I bombed a weird interview after no sleep

A reader writes:

Approximately a month ago, I applied for a position and was scheduled for an interview with an organization’s HR manager. I had apparently done well on the pre-employement aptitude tests and interviewed well with her. She was great and two hours passed quickly.

Following this interview, I was asked to come in and meet with two other people on the team a week later. One interview was an hour and a half long and the second around 30 minutes. I was also extremely impressed with these two people and apparently they liked me too, since I was asked in for a fourth and final interview with the owner the following week.

I received a very polite email from the owner with a list of over 60 questions in an attached document. The email said to pick 10 and he would only ask those questions from the list. Given how laid back the other interviewers were, I pushed away the thought that this was a test. I spent the evening choosing and preparing answers for the upcoming morning interview.

I really wanted this job, so it is no surprise that I couldn’t sleep for more than two hours. I have only had part-time hours recently, so I normally get a good 8-9 hours of sleep every night.

My brain could not function! I even passed the exit on the drive in, even though I knew the area.

When I sat down, I was informed that he didn’t really plan on asking the questions he emailed, but was more interested in which questions I would choose. We talked for a while and things seemed to be going great, but occasionally I wouldn’t communicate clearly or fumble my answers to his questions, etc. I don’t remember what prompted some of these statements due to lack of sleep, but at one point he said “it sounds like you want me to micromanage you,” and later he said “I’m concerned you will crack under pressure.”

I explained how I had not been able to sleep the night before and apologized that I wasn’t myself. He said he would be choosing between me and one other candidate but again said I seemed to “crack under pressure” and that if I wanted to I could come in the following day once I’ve had some sleep and show him I’m a “tiger.”

I followed up with a thank-you letter afterwards and asked if he could explain further his concerns, but he never responded. I suppose I’ll wait this one out and just hope that if it’s meant to happen, it will! If you have any advice on anything further, I would definitely appreciate it!

Well, the owner sounds like a bit of an ass, you know. You’re focusing on blaming yourself because of the lack of sleep, but please don’t overlook the fact that his behavior was weird and a little rude.

It’s pretty inconsiderate to tell a job candidate “pick 10 questions and I’ll only ask those,” let the person spend possibly hours preparing for those 10 questions (if you’re conscientious, which it sounds like you are), and then say “ha ha, only joking — that was all wasted time, and the whole thing was a trick question.” It doesn’t say anything good about him. It says that (a) he’s inconsiderate, (b) he’s poor enough at hiring that he doesn’t realize that “I’ll limit myself to 10 questions that you pick” says “I’m a bad interviewer,” and (c) he’s not terribly concerned about what you will think of him, which is often a hallmark of people who are unpleasant to work for.

Now, if you’ve otherwise liked what you’ve seen from this company — and if you’ve been rigorous about doing due diligence and exploring whether you really want to work there — it’s possible that this guy just isn’t a great interviewer, who knows. But I’d take this as a sign to dig around a bit more about what it’s like to work for him (if in fact you’d be spending much time working with/for him).

That said … I’m not sure this job is still in play. It sounds like he told you that he had concerns but that you could come back the following day when you were better rested to try again. (Or, to be more precise, to show that you’re a “tiger” — I”m trying hard not to make fun of that because I know some perfectly lovely people talk that way, but oh it is against all I stand for.) But it doesn’t sound like you took him up on that, so he may be figuring that he gave you another opportunity, you didn’t use it, and that’s that.

I know you did email him and ask him more about his concerns, but I’d bet that someone who says “come back tomorrow and show me that you’re a tiger” wants to see you actually come back, not send an email later on.

It might be a case where you need to write it off to an unlucky combination of lack of sleep, a weird interviewer, and a misunderstanding about next steps. But if that doesn’t resonate with you and your sense of the whole thing is that you’re still in the running, you could email your contact there (not him), explain that you’re kicking yourself for not realizing that his offer to come back in was sincere, and ask if it would be helpful to set up another conversation now.

{ 162 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    Or decide that you don’t particularly wish to be a tiger. As with Alison, it may be the phraseology grating on me, but that suggests a kind of salesy aggressiveness that isn’t me, and if they needed me to push to return for another interview that might be a sign it’s not a good fit for me; maybe that’s true for you too.

    1. Kelly L.*

      + a million. All these things mixed together give me the whole “work hard, play hard, air hockey table and no sleep and we’re going to call your position ‘ninja'” type of vibe.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        And those are the types of people who will want you to never take a vacation or sick day and want you to work nights and weekends.

        “You want to take a vacation day? Where’s your team player attitude? Oh you’re burned out? Playing air hockey for awhile should give you a needed break.”

        1. Allison*

          Yeah, I hate when companies try to use shiny little perks to distract you from issues like low pay, minimal benefits, no flexibility, hardly any time off, etc.

          1. Ultraviolet*

            My friend who works at a big tech company was once comparing notes with an acquaintance from a slightly less famous firm.

            Acquaintance: The salary’s a little lower here than at your place, but they give us great benefits.
            Friend: Oh, can you tell me more about them?
            Acquaintance: There are bean bags in the lounge! And bowls of candy.

          2. Saturn9*

            The call center I work at has Guitar Hero in the break room. No raises for anyone below management in over two years (and the one before that was to become competitive with the new minimum wage) but hey, look! Guitar Hero!

          3. Ms. Didymus*

            I think my company is an exception here. We have air hockey (and ping pong) tables but also great pay and benefits. And you should be gone by 5, or 5:30 at the latest. And no one is in before 8, really. Also, people look at you weird if you don’t take your vacation days.

            And don’t you dare come in here sick. We give you sick days for a reason. Don’t bring your plague around us.

            But also? While you’re taking your lunch feel free to play some games and relax – you do work hard. And if you are dealing with a particularly hard problem and need to walk away – go down the hall and play air hockey for a few minutes with a coworker and then come back and refocus.

            It is kind of nice.

          4. Just me*

            This!! My former company was like – awesome perks! Free lunch! Birthday cake! Sorry, I’d rather have a good manager, fair salary and a better work environment than free food sometimes.

    2. LC*

      At least he didn’t say “rockstar” which has become the most cringe-inducing adjective that’s been thrown around way too much these days.

      And I don’t want to stereotype, but was the interviewer perhaps from a different culture? Sometimes phrases from other countries can sound a bit odd when said in English.

      1. Teapot Dome*

        I am cringing because I once used the “star” phrase and it really turned someone off. She never told me, of course, but complained to everyone else and I heard it via the grapevine.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        True slightly embarrassing story: Last time I was job searching I didn’t realize there was an electronic health records system called Epic. So I kept seeing these job ads for things like “Epic Application Analyst” and “Epic Report Writer” and was like, cripes, is “epic” the new “rockstar”/”ninja”?

        …nope, just the name of a super complex piece of software requiring many employees dedicated to its care, feeding, and management!

          1. Teapot Dome*

            Epic Systems! I passed up a chance to,work for them years ago because it sounded like an all-work and only-team play kind of company. The person who interviewed is someone I could see pulling the trick described above.

        1. Emily*

          My boyfriend used to work there, and he hated it! That’s not to say that his experience is representative of everyone’s experience (there were some issues with his actual job duties not matching well with the description of the position for which he was hired), but I knew several other twenty-somethings who were also not very happy there. My impression of the company is that it encourages long working hours and has a few organizational quirks that can make it difficult to get things done.

          In all fairness, I also knew some people who did like it – mostly people who could really get into the work they were doing.

    3. Ad Astra*

      Yes, I also would probably decline a request to come back and “prove” that I’m a “tiger” (supposing I felt I had any options left at all — desperation might change my mind). OP made it to the third interview (with the first two lasting a total of 4 hours!), which likely means someone at that company really wanted to hire her. Yet the owner doesn’t seem to care one lick about selling her on his company. I get that not everyone is great at hiring, but it’s stunning that someone can be running a company and not know how to make a good impression. Ick.

      1. Vicki*

        Desperation doesn’t help. As we all know, normal people can only fake it for a short period of time.

        If he wants the OP to come back tomorrow to prove she’s a tiger, he’ll probably want a tiger every day.

        Are any of us desperate enough to play a “tiger” every day?

        1. Ultraviolet*

          If you’re desperate, the difference between having a job and not having a job for that short period you can fake it is absolutely critical.

  2. CaliCali*

    Honestly, his whole Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade schtick with choosing the “right” questions is what raised my hackles here the most. It sounds like mind games are his MO, and no amount of sleep will help you navigate those successfully. I would consider this a dodged bullet.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      Mind games is what I was thinking also. I think it was a bullet dodged and can imagine it’d be miserable working for him.

    2. Kimberlee, Esq*

      Eh, I don’t know that this type of exercise has “right” or “wrong” answers, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a mind game. It could be, but I don’t see any reason to assume that. It’s one of those things that show he’s not a great interviewer, but it gives him some kind of information he thinks is useful. Like it’s reasonable to think that if you had to work closely with him and you didn’t like the vibes, it might not be the right fit, but it doesn’t seem like something that should raise hackles to me.

      It reminds me of instances when people ask you what animal you would be, or similar. It’s not a great question, and it might indicate that they are a poor interviewer, but it probably doesn’t indicate anything much outside of that. I’ve known plenty of places that ask silly questions in interviews that were perfectly lovely places to work, assuming there was otherwise a culture fit.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Totally agree. I talked a bit further down about how I worry that I’ve inadvertently encouraged people here to take really hard lines on this sort of stuff — but that’s appropriate in some cases and not in others. It’s not all black and white, and a weak interview practice doesn’t instantly mean terrible manager. You have to bring judgment to bear on it.

        What this tells you is that he’s not a great interviewer and maybe not too thoughtful about how he might have misused your time (in your interview prep). It doesn’t say he’s a miserable person to work for.

        1. Mike C.*

          Interestingly enough, those who do judge the manager in such a way are making the same fundamental mistake – that the expertise in one area can be judged though a test in another.

          1. Charity*

            I think it’s less that the manager is miserable to work for, but more that the interviewer chose this approach because it accurately reflects the kinds of experiences and the kinds of personalities that you need to enjoy working in this environment. I’m taking the interviewer at face value by trusting that they aren’t just messing with people for fun and have a reason for doing what they’re doing. I think a good interviewer tries their best to convey to the interviewee what it is like to work in their environment, both the good aspects and the aspects that maybe aren’t for everyone.

            If that’s what the interviewer was trying to do, that should be something that the OP takes into account. Not because the manager is bad at his job or anything like that, but because different people like different types of jobs and if someone is honest enough with you to tell you explicitly that their office is a high pressure environment, people routinely have to perform at high standards, etc. etc. I don’t see why you can’t include that in a decision.

            1. fposte*

              I think there’s a fallacy there, though, and we need a name for it–the Power/Knowledge Discrepancy, maybe?

              Basically, we tend to assume people with power or authority (compared to us in the moment) do the things they do because they have knowledge that informs their choices. And I think it’s about 50/50 at best as to whether or not that’s true–a lot of the time they’re just doing it because they thought it was worth trying, or because they guessed the answer, or because it was the easiest thing to do, just like the rest of us. I think in this case it’s a lot likelier that he’s doing it because he heard about it and thought it sounded cool than because he’d managed to tie this process to any valid outcome.

              So I’m guess I’m offering a third possibility: it’s may not be a sign that everybody’s like that *or* an indicator about the desired culture; it may just be a guy making stuff up that he thinks is really edgy.

              1. Mike C.*

                Broadly speaking, I think it’s a false attribution fallacy. That is, the manager is using the irrelevant question to determine the qualifications of the candidate – or commenters here are judging overall management quality on this single question, which is also irrelevant.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              While I can appreciate someone who is willing to say their place is a high pressure environment, in this example here I have to wonder if it’s synthetic pressure. Are things made unnecessarily complex and creating stress where there does not need to be stress?
              The interview said to pick ten questions and those are the questions he would ask. I am not clear if OP prepared all 60 questions, or if OP prepared just the ten she selected. So right off the bat there could be a problem there. Let’s say OP just prepared the ten questions. It does not sound like the interviewer even asked the questions.
              I could be too literal minded, but I would have expected to have been asked the ten questions. If the interviewer did not do what he said he would do, then that would set off alarms in my head. Mean what you say and say what you mean.

              I’d be fine with it if the interview said “Here’s a list of 60 questions pick ten that would be your best or favorite discussions but don’t answer the questions. I like to see what people think is interesting to talk about, it helps me to see how they would fit in with the group I have here already.”

        2. neverjaunty*

          Well sure, there’s almost always another explanation for red flags. But I do think there’s a difference between somebody who’s a mediocre or fad-of-the-week interviewer, and one who sends up a lot of signals of cluelessness (the game with the questions, making negative comments about cracking under pressure, being a ‘tiger’, etc.).

      2. Kat*

        One of my first interviews out of school, the interviewer asked me how I’d go about cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

        It was an odd question, I answered it as best I could, and I got the job. It was a great job and I learned a lot. Months later I asked the interviewer why she asked that, and she said, particularly for lower levels, the skills/knowledge can be taught, but critical thinking, multi-tasking, etc where qualities that couldn’t be taught, and that was one of the questions she felt separated the critical thinkers/multi-taskers from the rest.

        Odd questions don’t always mean run away!

        1. Kimberlee, Esq*

          Yeah! I mean, in many cases, there are *better* ways to get at the info you’re looking for, but I imagine if you’re a hiring manager and you’ve been using Question X for years and found it to be an accurate predictor for whatever you use it for, you’re probably not that interested in spending time finding other ways to get that info.

          1. fposte*

            I think that’s true in theory, but I suspect that most of us hiring wouldn’t really know the difference between people who were good because of and people who were good in spite of; we’d bring too much bias to the assessment if we tried to make it, and we don’t bother to try to make it anyway.

        2. MK*

          Sure, but they almost always mean bad interviewer. I can answer such a question in my sleep,not because I am a multi-tasker or a critical thinker, but because I spent my childhood watching and helping my mother prepare holidays meals for our extended family, while a person who doesn’t cook might well be stumped by this, no matter how great they would otherwise deal with their work. There are safer ways to figure out if a candidate has the qualities you want than gimmicky questions.

          1. LAI*

            Agreed! I have consistently gotten high praise at work for my multi-tasking and critical thinking skills but I would be thrown by this question. I don’t cook much, and I certainly don’t host large dinners for other people so my answer would probably be something like: “get catering”.

            1. StudentPilot*

              But (theoretically) a critical thinker should be able to say how they would go about finding out how to prepare the dinner (or in job terms – how to find out information on something they don’t know how to do). Also – if I were an interviewer, your answer would tell me that you know when you’re not good at something, and would be able to delegate as needed. (OK, for a dinner, but just run with me on this one). You’re going to get the best person for the job to do it for you, rather than waste time trying to muddle through on your own.

              1. neverjaunty*

                The point, though, is that somebody who has experience with meal prep and planning is going to seem like a lot more of a “critical thinker” because they already know the steps in the process.

                1. Mike C.*

                  Yeah, this feels like the sort of cultural bias that many standardized exams are criticized for.

                  For instance, if you don’t know what a Thanksgiving dinner consists of then you’re going to look stupid.

                2. mander*

                  Yeah, I’d prefer a more straightforward “how would you go about completing a project when you don’t know much about the subject matter” or something like that.

              2. MK*

                Well, no. If you can’t cook, finding out how to prepare a dinner doesn’t require critical thinking, just dump luck in being aware that there are resources on the matter. Many people who are indifferent to cooking aren’t aware there are detailed books on the subject and numerous websites, because it simply hasn’t come their way. And I doubt most interviewers who ask these questions will be satisfied with “clever” answers; if they think the question is worth asking, they want a real answer to it.

              3. Honeybee*

                If someone asked me how I would cook a Thanksgiving dinner, the idea that I could delegate tasks wouldn’t occur to me. They asked me how *I* would do it.

                Why not just ask “Tell me about a time when you had to solve a really difficult problem/teach yourself something new. Walk me through how you did it.” or something similar instead?

          2. I'm a Little Teapot*

            Yes – also someone from a culture that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving (i.e. not the U.S. or Canada), or who grew up in a situation where big celebratory group meals didn’t happen for one reason or another, would be at a disadvantage here.

            1. Ad Astra*

              In my experience, a lot of “critical thinking” questions tend to rely on a certain amount of cultural experience that really might not exist in every viable candidate. It’s like “Tell me what criteria you’d use to select a country club” or “What’s the best way to get from Brooklyn to Queens?”

              1. KR*

                I agree. I’ve had teachers ask these sort of questions to get us to use “critical thinking” but if you’re not familiar with what the metaphor’s about that they’re using you can’t answer the question appropriately. It also means the lesson is applicable to only a portion of the class.

          3. Cafe Au Lait*

            I work in a library, and after a couple of employees that needed to be taught how to line books up on the shelf, I realized that I/my team need a question on observational skills. While I try my best to cover everything a student needs to learn, there are some things that are learned through observation.

        3. Nye*

          I quite like that question for certain jobs. Personally, I’ve noticed a strong correlation between skill in/love of cooking (esp. baking) and proficiency in genetic benchwork. If hiring for entry-level positions, I’d ask about it. Sounds out of left field, but actually the skill sets are remarkably similar. It’s a good predictor that someone will be able to perform well in a technical position, especially since college classes are no indication of lab skill. (It’s quite possible to be a great at the theory and terrible in the lab, for example.)

          Interestingly, a retired biochemistry professor once told me that he would only accept graduate students who could cook (and speak knowledgeably about it). He said they could always handle the labwork, whereas non-cooking students were more of a crapshoot.

          Not to say that the OP’s interviewer had good reasons for his weirdness, just that sometimes unusual questions can be surprisingly relevant.

          1. fposte*

            I like correlating with other methodical approaches to creation, but we’d get in hot water at my university for probable gender bias if we asked about cooking or preferred candidates who cooked. (I’m in a field that strongly skews female, so it would be a particular problem there.)

          2. MK*

            Eh, basing hiring decisions on a “strong” correlation you “noticed” sounds like bad science to me.

          3. Snowflake*

            This is funny. I do a lot of benchwork, and use my time cooking and even baking to get away from the rigours of lab protocols. I don’t measure precisely, don’t write things down, make ingredient substitutions to save money and time, skip steps that don’t seem important, and sometimes add a random fruit or vegetable that looks like it might go bad soon :) If anyone saw me cooking, they would never hire me as a researcher. And yet I can pull of complex protocols and haven’t contaminated anything in years…

            I will probably never be in a position to hire anyone but wouldn’t base a hiring decision for a technical position on cooking or baking skills. If someone had no lab experience, I would ask something more open ended like “give me an example of a time you had to work with your hands, follow written directions and measure precisely.” This could include lots of things from home/auto/appliance repair to cooking and baking, to knitting a sweater or doing another craft.

        4. stillLAH*

          That reminds me of how my first boss out of grad school gauged someone’s Excel experience during the interview/assignment process: by asking you to catalog your closet. Such a weird way to go about getting at the information you want!

          1. Not So NewReader*

            If we do something long enough those skills get applied to other parts of our lives. However it’s random because we have to chose to apply the skills. Someone could be very organized in using Excel and have a closet that is a shambles. Likewise someone could do a great job working in a lab and then order take out for dinner every night. A person has to chose to find tangent uses for their professional skill sets.

            Additionally, there can be an incubation period. Although my materials at work were fairly well organized most of the time, my files at home were a train wreck. I could not figure out what I wanted for a home filing system. It took close to 15 years for me to land on the ideas that I now use.

            1. mander*

              I agree. I’m very meticulous about certain things being organized, but I’m not generally a tidy person in the rest of the house. If someone judged my ability to keep files in order based on the pile of clean clothes on the sofa, for instance, they’d get a very skewed picture of my skills.

          2. Honeybee*

            I hope nobody ever asks me that. I’m a statistics/analytical whiz but I couldn’t catalog my closet by memory. I prefer to use my analytical skills at work and not to organize my stuff, lol.

        5. ThursdaysGeek*

          I was in an interview once that had a programming test, using a language I’d never seen. I muddled through anyway, since they’d provided a manual. (I got the job.)

          I learned later that they deliberately chose a language that was unknown to the interviewees (and probably changed if someone was familiar with the one I got). Some people just sat there and didn’t even try. And what they were testing for was whether the person was willing to try something when they didn’t know how to do it. They were looking for someone who didn’t just give up.

          So answering how to make a Thanksgiving dinner, when you’re not a cook, can still show your willingness to figure out how to do something when you’re clueless. And that’s a good characteristic. “I’m not a cook and I’ve never eaten a big family dinner, so my first step would be to find out what foods are involved.” And go from there.

          1. Honeybee*

            Sure, but the people who don’t know how to cook or are unfamiliar with Thanksgiving are still at a distinct disadvantage – especially if the goal of the question is to test critical thinking skills (and not your perseverance or commitment).

          2. Ultraviolet*

            Yeah, I think it’s much better to pick a situation the interviewees are all unfamiliar with. But if you end up with one that some people are familiar with, like Thanksgiving, then the people with background knowledge will get some false-positive results for good critical thinking that were actually just experience. That constitutes a net disadvantage for the people whose background doesn’t include that experience, which is obviously a problem when that background is irrelevant to the job and/or strongly correlated with non-majority demographics.

      3. Murphy*

        I would tend to agree with you except this is something that likely involved substantially more work than saying, “sloth” during an interview. Preparing for interviews is hard work and if I’d put time into developing answers and then the interviewer said, “oh, LOLs, I just wanted to see what you picked” I’d be concerned that this “hey, can you do this for me, haha, just kidding, it’s for nothing” attitude would come up at work. That kind of crap is disrespectful to me and my time an I’m unimpressed with people who value neither.

  3. Bleu*

    He twice said he’s concerned OP would crack under pressure. I don’t know — I’m in a high-pressure job with tight deadlines and never, ever have I heard of someone saying that to a candidate even once. It almost seems like he’s … trolling? Hazing? Toying with the candidate? Just wants to make OP feel inadequate and break down right in front of him or at least apologize profusely? Whatever it is, I certainly wouldn’t not respond positively to this person.

    1. Chriama*

      I also have to wonder what ‘crack under pressure’ means. Is OP a spy, and they’re worried she’ll succumb to interrogation techniques? Or sometimes they have tight deadlines and they’re worried after the third 60 hour week she’ll come to work in her bathrobe and start belting showtunes from the top of her desk.

      Also OP, you mentioned that you only have a part time job right now. If you’re struggling to make ends meet / find work in your field / whatever I get that you’re focused on what *you* could have done to get the job. But given the hiring manager’s personality as you described, I think you’re being too hard on yourself. You say you got confused and weren’t as polished as you wanted — it’s quite possible that was more due to the hiring manager’s attitude and conversation than to your lack of sleep. Cut yourself a little slack.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Really great point. I have worked for people who are confused and disorganized and I have gotten sucked into their disorderliness. It’s got a magnetic pull.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        At my last job we were doing user studies with highly confidential prototypes (so, they broke a lot) and custom-built software (so, it broke a lot too). We needed the people running the studies to be able to hold up under pressure because if they freaked out and became ineffectual in high-stress situations they were going to be in a world of crap when they got a belligerent study participant or a prototype lost its mind and took the software down with it.

        However, savvy people that we were, we knew that as it happens A JOB INTERVIEW is a fairly high stress situation. So their ability (or lack of ability) to perform effectively in the interview was usually a pretty good indicator of how they’d cope with the kind of problems that came up in the job.

        Amusingly, our best performers were people who had previous experience in either the military or assisted living facilities.

        1. Honeybee*

          Hey, that’s what I do, too! Once we wiped an entire operating system from a computer and I have no idea how that happened. Users: They always find new ways to break things.

          And we actually do have a high proportion of veterans on our staff.

    2. Ultraviolet*

      I think he’s worried she won’t rise up back on the street, take her chances, go the distance, etc. Will she lose her grip on the dreams of the past, or fight just to keep them alive? Feel the thrill of the fight? Rise up to the challenge of their rivals? Reasonable concerns.

      1. Judy*

        Or maybe he’s worried she’s not a fighter dancing through the fire. A champion? And how loud does she roar? Will you hear the sound like thunder shaking the ground? If you hold her down will she get up? When will she have enough?

          1. Mike C.*

            I’ve got a BINGO!

            I’ve got “Go the Distance”, “Champion”, Free Space, “Thrill of the Fight” and “Strive for Excellence”.

  4. J-nonymous*

    So, I wonder why you decided to wait it out if he specifically said to come back and show you could do better with some sleep. (Please don’t think I’m defending this guy; I agree with AAM that he’s an ass and a terrible interviewer, and may likely be a schmuck to work with/for.) But I think your response to the situation says a lot more about how you feel about this position — at the very least, it seems to have raised enough doubt in you that you didn’t immediately schedule the follow up interview.

    I guess what I’m saying is, it seems you made your decision about this role instinctually; don’t second-guess yourself.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I don’t know if I would have taken that as a serious invitation to actually come back tomorrow. It sounds more like the insincere blusterings of the kind of person who exhorts other people to show him that they’re “a tiger.”

      2. S.I. Newhouse*

        I took the comment the exact same way. I think the OP’s response of sending a thank-you letter was exactly the right thing to do.

      3. AnotherHRPro*

        I think his comment was a challenge. He was questioning her strength of character and made an offer to prove him wrong. The OP elected to not take the challenge.

        I don’t know if this is a good job or a good manager. The owner was absolutely not great at interviewing (but many people who don’t interview often are horrible interviewers) but as Alison frequently writes, don’t read into what hiring managers tell you. Take what they say at face value. He made an offer and if the OP really wanted the job, the OP probably should have asked him what time to show up.

        1. neverjaunty*

          “He was questioning her strength of character and made an offer to prove him wrong” – Yes, this is a predatory social technique called ‘typecasting’ or ‘negging’, where you offer someone a slight insult to try and manipulate them into a desired behavior. Not really a good sign in a potential manager.

    1. Charity*

      I think that’s definitely a good sign that the OP was disengaging from the position already. A job interview is kind of a ‘best foot forward’ / ‘best first impression’ type of situation. The interviewer chose to make his first impression a weird, disorienting mind game. It’s totally reasonable to step back and reevaluate whether this job and this environment is a good fit and move on. The fact that the OP was already exhausted going in didn’t help, but that kind of interview tactic would probably be unappealing/offputting to most people — which I think was the interviewer’s intent.

      (On one hand, this is a good thing; if working here is going to be like this, I’d rather know now than after getting invested in the position. On the other hand, it can be bad when a strange interviewer makes a good workplace look bad.)

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Interviewers who say one thing and deliberately do another, “just to see” what you’d do, do not deserve this consideration. That’s messed up. If he wants to know something about you, he needs to ask you. Like an adult.

    I’m sorry if you were emotionally invested in this job, and it sounds like it, but you need to walk away. This is not a person you want to work for.

    Think of it like a date. How you feel about a date should matter just as much as your date feels about you. Far too often, we rip our hair out over what the other person thinks of us that we don’t consider our own feelings. Bull poop! That’s a recipe for manipulation and skewed power dynamics.

    1. JMegan*

      I’m in the “dodged a bullet” camp as well.

      For the sake of argument, let’s say you spent 30 seconds reading each question on the list and deciding if you were going to answer it or not. So that’s half an hour to start. Then…ten minutes on each detailed response? So that’s 100 minutes for that part, plus another 10-15 minutes to review and proofread at the end. So you spent a minimum of 2 1/2 hours preparing for this interview, only to walk in and find out that it was all just a trick. Are you okay with that?

      Some people might be totally fine with it, and I suppose that would depend on how you felt about the rest of the interview process and the other people you interviewed with. But if I were going to be working at all closely with this person, I’d be rethinking my candidacy based on his mind-gamey manipulative interview style.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is why I consider it a head game. Life is too short and it’s already loaded with complexity and stress. Speak directly and honestly. This guy is not direct nor is he honest.

  6. Kat*

    I think this approach is fairly typical in some fields, like selling advertising space and some types of marketing. It can come off a little car salesman/shady, but “tigers” with ice in their veins usually are the only ones who can do it. I’ve seen plenty of people like this in my career. Even in PR for big corporations that mindset was valued, and then “you might crack under pressure” thing was brought up in most interviews. In those companies, you frequently had days where you were working 23 straight hours, so how you handle pressure with no sleep is pretty pivotal (not excusing anything, but pointing out this idea isn’t totally bizarre, but can be common in certain industries)

    And while this guy sounds like a cheeseball, he did give you a way to make it better–the offer to have you come in the next day. Since you didn’t go, I’m assuming you really didn’t want the job (which is a valid call!).

    1. Blurgle*

      Cripes, it’s *advertising*. Sticking pretty words on the sides of buses to get people to buy crap they don’t need. There’s no reason for anyone in that field to be a “tiger”.

      Brain surgeons and rocket scientists, yes, but guys whose job is to think up the new slogan for Pringles do not need to destroy their lives to do so.

      1. Afiendishthingy*

        Hey now. Just because you don’t respect the field doesn’t mean there’s not pressure for people to crack under- and from what I’ve heard it is an incredibly demanding job. No, it’s not life or death, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        Blurgle, I can assure you that even though it may be “just advertising” or “only words” these fields are high stress due to the money/reputation of the client or company involved. You’ve got to have tiger balls of steel sometimes.

      3. Three Thousand*

        Marketing and selling is serious business. A consumer economy doesn’t run without consumption.

        1. Honeybee*

          This, man. Sometimes the engineers and tech folks here will make snarky remarks about the marketers, and I’m like, “How else do you think the public is going to know about the cool stuff you make?” Apple wouldn’t have sold a single iPhone without people knowing it existed and where to get it.

      4. Ultraviolet*

        It’s really unpleasant to come here and see disparaging comments about other people’s fields, whether it’s advertising today or call centers last week. This website, by and large, is not the right audience for mean comments like these.

      5. Honeybee*

        Those pretty words mean differences of millions of dollars, which most companies are very interested in. (Also, some advertisers are thinking up the new slogan for the hospital that employs the brain surgeons and the company that manufactures the rocket parts.)

        1. Panda Bandit*

          It’s a better idea to pick a brain surgeon who accepts your insurance and not worry so much about the slogan at their hospital.

          1. Sarah*

            Have fun finding the brain surgeon who accepts your insurance if her phone number isn’t listed anywhere and you can’t get a referral because no one’s heard of her.

    2. Rachael*

      I can’t really say what this Manager is thinking, but I think that would be a great excersize to see if someone works well with ambiguity – taking a task that is unclear and confidently working to your ability? Although, the whole “come back to tomorrow and be a tiger” is lame.

    3. Bend & Snap*

      I’m in PR for a big corporation (tech), and I have never, ever heard anybody talk like this about performance or personality.

      There are ways of sussing out go-getter personality traits without talking like a cliched douchebag.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. But I’d guess most of us have worked with fine people who have the occasional annoying or weird or pompous habit, and that we have them ourselves too. It doesn’t tell the full story.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          Sure, and it’s up to the individual person as to whether or not that’s okay with them. My personal reaction to this is to run because it’s not a cultural fit for me (because it smacks of a workaholic office IMO), but there are people who get fired up instead.

          It doesn’t really sound to me like the OP bombed the interview. FTR.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, it’s definitely up to everyone to decide if it’s the right fit for them or not. But it’s not good advice to tell other people “run!” based on something that doesn’t qualify as bad enough for that to be the blanket answer.

      2. Kat*

        Absolutely there are other ways, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re awful or shady or whatever if they use the word tiger to describe someone.

        1. Anna*

          When I imagine the person using the word “tiger” as a way to quantify a quality in a potential employee, I see the dad from Breaking Away in all his car salesman glory.

          “Refund?! Refund?!”

  7. Apollo Warbucks*

    Unless you’re fronting an advertising campaign for Frosties there’s no reason being a tiger is a prerequisite for getting a job.

    Bullet dodged I’d say.

  8. Lizabeth*

    What does Glassdoor say about this place? I’ve been looking up places and there’s been some interesting comments on the site.

  9. BRR*

    In addition to Alison’s advise (the entire “see what you would pick” thing, really?), you had three rounds of interviews and the first was two hours. My guess is possible a rule made by the owner. I would say you dodged a bullet with the culture there. The owner seems to operate in an unpleasant manner and when that happens some of your colleagues might be nice but it would likely get to you over time.

  10. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I think a lot of people are being way too quick to say run. I know that I’ve probably encouraged that mindset here, by telling people over and over to pay attention to the signals they’re getting from prospective employers and evaluate whether they like what they see — but I really, really want to stress that you need to apply that message with nuance. It’s not just “red flag = run.” That is not the message I want anyone taking away from this site, but I sometimes see evidence that that’s how people are taking it.

    I made a point of saying this in the post : “If you’ve otherwise liked what you’ve seen from this company — and if you’ve been rigorous about doing due diligence and exploring whether you really want to work there — it’s possible that this guy just isn’t a great interviewer, who knows. But I’d take this as a sign to dig around a bit more about what it’s like to work for him (if in fact you’d be spending much time working with/for him).” And that’s what I strongly think is the right approach here. It’s not a “run!” situation; it’s an “explore more, and consider what else you know” situation. If she’s been rigorous in her evaluation of them so far and really liked what she saw on her three previous interviews, that counts for something. If she wouldn’t be working closely with this guy, that counts for something too.

    None of that means she should plunge blindly ahead, but it’s too black and white of an approach to just tell her to run. If she’s been thorough in her explorations with them and was happy with the other three interviews, it’s worth more thought than just a straight no.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I appreciate this comment, and I don’t think this tendency is unique to Ask a Manager. You see it on any advice site.

      I read “red flag” as a metaphor for exercising caution. Pay attention to what’s going on. Maybe be more skeptical than you would naturally be, because there is some evidence that the situation is not exactly as you’d hoped. At work, this could be a disorganized hiring process (which could mean an organization that doesn’t have its ish together, or an organization that is working to replace its outstanding office manager because they depend on her to keep their ish together). On a date, it could be a guy who talks too much about himself; he could be a self-centered jerk, or he could be super nervous and not presenting his best self.

    2. Kat2*

      Hello, OP here :)

      I actually agree with Allison on everything she said. I thought he was eccentric and occasionally a few things came across as insulting, but this was a face-to-face TWO hour interview. He actually shared a lot about himself and we talked about other things as well. He actually showed me my scores from the initial aptitude test and praised me for those things.

      I have some (sort of) good news that came out of it. He wrote to me the following day after I had sent this letter to Allison and it was by far the most considerate and thoughtful rejection letter I have ever received. I will just include two noteworthy quotes:

      “If I were hiring for two positions, I would hire you in a heartbeat. I strongly believe you have a lot to offer a potential employer, and I believe you will succeed in your career goals. At the end of the day, the single position I am looking to fill at this time is one that will require a (very) slightly different set of skills than you bring to the table at this time.

      That being said, I do believe we will be looking for another CSR type position in the next few months, and with your permission, I would like to consider you when that position comes online. I understand you will continue to look for a job, but I would at least like to contact you directly before posting the position publicly if that’s OK with you.”

      That’s pretty awesome, right? Also, the employees tend to stay with this employer for a LONG time which tells me he’s a good guy to work for. I think we just had some awkward moments!

      Thank you everyone for your replies!

      1. Kat*

        For someone who was a doofus interviewer, that’s a very kind and gracious thank you, and it’s very promising as well.

      2. Bend & Snap*

        That’s great, congrats! And it does sound like it’s about fit and NOT that you bombed the interview.

      3. caryatid*

        cool! i hope it works out for you :)

        that is definitely one of the best rejection letters i’ve seen!

      4. Ad Astra*

        Yeah, this almost makes me think I’ve misjudged the guy. Maybe he was just having a weird day, or he read about a new interview style and decided to try it?

        1. Kat2*

          (OP again :) ) If you misjudged him, it is my fault. My published letter was sent the day of the interview to Allison when I was very frustrated and could only see the “red flags.” I was a nervous wreck before and afterwards, so my writing reflects the “bad” parts and didn’t highlight the “good” parts.

          Looking back, it makes me realize that whatever tests he might have thrown my way were very sincere attempts at finding the best person for the job, and apparently I didn’t fit the bill. The fact that I was a nervous wreck actually validates his opinion that I might “crack under pressure” but his email helped me understand that he didn’t see me as a poor candidate.

          If HR representatives didn’t have to be so careful about lawsuits, perhaps we would see more thoughtful rejection letters like this. If anything, maybe someone out there who has been rejected will be reassured.

          Long story short, my initial letter published above doesn’t tell the whole story. After all is said and done, I feel pretty good about what happened and I am grateful after such a long interview process that he was honest with me, while still highlighting my positive qualities.

      5. Afiendishthingy*

        Oh, what a nice letter. Also, glad you’ve got a good attitude about your search! Good luck!

    3. Ultraviolet*

      Maybe it’s just the annual January-February comment crankiness plague. Reprint this letter in June and we’ll find the interviewer charmingly eccentric.

  11. Kimberlee, Esq*

    I think it’s valid that OP might consider this a yellow flag. But I do think that it’s useful to keep in mind that the line between reasonable questions and “mind games” is often blurry. In that many of the questions we ask candidates during interviews are meant to suss out something else other than the direct answer to the question being asked.

    I also would give the interviewer here the benefit of the doubt that he does not expect candidates to spend multiple hours prepping. Even with 10 questions, I would probably spend about an hour extra prepping, which isn’t a giant amount. Obviously, on the interviewer end you want to be contentious about how you use candidates’ time, and he could run his same test with 5 “questions” and have just as good results (I presume), but I suspect he’d be surprised that the cause of OP’s lack of sleep was extensive prepping.

    NOT endorsing this as an interview technique. But it is an interesting bit of data to get.

  12. Lori*

    OP, are you female? Because the interviewer’s comments about cracking under pressure and being a “tiger” (eyeroll) sound gendered to me, like he’s wondering if you can be “one of the guys.”

    1. Kat2*

      Yep :) It was weird, but if you check out the email I received after I sent Allison the original question… I can’t find it now but it’s in reply to one of her comments… I think he is a pretty good person and a decent individual to work for, just eccentric. He admits that the woman in HR is the “people person” of the organization.

    2. Ad Astra*

      As Alison says, this certainly doesn’t have to be gendered — but I still instinctively pictured an older man talking to a younger woman.

      1. Kat2*

        (OP again) Yes, older man and younger woman but only by about 10 years… I’m in my early thirties and he is probably in his early forties.

    1. Heather*

      I would be fantasizing about showing up the next day with an actual tiger, and then saying “oh, you want me to show you that *I* can be a tiger? I thought you said you wanted me to show you a tiger!”

    2. So Very Anonymous*

      “Oh, I thought you said you wanted me to show you I was a tiger?”

      Or you could purposely misunderstand and show him that you’re a Tigger by bouncing around the room on your tail laughing maniacally.

      1. So Very Anonymous*

        Oops, forgot about html and angle brackets. Imagine that comment opened with:

        (stretches out on desk and takes a nap)

  13. Terra*

    I sort of wonder if the “cracking under pressure” line had something to do with you not getting enough sleep and therefore struggling in the interview. Such as he was concerned that if something stressful or important was going on in your job that you might not be able to sleep and so wouldn’t do well at work. It’s not great phrasing but at least there’s some logic to it. The questions exercise and saying you need to be a tiger would definitely be red flags to me though.

    Also FWIW in the future I probably wouldn’t mention that you didn’t or couldn’t sleep unless the interviewer asks something specifically because it may come across as being unprepared. It’s not fair and trouble sleeping is something that happens to everyone but I think it’s going to turn some people off. Also you run the risk of seeming like you’re making an excuse or bringing something up that the interviewer didn’t notice or have a problem with. If you do feel like you need to bring it up it might be better to say something like “I’m feeling a bit under the weather but I didn’t want to have to reschedule because I’m very interested in this position.” But even then you run the risk of them being upset that you’ve potentially exposed them to an illness so your mileage may vary.

    1. Christian Troy*

      I agree with you…

      OP, I had a weird/terrible interview last year. For better or for worse, I learned a lot from it. I think this ship has sailed, but now you know where you have some areas where you can improve, specifically learning some relaxation techniques so you aren’t presenting this flustered, sleep deprived version of yourself. Even if the interview was weird, it’s a lot easier to navigate when you’re rested and clear.

      1. S.I. Newhouse*

        I agree with this post and with Christian’s comment.
        That being said, I’d move on from this position and consider it a bullet dodged. What you were subjected to was a good old fashioned stress interview — which I thought fell out of favor with employers, but apparently not this one. In my experience, companies that use stress interviews tend to be, well, very high-stress environments. And personally, I’d feel really disrespected if I took the time to prepare for and go through three interviews, only to have someone play these really obnoxious games with me in the fourth.

    2. Kat2*

      (OP here) I think a large part has to do with me admitting that I had no sleep, so yes! The night before, while struggling for some zzzz’s, I found some forums where people were worried about their interview and most advice included “don’t tell the employer you didn’t sleep!”

      When I went in, I had no intention of telling him, but I was so far off my game and had such a difficult time mentally processing a large part of what he said (he is really smart- I was impressed) that in that moment I gave in and told him, hoping he would understand- and yes, it might have sounded like an excuse!

      Someone else here mentioned calling in sick rather than showing up. On the one hand, I worried that I wasted his time being “off” like that, but on the other hand, there are times everyone suffers insomnia or has something come up and responsible people show up to work anyhow. Had I not gone to the interview, it would have been a reflection of my ethics, IMHO :)

  14. Elizabeth West*

    I think the “pick the questions I will ask” thing is lazy. Why can’t he come up with his own questions? And then “Ha ha, not really; I’m not going to ask them.” Whaaaaat?

    Ick. I would have decided right there not to work at that place. That’s just me, though. I don’t mind jumping through some hoops if they actually make sense.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, it’s not laziness or he could have just come up with the 10 questions he’d ask rather than coming up with 60+. He apparently thought that the topics she chose to focus on would reveal some insights about her. It’s a silly method, but it’s not laziness.

        1. Amberly*

          Yeah, I have a really hard time believing this guy thought up the questions all by himself. He lifted the list from somewhere, I’d put money on it.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That’s pretty normal though. Most interviewers aren’t reinventing the wheel and are using recycled questions (aside from specific probing into the person’s resume). It still takes time to figure out which ones are the right ones for your situation.

    2. S.I. Newhouse*

      The bait-and-switch with the question list kind of reminds me of those reality TV competitions, where you get to pick your team and then are assigned to work with the people you *didn’t* pick… or perhaps one of those Food Network shows where you get to shop for ingredients and then are forced into a “cart swap” with your competitor and have to work with totally foreign ingredients. It’s not laziness, but it’s… mean-spirited, and unnecessary.

    3. plain_jane*

      I somewhat like the pick questions to see what you pick tactic. Not being in the stress of an interview, I can see how someone who is quick on their feet (which is the criteria for some jobs) would be able to use an approach of “I selected this one so I could [tell you the time when …/highlight unique skill]”.

  15. Gandalf the Nude*

    I could totally see my old grandboss doing something like this. It’s the kind of thing he’d come across and think was a fantastic idea at first blush but would realize was pretty useless and thoughtless if he took a few minutes to think it through or mention it to his second-in-command (who would probably call him a dumb ass and lay it out for him). But he’s also a doer and doesn’t always like to wait for that better second thought to come. He quickly assesses cost/benefit and makes his move. How quickly he does this depends on the scale of the decision. Major purchases get a day or two. Job candidates get a couple minutes.

    Some folks who operate like that are nightmares to work for because they aren’t self-aware enough to see that what seems like a small decision to them can have much larger ramifications for someone else. Some of them, though, like my old grandboss, know this about themselves and surround themselves with people who will do that thinking for them and reign them in or act as a buffer when necessary. The other folks that interviewed OP might be those people to this guy, so even if he’s kind of an ass, he might not be the worst boss ever. He might even be a pretty good boss who’s just kind of thoughtless sometimes. It happens.

  16. alex*

    I don’t understand the reaction here..

    The LW bombed the (frustrating but not unreasonable, it doesn’t sound like) interview, clearly, and the guy said LW could come back tomorrow. And LW totally ignored the invitation. Why wouldn’t you email the thank + a proposed time the next day or at least thank you + acceptance for an appt the next day? Also wouldn’t it have been wiser (in retrospect) if you’re seriously not function to call in sick to the interview and ask for the next day or later in the week, so as not to tarnish a hiring process that was going well?

    1. fposte*

      The thing is, most of us aren’t at our peak when we interview; we’re nervous, we’ve traveled, we’re dealing with a weird breakfast schedule, etc. It’s a pretty big deal to ask to reschedule an interview, and I’d save that for when I really couldn’t make it, not just when I thought I wasn’t at my best.

    2. Kat2*

      Hi there, OP here :)

      Yes, I felt I bombed it. In my defense, I did not propose a time to come in the next day because I was having second thoughts about the job following the interview. In my email right afterward, I asked if he could provide a scenario he believes would cause me to crack under pressure so that I could not only understand what he was talking about, but also evaluate if this was the job for me. It was the next morning (after I had already emailed Allison) that I received an incredibly considerate and positive rejection letter strongly indicating that I am first on the list for the next available position in that department. Right now; however, they really need someone calm and confident to deal with some very difficult customers and apparently I am not that person. In retrospect, I appreciate that he was honest about this as we all complain when we wonder what went wrong.


    3. alice*

      I thought the “Come back tomorrow part” was strange. If OP has a current job, she probably can’t just tell her employer than she’s going to miss work the very next day. I think that’s a pretty inconsiderate request from the interviewer.

  17. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

    Hi, OP! I don’t have much to offer except sympathy :)

    I did something similar with an interview on no sleep, except I couldn’t stop talking…I just rambled. It was a panel interview, and I could see a few of the more sympathetic people trying to give me looks to indicate I should just stop spewing word vomit.

    Ultimately, it really did work out for the best! E

  18. KM*

    “He’s not terribly concerned about what you will think of him, which is often a hallmark of people who are unpleasant to work for.”

    Truer words have never been spoken.

  19. LibbyLee*

    My cousin works in air traffic control. She says there are two things you need to be an effective air traffic controller – good spatial awareness and the ability not to crack under pressure. It’s acknowledged in the industry that in recruitment you can test for the first but not the second, so a big part of the training process is weeding out the people who might panic – a high proportion of trainees don’t make it through.

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