.

    This is beyond the pale. How can people be so terrible? Personally, I’d be inclined to expose them to a local newspaper or something. Surely there’s a local reporter who would love to do a story about abuse of job candidates like this. Ugh.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m going to be annoying again here and say I don’t think it’s really abuse. They told her in advance it would be a 15-hour job interview and she could back out at any time. It’s absurd — and it’s certainly taking advantage of a group of probably young/inexperienced job candidates who weren’t as likely to back out as more experienced ones would be — but I’m coming down more on the loony side than anything else.

      1. Anna*

        I think the abusiveness comes from them not being explicit about what the 15 hour interview would entail. Just saying, “there will be a social activity at the end” and then making them work for free to feed a bunch of freeloading a$$holes tips this over in to abusive. They’re counting on people needing the job and doing whatever crazy thing they want them to do. They’re in a position of power. That stacks up, in my book.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          That’s it. It seems like an abuse of power. Like showing up in a slum with lots of delicious food and making people perform for it. It’s cruel.

        2. A Cita*

          Right, it’s exploitative. They’re taking advantage of young unemployed recent grads (probably) who have few job options. Add on top: they wait til the last minute to tell them what the activity is because they know they’ll have less attrition at that point. After you’ve spent a whole day interviewing and jumping through hoops, it’s hard to walk away from that investment. Sure, they could, but these things don’t happen in a vacuum. There’s psychology at play here. Especially if you’re inexperienced and have no job. This was definitely exploitative.

          1. Mints*

            Yeah it seems like psychologically, it was completely set up to be near impossible to say no at the worst part (not that they did out on purpose, maybe not).
            But first they agree to an all day interview (not weird) then once they get there they agree to interviews plus group activity (not weird, probably networking or happy hour) THEN at the last minute, they announce the cooking challenge, and it’s a group challenge. If half of them back out, the other half would see their competition fading away and it becomes a battle of desperation.
            I mean, it’s crazy, but it was set up to be difficult to say no, completely coercive and exploitative.

            1. Jessa*

              Yeh it’s like one of those cult initiations or weird self help psychological courses. By the time you get to the end of it you really can’t psychologically say no.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        OK, I’ll reluctantly agree with you there. But it’s…something. It’s something not ethically or morally ok, to make candidates jump through insane hoops. Job hunting is stressful and emotional enough without this added stress.

        Still, I think it would make an awesome feature in a local newspaper :)

      3. KarenT*

        I think it’s abuse. Perhaps not in any legal sense, but certainly an abuse of power. It takes some nerve to essentially throw yourself a party at your own house (complete with drinking and dancing) and have 20 job candidates cook and serve you and your guests.

      4. AnonHR*

        A lot of applicants are still hoping for a decent job the way some of us hope to win the lottery. This is people’s livelihoods we’re talking about, and this company is taking advantage of the fact that there are a lot people out there who are desperate enough to stick around through something this absurd and demeaning in hopes of getting the job.

      5. Brett*

        Considering they had to shop as a group, I am wondering if they were provided group transportation too. They might have all been stuck for the duration once the group activity started at 5pm.

      6. Tinker*

        I don’t know… I think the least one could say is that it’s a victim interview, if nothing else. They’re seeing how far the person’s boundaries can be pushed, in order to select for folks who can leave but who for whatever reason won’t even in the face of inappropriately intrusive demands… which shades into actually making said demands.

        At what point that stops being pre-abuse interviewing and starts being the actual abuse is by its nature not a clear distinction, but it seems like “we got candidates for an unrelated job to cater our company party for free” is at least getting awfully close.

        1. fposte*

          “They’re seeing how far the person’s boundaries can be pushed, in order to select for folks who can leave but who for whatever reason won’t even in the face of inappropriately intrusive demands… ”

          But we have no evidence that that’s what they’re doing at all. I actually think it’s far more likely that they’re clueless and immoral and figured they could get an extra dinner out of the hiring process, but I don’t know this at all either.

          I think the problem here is that we’re discussing whether they belong in a category, but “abuse” is not actually a recognized, controlled, defined category; I’m not even sure what membership in the category means, so I don’t know whether it matters whether they’re in it or not. I think it’s wrong and likely illegal to make people do hours of unpaid work that’s not related to the job on offer. If we’re saying that abuse = a prospective employer breaking the law or making unethical demands, then this is abuse.

          But I find the word “abuse” on its own pretty useless. It’s like it wants a certain moral resonance without being specific or contestable. For me, if people can back out without suffering anything but regret, if they’re not being physically harmed, if they’re not being berated, I doubt I’d use the term on its own–there’s too much inescapable harm being done in the world to include this in with it.

          1. Pope Lizbet*

            I think I see the above commenter’s point, though. Bosses who are abusive do some victim selection in their hiring and training – I have experienced that myself. Taken all together, the setup here seems like the people who work there are looking to hire someone who will put up with unreasonable demands, put up with a certain amount of manipulative vagueness as to expectations, and will not only agree to long hours but stay past agreed times. If you treat interviewees with this kind of method it is indicative that you’re looking for an employee who will put up with behavior that is in fact unreasonable, and who might even put up with not being paid for overtime or other illegal abuses. From a moral standpoint I am uncomfortable saying that a way of treating people only becomes abusive when they are employees but not when they are prospective employees in a bad market competing for entry level jobs. Even if none of it was conscious victim selection, “we’ll interview them for hours, then make them throw us a party and stay three hours past stated end time” is treating people like commodities, and treating people as things underlies a lot of abusive personalities.

      7. Nat*

        I get what you’re saying about government intervention on hiring practices, but I still think there should be basic limits placed on what companies can and cannot do. The reason being that the job market and economy is HEAVILY tilted in favor of companies. Job candidates may recognize that an interview practice is exploitative but they often don’t have much of a choice given how the economy is. So they have to just suck it up and take it. Companies have proven time and time again that they will do things that would be considered abusive (even if they’re not illegal) by most reasonable people. So if I stand up to this kind of treatment, not only do I lose out personally (by not getting the job), but it makes it harder for the next person who comes along to stand up for themselves. And that person may not have the luxury to pick and choose, so they’re stuck with an abusive employer.

        In theory, the free market sorts itself out and employers have to compete for workers. But that’s not how it works when you have more workers than jobs and millions of underemployed people. Companies can exploit and they often do. I would like it if workers had some basic protections in place.

  14. Jaimie*

    This is the weirdest thing ever. I have nothing else to say.

    Oh, wait, I do.

    Just curious, what did the OP actually serve? And what was the “entertainment”?

    1. Nikki T*

      Yes, that is all I could think to say as well..also, how was the shopping experience, did all 20 people go together…did anyone run screaming from the grocery store?

  15. AdAgencyChick*

    I find myself really hoping that a significant number of candidates said “Thanks but no thanks,” thus leaving an expectant group of employees of CrazyTown(R) wondering where their catered dinner was.

    1. Mephyle*

      Or that the candidates, well-qualified for the actual job, turned out to be incompetent caterers and the dinner was a flop.

  16. Bryan*

    In addition to everything already stated you’re not going to get the best person for the job with this sort of torture. Also do you really want to hire the person who successful navigated your mind games. It sounds to me the type of person who would get past this interview process would be a sociopath.

  17. Kirsten*

    If I wanted to cook for large parties, I would have become a caterer. I’m surprised that none of the candidates walked out when they heard that part, because I would not have been able to get out of there fast enough!

  18. Brett*

    “We only have $350 left in the budget for the senior executive dinner at the director’s house! We can’t afford a caterer on that budget, what are we going to do?!”

    ‘I have an idea…. Give me those applications for that program coordinator position.’

    1. Lily*

      This was my thought too! And that someone (or more) on the hiring committee were fans of Top Chef.

      1. RNF*

        This was my first thought as well. They basically scammed an executive party out of interviewees too unassertive/gullible to say anything. Wow.

  19. Rayner*

    If there was ever a post for the restriction to be lifted on the swearing rule in this place, this would be it.


    They used you.

    Nothing you did was for a job, for an interview, or for any good reason. They used you to provide free catering for a party because they were too d*mn cheap to do it themselves/pay someone else to do it.

    Face it.

    You were taken advantage of.

    Run. Get. Out. Don’t stop running, and don’t stop telling people what happened for you.

    And never ever accept any offer to cater or do anything outside of a normal job interview in the future. The second you hear “just a little thing/test*/something that is completely irrelevant to the job you’re applying for and that you will never do again” leave. At once.

    * Note, this doesn’t apply to testing relevant skills to the job, like writing samples etc.

  20. Adam V*

    Name and shame. In fact, don’t just tell us who the company was – tell your local news station. I’m sure they’d love to do a story on the company that was so cheap, they made 20 job applicants cater their company party, knowing that (at most) only one of them would get a job out of it.

    1. Lily*

      The OP can feel fairly safe naming the company, since there were 20 other finalists (plus all the other employees attending). They would never be able to tell who spilled the beans.

      1. Adam V*

        Unless the news station wants to interview the applicants in person to get their side. In that case, though, you still can probably get as many of the applicants together as possible and stand as a group.

  21. The Wall of Creativity*

    The only reason I’d have stuck around for the evening was to see how much laxative chocolate I could use in the dessert.

    1. fposte*

      This is my line of thinking–they’re breaking the basic rule of “Don’t piss off the people who bring you food.” I suspect they ingested a fair bit of bodily fluids that night.

  22. iseeshiny*

    Was it maybe one of those weird reality challenge shows? That is the only circumstance where I would think this would even begin to make sense.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Yep, some friends and I were talking about this column elsewhere, and this was my comment:

      In response to those saying that this should be illegal, I could see this being appropriate if they’re hiring for producers for reality food shows. You get sent to FSM-knows-where, you have to shoot the scene NO MATTER WHAT or the wages and travel expenses for the cast and the crew for the whole time might as well have been flushed down the toilet, and you occasionally have to solve seemingly impossible problems to make this happen.

      But for any normal job, this is a good sign to RUN AWAY DO NOT MAKE EYE CONTACT WITH THE CRAZY PEOPLE.

  23. Hapax Legomenon*

    I really want to see OP or another interviewee name the company. If this actually happened, the company deserves some public shaming for using unemployed people as unpaid party planners and cooks by dangling a job over their heads.

  24. Sascha*


    Was there any indication in the job description that entertaining or anything of that nature was part of the job? I really want to know what you were interviewing for, OP, but I understand if you want to leave out specific details.

    Again. What. I don’t….even….what.

  25. Tiff*

    Were you perhaps interviewing with Sean P Diddy Combs aka Puff Daddy? This whole thing reminds me of the cheesecake scene from Making the Band.

    Goodness when will people stop taking so much advantage of others…I’m sure they were in a meeting and some “bright” person said, “You know what? We could tell the candidates that part of the application process is making the food for our party!! Kill 2 birds with 1 stone!” And everybody else said, “YEAH!”

  26. Christine*

    Who is that far out of touch with reality?? These people need to be sat down (or left standing with no chairs) and given a verbal beating. I can’t even…

  27. Allison*

    All joking about how it must have been a reality show aside, I do think whoever cooked up this idea must be a fan of those shows. Maybe they should start their own and call it “Who Wants A Job?”

    1. Kate*

      Exactly. I word in marketing, and a number of ad agencies in my city are now moving toward ever more public “competitions” for entry level jobs and summer internships. I get that part of the job is having the skills to gain attention, but I feel so bad for those candidates because I still think they’re entitled to some dignity and privacy in their job hunts. But these agencies are so wrapped up in themselves and the publicity these stunts will get them. Ugh.

    2. Confused*

      There was a show on CBS for a little while where 3 people competed for one open position. It got very low ratings and was quickly cancelled.

      1. Cassie*

        I watched that show. It wasn’t that bad – I didn’t feel the candidates were being humiliated or exploited. It was more like a trial/probationary period, but in front of cameras.

  28. ChristineSW*

    Wow. Definitely one of the crazier interview stories I’ve read!! Reminds me of Master Chef!

  29. Natalie*

    People have covered the interview aspects of the craziness, but I find it funny/sad that this is also crazy from a party planning perspective. I have a few friends who love to entertain including one who is a professional event planner, and I would venture that it takes her longer than 2 1/2 hours to plan a party for 40 people, much less shop and cook. It took my ex (a former professional chef who used to make large turkey dinner on a weekly basis) and I longer than that to plan a Thanksgiving dinner for 10. And we didn’t have to decide on the menu since it was, you know, Thanksgiving.

    1. Goofy posture*

      YES! This is a nightmare event planning situation. If I had a client give me this scenario, there is NO amount of money I’d accept to take on that project.

    2. Heather*

      Exactly! It would be hard enough for a professional to do this let alone someone who isn’t experienced at it.

      The whole thing is just so weird.

    3. tcookson*

      My first thought when reading the OP’s letter (where it says that the 40 execs wanted to be entertained with a meal) was that — if it were me having to do the cooking — they wouldn’t be “entertained” at all. Having to do all the shopping, FIND the house, and then cook and serve something? The only time to plan would be on-the-spot while doing the shopping. I’d end up in a panic and just grabbing a bunch of chips and hotdogs or some such . . .

    4. Mander*

      I was thinking a couple of very large pots of spaghetti with marinara sauce. And some cheap box wine.

  30. erin*

    Just when I think there couldn’t be anything weirder posted on this blog, this comes up! This is absolutely nuts.

    OP, I hate that you went through that and hope you find a job that fits your skills and treats you like a human being.

  31. Diet Coke Addict*

    Christ on a crutch.

    The obvious question: what did you make??? What did everyone else make??

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, that was good.
        My favorite of all time, though, I stole from the Stephen King story “The Body,” when Teddy says “Jesus H. Baldheaded Christ.” I laughed so hard I cried.

        1. nyxalinth*

          Stephen King is always good with the creative swearing! I especially love the statement (not really swearing) ‘Jesus ate a can of beans!’ and then he goes on to say that the hero of the story was struggling to not laugh when the image of ‘Jesus chowing down on a can of B and M baked beans’ came to mind.

          My room mate’s grandma used to say ‘Sh1t a meataxe!’ and my room mate uses it sometimes too!

  32. EM*

    Oh my God. And here I thought I had heard it all. HEARD IT ALL on this blog.

    I didn’t really think anything else could surprise me. I was wrong.

    I would have driven home while cackling madly after instructions about shopping/cooking/entertaining were given, unless I was for real, auditioning for Top Chef.

    1. Joey*

      Yeah, this is one of those rare times where you have permission to go to the bathroom mid interview and never come back.

  33. KC*

    I keep refreshing the comments, HOPING the OP will hop on and fill us in on all of the insane details.

            1. nyxalinth*

              C-C-C-C-ombo breaker!

              I know too many internet memes/ancient video game humor bits.

              A winner is YOU!

    1. BN*

      Everyone remembers the scorned job candidate who wanted to “expose” his interviewer on Glassdoor, right?

      THIS should be exposed on Glassdoor.

  34. Cat*

    The funny thing is, even on Top Chef this would have been an annoying challenge. Were I watching it, I’d be yelling “why are you making them search for the house? Just let them cook!” at my TV.

    1. Fiona*

      Because the success of a reality show is measured by how many sane, rational people they can make yell at their TVs.

    2. Jennifer*

      This makes me think that the OP needs to find out where the hidden cameras were. Because literally the only way this even makes any kind of sense for a non-food-service job is if it is for a prank or reality TV show.

  35. Joey*

    This sort of reminds me of stories I’ve heard of headhunters who pretend to be interested in recruiting assistants only so they can get intel on the boss (who is truly the one being hunted.)

    Except 20 candidates cooking dinner means these things went on for a month so that can’t be it. I’m truly baffled as to what could possibly be the logic behind this.

    Although from the sound of it the winner was probably the one who knew how to make the best drinks, not the best meal.

    To the op: please tell us who or at least where this was. I’m curious if its some strange culture.

  36. Wha???*

    If all 20 interviewed, then they spent $7,000…correct? $7,000 on interviews. So they could have 20 different dinner parties. Total BSC!

      1. Elizabeth*

        Yeah, I read it as 20 candidates working together to make one dinner. Which already sounds like a nightmare – when I helped organize a Thanksgiving dinner for 50 people in college, more than about 6 people in the kitchen and things started to get crazy. And that was people who already knew and liked each other, and with a menu that was basically pre-determined. 20 people is WAY too many.

        1. Marcy*

          Yes, and how do you evaluate them to decide which one to hire? You wouldn’t know who was doing what.

  37. A Dispatcher*

    Is anyone else kind of wondering if someone at the company screwed up and forgot to plan some sort of party/event and decided using the interviewees was a good way to score free and last-minute labor?

  38. Kerr*

    I have no words.

    If this isn’t just a really creative fake letter, I’m thinking sadistic secret-camera reality TV show…or somebody at the company figured out how to get a catered dinner for free.

    If it’s real, this deserves a detailed Glassdoor review at least, and possibly media notification. Because seriously?

  39. A Teacher*

    Thank you for giving me an example of how interviews should NOT be conducted. I will be able to use this in class!

    1. Ha!*

      Too bad all 20 of the “finalists” didn’t decide to take the $350, skip the dinner planning and prep, and find a bar for themselves. ;-)

  40. Rebecca*

    Disgraceful. Just another indication of how companies are just being awful because they can be awful.

    Remember when the economy actually grew jobs, and skilled people could get decent jobs? Now potential workers have been reduced to circus performers for the amusement of the company.

    I would LOVE to know the name of this company, just in case I buy products from them so I can stop, and tell everyone I know what they did.

    1. Joey*

      That’s not a fair statement. Just like it wouldn’t be fair to conclude that that some random schmuck who defrauds unemployment is a good example of how people take advantage of unemployment.

      Its a terrible example of what employers do because 99.9% of employers don’t do it

      1. heyyou*

        I’m with Rebecca. It’s one thing to have poorly run interviews, or some bad managers. High up folks agreed to have a evening party catered by free laborers, who were actually entry-level-job interviewers. Even if somehow the top folks didn’t know this, the public stink should force them to fire those who made this happen.

        Name the company, then let the media frenzy and boycott begin.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t think Joey disagrees with that — but rather was pointing out that this insanity on the part of one company isn’t an indictment of employers in general, just like one crazy job seeker doesn’t represent job seekers in general.

      2. Rebecca*

        Joey, you are correct, I shouldn’t have used such a wide brush.

        I guess I was really taken aback by this, especially that 20 people endured this! I am 50 years old, and I have never, ever heard of such nonsense. I think it’s an indication of how desperate people are to land a job.

      1. Jake*

        I had thought process when the question originally centered around the chair being a mind game. I think they found a bunch of people that just haven’t experienced much interviewing, and did their best to mask a party as an interview.

        1. Anonymous*

          When I submitted the question I focused on the chair mind game as it is one of those things I’ve heard fellow job seekers experience and could potentially experience in other interviews. I wanted to know how to react better in future. Sadly the chair thing was only one example of the mind games-in one interview none of the interviewers would make eye contact, in another they were super casual and had a conversation amongst themselves and did’t really ask any direct questions.

          I found the weird interview mind games more problematic than the insane dinner scenario as they are something that is so open to interpretation and maybe I was just being hyper-sensitive when I thought they were a horrible interview technique.
          I didn’t focus on the crazy dinner scenario because even exhausted after a full day of interviews I knew it was completely crossing a line of appropriate interview practice and if I ever encountered such a situation again I would be out of there.

  41. J*

    Alison’s last comment was right on the nose: “Do not engage further.”

    Agreed. You’re playing into a very odd game with apparently very unstable people. Get out now.

  42. Mike C.*

    OP, you need to name names here. If you’re able to, you need to let others know about these people. Hell, leak it to Gawker or something along those lines.

    Bad behavior like this will only go away when people become aware of it, and are shamed into knocking it off. Neither can start until people know who decided a game like this was appropriate.

  43. The Other Dawn*

    I guess I could see how this type of thing would call into action all sort of skills that may be used on the job: planning, budgeting, working on a tight deadline. But, is there really NO other way to test these skills?? These people just wanted a party for which they didn’t need to do any of the work. Whack jobs!

    1. Elsajeni*

      That’s what I was thinking, that I can imagine a situation where presenting “plan dinner and entertainment for 40, you have $350 and the party starts in 2.5 hours at the executive director’s house” as a challenge might make sense — you’d be testing your candidates’ ability to operate under intense time pressure and a tight budget, do some basic research (Who is the executive director, and where do they live? How do we get there from here? What would be the best grocery store to stop at along the way, in terms of both budget and convenience?), and work in a group. But:
      1. It would make more sense to just have them submit a plan. Evaluate the plan for creativity, realism (“Oh, you’re going to hire a professional DJ? For a gig that starts in AN HOUR? Riiight.”), and staying under budget. There’s no reason to actually spend the money and throw the party.
      2. For it to really be useful, you’d have to have someone observing the whole planning process, to make notes like “Wakeen shut down other people’s suggestions without offering any of his own” or “Josie was great at cutting debates short and pushing for a quicker decision”.
      3. And even if you were doing all of that, 20 people is too big a group to usefully evaluate (in addition to just plain being too many “finalists”).

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It would have been really cool if all 20 decided not to do this and the guests showed up to NO dinner.
        But whoever came up with this idea KNEW that would not happen.

  44. Intrigued*

    Can we please please hear more? I want to know all the details of this cracked out dinner party even if the company is never named. Because this is hilarious in an awful way.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        I know! Did the candidates tag along to the bar? Were they expected to stay and cleanup?

      2. EA*

        I’m guessing it was something along the lines of the leaders brought out a covered plate, and uncovered it to show who would be dismissed.

        1. Anne 3*

          Then they gave the other candidates all single roses, and told them “You are still in the running for America’s next top project coordinator”.

  45. GL*

    I would have stayed and cook, not because I would have wanted to work for this people, but because I wanted to see how this played out since it’s so bizarre.

    This seems to be the only internet post about it so far, but I’d reckon there will be more after the hiring process is over for this position. There are so many applicants and this is too weird not to share.

  46. ThursdaysGeek*

    Well, this would be a good way to find out the leaders in the 20 applicants. Because with only 2 1/2 hours, someone would need to take charge: ok, here’s the menu, you 5 go get the supplies, and we’ll need 3 people to chop and prep, and 3 others to be in charge of the main entrees. You 3 go get some booze, and you’ll be in charge of mixing and serving too. The rest of you appear to have some ability to sing and dance, so I want 2 of you to work up a plot and all of the entertainment group to practice for the next 2 hours. We can do this! Go team!

    1. A Dispatcher*

      Good point. It would also show how people work in teams, as well as the other skills The Other Dawn pointed out above: “planning, budgeting, working on a tight deadline…”

      It seems like the whole activity was fairly unsupervised though, which negates any insight that could have been gained by observing how people interact. Even if they were observed, a group of 20 would be hard to evaluate all at once, smaller groups should have been used if this really was some sort of an evaluation. However, I really get the feeling it was the company taking advantage of a bad economic climate to get free labor in this case and nothing more.

    2. Brazil*

      Hmmm… Unless the group was in consensus about appointing the leader, I don’t think I’d see as a positive sign if someone started giving orders the way you describe. That’s not how true leadership works — first you need to gain people’s respect and trust, and then you can influence them, especially in the absence of formal authority, as in this case.

      It’s actually quite easy to start delegating things the way you describe; becoming a true leader that others want to follow (the type of leadership that works in real work situation) requires much more than that.

    3. Confused*

      I know of an interview process where they do this. But they give you SCENARIOS to play out and watch to see who takes the lead. But 1. you are playing out a scenario, not actually doing the task and 2. you are being observed. Completely different. Plus this is an entry level program coordinator position so the task/test is irrelevant (still crazy, even if it was!).

      1. Felicia*

        I did an interview once where it was scenarios as well…but it was groups of 3 rather than a group of 20, highly supervised, 3 hours rather than 15, we were told what to expect, and we didn’t have to cook dinner for anyone.

  47. Mena*

    And you actually cooked them dinner? Really? You were still considering working for this group? I’m shocked that the finalists actually did this (unless the position was for a chef, I just can’t imagine how you rationalized this in your head).

  48. Anon*

    What does OP mean when s/he says that they had to “figure out the director’s house”? Did they not get a complete address and had to do some type of google stalking to figure it out? Or does this simply mean she had difficulty finding his house?

    1. Chinook*

      That is right? We’re they given the address or did they have to find it? What would have happened if all 20 showed up to the wrong John Smith’s house?

  49. Old Codger*

    Okay. I have to ask – What does this job pay? Isn’t your time worth anything?

    I would have bailed after their sillyassed chair in the corner head game. Sounds like they had constructed a childish reality show for their own amusement, and you took the bait. Shame on you.

    Why waste your time with idiots like these? There are real companies, with real business requirements out there.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think that’s fair. It’s an entry-level position so the OP is presumably young/inexperienced and can’t be expected to have the same assessment of this as someone who’s been in the work world longer.

      1. Joey*

        Are you saying you can’t expect kids to know any better? This is so far out there you can’t believe that. I would think kids would be more apt to back out mid interview like I did when I found out a job required me to work overnight and another time when I showed up to the interview and it felt like the place was a scam.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, I think it would be incorrect to expect that completely inexperienced people would naturally know the difference between a usual job interview, an unusual job interview, and a job interview so off the beaten path that they should walk.

          It’s great that you were able to assess situations and back out, and I’m sure some young jobseekers would do the same (and maybe did here). But as an across-the-board expectation? I’d say it’s way off. There’s a reason we hire based on experience–it teaches people, and some of what it teaches isn’t just the technical skills of the field. People without it can’t be expected to know as much.

            1. Kelly L.*

              By getting people who are experienced enough to know better to not do it, rather than by blaming the victim. Managers read here too, and if one of them had an inkling that they might do this someday, now they have hundreds of comments telling them why that’s a bad idea and maybe they won’t do it after all.

              1. Joey*

                And exactly how do you get companies require experienced interviewers and prevent inexperienced ones from interviewing? Sorry but a blog won’t do it.

                1. Joey*

                  Your suggested solution won’t work. It will continue to occur unless companies are forced to stop or applicants don’t participate.

                2. Kerry*

                  You don’t have a solution either, buddy, you just keep saying that people ought to know better!

                3. Joey*

                  the most effective way to stop crazy employers from doing crazy shit is for people to avoid it when possible and leave when its not.

            2. fposte*

              You can’t completely, as evidenced by this post. But I’ll take it back to you, since you had a generous amount of early common sense–what made you know that things were beyond the pale in your two situations, and how would you convey that to inexperienced job seekers?

              (I’m not entirely hopeful of a ton of change here, given that we’re mostly relying on career centers that tell people hideously inaccurate things when it comes to job advice. But it’s an interesting question.)

              1. Joey*

                It’s pretty basic. When I was young those around me taught me to how to decide right from wrong, to listen to my conscience, to trust my judgement, and to never sacrifice my morals.

                1. fposte*

                  That’s lovely, but I don’t buy it as an answer :-). Most of us were taught that too, and I bet that includes the people who stayed through this interview process and sat through the Vector pitch EM describes below. None of that tells you what’s a workplace norm, whether it be what business casual clothing is or the difference between a creative interviewing process and one that’s gone off the rails.

                  I think there’s a subtext to your point that’s much more important than the text–that you may be asked to do stuff you should say no to. This is not something that job seekers always get taught.

                  I also think that there may be some interesting cultural/psychological stuff at play here–these are candidates who are willing to come a long way to explore the possibility of low-paid work with an organization they believe in, so they’re already in an “Ask not what the organization can do for you…” mode. People with a service ethic can be the easiest to exploit of all.

                2. fposte*

                  Not in a way that gets them out of this situation, clearly.

                  More broadly, no, not everybody is taught that it’s okay to say no to authority figures, especially in a situation where you’re supposed to be pleasing them. And like most lessons, it’s not something you can just tell a person once and assume they’ll extrapolate to future situations. Think of all the posts where Alison has to remind people that interviews go both ways.

                3. Zillah*

                  Yeah, I would argue that many, many people are not taught to question or say no to authority figures, particularly not in an environment that is unfamiliar and intimidating.

                4. Random Reader*

                  In other words, you just answered your above question:

                  “And exactly how do you get companies require experienced interviewers and prevent inexperienced ones from interviewing?”

                  Establish norms and teach people to stick to them. Hiring managers are working to procedures and laws already, it’s hardly unreasonable to provide best practice tips along with that.

                  (also, you dodged the question. HOW did you decide what was right and wrong in those interview situations, what did you base your judgement ON? How did you know that going through with them was amoral?)

          1. thenoiseinspace*

            I think knowledge of the field is irrelevant in this case. Getting your first, entry-level job, in any field, has always been the hardest step, and in this economy, it’s becoming almost impossible. It’s pretty common to find people who have been working at Starbucks for the three, four years since graduating from college because even entry-level jobs want 3-5 years of experience these days. If you’d been un-or-under-employed for years, it doesn’t always matter how crazy something is – it’s very possible that you’re not in a position to turn it down.

        2. Chriama*

          Cut the OP a little slack. They knew the interview would be a whole day, which is unusual but not outrageous — that part came later, when there were only a few hours to go. After investing a whole day in this interview process most people would convince themselves that a few more hours is worth the chance at a job — evaluating the remaining cost rather than the total cost is a sunk cost fallacy, but humans do it all the time.
          It’s only because we have the benefit of evaluating the situation as a whole that we’re able to call this crazytown.

          1. Judy*

            I would say, I’ve never had an interview that wasn’t mostly a whole day, maybe 9am to 3pm, with lunch and facilities tours. I’ve also never interviewed locally. All of my interviews involved traveling several hundred miles by car or maybe even flying. I’d expect a different scenario if I were interviewing locally.

            My husband changed jobs 2 years ago, and his interviews were short, but there were several rounds each. (3 interviews with days or weeks between them rather than one big day.)

            1. PEBCAK*

              I agree. When I was in school and interviewing for entry-level, a lot of places did on-site interviews at my university. If you were invited for second round, it was common to travel from university town to big city, have some sort of cocktail hour or something that night, have interviews all day the next day, and travel back. It was a significant investment of time, and it was expected of you, especially because they knew you weren’t taking time off from a full-time job to do it.

              1. Judy*

                I did the same not only at entry level, but for my second and third jobs, at 4 years and 12 years into my career. Each had me relocating a significant distance, and they probably didn’t want to waste their plane tickets, or cause me to have to come multiple times for interviews.

                We’re not planning on relocating when I get my next job, in the next year or two. I would expect to have experiences like my husband did two years ago, where there are several interviews but on different days, sometimes with weeks between them.

          1. Malissa*

            I would think a person would have hung around just to see where exactly the crazy train was going to end up.
            Somethings you just can’t make things like this up and being able to tell the story is worth the experience.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I think the real shame goes on the 40 people who used their power to leverage a large meal and to humiliate other people.

        3. Colette*

          I think it’s cumulative.

          I mean, the chair thing could be an oversight, so you could overlook it, and you’ve been warned the day will be long, so by the time you get to the ridiculous meal idea, you’ve already invested your time and effort in the day, and it’s not as far of a stretch as it is if you looked at it fresh.

          It’s the same principle as going to buy something that costs $500, then seeing a slightly better version for $520, and eventually walking out with something that cost $600.

          1. Collarbone High*

            Agreed. This actually sounds like the techniques used by aggressive salespeople, or pick-up artists. They started out with odd but small demands, and once the applicants complied with those, it’s in many people’s natures to continue to comply.

            I’m wondering if the person who dreamed this up was an evil genius with an abiding knowledge of closing tactics and sunk cost fallacy, or just a clueless jerk.

            1. Mints*

              Exactly! The whole thing reads likea social psychology a study on how to make strangers do ridiculous things

            2. Zillah*

              Yep! It’s similar to something that Gavin de Becker talks about in The Gift of Fear – sleazy people will push boundaries in small ways at first, and if they get away with it, they will often escalate to pushing boundaries in bigger and bigger ways.

        4. MaryMary*

          In my experience interviews for entry level positions are internships are more likely to include interviews that go beyond the standard Q&A with stakeholders and the hiring manager. The only time I’ve encountered things like panel interviews, group interviews, or activities as part of the interview process (“work with these two other strangers and build the tallest structure you can out of the materials in this box”) was when I starting out. I could understand how alarm bells wouldn’t go off until OP was well into the interview day.

          I can also understand, particularly if you are inexperienced and desperate for a job, sticking around until the end of the day. I am a lot more assertive, personally and professionally, than I was when I was 22.

        5. Anonymous*

          I think there are a few things going on here.

          a) It was an evening where the group of finalists were all told to work together to prepare the meal and entertainment. I think if it were me, and all 18 of the other finalists were accepting the challenge and agreeing to cook and entertain, I would feel a group pressure to also contribute. Like, if everyone else feels this is acceptable and is willing to participate, then I better step up and participate.

          b) This activity was not shared with the OP prior to 5 pm. So, she spent from 8:30 am to 5 pm with the company and then the activity was sprung on her. Of course, she had the opportunity to drop out, but if it were me, I would likely continue just to see it through. I can’t stand starting something and not finishing and I would have been disappointed in myself if I didn’t see it through. That being said, once I finished the day’s tasks, I would not likely accept a job with this business and I would chalk the day up to a learning experience (as in– I learned what I did NOT want in an employer).

          c) As AAM said, it was for an entry level position. Those applying for entry-level positions are not likely to have the experience to even understand what on earth was going on. We all read about the interview and don’t understand what happened.

          d) It was the OP’s 3rd interview out of 5. She had already made the time-commitment of 2 previous interviews. This may have influenced her to continue with the extent of this lengthy interview day, even after she realized what it entailed. And again, she didn’t realize what the day truly entailed until 5 pm in the evening, after she committed 8+ additional hours to the interview process.

        6. Elizabeth West*

          You would be surprised how many people will sit there through a totally bizarre scenario and not do anything. And the more of them there are, the less likely anyone is to step up (group psychology).

          Just watch some episodes of the old Candid Camera, or the reboot that came out in the 1980s.

          1. Jen in RO*

            I think I would have stayed just to witness the entire insanity. I’d have a story for the grandchildren then!

        7. EM*

          I do agree a little with Joey here. When I was 19, I went to an interview that had just been advertised as, “College students welcome, make good money, no experience necessary,” or something along those lines. I should have seen a red flag just from that, but I WAS 19.

          When I got there, though, it turned out to be one of those scam Vector things, selling knives.

          I walked out after 15 minutes. I was the only one to do so, but I recognized a scam when I saw it and was really pissed about wasting my time on top of it.

          I do feel a bit like even a younger, inexperienced person should realize this is WAY out of ordinary. Now, I can see the argument that the OP already spent an entire day with these assclowns, so saw the thing through.

          What is frightening to me is that the OP seems to think the chair issue is the main “game playing” here and totally glossed right over preparing dinner with 19 other candidates!! WHAT?!

          1. Wonderlander*

            I worked for Vector in my early 20s, but I was an admin. I was responsible for making those horrible phone calls to teens, reading from a script, telling them how if they wanted a job they had to come in THAT DAY. There were 5 or so of us secretaries, and we didnt have enough chairs in the office so some of us had to sit on the floor and make calls. We competed for the highest number of confirmed interviewees each day. I didnt conduct the group interviews, but I watched them – and I watched as the interviewer would ask the teens to pull out their phones and email us their entire contacts list or their facebook friends’ list. Those were the lists we were given to make our calls off of. I was disgusted, but it was a job. I think I left after 2 or 3 paychecks… and warned my little sister and all of her friends not to EVER work for Vector!

            1. nyxalinth*

              This pisses me off sooo badly. What pisses me off even more is these guys and others like them are on to the fact that people are on to them, so they disguise the job and office work or customer service to get people in for interviews. I would think “The economy sucks, why do they need to lie?” Now i know!

          2. holly*

            ha! so vector was a scam! i went to one of those and was sitting there thinking WTF the whole time. the presenter ended up pulling me aside and telling me it didn’t look like something that would be a good fit for me. wasn’t that nice of him. i never really followed up on it.

          3. Nanani*

            Same. I sat through the Vector spiel, then when it came time for one-on-one talk (not sure if they all do this, but that one did) I told them I didn’t feel comfortable with this type of position and would have to decline.

            The interviewer/scammer responded by giving me a lecture on how I should believe in myself and give opportunities a chance.
            Misjudgement on his part, I left and never looked back.

            NOW, this experience gives me a thing to compare weird job stuff to, but before Vector I didn’t have that experience.
            That’s probably obvious to most people but apparently a handful of commenters need it spelled out to them that “it’s your fault for not walking away” is not an OK response.

            1. Wonderlander*

              Yep, Vector is definitely a scam. The fact that they seemed to be in a temporary office building and didnt have enough desks/chairs/phones made it a little more obvious to me. The whole reason I ended up working for them, and staying longer than I probably would have otherwise, was that one of my best friends worked there too. She swore up and down it wasnt a scam – they had just moved offices, the teens we were preying on always made lots of money, etc. But when she made me sit on the floor and use one of those MagicJack phone lines, I knew it wasnt legit. Several months after I left, the temporary office shut down out of the blue and suddenly she didnt have a job, and I think it finally sunk in.

    2. Diet Coke Addict*

      I really do not see the point in shaming someone who asked a genuine question without knowing any better. People are not born knowing these things, and given the employment market being quite whackadoo and interviews being exceedingly strange sometimes…who knows what other thought processes are.

      But chastising the person is unlikely to give positive results.

      1. nyxalinth*

        I play World of Warcraft, and yesterday I did my second raid (where a big group of 10-25 and in the old days, 40 people would get together and take down a huge and challenging set of bad guys in a given location) ever in the six years I’ve played, and I asked a question about which boss (bad guy with extra abilities, stronger, etc) to focus on first, and I got laughed at, called a noob, accused of buying my character on eBay, etc. I could have just not said anything. As it is, I left the group when the fight began.

        If that jackass and his toadies came into the game knowing how to do everything perfectly just by osmosis, then I would say that they have room to talk, otherwise, people with that attitude can STFU. It applies to people who think anyone facing a situation like the one in this post for the first time ever, too.

        1. Rachel C*

          Ugh, LFR is one of the worst things I can think of. As another WoW player, I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

    3. Mike C.*

      Quit blaming the victim. “You should have known better” is one of the most terrible pieces of advice you could give.

      Congratulations on being more wise in a situation with 20/20 hindsight. I hope no one follows you around through life mocking you for every mistake you’ve ever made.

      1. Joey*

        I agree with you if he was forced to do it, but he wasn’t. He did it willingly, that’s poor judgement.

  50. Mena*

    Might the company been looking for the one candidate that raised her hand and said, ‘Um, this is nuts and I’m leaving.’ Perhaps this is the person that would then be offered the job? Instead, the candidates went along with it, which makes no sense to me.

  51. Felicia*

    This is the most insane thing I’ve ever heard of. I think the length of the all day interview would be my first red flag, but once I was told about the dinner cooking thing, I would say “Sorry, I’ve just realized that this position would not be a good fit for me.” and then I would leave. At least I hope I would, I might be too stunned to do anything but go along with it. But after I would never accept such a job

  52. Kat A.*

    I would have taken the $350 and all the finalists to dinner instead of grocery shopping. Just leave the inconsiderate employees to wonder when the party was starting.
    Then I’d post on Glassdoor.com. Please, please post!

  53. Meredith*

    I really have nothing of value to add to this conversation, other than to say this is the craziest interview I have ever heard of. OP, I’m so sorry you wasted your time with these wackadoos! I do think you should post a review of the interview on glassdoor.com Not to be spiteful but simply to warn other candidates. What a horrible waste of people’s time.

  54. Robyn*

    I think the company assumed they candidates were young and inexperienced and, in this case, they were right.

    I don’t think it means all new job seekers are like this.

    I also don’t think the OP should name and shame, although I would like to know what they were told would happen next. Naming and shaming is great for drama. Not so great for your online public profile. Even if the OP posts anonymously, this situation is so ridiculous there is no way the company wouldn’t know it was at least one of 20 people.

    Which might be why the OP hasn’t been back.

    1. Sadsack*

      How would this hurt the OP’s online profile? As long as she described the events truthfully, all she did here was ask if this is normal, which it isn’t.

  55. Peapod*

    Would love an update from OP on the questions raised and the outcome of the interview process. Was she and the others presented with an offer? Just curious

  56. Malissa*

    This sounds like the perfect interview for someone who would coordinate a professional conference. But other than that, just no.

    1. Anna*

      It’s not even the perfect interview for that person. Under no circumstances should your interview include a surprise dinner and entertainment scenario that you have to actually make happen. For one, no conference would EVER be planned under those circumstances and two, it’s doesn’t actually give you a good sense of how this person is going to perform under pressure. There’s a difference between the pressure from having to do something because you think it might get you a job and pressure from having to do something that is your job.

  57. adiposehysteria*

    I think the ideal solution to this would have been a big order off the dollar menu at a fast food joint with well known health code issues.

  58. Hooptie*

    So sad – when I was reading this I kept thinking, “Wow I hope this wasn’t our Marketing Department’. Yes, they do crazy stuff like this to people – its all about being creative and not thinking about execution, consequences, and repercussions. I am so sorry for this, OP.

    *But this ISN’T my company – just along the lines of what this particular department would do so I hope they don’t read AAM and get any ideas!

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      Can I ask what the thought process is behind your company doing things like this to interviewees? What are they hoping to get out of it? Leaders, free-thinkers, steamrollers, etc?

    2. Hooptie*

      Well they like to ‘prove’ how creative and fun they are and what a GREAT PLACE THIS IS TO WORK!! Sadly, the majority of their efforts are so sadly lacking in execution that at best they look like morons, and at worst they look like assholes. Not everyone wants to live in the sticks, so they try to come up with ways to make it more appealing.

      They have had candidates withdraw their applications over some really intrusive activity during the hiring process. If I gave more specifics as to what they have done I could be identified so I don’t want to go there. But they would see the OP’s situation as a GREAT IDEA and I’d probably be the next one sending Alison a question…

      Thank goodness this only applies to our Marketing Department; the rest of the company is relatively sane and really is a fun place to work.

      I spend a lot of my time shaking my head at what they come up with.

  59. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

    This is one of my new favorite posts. This has got to be one of the craziest interviews I have ever heard of. It is like the interviewers were making some sort of game show out of the interviewing process. If I were one of the candidates, I would probably assume someone was playing a joke on me and that I was being secretly recorded! Now the chair thing, sadly, I have heard of companies doing that before. It happened to a good friend of mine and it was actually a random bar stool in the corner she ended up sitting on. She finished out the interview, but politely declined their request for a second interview. The whole point of the interview process is to see if there is mutually a good fit there and making a candidate feel uncomfortable and embarrassed during the interview does nothing to determine that and it also doesn’t provide candidates with a very good feeling about your company in general.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Sitting on a bar stool like that would kill my back. I would just have asked for a better chair, and if they refused to provide one, I would have thanked them for their time and left.

  60. Jan Arzooman*

    LOVE this letter. I can’t say I would think on my feet that quickly had I been in the scenario myself, but I might have gone through with the whole interview and dinner party so I could write a blog about it.

  61. Diane*

    After a stunt like that, I’d spent $175 on a stripper, a six-pack, and a package of dixie cups (they can share the damn beer). The rest is my consulting fee.

  62. Bananka*

    Whoa !
    The most shocking aspects of this insanity are:
    – $350 for a party of 40 people. I would run once i heard that budget. no way company has $$$ for decent comp if they don’t even have petty cash.
    – if $350 was stretched for the 40 employees, then the candidates were not allowed to eat? and stayed till 10.30 at someone’s house????
    – figuring out the director’s address: what???? am i missing something? did the candidates have to pay $20 for some online service providing background checks?
    mind blown.

  63. Mary Jo*

    Maybe they were looking for the candidate with enough nerve to tell them No, someone who will not be a sheep but will stand up for what’s right/fair/reasonable, someone who will think for herself, someone who could lead a group of 20 toward a a right decision….

    Loony is probably more likely, but you never know.

    1. Mander*

      Even if that were the case it would have to be one hell of a good job in reality to accept the post after this kind of crap.

  64. Ruffingit*

    Is the CEO Jim Jones? Do they want you to move to Guyana? Did you have to serve Kool-Aid as part of the meal?

    Seriously, this is insane. Do not question whether this is crazy. I am telling you right now, unequivocally YES. I would withdraw my candidacy right now if I were you and if for some reason you get an offer before you can do that, turn it down and be sure to post this craziness on glassdoor.com so you can warn others. GAH! This is insane.

    1. Editor*

      If nothing else, this story will provide me with fantasy opportunities for days. I can picture the applicants going off and having their own dinner and ignoring the execs. I can picture the applicants adding ipecac to everything.

      And… I can picture the applicants coming out with cups for the execs and pitchers of Kool-Aid and pouring. When asked, the applicants can say, “Why no, we’re not thirsty and we”re not drinking the Kool-Aid. Here’s yours — drink up!”

  65. Noah*

    My initial reaction was also along the lines of “I’d be out of there so fast”. However, I can certainly see how you start with the process and then feel a bit stuck to finish it. I found myself playing along when I worked for an airline. It was almost like hazing, “I went through it and and so can they”.

    For instance, they usually gave you a free ticket to interview at headquarters. However, the ticket agent would usually be instructed to “lose” your reservation during check-in and see how you react. Then the flight attendant may spill a drink on you and see how you react. The shuttle driver would get lost and make you late for the interview. They would keep you waiting in the lobby for an hour or more to gauge your reaction. I can certainly see asking employees along the way for their input on the candidates presentation and attitude, but the mind games were dumb.

  66. PoohBear McGriddles*

    I guess new grads these days have come to expect interviews where they’re asked asinine questions like what kind of tree they’d want to be, so other nonsense doesn’t seem as weird to them.

    I’m curious, if by the end of the day they still had 20 finalists, how many were eliminated by the end of the night? Just think, 5-10 of them could have made the cut and been invited back for more punishment (I mean interviewing).

    I can actually see some point to the chair thing, if you’re wanting to see if they are assertive enough to take the chair. Then you can ask them the tree question :-)

  67. Sharm*

    Was there even anyone monitoring them during the food prep? Did they get a formal send off from their interviewers? What happened to the group of 20 when everyone else went to the bars?

    My mind, it’s boggled.

  68. De Minimis*

    One major company in my [former] field did have a somewhat different way of doing interviews–they would have the candidates [this was a place where they would hire a large number of entry level hires each year] do various team building exercises/games, and would observe the candidates’ behavior, who was taking on a leadership role, etc.

    I think they also did traditional interviews for each candidate in addition to this, but it definitely was a factor in who got an offer.

    1. Zelos*

      I’m curious in your scenario: how did the company gauge the “leadership roles?”

      I’m comfortable being a leader when I’m in a senior position (by either seniority/amount of experience or by title, because then I know I’m competent). Or if for some reason, if the group defaults to me as the leader, sure–but that’s impossible for a group of interviewees who have never met each other. In a group of complete equals, I’m very uncomfortable with stepping up–because so often I see the “who died and made you the head honcho?” bleeding through the other people when I’ve tried (and to be fair, I’ve been on the other side and did the resenting too). A lot of the times, people stepping up aren’t necessarily good at being a leader and delegating. To me, a basic requirement of being a leader is competence/understanding in the subject, on top of having good people skills.

      I mean, I think the only time it’s appropriate to step up (true competence be damned) is during a life-and-death situation where something has to get done and most people are just looking for someone to follow. But with lower stakes, no seniority/experience/prior knowledge, I think the most I’m comfortable with is a more gentle “well, Jane, what do you think?” and maybe taking notes for everyone. Which are useful things (guiding a meeting and having good minutes are important), but it’s not what interviewers generally think of as overt LEADERSHIP demonstrations. And yet so often I see people (admittedly in a more academic environment) try to step up–because they think they’re good at it, because they like wielding power, who knows why–and just flat out blunder.

      So in an interview situation where not only did you not know your cohorts, you were actively competing against them, I’m curious as to how the stepping up leadership actually worked?

      1. Us, too*

        For us….

        The best leaders adjusted their approach based on the situation – by turns being outspoken and/or quiet depending on the need of the group and task. They drew out the quiet people to contribute and subdued or marginalized (politely) the blowhards. Regardless of technique, people followed them and they got results. That’s really what we were looking for. When they spoke did people listen? When they made suggestions did people adopt them? etc.

        Also, these behavioral group exercises often revealed behaviors that we did NOT want, allowing us to weed out folks who simply wouldn’t be a good fit for the role or our company culture. I witnessed some absolutely insane and toxic behaviors that I doubt would have manifested in a traditional interview environment. I’d actually use the term “horrifying” in some cases.

      2. Tris Prior*

        yeah, I can’t see this ending well. I can see a lot of people all talking over one another in hopes that their “leadership skills” will be noticed by the employer.

        1. Zelos*

          I agree, but it’s difficult to determine which one of these followers have leadership potential/abilities and which are just straight followers. This is why I’m always skeptical of these kinds is team exercises. Leaders lead by respect and trust, both of which ate hard to establish in a room of strangers and the matter isn’t life or death.

          1. Mephyle*

            True, and the qualities that make a person able to take charge, organize, and lead on the fly in a roomful of strangers aren’t necessarily the same qualities that make a good leader longterm in a team full of people whose skills, strengths and weaknesses they’ve had time to learn.

      3. Artemesia*

        We did a series of group interviews for a highly competitive educational opportunity in what was a leadership/management program. Those who were chosen participated in the program for a year and their organizations generally nominated them because they had an eye on them for promotion and leadership and there were also some cool perks that came with the program such as an international trip.

        We had them deal with a scenario as if they were a management team. We were looking for the sophistication of their content knowledge and strategic approaches to the problem but also how they interacted. So people who built on each other’s contributions or who engaged and invited others into the conversation were seen as potentially effective leaders. We also looked for those who didn’t listen, who dominated conversation or rolled over others in the group, or who seemed to be trying to impress rather than engage effectively with the others in the group. The people we selected who were the stars in these group interviews generally were those who were effective in the leadership challenges in the program. Those who were the last chosen, or for whom we had qualms, tended to be less effective. It was a pretty effective screen.

        In fact in hiring, it has been my experience that problems you observe when interviewing e.g the guy who talks too much, the person who is a little abrasive, the person who seems a little low energy are the problems you will in fact have with that person on the job. We were hiring in a difficult position to fill and every time we tried to rationalize behavior that gave us some concern, we regretted it later. We actually ended up firing a brilliant person who had 95% of what we were looking for but who we thought had some interpersonal behaviors that night be problematic. Boy were they.

    2. Us, too*

      I worked in an organization that did this and it could be really helpful.

      To be successful in the job for which we were hiring, the candidate needed to be an excellent influencer/indirect leader. In the job, they’d frequently be in a situation with having to get people they didn’t know to do what they asked them to do.

      Also, it helped identify candidates’ communication styles. We could then hire to balance our team as we needed to.

  69. AJ-in-Memphis*

    I really, really want to know how if the OP is feeling some vindication after reading the support form the AAM community. I would have left when I heard about this dinner party “challenge”. No job is worth that torture.

  70. Anonymous*

    I don’t at all think the OP is being untruthful, but my initial reaction was, “What, no, that cannot have happened!” Because it’s just such a bizarre situation. I agree with the prior commenters that this was probably an odd and inappropriate solution to lack of planning and budget for a company party. Clearly the people at this company subsist entirely on a diet of crazy, and the OP should run for the hills.

  71. K Too*

    I think this post will go down in AAM History in ‘The Best of 2014’ files. What the hell? I haven’t skimmed all the way down the comment section, but how many out of the 20 finalists called BS and gave up on chef/hosting duties?

  72. khilde*

    If this is going to end up being one of those letters where the OP just goes off the grid and never comes back to answer questions….I’m going to be so heartbroken. It should be stated in the rules that if you’re going to bring a mind-blowing tale of this proportion you MUST stick around to answer questions :)

  73. Perry*

    As someone that was at the same interview (and did not get the job), let me shock you further by telling you that there WAS a choreographed dance as part of the entertainment that night.

      1. Perry*

        The group of twenty was split into two groups of ten. One was responsible for food (Mexican was chosen) and the other for entertainment. I was in the entertainment group.

        To ‘entertain’ people we started with a pub quiz and then a choreographed dance to Feliz Navidad (had to keep it seasonal, after all) which ended in a conga line around the room.

        Although I still believe the organization does great work and firmly believe in their mission, I would have to agree with the original poster that by the end of the day I wasn’t sure I even wanted the job. I even know someone that was offered the job and turned it down. $23,600 just didn’t seem worth it for her and for me it would have been a huge pay cut.

        Needless to say, the fact that I didn’t get the job is probably for the best.

        1. khilde*

          This must be a huge company? Or a large city? What are the odds that two AAM readers could have experienced the same craziness.

          Perry – when you started reading the letter today did it freak you out a little bit? :) Thanks for filling us in.

          1. Perry*

            It was actually sent to me by my roommate who is a reader. When I got back from the interview I told him about my experience. When he read this he sent it over to me.

            I am not sure why the original poster did not reveal the organization but I will. It was Operation Smile based in Norfolk, Virginia.

            1. khilde*

              {collective sigh of relief from AAM readers}

              Wow, I love it. Thanks for jumping on and giving us some more details.

            2. khilde*

              I wonder if AAM readers will crash their website looking them up? Haha, that’s where I’m going now…..

              1. Gracie*

                Well, their website is not inspiring confidence in Firefox– the text is all smushed together and looks horrible.

            3. cecilhungry*

              Huh. I know someone who works for them. I wonder if she was involved in this… (not a good enough friend to ask, unfortunately. Just someone I used to play on a team with).

            4. khilde*

              This will be the last post I do in this thread b/c I don’t want to be annoying. But I just looked at their site and…..?!?!? This is the same org that has those darling little faces staring at me from the back of magazines?!? I’m so confused at how such a (seemingly) thoughtful and helpful organization could have such douchebags running the show.

              1. Sadsack*

                I am also shocked. Seems like it would be an upstanding organization all the way around, but I guess there is no such thing. Someone at the org should really look into this. I assume they want the best employees they can get, but who would consider them as a worthy employer after hearing about something like this? This is some seriously negative exposure for this org.

              2. fposte*

                Or you could be looking at Smile Train, which is a similar organization–apparently the two almost merged a couple of years ago.

                1. khilde*

                  oohh……now that you mention it, I think the magazine ads I see do have a little train icon or the word in the ad. So you are probably right.

              3. AVP*

                Ugh, the founders of that organization graduated from my high school and I always had such a good impression of them and their mission.

                1. khilde*

                  Well, I suppose it is probably a good idea for all of us (I’m looking at me first; kinda regreat my comments about them being d-bags) to not brandish the *entire* thing as horrible. I mean, the mission is still honorable. I’m sure many of their front line employees are admirable. I would guess the founders even are solid people. But it’s the managers/employees in this instance, in that particular area, making these decisions regarding this process that are…questionable. I’d hate to paint the entire organization as worthless because we heard about this one interviewing experience. So I retract some of my personal initial vitriol, but still think it’s good to hear about some of this crazy stuff.

                2. Felicia*

                  I still have a good impression of their mission and what they do – but an interview process would make me never ever want to apply to work there, because it’s not ok. I’m sure not matter how much people believe in the mission, this would stop them from applying there.

            5. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Ugh, that is really too bad. They have a worthy mission. Sigh.

              Perry, did any of the candidates express doubt that the whole process made sense, or reluctance to participate? What was your general sense of people’s take on the situation?

              1. cecilhungry*

                I was wondering if maybe most of the non-interviewing 40 partygoers didn’t know? It would certainly never occur to me that the “entertainment”/”caterers” were actually potential coworkers! Was that made explicit to the general party?

              2. Perry*

                My sense is that most everyone thought that it was a little strange. Although we were in a room with all of the other candidates in between our interviews, there weren’t really great opportunities to candidly discuss the situation with others. This was mostly because other staff of OS were in the room (ostensibly to keep us entertained) and no one wanted to say anything which might diminish their chances of getting the job.

                I found the whole process tedious and repetitive. Each of the five interviews involved five staff members (so that is 25 people in total). How they were supposed to come to a consensus is beyond me.

                Happy to answer more questions.

                Nearly everyone was qualified (and I’d say even over-qualified) for the positions

                1. Confused*

                  So, what happened at the end of the night? Did they give you a “you’ll hear from us by the end of the week etc” and send you on your way? Did they make you clean up too? Did you know the salary being offered prior to the launch of Not-S0-Amazing Race?
                  I 2nd cecilhungry, were the other party guests in on it?
                  So. Many. Questions.

                2. PEBCAK*

                  What positions was it for??? Was it anything even a little tiny bit related to event planning?

            6. P*

              Perry, I am flabbergasted. I just moved from the Hampton Roads area where I left my mother and I was thissss close previously to sending her a job posting they had. This is such silly behavior and almost demeaning. Alison is right in calling them “partly insane, partly sadists, partly narcissists.” Best of luck to you and OP in finding a job. Having just left that area, I know how tough it was and the pay offered for most of the jobs was just too low.

            7. fposte*

              Interesting. Charity Navigator says it can’t rate them because “This organization’s business model relies heavily on donated services.”

              I’ll say.

            8. Felicia*

              Wow, I thought Operation Smile was a legit organization that did good work. Not the kind of place I’d have a batshit insane interview process. Definitely thousands of people will now know to never apply there

        2. College Career Counselor*

          “Although I still believe the organization does great work and firmly believe in their mission…”

          This sounds like a non-profit that does EVENTS to me. Regardless, they’ve clearly slipped off the rails regarding their interview process

    1. Noah*

      No freaking way! Are both of you sure you were not taking part in a reality show? Really, really sure?

      You guys have us totally caught up in this story. I wish there was video of the whole day.

  74. Claire MKE*

    Everyone has the really crazy parts covered, so I’ll just comment on the chair thing: my roommate’s old manager (at a retail store) would apparently place the chair for the interviewee parallel to his desk to see if they would turn the chair to face him or turn themselves and leave the chair as it was (turning the chair was the “right” answer because it was assertive or something). So chair-related interview mind games are definitely a thing! The rest, I don’t even know.

  75. Mena*

    After seriously thinking that this letter is a fake, I am now floored that even 1 person, let alone 20, actually went along with this – is the job market that bad?

    1. Perry*

      Let me assure you that this story is 100% real. I don’t think any of us knew just what we were getting ourselves into and once you were there (for example there was a candidate that flew in from Hawai’i to the east coast — unsure if she got the job) I guess you just have to go with it.

      1. Lillie Lane*

        Perry, please please PLEASE tell us more about the interview! All details, I’m begging you!!!

        1. Perry*

          We did get to eat the dinner that we cooked, yes.

          Although I did drink after (who wouldn’t) it was extremely awkward. Are you really supposed to go out and get drunk with the people that interviewed you? How is that not going to impact their opinion of you.

          It was almost a situation that you were damned if you do (risk of looking unprofessional), damned if you don’t (not ‘cool’).

          1. VintageLydia*

            Now I’m just hilariously picturing a bunch of folks bar crawling down Granby Street with the some bewildered young adults following them.

  76. Poster formerly known as Jane Doe*

    This is pretty close to the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.

    A small, teeny, tiny part of me feels like it would be fun, because I like excelling in ridiculous situations and just going for it, but mostly so that I have an entertaining story to tell afterwards. I think I may have stuck around just out of curiosity, but I never EVER would take the job if offered it.

  77. Anonymous*

    If you google the company’s name and “interview process”, it seems like candidates for the position also had to create some type of visual project addressing 2 really basic interview questions- why they want to work for Oper. Smile and why they should be hired. I see some video projects (one of which is over 12 mins long!), a prezi presentation, etc. I really can’t believe the lengths these young applicants had to go to secure a $23,600/yr position!

    1. Perry*

      Yes, you had to do some sort of project. I wrote an essay but many did videos.

      You can find many of them on youtube under “program coordinator operation smile”

      In total it was 2 phone interviews, one project and then all of this day-long silliness.

      1. Perry*

        In addition, something that greatly annoyed me was the length of time it took to move through the process. My first interview was September 17th … my rejection December 19th.

      2. Holly*

        I want to point out that if you look this up on YouTube, selectively marking the keywords so it’s pretty exact, you get 67 videos.

        That’s a lot of people who’ve gone through this stupid process so far.

      3. gw*

        Jesus. Admittedly, the turnaround on academic hiring is almost as bad, but the last position I hired for a) paid twice as much and b) was tenure track.

  78. Melanie*

    Wait, is this a job interview or a reality show? I’m predicting that this will make the end of the year list of most ridiculous experiences.

  79. Anonymous*

    I’m the original poster. Thanks for all your feedback and for confirming that this was an insane interview process!

    To answer/address a few things:

    The organization said that they would be hiring multiple people (I was told anywhere from 3-12) so having 19 other finalists seemed almost plausible.

    To clarify the dinner situation-we were told to cook for 40 put it was unclear that the candidates were included in the final count so we were really cooking for 20-25 staff and the candidates. We weren’t given an address for the director’s house. One of the candidates was friends with someone connected to the organization and called them for the address. We also were responsible for our own transport to the house. As Perry said we ended up cooking tacos (cheap and easy to adjust for the food allergies), doing trivia and a dance to Feliz Navidad.

    I think I stayed around due to some bizarre form of Stockholm syndrome! No one else expressed disbelief at the whole scenario or dropped out so it seemed best just to go along with it. We were also responsible for our own travel/accommodation expenses (something that was made clear in the 1st phone interview) so I felt like after I had spent the money I should at least see it through. It was also an incredibly attractive position with more responsibility than your average entry-level position in international development/health. I’ve been job searching since May and didn’t feel like I could turn any opportunity down. In hindsight I wish I had left when the pulled the chair stunt.

    I was relieved to not get the job after getting a real taste of how the organization works. Speaking to current employees they said they went through the same process so this is something this organization does regularly. The real icing on the cake was that when they called to tell me I didn’t get the job they let me know that they are hiring again in June and encouraged me to reapply. I was told that some of their best program coordinators had applied 2-3 times before getting the job!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Dear god. If they plan to keep doing this, part of me thinks I should contact the organization, show them this post and people’s reactions to it, and urge them to reconsider.

      1. Zelos*

        If you could, Alison, please do so. I’m shuddering from the other end of the continent here. Seriously, what the hell?

        And Perry–given that you asked the OP to contact you, I’m assuming Perry is your real name? I hope you won’t suffer repercussions for participating in this discussion. (If this hits Gawker or something the sympathy would be on the applicants’ side, but everyone at OS can use Google too…)

        1. Perry*

          Thanks, I understand the concern and thought twice about using my name. But for me personally it is important to have transparency. Nothing I said is exaggerated or false. I have nothing to hide.

          We have presented the facts. People can come to their own judgement about whether it is a good way to interview people. :)

          I never plan to apply for this organization again.

      2. NonProfiter*

        I sent in a tip to Gawker. I think it’s mainstream media/big internet media newsworthy. Frankly it’s an insane technique for anyone to hire by, but doubly so in a not-for-profit organization as opposed to some kind of corporate environment.

        I mean, I’ve heard of them and respected their work and to say this reflects poorly on them is maybe the understatement of the year.

        Job Interviews = Hunger Games before too long if people put up with this crap.

      3. Adam V*

        Please do. I was just about to ask you if you’d feel comfortable intervening, due to your experience with nonprofits and proper hiring processes.

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I just sat down and tried to write a note to them, but discovered that it’s hard to write a polite letter that references a column in which I called them insane, sadists, narcissists, a group of loons, a delusional cult, and whackjobs.

        I think I may have lost the ability to reach out to them.

          1. Felicia*

            I imagine sending them this post with all the comments would be sufficient to get the point across. “Here is what hundreds of reasonable people think of your hiring process”

        1. VintageLydia*

          If it quacks like a duck…

          But yeah, they probably wouldn’t be entirely receptive of what you have to tell them, no matter how right you are.

        2. Nonprofit Office Manager*

          I was going to suggest that we, the readers, rise up en masse as as a concerned (and outraged) group of professionals and write a joint letter to Operation Smile. However, if anyone can effectively spotlight the insanity, Gawker can!

        3. CAA*

          Updating their Wikipedia page might get their attention. At least it will get other job seekers’ attention as reading that would be part of most candidates’ normal research before an interview.

        4. Not So NewReader*

          You only spoke the truth, Alison. And you also said “Their company, they can do what they want.” Which is also true.

          They had to know that their antics would hit the Net at some point. It just happened to be in your forum. Had it not been here, then it would have been somewhere else. And they had to be aware that treating people in this manner is not going to help their fund raising efforts.

          I can promise you, I will never, ever donate to this group.

          All this on the heals of the post you had yesterday regarding how companies are treating people in this economy.
          You are the voice of reason here.
          Frankly, I think you rock.

          I think these posts should be sent to the White House.

        5. heyyou*

          You say you lost the ability to reach out to them, but given that what you said is true (narcissists, etc), and given that they have apparently pulled this shit more than once, I don’t think they would listen anyway.

        6. Lynette*

          I have given to OS in the past. I am also a Foreign Service Officer and have passed a famously grueling hiring process…which has led me to making snap decisions in the middle of terrorist attacks, organizing conferences on pennies, and other big deal things, all without cooking anyone dinner as part of the interview and no chair antics. I have no qualms about writing them with the reasons I will not be donating again.

      5. A Teacher*

        Please do! We’ve donated there before–I won’t be donating there again. The asinine interview process and treatment of people is beyond insane. Seriously. How is it okay to treat people this way? I can understand why peer pressure would make you stay to see out the process (sorry, Joey). I will make sure to share the name of the organization with my students as well so that they know it is a “real story.” A lot of my dual credit kids are the national merit, international baccalaureate kids that end up on full rides and would apply for positions like this right of college. They may have a worthwhile mission but they obviously aren’t above treating people like crap multiple times and all for a job that would require you to work something else to even pay your bills for most of us.

      6. nyxalinth*

        Please do! I was considering doing it myself, because there’s no way in hell I would apply to be even so much as a janitor there after reading this.

      7. mikey*

        “Never argue with a stupid person. They’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” – Mark Twain.
        Don’t waste your time trying to reason with these people. They are safe in their bubble universe and are convinced their methods work.

    2. Perry*

      I would be curious to know which candidate you were and if you know who ended up getting the job. If you are comfortable telling me E-mail me privately. You should still have my contact info from the E-mail chains.

    3. Sadsack*

      Do you know what the person they hired had the the rest of you didn’t? I wonder because unless they had someone observing your large group throughout the entire process, how did they base any evaluation on the dinner preparation portion of the “interview”?

      1. Sadsack*

        I am also wondering what can possibly change for the interviewee to become more desirable between the first and third interviews.

    4. Anonymous*

      Also, in response to the comments about young people/new grads and not having the experience to realize how insane the situation was, there was at least on person with a masters degree, several returned peace corps volunteers and others with extensive international experience. We were if anything an incredibly overqualified group. I think it says more about how highly competitive the job market is than my and other candidates inexperience.

      1. Lillie Lane*

        True. Now knowing the organization, more details, and the distance that some people traveled (Hawaii? Yikes!) I can understand why many candidates hung in for the duration of the interview. Though it still blows my mind that some candidates would come back to relive this fresh hell. OP and Perry, thank you for today’s entertainment and the tip not to apply there.

    5. Felicia*

      This is absolutely insane, especially that they do this regularly. Do they realize this is the stupidest way ever to interview people? Is it to late to ask for feedback? I’m curious how they evaluate something that weird.

  80. Anonymous*

    Someone inform Guidestar, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and other similar orgs posthaste. I’m sure the donors would love to know that $350 of the organization’s funds was wasted on this silliness.

    1. SaraV*

      Oh no…

      I just performed a quick Google search. Operation Smile is the charity Zachary Levi is heavily involved in. (He of “Chuck” and “Tangled” fame)

      I hope this is only happening at the Norfolk chapter…or is that the main HQ?


    1. Goofy posture*

      “A huge emphasis is placed on team work, and positivity and adaptability are essential character traits in order to be successful in this position.”

      I guess this is how they justify it.

    2. Pam*

      This non-profit spends money on beach trips, mystery dinner theaters, costume parties, rock climbing outings, etc. all in the name of “team building”.

  81. Abradee*

    This sounds like a horror movie. I kept waiting for the part where the party guests forced the candidates to turn on each other and fight to the death for the job.

    But wow, what a plot twist when the organization was revealed! My high school always had a yearly fundraiser to collect money for them. I never would have expected this.

  82. Robyn*

    Thank you for coming forward Perry and OP.

    Allyson, I do think you need to contact this organisation. This is just exploitation.

    Why do people want to even work for them?

    1. Anonymous*

      I hope ALL 20 candidates submit email Hamilton and they’ll all blow this wide open.

      There aren’t adequate words to describe the level of absurdity these people pack into their “hiring process.”

    2. NonProfiter*

      Hamilton: If you haven’t already asked her, Alison might be willing to pass along your interest in getting in touch & contact info directly to the OP. She’s in the habit of reaching out to people when she or commenters have more questions about a post.

      1. IronMaiden*

        Can someone please keep those of us not in the US updated on this expose? This is my all time AAM post, it is so terrible but so funny at the same time. Quite apart from the original post, reader reactions are hilarious.

        On a more serious note, I’d like to wish OP and Perry success with their job searches.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      Oh my god, I just can’t escape you HamNo, no matter how hard I try. I thought this was a safe haven!

  83. crocodile*

    Ugh. I work in international development, and there are a few organizations that go in for this camp-counselor-esque hyped-up fun-fun-fun image as they go about employing young people at terrible wage rates, and it is SO tiresome. There’s an organization in my city that fosters this kind of environment and image, and job seekers who have a history with this organization on their CV actually end up looking kind of naive, and are not necessarily considered serious professional candidates for next-level jobs in the sector. I promise there are jobs in international development — yes, even entry level jobs — that are looking for serious, thoughtful, committed critical thinkers with pedantic real-world things like financial management and policy analysis skills!

    1. ArtsNerd*

      In my field (arts) the end result of our work is so “cool” and “fun” that many orgs don’t need other incentives to hire people at terrible wages.

      I guess what I’m saying is that if I got through the rough dues-paying part of my career without even being able to build a strong reputation or learn professional norms, I’d be so pissed!

      1. crocodile*

        Agreed, ArtsNerd — this kind of approach does a real disservice to young people starting their careers. And yes, my kind of work can also be fascinating and rewarding even when nobody dresses up like a giraffe. I’ve certainly worked for several years at fairly modest pay, but at organizations that took me seriously as a young committed professional eager to build practical skills.

        Actually i find it all a big gross — this should be serious work about a serious issue. Children lacking access to simple surgery that can radically change their quality of life is not exactly a cause for great hilarity.

  84. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I have to say, knowing now who the organization is, I feel a little sick about this because their mission is such a worthy one. I admit that I would have felt far better if when the organization was revealed, it had turned out to be an employer engaged in different work.

    Their hiring practices aren’t okay, obviously. And I stand by my assessment in the original post. But it feels bad to find out that it’s an organization with noble aspirations, as opposed to one doing more mundane work, and to know that their work might be a little harder because of their exposure here. These are people who are trying to do good in the world, even though the way they’re assembling their staff is so misguided.

    That said, they’re doing their mission no favors by using this kind of hiring practice — to the contrary, they’re doing it a disservice — and I hope that any attention they get over this will help them revisit how they assess job candidates and make hiring decisions. But I can’t say I feel good about the blowback they might receive.

    1. NonProfiter*

      I think how they handle whatever blowback will show us who they are as an organization. If they defend their practices and give us another side of the story, my ears are open to hearing it. If they step back and say, “Yeah, we see how this looks and we’ll fix it by doing something differently,” also good. But yes, I’m also familiar with a respect their work and they’ve done themselves a huge disservice. And they’ll continue to do so by having 20 people at a shot walk away from an insane job interview and tell at least one or two people about what they experienced!

    2. Rindle*

      Alison, I understand why you feel bad. I did too, for a minute. But on second thought, to me it doesn’t matter how noble the organization’s cause may be. Based on the original letter and the facts that Perry shared, this is an organization that is exploiting job applicants and playing mind games. There is no way this is an effective hiring practice. The worthiness of the mission does not change that fact. It’s a shame that it had to come to a public shaming, but if nobody within the organization has had the courage or leverage to put a stop to it, hopefully these comments will. You were not out of line in your assessment. They were out of line in their hiring practices.

      1. khilde*

        “The worthiness of the mission does not change that fact.”

        Good point, Rindle. I was starting to feel bad about the whole thing before I read Alison’s follow up comment here. But you provide a good perspective here. Thanks

    3. Nonprofit Office Manager*

      I had the opposite reaction. When I learned the organization was a nonprofit, I went from thinking the situation was outrageous-but-funny to simply outrageous. Operation Smile’s bizarre and overly cumbersome hiring process alone is enough to make me never want to donate to them, let alone knowing how much staff time (i.e. money) is eaten up along the way. Their cause may be worthy, but there are other charities out that treat facial deformities—I’d rather donate to one that spends more money providing services and less money making job candidates jump through pointless hoops.

      1. Anonymous*

        Yes, this. A lot of the time the non-profits pay lower than industry or privately owned companies, and they still get top-notch applicants because people value the mission of the organization more than the material benefits they could get elsewhere. Humiliating the interviewees like this is just plain insulting.

        I don’t have any sympathy.

      2. Anonymous*

        I agree. I have worked for two public university departments that produced wonderful work of great benefit to the public. Unfortunately, many of the employees were treated like dirt and in a manner very far removed from the organizations’ stated public mission.

        I believe very strongly in “voting with my wallet” and would never support an organization with practices such as this with my time or money. My thinking on this applies to private sector organizations as well. As an example, I make a concerted effort to only spend my money with stores where the employees seem to be happy and treated reasonably well.

        That said, it is important to point out that as abhorrent as this org’s hiring practices may be, people do choose to go through with this process. I know jobs can be hard to come by, and many people may feel that they have no choice (and I am no stranger to survival jobs), but this organization will take notice when people stop going through with this process (and perhaps even stop applying to work with this organization at all). I can’t escape the feeling that there are probably a few people out there that enjoy this sort of thing…and then go on to perpetuate it after they are hired. So, in some sense, it is a selection method that probably works for this organization (as insane as it may seem to many of us.)

        1. Rindle*

          “I can’t escape the feeling that there are probably a few people out there that enjoy this sort of thing…and then go on to perpetuate it after they are hired.”

          Yep, different strokes for different folks, and all that stuff. But based on the information provided by the OP and Perry, they were not aware of what they were getting into. It’s like the frog in the boiling pot of water. They had been there all day for interviews, this was the third set of interviews, and only at the end of a long and stressful day did they get the coup de grace. It sounds like if the organization had been up front about 1) the interview process and 2) the salary, at least the two people we’ve heard from today would not have chosen to participate.

          By all means, if you want to hire people who are okay with making less than $25k per year and find joy in conga lines, comedy skits, and going out drinking as part of their jobs, go for it. But don’t spring it on professionals who rightly have no idea what they’re getting into.

          1. Anonymous*

            Yes fair point. I guess I was referring to the people tbat went through the process 2-3 times. I believe the chair mindgame would have been enough for me to walk away. If not that, then the complete vagueness on the interview itenerary.

            Fwiw, I’m not defending their practice s in any way. Just raising a counterpoint.

            1. Rindle*

              Agreed – and it’s an important counterpoint. If people are applying two and three times, then clearly they know what they’re getting into, and some people like that kind of thing. I agree with you on “voting with my wallet,” too, and I plan to share this information (and some other info I see on their Wikipedia page, like percentage of donations spent on admin and fundraising and their chief executive’s $330k + salary) with my friends who have been donors.

        2. thenoiseinspace*

          They may stop when the candidates run out, but we did hear about at least one candidate who was offered the job and turned them down. Enough of that might make them stop, too.

      3. flora_fairford*

        I actually agree with Nonprofit Office Manager. I felt worse about the OP’s experience when it was revealed the organization have a worthy mission. Job candidates deserve respect, all the more so when they’re applying for jobs that will be less well-paid because of a cause. These practices are inane at best and, unfortunately, provide a lot of visibility into how the charity functions. If that’s the culture of their organization, I’d rather find a different charity with a similar mission.

        1. Confused*

          Totally agree. A job with “more responsibility than your average entry-level position” (as OP posted above) and under $24K pay will attract people because it’s a good cause and this how they are treated? It’s not a reality show, it’s not greek life, it’s a process to assess the skills and qualifications for a professional position.

    4. anonymous*

      I wouldn’t feel too badly. This is hardly a small, struggling non-profit. A quick look at their 990 on Guidestar shows their annual income is over $56million and that their senior leadership is well compensated. This is a real business and they can do better.

      These candidates had to pay for their airfare, accommodations and other expenses just to have the privilege of having a third round interview with them. This would be unreasonable no matter what the industry, but in this case it’s not like they’re competing for a highly lucrative job. As someone familiar with salaries in the non-profit world, the “successful” candidates will be lucky to make more than $25k. I think, consciously or not, they’re using their position as a non-profit to get away with these practices. If this was a for-profit, candidates might be more likely to call them on this behavior. In their case, they can just play the poor non-profit card and cite the nobility of their work.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No, I stand by the original post. And I agree with people above that when the mission really matters, it’s even more important that the management be done right. I just wish it had been a different organization.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I feel that as professionals they should have known this would happen.
          I am sorry when good people get hurt. I am sorry when good missions take a hard hit.
          But they should have known.

          How long have they been doing this? And this is the first we have heard?

          1. Jaimie*

            I feel badly that Gawker is involved. Sure, it is a bad practice. But Gawker…. That would be some serious Internet piling on.

            Also massive publicity for this blog.

            Feels like it all just got real.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, I hope the point of “Folks, this really isn’t a fair way to treat people who don’t have much leverage” doesn’t get drowned out by “Burn the witch.”

            2. Liz in a library*

              Yeah, I feel weird about that too. The Internet is the internet, but…if the OP had wanted to call in that particular weapon, wouldn’t they have done so instead of coming here?

              1. Jaimie*

                Yes, well, exactly. I would think that if this blog were to come up in a google search of the organization’s name, that would be sufficient.

                If this leads the organization to revise their practices that’s a good thing. But whether they are well run or not, they help a lot of children who are very much in need. And every hour spent dealing with bad publicity is an hour that attention isn’t paid to their actual programs.

                The people who run this hiring process sound like a-holes, but the children who need help didn’t do anything wrong.

                1. Anonymous*

                  Well, part of their program (because their hiring practices and administration are definitely part of their organization) goes towards maintaining this kind of insanity, so I’m still not feeling any sympathy.

                  Maybe after the bad publicity, they’d shape up their practices and put the time they spent on their 15-hour hazing rituals towards furthering their actual mission. Still win in my book.

        2. Anonymous*

          I can see you keeping the spirit of the original op but slightly alternating the language of whackos, etc.

    5. Artemesia*

      It makes me wonder if they ARE an organization that does good work. There was an organization in my last home town that focused on helping ‘THE CHILDREN’ that turned out to be largely about 6 figure incomes for the founders their children and their sons and daughters in law. They got exposed when employees started stealing donations of goods and were photographed doing it. A sort of ‘the fish rots from the head down’ situation.

      Do we know that this particular organization actually delivers bang for the buck in terms of services to third world kids?

    6. Hapax Legomenon*

      When the company was identified, it was a relief to me. A nonprofit was the only explanation that downgraded the company from sociopathic behavior. Why would a company think it was okay to test the candidates’ ability to put on dinner and entertainment, on a shoestring budget, with no warning? Then the “fundraising event” lightbulb turned on in my head. I have very little experience with larger charitable organizations, but even if they’re different I bet most of the candidates were remembering last-minute fundraisers that were organized a day or two before they happened, with no money budgeted for putting on the event, by service organizations they’d worked with before. As ludicrous as it was, at least it was slightly explicable.
      It also explained why the candidates went along with it: would you want to be the person who walked out of a group interview because you thought a nonprofit was asking too much of you during the hiring process? And people will put in a lot of off-the-clock hours willingly for nonprofits, so the fact that they were basically doing unpaid work in the group interview wasn’t AS bizarre as if it were a for-profit company.
      If this weren’t a nonprofit, think how much worse the scenario becomes. I know you said this wasn’t abuse, but imagine the impression this would give of a for-profit company…and how much working for them could screw up your head. They apparently screen out people who think this stuff isn’t normal(since OP glossed over the true madness of the interview), and have no problem coercing people into doing unpaid work for them. They play mind games to see how you react, and they’ll make your job harder to do both deliberately(by springing hugely important tasks on you at the last minute) and because they’re just not too worried about doing their own work well(e.g. forgetting directions to the director’s house). The senior staff has no problem enjoying themselves when the grunts are running themselves ragged and have no idea what’s going to happen next. (Okay, that part isn’t mitigated by the company being nonprofit, but every charity attracts narcissists. They’re an occupational hazard you should be prepared for going in.) I’d much rather there be a non-terrifying explanation for the company’s behavior.

    7. A Teacher*

      I don’t feel bad for them. There are so many deserving charities with worthwhile causes out there. So many worthwhile not-for-profits where hiring practices aren’t so much of an attempt to humiliate the job candidate. The audience that they serve was damaged by the organization because of the organization’s practices and nothing more. When I first read this, I thought it was probably for some crazy company that was for profit so to find out it is a not-for-profit is disappointing and even more disturbing. Seriously not okay to play mind games with adults, ever.

    8. Limon*

      But Alison, consider that they are in fact unethical in other areas of their company, not just their hiring.

      Remember – ‘dishonest in small things, dishonest in great things.’ I would bet a nickle that they are keeping a very large portion of the money they take in for themselves and that they are using a very good cause to make alot of money for themselves. People with integrity have integrity throughout their lives, in all areas. The same is true for unethical people.

      This company is conning more than just their interviewees.

      1. fposte*

        Except ‘dishonest in small things, dishonest in great things’ is demonstrably untrue. This stuff gets studied pretty seriously, and there’s no correlation between speeding and embezzlement or post-it co-optation and adultery.

    9. N.J.*

      Joining this thread a little late, but a quick search in Wikipedia for basic stats about their mission reveals that they probably aren’t a particularly well run non-profit, spending close to 42% of their funding in one fiscal year reported on fund raising and administration. This should obviously be taken with a grain of salt, because Wikipedia certainly isn’t infallible, but the reference links for this sections seem relatively legit.

      I’d be interested to know what is typically viewed as an acceptable percentage of the budget expenditure for a larger non-profit but 42% seems a bit high and certainly adds to the impression of an organization run by loons.

      Financial Information Section from Wikipedia

      Operation Smile spends 42% of the money donated to the charity on fundraising and administration, including a salary of over $331,000 for its chief executive. [37]
      The NGO raised $35,024,864 during the fiscal year ending June 2008. They spent 41% of the cash revenues on fundraising and administration; $11,905,507 on fundraising (33.9%) and a further $2,710,783 on management (7.7%).[38]
      Operation Smile also operates the Operation Smile Foundation, a separate registered non-profit whose sole purpose is to raise funds for Operation Smile. The Foundation spent $7,267,834 on fundraising and raised $8,387,513 in the tax year ending June 30, 2007. The Foundation transferred a total of $781,858 to Operation Smile. http://operationsmile.org/docs/990_2006_osf.pdf
      The organization was listed with the Forbes 2005 200 Largest U.S. Charities.
      Operation Smile is a member of the Independent Charities of America.
      Operation Smile does not meet several standards for charities established by the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance.[39]

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        The reason you justify paying the leader of a non-profit a high salary is that non-profits need to be run professionally in order to be successful and you have to competitive pay to attract the best talent. Being a for profit capitalist, this makes perfect sense to me.

        So here we are are at the top of the org, with a competitive salary being paid and what’s going on down at the bottom of the org?

        Seriously. You cannot treat people this unprofessionally and expect to get away with it not being brought to light eventually.

        The disregard for low level job applicants is stunning (understatement).

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        I put my finger on it.

        It is either a club OR a business but it can’t be both.

        Applicants, without their foreknowledge or agreement, are being treated as potential initiates to a sorority. If there wasn’t pay involved, it’d be a weird social ritual, like joining the Free Masons or something.

        By combining that sorority ritual with the promise of a job, it’s an abuse of power, and perpetuates a culture of abuse of power because the “lucky winners” then do the same thing to the next group of people: see, sorority/fraternity and how those things get out of hand.

        How can you sit at a top of an organization and think it is okay to make young job applicants spend their own money to fly from Hawaii to come and cook you dinner on the off chance they are offered a $23,000 a year job….?

        OTOH, if they do think it is okay and stand by the practice, if the practice is well documented on teh interwebs, then the next applicants will go in knowing what to expect or will decide to steer clear away.

        The biggest fault in all of this was lack of transparency.

      3. Former Non-Profiter*

        To be fair, the % spent on administration and fundraising is often a poor way to judge the effectiveness of an organization. Cutting administration can be penny-wise and pound-foolish; someone has to do the strategic planning, research needs, evaluate effectiveness, retain talent and make sure there’s enough money coming in to keep the organization going. Furthermore, many organizations inflate the benefit-cost ratio with absurd estimates of the value of their donations so they can claim they spend 92 cents on the dollar on programming.

        This is easily done by inflating the value of in-kind donations. For example, one year the NFL donated a bunch of t-shirts to World Vision after a championship; before the game, they printed championship t-shirts for both teams so they’d be available immediately, and then planned on throwing half away. These t-shirts can’t be sold and thus have no market value. On their taxes, the NFL deducted the value of every one of those shirts as though they were worth as much as the shirts for the winning team, even though that isn’t remotely what it cost the NFL to produce them. Meanwhile, World Vision took those shirts and handed them out in a developing country where people already have clothes of their own. All it did was cause the price of locally made clothing collapse temporarily, and hurt local vendors. But World Vision counted the NFL’s inflated estimate of the shirts’ value (shirts that would be literally worthless on the market) as the value of ‘services provided’ so they can claim they provide 90 cents of services for every 10 cents spent on overhead. It’s a useless metric in this case, and it’s not a rare practice.

        Non-profits have serious work to do and should treat it like serious work. I agree 100% with Wakeen’s Teapots Ltd: employees should be compensated as though it’s serious work. I don’t have a problem, really, with the CEO of a $33 million non-profit being compensated like the CEO of a $33 million corporation. I do, however, have a problem with that CEO making a large salary and then paying the program coordinator who does the actual work $23k.

      4. Random Reader*

        “Operation Smile. The Foundation spent $7,267,834 on fundraising and raised $8,387,513 in the tax year ending June 30, 2007. The Foundation transferred a total of $781,858 to Operation Smile.”

        Okay, that looks like a pretty TERRIBLE ratio. Sure, it’s years out of date, but still. Only 13.4% of funds raised being passed to the organisation it is funding for?

    10. Anonymous*

      I understand where you are coming from but a worthy mission isn’t the only way an organization is judged. And you could make a strong case that an organization that aims to do good in the world should be especially attuned to first doing good WITHIN their own organization – for imstance, treating employers and job seekers in a respectful manner.

      Whether they are curing cancer or torturing puppies, this is not a reasonable job interview process.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I know, it’s absolutely true. That’s actually the reason that my management consulting work has a nonprofit focus — it’s because I think it’s even more important that nonprofits be well managed, given the importance of the work. And I’ve done some work in the past on how philanthropists should judge the management of an organization before directing money their way; it’s crucial because without good management, their chances of achieving long-term results are low.

        Still sucks to find out it was them though.

    11. Callie*

      I feel bad… but not really, because they are exploiting desperate for a job people for free labor and that’s not okay. If they want to have a party for their staff, they should pay someone to cater it out of their own personal funds.

    12. Shalaylay*

      Don’t feel too bad for OS. They all seem to be doing quite fine over there. And $350 shouldn’t have been a problem for them either.

      Here’s some financial info from Wiki: “Operation Smile spends 42% of the money donated to the charity on fundraising and administration, including a salary of over $331,000 for its chief executive.”

      That level (42%) of non-program or non-direct service expense is considered excessive. 80% program/direct service expense is considered “healthy.”

      “Operation Smile also operates the Operation Smile Foundation, a separate registered non-profit whose sole purpose is to raise funds for Operation Smile. The Foundation spent $7,267,834 on fundraising and raised $8,387,513 in the tax year ending June 30, 2007. The Foundation transferred a total of $781,858 to Operation Smile.”

      OMG. Their foundation spent roughly 90% of its funds raised on more fundraising. They only transferred around 10% of the funds raised to the organization, who promptly spend 42% of it on non-program expenses. Out of a total of $43.4 million raised in 2008, $21.5 went to their actual mission. Almost 50% – almost. Just FYI, the 2012 990s (tax filings with the IRS) don’t show anything significantly different.

      Seriously not worth my money.

  85. The Clerk*

    This is kind of like Saw but with twenty people instead of two and no overt instructions to kill. I was waiting for the part where they locked you all in the director’s basement and told you the key was inside one of your stomachs, but didn’t specify whose.

  86. Name*

    If you go to the Good Smile site under Contact Us there’s a place to leave comments. I did and it felt good.

  87. Anonymous*

    Omg! I got rejected after the third round of interviews, and I was sad about it. I am so glad I was not selected. That is Crazy! I know someone who interned for them and left before the internship was over because it was not a good fit.

  88. JCC*

    I’m more surprised that this isn’t the norm.

    If neither you nor your relatives or friends own where they sleep, then the only thing keeping you or them from getting evicted, from losing all their possessions, and from spending the rest of their days being chased off of park benches and sidewalks by the police whenever they try to get more than a few hours of sleep is their ability to attach themselves to someone with money by whatever means necessary.

  89. Editor*

    In one analysis of charities that deal with cleft palate surgeries, the writer recommended the charity that trained local doctors to do surgeries instead of just swooping in and helping some children, then getting out. I think the one that had the training setup was Smile Train — it seems like it from this page:


    I don’t know if Operation Smile does something similar, or if there is another charity that was praised — I can’t find the original critique.

      1. D*

        On that page it’s depressing to read “For a little as $240, you can help provide a cleft lip or cleft palate surgery” when they are spending $350, as well as countless staff hours to interview for an entry level position. I don’t even understand how this org can even make sense of their own interview (even without the ridiculous dinner/entertainment afterwards). They may hire 3-12 people from the 20 people who have been interviewed by multiple groups of 5 and two phone interviews. This organization sounds so poorly managed and disorganized.

        That said, I think it would be easy, as a candidate, to get caught up in this ridiculous mess–you’re so close to what seems like a really great opportunity at a seemingly great non-profit. I’m sure this org is used to getting tons of candidates for each position they post, so it’s sad that they are taking advantage of that situation.

        Now that the cat is out of the bag, I’m sure heads will roll, and they are going to have to address this situation.

        1. fposte*

          I doubt it. It’s an entrenched practice at a veteran organization that’s weathered considerably worse publicity than this. They’ll change it if they don’t get enough candidates to cook a dinner, maybe–but I’m not sure that that’s going to happen.

          1. D*

            Too bad. I just read the article. It seems like they’re pretty happy with how things are. But, at least there getting the scrutiny they deserve.

  90. Chris*

    I have to ask the most incredibly mundane question about this. How in the world did you pull off dinner for 40 in 2.5 hours? It takes me 2 hours just to shop for a dinner party.

    Seriously, you had to drive to the grocery store, buy the stuff, drive 30 minutes to the house, cook and serve the food. And you have 10 people who all need to get on the same page for each step of the process.

    I would love to hear how you actually pulled that off and how much time was spent on each stage. So not the point of the letter, I know, but I am very curious.

    1. Anonymous*

      The short answer is that we didn’t. I can’t recall exactly how late we were but I think it close to 20-30 minutes late. I think we got to the director’s house between 6:45 and 7:15 ish (there were several cars). We divided the dishes amongst ourselves (a few people were in charge of the guac and salsa, a few on rice and beef, a couple on a veggie option). I can’t give anymore detail as I have pretty much blanked out it out as some sort of post traumatic stress reaction!

  91. Chris*

    I would have served the dinner in one of those big metal serving platter with a lid. Then, when the lid comes off, a spring-loaded fake hand flipping the bird would pop up. Then all the candidates moonwalk out the door while also flipping double birds the whole way

    1. Schuyler Pierson*

      Oh holy Jesus, I’m so glad that I didn’t see this until now instead of at work. I am not exaggerating when I say I laughed for two minutes straight. I was reading it to my partner and had to try it three times because I burst out laughing so hard that I started to cry… and he started laughing at me laughing so hard. That last image is killing me… synchronized moon walking and flipping off to boot. You should try an open mic night. Thank you for giving me such a huge laugh–it’s been an exhausting couple of days!!

  92. Lolol*

    OP should make a post on Glassdoor for this company about the interview process. Expose them so no one will have to go through this insanity again.

    1. NonProfiter*

      Well, the comments there mirror a lot of the ones here (“insane,” “they can do what they want,” etc) but what comes as no surprise to me is that Operation Smile stands by their practices.

    2. Anonymous*

      After reading the response from OS on Gawker, I am not at all shocked that they have been doing this for 30 years and have yet to hire someone with enough smarts to put an end to this ridiculous, insulting, and narcissistic hiring practice. Maybe Operation Smile should evaluate if this is really and truly brining in the best candidates.

      1. Tzippy*

        The comments from Operation Smile defending this practice was the worst part. How on earth does this ridiculous hiring process “get a sense of how [job candidates] will respond” to that challenge.” Ugh and this part: “For the job candidates, the surprise of being told to cook a huge meal is “one of the most fun things they enjoy about the interview process,” according to OS PR director Sabrina Zimring. “It’s really fun.” ”

        Seriously? They seriously believe this is an okay way to hire people? While their mission may be worthwhile, I have to doubt that they’d be very good at fulfilling that mission if they think this is an ok use of time and resources

        1. Hooptie*

          Yes, this is exactly what happens in some areas of my company. The powers-that-be think everyone loves it but that is only because of the one or two brown-nosers who are raving while everyone else is bitching in the background. And when you give feedback that it wasn’t fun, it is ignored.

    3. GeekChic*

      I just about threw up when I read that they have been doing that type of interview process for 30 years. What a completely out of touch organization that is wasting funding dollars.

      1. Tzippy*

        +1 Their response now not only makes me never want to apply to work there, it makes me never ever want to donate their. There are much more reasonable non profits that do the same things. Well now candidates will know what they’re getting into , since the gawker article comes up right away on Google. Let’s see how many of them “love” it after that. I’m sure they’ll get a LOT less than the 400 applicants they claim to get now. .

  93. Anonymous*

    I also wonder how OS gathered their data as to the surprise meal task being one of the “most fun” things the interviewees “enjoy” about the interview process.

    Did they ask the candidates that were interviewing if they loved the task and expect a candid response — who would share that they hated it, if they were still hoping to score a job?

    Did they ask the candidate who was ultimately hired if s/he loved it and expect a candid response (yeah, let me tell my new boss how stupid the hiring process was!)?

    Did they ask of their entry level employees if they “loved” this interview process and expect any of them to say how much this long-standing tradition, clearly valued by the company’s head honchos, sucked?

  94. KatieBear*

    The post at Gawker by Hamilton Nolan about the dinner party interview is officially up! He turned it around fast :)

    It’s called “Operation Smile’s Job Interview Process Is Insane”, and you can find it at

    Happy reading!

        1. NoIt So NewReader*

          I just did the survey at the end and 83% of the voters think this is ridiculous.
          Then I clicked on the comments. There was one. Here is the last part of it:
          In November 1999, specific patient deaths brought criticism on Operation Smile’s medical procedures, suggesting the organization prioritized publicity and volume over patient welfare and safety. In response, Operation Smile conducted an internal review. Initially, the organization “promised to make public the full findings of the review,” though later chose not to release the findings, considering the review “an internal matter”. Several directors disagreed with this choice and left the board.

          1. A Cita*

            One of the comments on the Gawker update post (there’s a separate post for the OS response that was added to the original post) was from a former OS volunteer who said he/she had to bar tend for a party at the CEO’s house as part of their duties.

  95. S Lowing*

    I just called Operation Smile and informed them that, owing to their exploitative practices, I would no longer be a donor.

    They offered to have the COO call me back next week to discuss.

    Here is their contact information, I would urge everyone else to do the same:

    Phone (USA & CANADA):
    1-888-OPSMILE (888-677-6453)
    1-757-321-SMILE (757-321-7645)
    Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. EST

      1. S Lowing*

        So, the COO DID call today! But I think it went as many of you would expect it to.

        I cannot quote verbatim as this was just before I had to pick up my kids, then have a busy afternoon. But some of the conversation stuck in my mind.
        In particular, the COO seemed convinced that the process was in line with industry practice; that this was the “best job EVAR!!!!!” for young people who would go on to succeed in life; that the process was indicative of what they could expect in the job. The COO was also convinced that the entire story was taken out of context (to this I countered with “but Operation Smile responded to the Gawker story and stated it DID happen!!”). There was a snarky, under-breath comment made by him at one point to the effect of “some people with a chip on their shoulder”.

        I told him I thought the entire process was exploitative. That while it may indeed be “the best job EVAR!!!” and a great awesome opportunity, that it could still be all that without exploiting applicants. I told him to look at all the comments on the story – that he didn’t need to convince me, just one person in another country from him (I’m from Canada), that he had a huge problem on his hands in terms of public perception. He really, really did NOT get that AT ALL. He kept saying “it was out of context, we’re not going to focus on the media” type of thing. He offered me to come down to Virginia to check out the process!!! I said, “why don’t you invite someone from the media down? I’m not going to pay a plane ticket to go all the way there!” but he kept repeating “you are welcome to come down and view the process! We don’t need the media here!”

        Oh, I brought up the whole “cooking a meal for senior executives was exploitative” and he countered with “it wasn’t senior executives! It was other employees!”, which quite frankly, to me, is missing the point as well…. these are people who are already employed!

        And when I said “18 hour days are exploitative”! he countered with “well I was there too, all of us were there at different times, we were all tired, it’s a long day” – hey buddy, you are PAID to be there, these candidates are UNPAID.

        I wish I had taped this conversation, because it was surreal. He totally missed the point – that no matter what the actual job was, it was exploitative to expect unemployed people to work an 18 hour job unpaid, to prepare a party for their potential employers, etc.

        If I remember more later I’ll post. Thansk for listening.

        1. S Lowing*

          Oh yeah, I remember at one point he went on to say how successful people who went through the program were, to which I counterred, these are people who would be successful at anything, aren’t they? and he went, yeah….

          C’mon, have a little respect for these awesome hard working star youth!!! Don’t exploit them!

  96. Past PC*

    I am a past Program Coordinator and have been through this interview process. I interviewed with 23 people, and out of that number six of us were hired. It was honestly the best two and half years of my life. No, I didn’t make tons of money, or start putting money away into savings, but I was part of a team who made tangible changes in children’s lives. This interview process does prepare PCs for the job in many different aspects. On site I never had a day that was less than 15 hours. On the ground I liaised, coordinated, and communicated between directors of hospitals, top plastic surgeons and anesthesiologist, donors and partner NGOs. Candidates ability to demonstrate they can handle a long, stressful day while staying professional and charming at the same time is indeed needed for this position. Once our team of medical volunteers arrived it was my duty to provide 3 meals a day for the volunteers and find resources to provide these meals. It is the PCs job to make sure that their volunteer’s experience is not only safe and satisfying, but a fun experience. I often found myself entertaining volunteers to make sure their trips abroad was enjoyable (remember many of these volunteers have never worked in a developing country). I was able to see the world with this position and make friends with passionate, giving individuals. I am so lucky I went through this job interview.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This sucks to have to say, but this comment read as sufficiently PR-ish to me that I looked up the IP address that it came from. It came from Eastern Virginia Medical School, which is where the CEO of the organization works.

      It’s possible that it’s a coincidence. But the fact that the only one of 566 comments here that’s defending this practice comes from the workplace of the organization’s CEO, combined with the wording used here, means that I think I have to call BS. I’m sorry.

      1. Felicia*

        I’m probably not that great at spotting such things, but it seemed really PR-ish to me too. It also speaks to how crazy this hiring process is that it’s hard to believe any reasonable person who doesn’t work for this organization would think is ok. Even if this was what the job was really like, and they really loved it, I find it hard to believe that they wouldn’t understand that this is a ridiculous way to hire people. How do you even evaluate 20 people for those qualities in such a weird process?

        1. Dowager Countess*

          As soon as I read that comment from Past PC I was suspicious. It sounded like an ad for the company. Perhaps because they are now getting negative backlash they are on the counterattack!

      2. NoIt So NewReader*

        It sounds like the same “voice” I “heard” in the Gawker story that defended the company and it’s practices. I am just picking up on a feeling of similarity. I would bet its the same person.

      3. Anon Alum*

        Many former program coordinators go on to medical school after their the at Operation Smile is up so the IP address alone doesn’t automatically signal fraud.

      4. Jessica*

        Thanks for the transparency, Alison. This is one of the biggest reasons that I direct people to your blog: no BS and you’re honest even when it sucks to have to say it.

      5. FreeThinkerTX*

        You know you’ve got a loser of a process involved when the only person standing up for it is the CEO.

    2. Anonymous*

      15 hour days, and the salary ($23,600) is the absolute minimum value one can pay to an exempt employee.

      So, 75 hour weeks at $23,600/year = $6.05/hr. If overtime is valued at time-and-a-half, that’s $4.91/hr.

      Way to completely dodge the labor laws.

      1. Confused*

        So the “high demands encountered by these individuals” includes, but is not limited to, “coordinating international customs, cargo delivery, managing medical volunteers and hospital logistics, as well as reporting back on all aspects of the medical mission…” and for this they “compensated through their salary” of under $24K? That’s only after they go through a clandestine, lengthy, and “fun” interview? Yeah, my application is in the mail…
        I know of several extremely competitive programs in my industry and none of them involve this camp/frat/reality show absurdity. Please treat people like adults and with respect. It’s not too much to ask.
        1,000,000 points to Alion for looking up the IP address of that comment.

    3. Carpe Librarium*

      I understand that the job probably requires the PC to come up with solutions to unexpected problems in a short timeframe, with a limited budget and potentially scarce resources.

      However, candidates could simply have stayed in the interviewing office to work together to present a plan on how they would address this HYPOTHETICAL conundrum.

      That way you save the organisation $350 and would actually be able to observe all of the applicants throughout the planning process.

      I really don’t understand how the job-seekers could reasonably be evaluated once they scattered to purchase supplies etc.

    4. Gracie*

      No. I’m sorry, but no. Like Alison and others have said, there are other, better ways to suss out a candidate’s eligibility for this position (an entry-level, $23k position!!!!!!!!!*) than via this dog-and-pony show of an interview.

      *$23,000 annual and I’m assuming that’s the gross amount? For shame, Operation Smile. To horribly paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen: I worked at non-profits. I currently work in non-profits. Non-profits are a friend of mine. Operation Smile, you’re no non-profit.

  97. Felicia*

    The Gawker article has now been updated with a statement from the company.

    Particularly annoying part: “Recognizing this position isn’t a fit for every applicant, we make every attempt from day one to ensure candidates understand the time-intensive interview process, starting salary and requirements of the job.”

    If this is true, why don’t they tell the candidates about the ridiculous dinner expectation up front? I’m sure some people would have dropped out if they knew about it .They should at least admit that the senior staff drinking and dancing all night is not ok, and that the candidates should be warned, given more context (and wtf with not giving the address, or providing transport for shopping?)

    IMO the best way to manage the crisis they’re now facing is NOT to deny all wrong doing and pretend you are wonderful. If 90% of people in the general public think you’re doing something wrong, you should reevaluate what you’re doing.

    1. virago*

      Seriously. I’m a journalist, and I once had a boss with a storied past as a foreign correspondent who would use “liaised” (which Dictionary.com told me is “said to be a coinage of British military men in World War I”) . He was an Anglophile snob trying to impress us with his extensive contacts in the diplomatic world. It sort of did the opposite.

  98. Keith H*

    Clearly sociopaths. I’ve never given them money but have thought about it; now I never will. You reading this operation smile? Brand burn for life.

  99. Former Non-Profiter*

    Another problem no one’s mentioned: as someone who’s worked in both food service and mass care in a large disaster response organization, I’m horrified that this organization regularly makes candidates prepare food without any food safety training! I know that’s the least of the things wrong here, but all it takes is one undercooked piece of meat or one dish left at room temperature for too long…

    1. Lillie Lane*

      Exactly. It’s a risk management and liability nightmare if something would happen. At a former job, we were not even allowed to have potlucks for fear of food safety disasters.

  100. Señor Spamdump*

    To all the eager little beavers out there, yearning for the chance to do something good:
    Have some self respect! A hiring process like this is degrading, and that was the whole point. If you’re willing to accept this sort of nonsense, you’d be treated like garbage the whole entire time you worked there. And that’s what they want. They want punching bags they can abuse. Y’all shoulda just taken that $350, and gone down to the bar yourselves because none of you are getting hired.
    It’s a toxic environment. Consider yourselves lucky.

    To Operation Smile:
    You people are fuhkt in the head; so deluded you actually believe this PR flak, and that this bull sheet is perfectly reasonable. It’s not. This entire ordeal is horrifically disrespectful. 12 and a half hour interview?! Preparing a dinner party is a fun activity?!! Come off it. Deep down inside y’all know you’re sadistic. Just come out and be honest with it. Change the job title to “Submissive Slave”, and the description to include degradation, humiliation, and abuse. I don’t get it myself, but some folks would be into that kind of thing. Anyways, you suck.

  101. Anonymous*

    I spent the better part of the twilight hours (3-6 A.M.) reading Gawker…which led me here. You have all expressed everything I wanted to say so perfectly…so all I can add is this (not important in the grand scheme of this..this..process, but still..) is this: You tell me we have to go and buy food on a certain budget….give us a time limit….and then say, “Oh! By the way! We aren’t going to tell you how to get there! Figure it out for yourselves, SUCKERS! *evil cackle*”………..Moonwalks out of there INDEED!! Justify THAT, Operation Smile. This sickens me. Truly. *sighs*

    1. VampKira*

      That is my post above. I do not know why it shows up as Anon. This time I added my e mail to the post. I am VampKira…and this really grinds my gears!!!

    1. Greg*

      In other words….as one who is a former employee all I have to say is you’re not that far off the mark…..

  102. VampKira*

    Moonwalkimg while flipping a double bird. Poetry in motion! Such a good cause…such horrible hiring practices. SMH. As someone who was scarred at 2 and lost half of the right side of my uper and lower lips…I FEEL for this charity…but this…this…….no. Just NO. :(

  103. john*

    If this is true, then there is no harm in mentioning the company. It seems less credible w/o naming them…

      1. VampKira*

        Thank you Kathryn. :)….. I just can’t seem to shake this story. Due to my issue, I’ve always felt a kinship with Operation Smile…but now… I am going to look for other charities who do similar things, and donate there from now on. This is barbaric, sadisic stuff. My heart aches. NO justification for any of it…ESPECIALLY the point I mentioned in my above post. How does THAT help you to prep for the job, OS????????!…. “OS: *crickets*” :(

        1. Felicia*

          Smile Train is a charity that does similar things that seems to have a much better reputation, you could look into that

  104. Fatimat Adelabu*

    I’m glad this received the publicity it needed! I read Gravity and it seems Operation Smile believe everything they did was A-Okay.

    Oh I hope this makes the textbooks – or the Ethics classes next semester.


  105. Aral*

    Unless this is a candid camera show, I think it is a disrespect for the candidates, a waste of everyone’s time and whoever came up with this bright idea is playing with us all, as they are willing to believe anyone would do anything to get a job in this economy.
    I would simply drive to the dinner party, serve them a single olive in a plate and tell them tyvm, but they had failed to pass my own interview, and that I wasn’t willing to work for a company that bullies the candidates in this way.

  106. Yazoo Squelch*

    Stealing free labor from a job applicant is completely reprehensible and it should be illegal, as it’s a form of theft. To me this is like making a starving person dance for his dinner, being unemployed doesn’t mean you should have to accept being exploited and humiliated.

  107. sandflea*

    Well, it looks like now we now know what Operation Smile is *really* up to. I hope this makes national news. These jerks should clearly be audited to high heaven, and run out of town. To think that these people hide behind the term “charity” is an insult to every well meaning non-profit organization in the land. Shame on them!!

  108. Frank*

    It is unfortunate that this person truly didn’t gather the scope of the job he has applied for. As a former Operation Smile program coordinator, I was responsible for the in-country logistics of 60+ person surgical teams throughout their work in developing nations. The ability to develop, lead, and implement that plan are things that were evaluated during the interview process, and are skills I honed at Operation Smile and have carried forward to my career as an Orthopaedic Surgeon. As for the salary, anyone that works for the organization realizes that every dollar spent on overhead is one less for the surgical mission.

    1. sandflea*

      Really? Does the Director’s salary of over $300K take away from the mission as well? I mean, it would be one thing if this sort of “evaluation” benefited the poor, the needy, etc. But, no. This “test” was to “wine and dine” the CEO and his entire family, at their mansion, , with an amazing amount of psychological bait and switch, bathed in narcissistic bullying – an impossible schedule, after a period of exhausting all-day interviews. Frankly, frank – I don’t think you’re being very frank…

    2. Another Emily*

      Not to mention the $350 spent on this ridiculous farce (multiplied by apparently 30 years of this stupid practice).

      Look Frank (and other Operation Smile sockpuppets), the only way your organization is going to recover from this PR disaster is to stop this terrible interview practice. Defending it just makes the situation worse.

  109. The Wall of Creativity*

    Still, at least they didn’t publish all the applicants’ cover letters and contact details on the internet.

  110. Bea*

    I found this post extremely interesting.
    In 2005 I watched “The Method” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Method_%28film%29) a Spanish movie about an unusual interviewing method. Although this is not the same situation there are similarities. Supposing that this is a serious organization, I would expect that at least 1 or 2 of the people being interviewed were actually interviewers placed to observe and cause confusion amongst the group, or direct them in the right direction. The dinner “challenge” is odd but at the same time it brings an interesting twist to the interview.
    1) At the end of the day everyone was tired;
    2) The challenge presented was outside of the expertise required for the job;
    3) There was time limit to complete the challenge, pressure;
    4) You had to provide an end result by working in group.
    If there was someone within the group to evaluate they would have been able to identify natural leaders, how people work under pressure, how they work in group, with unexpected tasks and complications that might appear, within a budget… These are all skills that can be evaluated through a task such as this.
    I can’t say that this was the case or not, and to agree that it is an unorthodox method of interviewing but if done “properly” it can provide the hiring party with valuable information on the candidates and even assist in placing them in the best function based on how they react.

  111. emily*

    I actually applied for this position, but after two weeks of back and forth calls between me and the person wanting to schedule the first interview with me, I backed out. She never answered her phone, but would call me at random times (like 10pm on a Sunday night) and leave confusing messages changing the date and/or time of my interview. I grew tired of it and figured if they were this disorganized from the start, I’d be better off going in another direction. After reading this article, I’m glad I made that decision! The position is attractive because there is a lot of world travel included, and operation smile is a good cause, but its too bad the candidates are treated this way.

  112. Jonathan*

    This does not surprise me at all. Operation Smile is the same organisation who has an ‘African Salary’ where employees doing the same program coordinator role in Africa (Madagascar, Rwanda, Ghana, Congo etc..) are paid less than $10,000 a year yet the managers of the African division make over $150,000. I kid you not.

  113. Randal*

    I would really like to know where (geographically) this interview (or circus of insanity) took place. Please don’t say Silicon Valley/San Francisco or Marin. I can see it happening in L.A. –

  114. Nicole*

    After dinner did Dr. Magee make you do his favorite dance, the YMCA, with him too? You’ve been interviewing since 8 am now dance monkey, dance! For years, I wanted to be a program coordinator at Op Smile and I felt like the staff completely took advantage of that in a manner that felt more like a celebration of themselves than an interview.

  115. Wonderlander*

    Ok so…. I want to say I did NOT go searching for this information. My boyfriend has had 2 phone interviews with Company X and expects to have an in-person interview soon, so I looked Company X up on GlassDoor to find out what previous/current employees think of the company. In the comments about an interview one job candidate had, he said this, “Interview details: AWFUL. I got there at 8 am and went through panel style interviews until about 5 pm where I was pretty much asked the same questions over and over. Then they announced that the group of 20 interviewees had $350 to prepare dinner and entertainment for everyone. After dinner and after the current employees were finished patting themselves on the back for the great work they did, the founder XXXXXX had everyone get up and put on music to dance with him.” Am I the only one who thinks I *may* have accidentally stumbled onto what company this LW was referring to?!

    1. Wonderlander*

      Oh… so after re-reading some comments… it appears my information is already out there….. Oh well.

  116. Cara*

    I’ll tell you the name of that whack-job non-profit. They’re called Operation Smile and apparently this is part of their interviewing process for decades . . . . decades of insanely stupid interviewing process!

    This is appropriate for applying as a contestant for Top Chef or any of those culinary shows . . . NOT for a non-profit for cleft lip and palate repair surgery!! Did they decide to save money by hiring cheap (free actually) labor?

    1. Cara*

      hmm . . . apparently someone else mentioned Operation Smile . . . good mission statement . . . bad interviewers!

  117. Lana*

    Why did the OP stay? I would have gone through the first 30-60 minutes of the “interview” and left if I realized it seemed odd and far from a typical interview process. Just leave next time, you don’t have to be participating in something that is clearly wrong for a hiring process.

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