the power dynamics in job interviews will mess you up

One of the most frequent themes in my inbox in the decade I’ve been writing Ask a Manager has been rude and power-tripping behavior from prospective employers during the interview process. And in letter after letter, people have written about feeling obligated to suck it up and deal with it because they think their interviewers hold all the cards.

I wrote a column for Slate that explores the weird power dynamics of job interviews — and how they can lead job seekers to make bad decisions for themselves. (And it includes some highlights from memorable letters from here.) You can read it here.

{ 251 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago

    The looking through someone’s handbag example made my eyes bug out of my head!

    I carry a tote bag and there is SO much crap in it. And how disorganized my bag is has no reflection on how organized I am with data/information.

    1. Dee-Nice

      This is why I always make sure I have many rumpled Kleenex in my purse. Hey, rummage at will– enjoy the streptococcus!

      1. LouiseM

        LOL!!! Me too. Nobody wants to go through my purse, all they will find is rumpled kleenex, 10 tubes of lipstick, and a bunch of loose sticks of gum.

    2. There's Always Money in the Banana Stand

      I always have several tampons in my purse…would I be dismissed from the interview? Lol.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        LOL I have pads in mine and I had the same thought!

        I also have tea bags and luna bars and pens and a tin of those Danish butter cookies in my bag at the moment.

        1. Hlyssande

          Danish butter cookies are the absolute best. I got a mini tin of them and they disappeared in very short order.

    3. Specialk9

      And beyond everything else, it’s an inherently gender coded question. They’re not going to ask to slide their hands into a guy’s pockets. (Ugh!)

      1. Scratched

        Or a woman’s pockets! Some of us don’t carry purses, I wonder what his response to that is?

        1. Hills to Die on

          I’m guessing he’s lacking in the ‘original thoughts’ department so it would probably have confused him.

        2. Specialk9

          I suspect they might ask a woman. It’s an icky enough gender dynamic. :{

          (Not really, but close)

      2. Observer

        It most definitely is gender coded. I also suspect that it’s not about how “organized” the woman is.

        1. smoke tree

          I thought it might be a kind of weirdly regressive thinking–like, of course a woman wouldn’t have anything like a job history to refer to, so you have to resort to pawing through her purse or perhaps doing random inspections to see how neatly she keeps her household.

    4. k.k

      My bag search would be very anticlimactic. For interviews I grab a bigger bag that can fit extra copies of resumes and other paperwork without folding them. But I don’t bother to switch over everything from my normal purse, it’s just a folder, my wallet, phone, and keys. Big ol’ bag with 4 things in it. If they saw that they might get the idea that I’m some sort of minimalist.

      1. Samiratou

        Yeah, in a job interview I would ditch my normal gigantic Handbag of Holding and use the smaller purse with just wallet, keys, makeup bag & kleenex.

        1. Liane

          That’s what I call my purse–Great Minds, right? I was also the first person to turn a small neoprene tablet tote into a Bag of Holding.
          And I remember this post. Rudeness, fetish, chauvinism, or stupid hiring trick–it was a Jerk Move.

      2. Oxford Coma

        Same here. My usual daily bag is a nightmare of strange company-specific tools/cables/diagnostic equipment. An interview bag is bare bones.

      3. all aboard the anon train

        Yeah, I have a separate purse I use for interviews. It’s a nicer, more structured leather purse than the normal Longchamp one I use day to day.

        The most exciting thing I may have in there is an umbrella or pack of tissues.

      4. Indie

        Same Same! I usually slip interview related paperwork and my mega portfolio into a laptop bag or satchel. There usually isn’t even room for a wallet, which I leave in my car. It’s not the time for the ‘real’ handbag, which HELLO is personal and full of goodies/crap.

    5. Falling Diphthong

      I have used the same purse for something like 2-3 years, and my husband still has no idea where various items (my cell phone, the target $5 cards, band aids) might be. It’s organized for me, but a vast mystery for him.

    6. Environmental Navy Wife

      My bag usually has a pretty odd variety of stuff in it if you didn’t know me. Right now, my bag has a 3/4 complete knitted sweater, a tub of medicated eye cream for my horse, a baggie of horse treats, random change, random pieces of candy, a can of Mountain Dew, a stationary pad, an addressed envelope, a tiny journal, tiny scissors, and my wallet. I’m not sure what the conclusion an interviewer would get to by digging through my purse.

    7. Jadelyn

      I frequently have bits of mail stashed in there – including my bills, which no interviewer needs to see – and in particular I carry a small bottle of prescription medication that would inherently identify the nature of the condition I’m taking it for, which then potentially allows the hiring manager to discriminate based on my medical history. There is no way in hell I’d be willing to let ANYONE paw through my purse – even my partner knows better than to go digging for stuff, if he needs something that’s in my purse he fetches my purse, hands it to me, I find whatever he needs, hand him both the thing and my purse back, and he goes and puts my purse back where he found it. If even my partner of 9 years doesn’t have carte blanche to rummage through my purse, no stranger in the world is going to get into it either, I don’t care how badly I need the job. Who would want to work for someone with such a lack of sensible boundaries?

      1. root

        seriously, right now, I have a low-dose valium prescription and an MMJ card in my purse. Not gonna share that….

      2. Seriously?

        I have prescription medication in my purse as well. Additionally, I frequently have medical paperwork in there. No way is an interviewer going to get permission to go though my purse.

      3. Observer

        This is actually one of the things I was thinking about. Especially given the “muttering”, I suspect that he wasn’t looking for organization, but for either private information that would be revealed or whether the person is carrying makeup (either he wants someone with “the right look” or he thinks that that proves she’s a lightweight who is “too focused on her looks”.)

      4. Specialk9

        Stacia Kane’s Downside series has a part in which the protagonist, a kickass detective / secret junkie (it’s odd but actually works) is working on a series of murders, and there is a long section about how a woman’s purse is very private, and her understanding helped her solve the mystery.

        There really is something very private about the inside of a purse, or a backpack.

      5. Turquoisecow

        Yeah, I have prescription meds in my purse as well, and while I don’t think anyone would be able to tell the condition I’m taking them for, or refuse to hire me as a result, it’s still not something I’m comfortable talking about to strangers. (A boss I worked for, maybe, as although the condition doesn’t effect my my ability to work while I’m medicated, and I don’t need any accommodations, it does have the potential to if at some point the meds become ineffective.)

        Certainly I am not telling someone I’ve just met and who has the potential to be all Judgy McJudgerson about it! And if this guy is the sort to ask to rifle through my bag, he’s probably also the sort to judge me on the contents, and ask probing medical questions.

    8. Menacia

      This reminds me of one of my favorite episodes of Mad About You when Jamie and her sister accidentally swapped bags. Jamie was the one who was put together, so her bag was as well (spare everything), and her sister had the most ridiculous things in hers. By the end of the episode, Jamie was a mess and her sister ended up getting a job because she was able to put herself together using what was in her sister’s bag. It was a really great episode.

      1. Pine cones huddle

        Yes, but I’m that episode all the random stuff her sister had in her bag also happened to come in handy for Jaime.

    9. Rosemary7391

      As well as a spare sanitary pad, I usually have a small wooden cross and random craft stuff. Scrap of fabric looks weird but make perfect sense if I’m going to the haberdashers before/after, and the crochet hooks – dunno what you’d make of random metal implements really. Sometimes if I’m doing a short overnight trip I’ll roll up my nightdress, toothbrush etc and spare underwear to stuff at the bottom of my handbag. All sorts of stuff totally irrelevant to my job at best, and in many cases Not For Public Viewing.

      1. Jessen

        That’s definitely another point – we can’t be the only people who carry religious items in a purse. I tend to have a rosary buried in there somewhere. It’s not really my employer’s business though.

        1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels

          I’m not religious anymore, but grew up Catholic and I have a St. Dymphna prayer card in my purse. If the interviewer knew what she’s the patron saint for, talk about a potentially discriminating issue.

    10. Turquoisecow

      My personal space is a semi-organized mess. My work space is not. Looking at my purse or my home would not tell you much about how I am as an employee.

      And I am not the only person I know who is like this, so this “test” clearly fails for multiple people.

      1. SusanIvanova

        There’s barely anything in my purse, but my computer desktop? Clutter city. What non-clutter people don’t get is that there’s a difference between clutter and chaos; everything is where it is for a reason.

    11. Quoth the Raven

      It’s one of those things where I would legit say “Uh no, and if you want to you’re going to have to provide me with a warrant.” Not because I’ve got anything illegal/questionable (though I do always carry a pad, a tampon, and a couple of condoms I’ve never bothered to take out of my backpack). But it’s a big enough of violation of my privacy, and it opens the door for so many things and for them to potentially request even worse in the future, I wouldn’t hesitate to go nuclear here.

    12. Nana

      Remember reading of a woman whose MIL would rummage through her purse. So she left a pair of handcuffs, a sex toy or three…

      1. Mom5

        I’ve read this before in Tatler or Vanity Fair. In the 60’s or 70’s some French madam would ask to look in your purse if you were interviewing to be one of her “girls”. It separated out the ladies from the riff raff. Ladies had tidy purses with a hanky & money.

    1. Still Looking

      Mine also. I have been thinking often about whether I should formally withdraw from the process. This company is not treating me well in the process, and I have the overwhelming urge to run.

  2. k.k

    I saw that this morning and was so glad! The concept of an interview being a two way street is pretty ingrained in my mind after years of reading AAM, but it’s still such a foreign concept to many. This is a message that needs to be spread to the masses.

    1. Linda Evangelista

      The “two-way street” idea has made me an infinitely better interviewer, and landed me a job with a great organization and an amazing culture fit. Its so important!

      1. Jen RO

        I always tell people I interview that we are not just meeting so that I can assess their fit – they also need to decide whether what we offer is good enough for them!

    2. Michelle

      Yes! Can you just imagine the confused looks of the interviewers if this was explained to them? I can imagine Alison teaching seminar and saying “Remember, as you are interviewing them, they are interviewing you to see if they want to work at your company”.
      I’m giggling in my cube as I imagine this. Glad many staff are off today!

    3. Specialk9

      I found that interviews started going so much better when I learned to find subtle ways to push back a bit on that power dynamic to reinforce that I was analyzing *them* for whether I wanted to work there.

      And that same thing that makes people want to be liked can often make the interviewers want you even more, even subconsciously, if they think there’s a chance of rejection. Ooh ooh pick me! It’s not just the playground.

        1. Specialk9

          It’s this subtle thing – you’re not being aggressive or arrogant, just keep in mind that you’re sorting through several options. Like with dating – you’re friendly and personable with new dates, but you’re deciding whether you want to go out with them again.

          The important thing is to know about them, and have a list of 5-10 questions that help you understand the company and work. (With the work to be done as your main focus.) Then don’t wait till the end to ask questions, be involved the whole time. Basically subtly act as if you’re already an employee trying to figure out how it would look to take on the project, and whether it sounds good to you or if you want to take Bob or Nancy’s project instead.

          But also you can ask some fairly direct questions about the dynamics. “Tell me about your management style” (a gimme) with the follow up of “what kind of traits do not work well with your manager style? Do you have an example?”

          Some of them work better once I’m one on one. So one that worked way better than expected was something like “every office has some amount of politics and interpersonal conflict. What are some examples that you’ve dealt with recently, and how much is there here compared to other jobs you’ve worked?” (Turns out she was willing to put on a happy face for an interview, but not lie.)

          You can also listen for clues of “off” stuff and ask “could you tell me more about X?” in a friendly way.

        2. AMPG

          I was once asked in an interview if I would be willing to work long hours if needed. I said (paraphased), of course I assumed that particular job would require long hours sometimes, especially during “crunch” times, but I would be concerned if really excessive hours became the new norm, since that would signal a resource management issue to me. I got the job, although I never bothered to ask the people on the hiring committee what they thought of my answer. But I would give a similar answer if asked that question again.

    4. I'll come up with a clever name later.

      I have a friend who, when telling someone they have an interview, says “I’m interviewing a company this afternoon to see if I want to work there.” She’s been doing it since her first job. She says her dad had explained to her that a job interview was a way to figure out if she wanted to work for a company as much as it was about the company figuring out if they wanted to hire her. I always thought that it was a healthy way of looking at things.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather

        “I’m interviewing a company this afternoon to see if I want to work there.”

        Oh wow, I love this! I’m going to start using this line from now on.

      2. nep

        Love this. That’s exactly how it should be.
        Somewhat related (another kind of power dynamic) — A friend frustrated with how his physician was handling things made an appointment to meet with the doctor to tell him: ‘I’m firing you.’

  3. Memily

    Asking to look through someone’s purse reminded me of when I was at a *job fair* talking to someone about a potential EA role and the CEO asked to look through my inbox to see how organized I am–slightly more relevant, but I was so flustered and embarrassed! I handed my phone over because I didn’t know what else to do and then was lightly roasted on the state of my emails. It was really demoralizing.

    1. katelyn

      wow! I am super organized at work and totally not at home. That’s because at home, I’m the only one who needs to know where I stored the llama-shaped teapot and if it’s in the bathroom cupboard for some reason no deadlines will be missed. That’s a super inappropriate thing for them to ask you and it won’t even really get them the data they think they want in many/most cases!

      1. Memily

        Exactly! With my personal email I don’t take the time to go through and delete all the dumb marketing emails I get all day long! It doesn’t necessarily say anything about how I work.

        1. Jesca

          Yeah, I am not sure who does in their personal email? I mean if I am getting emails for a specific purpose (like home buying emails from a realtor) I will likely make a folder for that. Everything else that goes in my email is by and large pretty freaking worthless. Like wayfair emails can just sit there and you will likely remain there for years to come!

      2. Lynn Whitehat

        Oh no. Mine’s full of political and family-related emails. Not what I want to be showing an interviewer.

    2. Antilles

      That’s extra ironic because “the organization of your email inbox” is more a reflection on your choice of email provider (and their automatic filtering system) than anything else – someone who uses GMail is going to look super-organized simply because Google does such a good job automatically moving spam and promotional junk mail into its’ own folder.

      1. On a pale mouse

        Plus Gmail’s whole principle is “why bother organizing when you can just search for it when you need it?” I still don’t love that philosophy but I also haven’t put in the effort to organize (or find a way to use Elm, which I used and loved years ago). So I guess there’s an argument that it’s working well enough even if I don’t love it. Yet it probably wouldn’t meet that guy’s idea of organized.

        1. On a pale mouse

          I meant to say, because I don’t have a lot of folders, which is probably what this guurelying on if he’s judging by a quick look.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago

      Your personal inbox??? Oh hell no.

      A potential employer doesn’t need to see the email conversations I have with my friends about fictional characters or, worse, my smutty RP tag notifications.

    4. wayward

      But even your personal inbox could potentially contain sensitive information about other people, and your work email box could definitely have stuff that’s considered confidential. It seems dumb to try to hire people who are cavalier about sharing this stuff, since it’s unlikely that they’d be any better with your organization’s information.

      1. Yvette

        Maybe that was the point of the question, to see if the person pushed back? Memily, Did he seem like he actually went through and read it all?

        1. Memily

          No, he pretty much just remarked on how many unread emails I had, not having things in folders. This was when I was brand new in the workforce, so the thought of it being a test like that would have been the last thing I would think of! I mostly just felt embarrassed and put on the spot.

          1. BadWolf

            Ha, I organize nothing in my personal email except for deleting some emails. I just search whenever I want to find things again.

      2. Oxford Coma

        Yes! If Memily hadn’t specified it was for an EA role, I was going to guess that it was a trick question for an IT/IS position.

        1. wayward

          Oh, it’s not unheard of for companies to set up fake job interviews for rivals’ employees as a way to pump them for information.

    5. Anonymous Ampersand

      Oh my god.
      When I was a secretary I used to joke that I used up my organisational skills at work and had nothing left for myself. Except it wasn’t much of a joke. Superbly organised at work. At home not organised at all.

    6. Ama

      Aargh. I’d be very frustrated by that because the app I use for my emails on my phone doesn’t apply all of the organizational filters I’ve set up on my desktop app (because I don’t use my phone app for more than the occasional stuck-on-mass-transit check).

  4. Art Vandelay

    I’ll never forget being on an interview and the hiring official making me shake her hand several times “until I got it right”-before and after the interview. For the record, I have a firm yet respectful handshake. She also started the interview off by saying “so what’s so special about you besides your suit and haircut?”, and followed it off by flipping through my 25-page portfolio just to discuss a negligible syntax error. I know that I dodged a bullet but I blamed myself for not getting that job for a long time.

    1. Kathleen_A

      What a jerkity jerkfaced jerk. I hate her on behalf of you and any of the other suffering souls who have interviewed with her.

      1. Art Vandelay

        Unfortunately, she was pretty well-known and respected in that industry. I just thought she was testing me to see how I would bounce back from being knocked off balance, so I continued with interview. I tried my best to remain cordial and knowledgeable throughout, not realizing until it was over how unsettling the experience had been.

    2. Jesca

      I cannot honestly think of a better way to show your perceived dominance over another individual than to have them continuous shake your hand until you get it right …

      I’m surprised she didn’t squat and spray the room. Or poop in the plant and not cover it up …

      1. Artemesia

        In Asia they have this trick of judging westerners by the way they exchange business cards; my contact knew his boss was this kind of jerk, so he briefed me on the correct procedure (two hands, oriented in a certain way, take his with two hands and perused carefully before putting it away). The big boss was obviously seriously disappointed when I did it ‘the right way’ as he apparently got his kicks condescending to foreigners who came to work with his organization. He asked me twice ‘who told you about business cards’; I tried to look bemused and said ‘how else would you do it?’

        1. Specialk9

          I noticed that in retail, often non-native Asians handle credit cards in a distinctive way, like you said. I looked it up and now try to be sensitive to the idea that just handing a credit card over handed might feel rude to some cultures.

      2. Art Vandelay

        You said it perfectly! I was pretty green at the time and desperately wanted the job, so I just assumed it was a test of sorts. I continued with the interview, smiling and being enthusiastic-thinking that if I showed I could keep it together under pressure then the interviewer would be impressed.

    3. Indie

      Aren’t you glad you didn’t get it? Also did you shake her hand with an increasingly WTF expression on your face each time? Because you do in my imagination. But yeah, beating yourself up for an interviewers’ rudeness; I’ve been there too.

      1. Art Vandelay

        I just continued to smile, hoping it would end soon and that we would move on. Now as a Real Adult™️, I would find a diplomatic yet stern way to say “yeahhhhh that’s enough”.

    4. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)

      And how would this person deal with someone who doesn’t do handshakes for cultural or religious reasons?

      1. Art Vandelay

        They would probably just find another way to be equally as egregious. I think this person had no intention of hiring me after seeing me in person but decided to have some fun anyway.

  5. A Person

    I’ve had so many interviews the last few months, some better than others. One required me to drive across town and arrive 15 minutes before my scheduled time for a 20 minutes interview, which started 10 minutes late. The hiring manager wasn’t even there.

    Thanks for the reminder that it could be so, so much worse!

  6. Mike C.

    Why don’t candidates with plentiful options say that they’ll need to reschedule (or simply leave) after being kept waiting in the lobby for more than an hour, cut short interviews with openly rude or hostile hiring managers, or push back on inappropriately invasive questions? Yes, they might really want the job—but there’s an argument to be made that employers who treat candidates poorly aren’t likely to treat employees any better and that candidates who have options should act more like, well, candidates with options.

    There’s something about job interviews that makes even strong candidates feel like they must simply wait compliantly to receive the interviewer’s judgment.

    This is a really important point, and I suggest the possibility that this is a side effect of a business/working culture where we (general we) value deference to others and avoid direct communication of problems as a way to signal personal “professionalism” towards others. Things that are “nice to do” in some circumstances become expected and required in all circumstances and we get to a point where it becomes almost unthinkable to stand up for one’s self in these situations, lest we be judged “just as bad” and our personal concerns dismissed. In addition, there’s still a belief that advocating for your own interests is seen as “not caring about the job” or even “acting mercenary”.

    This line of thought will likely need some expanding, but I think there’s something useful here.

    1. A Person

      I always feel like I have to stay professional no matter what, and it probably makes me look too compliant/ tolerant of bad behavior. I think in the future, if they are bad enough that I know I wouldn’t take the job anyway if offered, I should just say something. In a professional way, of course.

      1. Millennial Lawyer

        I think the point more is that saying something in those situations *is* professional.

      2. Mike C.

        I think it’s also important to question, from time to time, what “being professional” really means. These sorts of things are fluid and like other social constructs are agreed upon by all of us. If some part of that doesn’t work, we can mitigate or even change it, as we are individually able to.

        1. fposte

          Yes! This ties into my distress that people seem to think that “being nice” means never saying no to anything. You can be nice and professional and still make choices that are better for you than for other people.

          1. NW Mossy

            If I had the power to slay just one dragon in my workplace, it would be the misconception that no is a bad word. Your palms may sweat saying it, but the rewards are rich indeed, not just for yourself but for those around you who will benefit from your good judgment about how to use your time.

            1. New Bee

              Ha, to date I think I’m one of 3 people in my org that has actually responded to a Yes/No email with “No. Reasons…” People hate to say no here, and it’s frustrating and unnecessarily confusing.

        2. A Person

          I recognize I am still influenced in some ways by being taught as a young woman to be quiet and compliant when being addressed by authority figures. Be the better person, rise above and all that.

          But if you take the logical view that being a professional in the workforce includes the basic assumption that you are being treated professionally by others, calling out bad behavior from an interviewer/potential future boss is necessary. In a calm and even tone, of course.

    2. BRR

      Very interesting point. I’ve never been in an interview that went that bad, but I imagine part of the situation is most people need a job more than they feel a job needs them. And even if they can say no in that situation, they still think of every interview wth that mindset.

        1. fposte

          Maybe this could use a little of the “hiring is like dating” influence; people pretty commonly have ways to cut dates short when they’re not working, for instance. I think there just isn’t much messaging or modeling of the “interview goes two ways” notion outside of AAM, so it just doesn’t occur to people even if they’re not in vulnerable positions.

          1. chocoholic

            There is a book by Greg Churchman called “Daterviewing: Similarities between Dating and Interviewing that Help you Hire the Right Candidate”. I saw a presentation by him on the topic years ago and it was very interesting.

      1. Jennifer

        Unfortunately, if a job is that bad in the interview, how much worse are they to work for?!

    3. LQ

      I’d expand this to a social “be the bigger person” problem, especially as this is applied differently to different sets of people. Interviewer vs interviewee (why is there that distinction anyway), gendered, racial, and others.

      Why is it that some behaviors from some people (interviewers asking to look in someone’s purse so you feel obliged to be the bigger person or be professional) get dismissed and others get punished for things that are incredible normal? And then when the person who is punished for a totally normal thing wants to stand up for themselves they are berated for doing so. I think there is absolutely something of value here. And I think it’s bigger.

      1. Mike C.

        “Did you cheerfully turn the other cheek? Did you turn the first cheek again to be sure? No? Then both parties are bad and the truth is in the middle, complaint dismissed.” I’ve seen this argument formulation more times than I can count.

        Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right that this is just a subset of the “be the bigger person” problem you point out.

  7. Hills to Die on

    I think the point about people getting drunk on power as soon as they have the smallest amount of authority is pretty accurate. I equate it to bridezillas. Some normal, balanced people get in certain environments and just hear ‘ME!!!’ ringing in their heads and can’t get any farther.

      1. Liane

        It is great. I believe HillsTDO got it from a post here. Alison asked about over-reactions to minor workplace changes. A commenter’s coworker wrote a document of objections to a tiny change and titled it Hills To Die On

        1. Rusty Shackelford

          It’s actually a fairly common saying. (Which doesn’t make it any less awesome.)

  8. Cordoba

    I like when jackasses do me the favor of clearly revealing themselves to be jackasses early in the job search process, so I can quickly conclude that I don’t ever want to work for them or talk to them again and then move on to more productive things.

    The real problem are jackasses who can hide it until you’ve already accepted the job and started working there.

    1. A Person

      I appreciate the opportunity to screen out jackasses as well!

      I’m far too tolerant of questionable behavior during the actual interview, though. Usually I am surprised by it and am just trying to finish up and get out of there, but I wonder if I shouldn’t call it out when I already know I wouldn’t take the job based on it.

    2. Irene Adler

      Amen!

      Better to find out early in the process, when there’s less of your time invested in it.

    3. Pine cones huddle

      I once had an absurd series of interviews and at one point just plain lost my patience. I believe I had been left for far too long alone in an empty room waiting for an interviewer to return. I ended up having to call her office from my cell phone to ask her to come back because I was leaving and needed her to let me out of what was basically a locked corridor. Do you get that? I was essentially being held prisoner by a person who had forgotten I was there. At a place where safety and security are hige concerns.

      I told this story to an older colleague who said “and THAT is when you didn’t get the job” to which I responded that she missed the point. I didn’t want to work with these ridiculous people. But that’s how ingrained in us this power dynamic is.

  9. many bells down

    I love that the “how do you react in an emergency” people never seemed to consider that someone would call 911. Y’know, the number that is FOR EMERGENCIES.

    1. Artemesia

      Exactly. I am in fact the person who when she sees smoke calls 911. I have done this twice when people were dithering and running back and forth and saying ‘is that a fire’ and doing nothing. I called 911 and took the fire extinguisher and went out and put out the small brush fire on the edge of our parking lot and on another occasion called when I noticed a car was on fire across from my dorm in college. Most people oddly don’t do this. They should have offered the person the job right away if ‘how to react in emergencies’ was the test; calling 911 IS how to react in emergencies.

    2. hbc

      Seriously, what is the response that they’re going for? That the only person who’s unfamiliar with the building switch from Applicant mode to Leader mode and organize an evacuation from a fire she doesn’t even see (with possible complicating factors like unknown chemicals or pressurized equipment)?

      Attempting to call 911 should be at least one of the ways to pass that test. And if they’re too dumb to see that, I’m just disappointed they didn’t find out how bad their test was by a candidate smashing a chair through the window to create an escape route.

      1. babblemouth

        And now I’m thinking of the epic emergency drill scene from The Office. I imagine that’s how everyone in that interview looked like.

    3. Curious Cat

      Right, and if calling 911 was not the answer they were looking for, what *were* they hoping he would do?

        1. Midge

          But don’t let the interviewer rummage through your purse when there’s a porcupine in there. ;P

            1. Perse's Mom

              Now now, purse-sized porcupines are called hedgehogs.
              (and they are very cute, if kind of stabby to the unsuspecting)

      1. Fiennes

        IIRC, the interviewers told her that company policy was to call management first in case of an emergency. The interviewer told them that (a) there’s no way she could’ve known a company policy that nobody had yet told her, and (b) that’s actually not the best response to a fire. I think she walked out and left them to deal with the 911 responders.

        If I’ve got the details wrong, someone correct me!

        1. babblemouth

          That’s a ridiculous policy. What’s management going to do? Come check in person that there is fire, and then call 911 themselves? All this tells me they don’t trust their people to recognize a *fire*. How little faith in your employees can you have?

    4. Jam Today

      That’s my favorite example. What on earth were they thinking? It would make for a really good slapstick scene in some workplace-comedy movie starring Melissa McCarthy.

      1. smoke tree

        I’m not sure why, but the mental image of everyone running around the interview room aimlessly while the LW dials 911 is hilarious to me. You can’t say they didn’t commit.

    5. LouiseM

      That situation was ABSURD. I think 99% of people would call 911 if there was a fire, too, so I really don’t know what interesting data points they hoped to get out of that.

    6. Strawmeatloaf

      Makes me wonder what they would actually do during a fire. Go out the building but never call 911 and let it burn?

      1. Chaordic One

        Well, I’ve had temp jobs at places that had a campus setting with multiple bizarrely named buildings and bizarrely named streets. We were told to call the campus police, instead of 911, because (supposedly) off-campus emergency responders would get lost. The campus police were supposed to then call the off-campus emergency responders and would direct them to the emergency when they got to the campus.

    7. Indie

      You have failed the interview prospective boss, I want a leader who isn’t going to let the toaster kill us all.

  10. Shadowette

    I think one of the reasons job seekers allow themselves to be treated so poorly is a fair (whether justified or not) that they could end up burning a bridge they may need some day in the future. For example, if an interviewee leaves after waiting 45 minutes to an hour past the scheduled interview time, the interviewing company may mark the interviewee as a no-show and screen them from any and all future interviews. Maybe this is ok because it is a terrible company. Or maybe it is just this one bad hiring manager. Either way, the bridge may be burned and the interviewee may never be able to get into this company again.

    I think that’s the fear for the job seeker, even though it may be completely unjustified, it’s a fear that dictates behavior, nonetheless.

    1. Irene Adler

      I agree. There’s a real fear that one will burn bridges if one advocates for oneself.

      I like to present a meek and professional front when I’m in the face of bad behavior. I view it as a science experiment to see just how bad the ugly behavior will get. Course, I don’t ever take personally.

      When people are telling you what they truly are, listen.
      (Parapharased from someone- Maya Angelou?)

    2. Quinoa

      I once stayed in a HORRIBLE interview for that very reason. The hiring manager was very well connected in the industry I worked in, and I was afraid that if I didn’t put up with all of their ridiculousness during the interview, they’d spread (untrue but) nasty stories. I knew five minutes in that there was No Way in Hell I would ever work for them, but I wanted to avoid giving them any ammunition for trashing me.

    3. nep

      Good points. It’s a tough call and there is no black and white here — No telling from one employer to the next how they’ll see someone being assertive and demanding respect for one’s time.

  11. pleaset

    Not exactly related to this, but I was speaking at a career day at my high school, and got into a bit of an argument with one of the students there. So afterwards I invited her to apply for an internship at my work – we mainly have college and grad students, but she was so assertive and well-informed that I thought she would get a lot our of being with us. So she did.

    If a place wants people who are obsequious, you might not want to work there.

    1. Coywolf

      Haha, you sound awesome. This reminds me of a manager one of my business management instructors told us about, he would only hire people who had been fired at some point in their lives.

      1. pleaset

        Thanks. My first permanent direct-report hire was someone I knew I’d butt heads with. We had quite a bit of stress but it was creative stress.

  12. Madeleine Matilda

    As someone who has conducted many interviews and been interviewed a lot over the years, I think poor behavior goes both ways. One person I was interviewing, who I knew through a mutual acquaintance from my old job, didn’t bother to show up or to cancel in advance. Later that day she finally replied to my email to her stating she had decided the job wasn’t for her. All well and good to make that decision, but don’t waste my time, and more importantly the time of my colleagues who were waiting to interview her. On another hiring panel, we were interviewing all internal candidates from sites across the country. At least two people, who we interviewed by phone and who were well qualified for the job, were poorly prepared for the interview and gave off an I don’t really care vibe. Another time one of our candidates had worked in our office previously before moving to a different department, and now was applying for a new position in our department. She was a strong candidate, but her interview was painful. She even said to me at the end that she knew she had blown the interview, but she had a lot going on her personal life that kept her from doing her best even though she really wanted to come back to our department.

    1. fposte

      I completely agree that there are candidates who behave poorly, but I think it’s valuable to keep the space in this post focused on the interviewer issue. Posts about interviewee behavior come up often enough that we can have a chance to tell the other side of the story then.

    2. Not Today Satan

      The difference is that when a candidate no shows, she knows she is being removed from consideration. Likewise, people who don’t care don’t care if they get the job. Employers that treat candidates poorly still believe that the candidate would be lucky to get the job.

    3. Indie

      I’m sure such dismissiveness and thoughtlessness this is annoying, but it’s not a power trip. It’s not peeking in anyone’s handbag or making people dance while they cook you a free supper. Particularly the lady who was just going through a hard time… she does not belong in a bad behaviour category at all.

    4. Atalanta0jess

      Are you saying the lady who did a bad job because of personal factors was being rude? Or behaving poorly? Cause that is a wild thing to imply.

  13. Kirsten

    Once I was at an interview and while receiving a tour of the facility, the director of the facility threw a temper tantrum directed towards a person in the same type of position I was interviewing for. I was so stunned that I didn’t know what to do other than finish the tour and later turn down the position by email (because frankly I was scared to do anything at the moment that might set him off again). I already knew I was going to turn it down because the salary was unreasonably low and he had made it clear there would be no negotiation, but the temper tantrum definitely clinched it.

    1. Hills to Die on

      This reminds me of going on a date (so much of dating reminds me of job interviewnig and vice versa) when someone is rude to the wait staff.

  14. Hiring Mgr

    I have to think (hope) that these examples are so extreme as to be rare…But the bigger point is that unfortunately the realities of needing a job often get in the way of logical behavior. Especially when age, health insurance, a nd other things are factored in.

  15. Observer

    Was there ever a follow up from the guy who was kept waiting for 2 hours?

    I remember thinking that the excuse was baloney and that this is a place with a CEO who is just not good at a large part of his job and with an attitude that trickles down. The fact that the recpeitonist’s first response was “maybe he didn’t read his email” is telling. So is the fact that no one even came in to see what’s up with him.

  16. ragazza

    I always think of job interviewing like dating. You wouldn’t expect to know if you wanted to be in a relationship with someone on the first date! (Usually, anyway.)

  17. Bumdedum

    My purse is always organized – because I only keep wallet, keys, chapstick, pen, & phone.

    My workspace is a disaster area – it works for me, but from the outside it looks awful I’m sure.

    So my purse would be lying to the interviewer.

    1. LKW

      “Wow Bumdedum’s desk is a disaster. Didn’t you check her purse when she interviewed?”
      “I did… the purse was a LIE!!!”

      1. Nothing in the middle of the road but dead armadillos

        Yup. I only carry a purse when I’m wearing clothing with insufficient pockets, and only put in it the things I know I need for that limited period – my phone, keys and id. Maybe an emergency $20 if I have to park anywhere other than an attached lot. My portfolio will contain notepad, pen and a couple copies of my resume. Maybe a business card. That’s it.

        My desk often looks like a bomb went off.

      2. Jesca

        Hah! I always take a “professional” purse to job interviews. I never take the hot mess of my actual purse!

        1. many bells down

          I’m a fan of wacky novelty purses a la Betsey Johnson, so interviews get the “work tote.” A nice, sober, grey bag that can fit my laptop. I do not bring the purse that looks like a pina colada.

    2. V

      My purse is much tidier and more minimalistic that my workspace, simply because it is much smaller than my workspace (and I don’t like carrying heavy bags).

  18. Not Today Satan

    I think what’s far more endemic is employers who simply don’t see interviewing/recruiting a two way street. I’ve been on both sides of the interview, and when I’m the employer, I ask probing, difficult questions of my candidates. But I also give them a song and dance about why this opportunity is so great, give them lots of opportunities to ask questions, and answer their questions frankly. I’ve been to so many interviews (as a candidate) where the employer doesn’t try to sell me on the job at all and acts surprised/affronted when I ask probing questions.

    It is arguably a bigger risk for an employed person to leave their job for a new job with so many unknowns than it is for the hiring manager to hire someone. But many are too self-absorbed to see it that way.

  19. OlympiasEpiriot

    I have to say, I think I’d have “lost out” on that purse-rummaging interview, too. I probably would have blurted “Do you have a search warrant?”

    Yes, I, too, though, have a long history of being a wanting-to-please interviewee. Fortunately, as I’ve grown older, that has changed a bit.

  20. Valegro

    My current job involved an all day working interview which is normal for this field (and also makes it hard to find a new one). My future boss kept me for 13 hours and only fed me once in that time! I was dying by the end.

    1. The Original K.

      My eyes bugged out of my head. THIRTEEN HOURS?! So you were there from like 9 AM – 10 PM? That is insane to me.

      1. Valegro

        8 am (he was late, I had to stand out in the cold and wait) until after 9 pm. We had lunch at 2:30. He then insisted that we do lunch the next day on my way to the airport. Ended up being another 4 hours.

      2. Nesprin

        Academia does breakfast-> dinner interviews as a standard, so 13 hrs is not out of the ordinary, but 1 meal in that time frame is unusual. Sometimes lunch is ~2pm, which does not work for me at all. I had to do a 2dy x 12 hrs/day interview recently, and I packed a dozen granola bars.

    2. Uthopia

      LOL do you work at a dressage barn? A 13 hour day does sound totally normal in that field!

    3. V

      I once had a test+interview that took 13 hours. The test had several rounds, those with insufficient scores left, with the interview as the final part. We had short breaks while they evaluated each test, but there was no food.

  21. Ebrofin

    As a candidate, I think you hope against hope that the interview will eventually go in a better direction. I recently had a really confrontational interview, where the interviewer yelled at me twice because she didn’t agree with my response. I wanted to end the interview, but held on until it politely came to a natural conclusion.

    This company sells products directly to consumers, and it makes no sense for them to have hostile interviewers. I probably told 20 people about my experience, and if then they told people and so on, it really wasn’t worth it.

  22. Bamboobreeze

    I once interviewed at a internationally-focused non-profit to be their specialist in Latin America.* The two ppl I was interviewing with (basically 1/2 the team) were the ED and someone with a similar role to the one for which I was a candidate. They brought up a visit from a Brazilian delegation two weeks before and the more junior person said that she “still had Spanish in her head” from all the time that they had spent together. The ED glared at her and said “Portuguese” in a very annoyed tone and the more junior employee visibly shrank in her seat and hung her head (!) I’d been working in that region for nearly a decade and it was obvious to me from the context and general conversation that junior employee knew perfectly well that the Brazilians were speaking Portuguese and she just simply misspoke. I’m proficient in Portuguese because of my career but I realize that sometimes ppl just get mixed up in their heads. It was so clear that this was one of those cases. The harshness of the response and the dynamic that revealed itself made me want to run away from the interview! I walked out of there thinking I wouldn’t take that job for less than a million dollars (which, heh, is A LOT more than I make)

    *Ive changed all the details, please take me at my word that I have managed to capture the essence of what happened. This is more about how ppl reveal themselves than the languages of Latin America/international work

  23. Cordoba

    I am going to encourage my girlfriend to put a note in her purse before interviews saying “If you can read this I am no longer a candidate for this job”.

  24. AdAgencyChick

    I like to think that if someone asked to rummage through my purse in an interview, that I’d have the presence of mind to look shocked, say, “Why on earth would you ask me that?” and then end the interview if he (it’s GOT to be a he, right?) insisted.

    But I have a feeling I’d be so caught off guard in the moment that I’d just blush and try to make excuses for having normal things like tampons in there. :/

    1. Artemesia

      I like to think I would have said ‘no’ to that, but then I once allowed myself to wait two hours and be stood up by the president of an organization for a job interview. It was a black run institution and someone later told me that the president really got off on mistreating white applicants and it was common for them to be stood up on job interviews (I had been invited to apply after a merger where I lost my job and the person who invited me said I was on the list of people from that merger that they were interested in hiring). I know that black people apparently can’t even have meetings at Starbucks like white people can, and I knew it even then decades ago, so I was somewhat philosophical about it, but felt embarrassed I had not just left. (The secretary was embarrassed and kept saying ‘he will be here any moment, he just got held up’ and I assumed, well he is the president and so maybe he really did get behind and can’t help it. If the secretary had not kept reassuring me I assume (hope) I would have left.). Never did interview with this toad.)

      1. Close Bracket

        “I know that black people apparently can’t even have meetings at Starbucks like white people can,”

        Wait, what? Because they get hassled or something? I have never heard of this.

        1. Junior Dev

          There was a recent scandal where a Philadelphia Starbucks called the police on two black men who were waiting for their friend to arrive and didn’t buy anything for about 15 minutes. They ended up getting arrested, when clearly they weren’t being hostile or lingering around for a long time or disrupting anything, just waiting to meet someone for a meeting.

    2. Ama

      I think it would seem so out of left field to me that I’d assume I’d heard them wrong. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch all of that, you want to see my first what?”

    3. Close Bracket

      “make excuses for having normal things like tampons in there. :/”

      At least they aren’t in your car?

      I just erased the mental note that said “say no to interviewers who ask to look through my purse” and replaced it with “carry tampon in purse to interviews.”

  25. (another) b

    I was yelled at during an interview once. The two women interviewers clearly just did not like me and we were not gelling at all. They then asked me to take on an assignment (unpaid) the next day — when I explained I had to work and wasn’t available they looked shocked as if I was already working there and refusing to do my job, and started yelling about how I GUESS WE’RE DONE HERE. And one of them asked me if I smoked (?? no explanation for that one, and isn’t that an illegal questions?). It was BIZARRE. This was in my early 20s — I almost wish it happened now so I could tell them where to go.

    1. Artemesia

      I am pretty sure in most jurisdictions you are allowed to not hire people who smoke; why would that be an illegal question?

        1. fposte

          Though even in those jurisdictions the question itself isn’t likely to be illegal, nor is it illegal to ask somebody about other protected categories–with the one exception of disability. What’s illegal is to use those things in hiring, and since you can’t use them in hiring, there’s not much point in asking them, so they’re usually the sign of a jackass.

      1. (another) b

        It was out of nowhere, odd and they gave no explanation. If not illegal it was awkward and weird.

  26. The One Who Burned the Popcorn

    I’ve been waiting for a post like this! (And have been meaning to send in my own question…)

    I once had an interviewer greet me with “Do you know who I am? I’m the hiring manager.” as if I was a complete dunce. Not five minutes into the interview, my interviewer announces that they are going to go grab their coffee. (To be fair, it WAS around 2:00 P.M.)

    I really ought to have left once she got up to get her coffee, but a close friend at the same company (different department) recommended me for the job. I’ve been told I dodged a bullet.

  27. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks

    Reminds me of when I went for an interview and the interviewer had me waiting for almost two hours before someone finally came out to tell me that the interviewer was still on a call. Had I not been so desperate for the interview (and the job) I would have left after about 30 minutes. Thankfully, I didn’t get that job (later found out that most of that group was dysfunctional)

  28. Jam Today

    I ended an interview cycle (phone interviews were scheduled over several days, so I had some time to chew on things in between) after one person I interviewed with asked me a question that I had to think about for a little bit (which I said I needed to do), and instead of giving me the time to answer said “Look if you don’t want to talk about this we don’t have to, we can talk about baseball instead”, and a second one who very smugly told me that I spelled my own name incorrectly (I hadn’t; its a less-common — but still within the limits of “normal” spelling of a pretty ordinary name). I was like, who needs this? and canceled the last interview, rather than waste everyone’s time.

    1. MissGirl

      That’s awesome

      “You misspelled your name.”

      “No, I didn’t.”

      “Yes, it should be Nelson not Nelsen.”

      “Well by golly you’re right. Think of all the forms I have to redo, SSN, drivers license, mailbox, credit cards. What oh what will I tell my children?”

      1. Jam Today

        It was incredible. He was so confident I actually doubted myself and scrambled to look for what I had misspelled (first name? last name?) I had not misspelled anything, of course, but I was so annoyed that he was so smug about *my* name that I was like nah, son…

      2. many bells down

        My mother’s maiden name was like that; an uncommon spelling of a common last name. All her life people have been insisting that she’s really “Rogers” instead of “Rugers”.

    2. Jadelyn

      I have an unusual first name with an even more unusual spelling. And I have been told before that I’d spelled my name wrong, by a receptionist at a medical office. I looked at that person like she had grown a second head, let the silence stretch while I just stared at her, and finally said “It’s not misspelled. It’s just unusual. And it’s actually *my* name, so I can spell it any way I like, thanks.”

      I was just flabbergasted at the rudeness it takes to correct someone on THEIR OWN NAME. That is LITERALLY the first thing children are taught to write! Why would you ever think that’s something you can correct a total stranger on?

      1. smoke tree

        I’ve misspelled my own (unusual) name enough times that I wouldn’t be offended if someone asked to confirm that it was correct, or to make sure they were reading my handwriting correctly. But just assuming that it’s definitely wrong is on a whole other level.

      2. Political staffer

        I was given detention in 6th grade for insubordination because I corrected a teacher on the pronunciation of my name (it’s very similar to another name, and he along with many people, call me the other name).

        This teacher was an authoritarian who was drunk with power.

  29. MissGirl

    The hard interviews is when there are reddish flags but nothing egregious.

    Last week I had an interview where the recruiter no called. I emailed him after 15 minutes and he rescheduled citing something unexpected came up in his work.

    We eventually talk and he apologizes. He asks if I’d be willing to also interview for another position I didn’t apply for but matched well with my background. I agree and we schedule another phone call with that hiring manager.

    That manager no calls. I email again and they say something went wrong with their meeting system and we reschedule.

    The hiring manager seems a little adverserial, wanting to know why I agree to interview for this position since it’s was so different from the one I’d applied to. Her tone threw me and it felt like she hadn’t really reviewed my resume. I also made a comment about the company not being a start-up but being like a start-up. She got defensive and said they really were a start-up.

    They rejected me a few hours later. I don’t know if I want to apply to this company in the future or not. I don’t know what to think. I’ve heard good things from people who work there albeit in a different department.

  30. Environmental Navy Wife

    My worst interview I had scheduled on the same day as another one – same gov’t agency, but two different departments. The interview after that was one of my best ones.

    The first one, they couldn’t figure out who was supposed to be on the interview panel, so I apparently was handed to 2 random people. Neither of them could keep any conversation going at all. The third person (main interviewer?) kept getting up and walking out of the room. Any questions he did ask were pretty condescending. Not one of them seemed like they wanted to be there. None of them could answer any questions about the job. I walked out thinking that the department was an absolute catastrophe, and that anyone involved in the interview bombed it. Also, when this one was scheduled, I asked for basic directions of where I should check in (it’s a 15 floor gov’t building with lots of departments, and I had never been there before). No response, and the interview solicitation had no info on what floor or wing to go to.

    The second one, I had clear directions on where I needed to go. The receptionist was very nice, and knew exactly where I needed to be. The interviewers asked good normal questions, seemed conscious of both my time and theirs, and had an interest in what I had to say. Plus, they could answer any questions I asked.

    I was actually offered both jobs, which blew my mind. I accepted the second, and when I saw the main interviewer from the first interview around the building, he pretended he didn’t know who I was. The whole thing was weird.

  31. J

    I once had a job interview where the person interviewing me was unapologetically Cyber Monday online shopping during the interview. I was pretty young at the time and tolerated it, but if that had happened to me now, I’d have immediately ended the interview.

    1. On a pale mouse

      I’d be tempted to paraphrase some advice Miss Manners once gave, and say, “Sorry, have I come at a bad time?” and offer to reschedule.

  32. Anno-lawyer

    I was once interviewed by three people for a lawyer job with a government entity. My fresh-out-of-law-school resume included the three top paper designations I had earned. I was ridiculed, to my face, for having top papers. I’m still not sure whether they were just really rude, or if it was a deliberate negging technique, to see if I would push back. Didn’t get an offer, not sorry.

    1. Frank Doyle

      What’s a top paper designation? Googling is not helpful (unless you’re in the market for rolling papers).

      1. rldk

        Appears to be a designation by a law school professor of the best paper in the class for a given assignment. So it gives an extra accolade – not only did you do well, you did the best of anyone in your class on this paper

  33. Bookworm

    Had an interview where the guy would not let go one of experience (which would have been most relevant to the particular job but had also been more than 5 years since I had been at X place) and kept asking me about it. I tried hard to be as diplomatic about it and just said that it wasn’t a good fit (which was true) but it was clear he was never satisfied. I finally gave in after I got tired of him asking and I knew right then and there that this wasn’t going to happen because even if they had offered me a job I don’t think I would have taken it.

    In retrospect I wish I had just told them off and ended the interview before giving in but I also had a previous interview experience (different job at the same place) that ended with a rejection. Overall it wasn’t just a good fit at all and to this day I’m not sure why they had brought me back since it seemed like the interviewer who kept asking just wanted to find any reason not to hire me.

  34. mf

    I once had a phone interview in which the interviewer (a man) asked me:
    -How old I was.
    -If I was married or had kids.
    -If I was planning to have kids.
    -If I’d be willing to quit my current job to accept a 2-week probationary role.
    -If I’d be willing to work as a contractor (in what sounded like an illegal contract position).
    -If I had thick skin, since he’s been told he has a “difficult personality.”
    -If I’d be able to put with with 2 AM phone calls from him.
    -If I was going to sue him.

    And there were numerous other red flags that I don’t even have time to go into here.

    I am proud to say that after about 20 minutes of this nonsense, I told him I didn’t think this role would be a good fit but thanks for his interest, etc. I was able to end the interview because of this blog–I had read Alison’s advice that it’s totally okay to end an interview early , especially if the interviewer is behaving badly.

    Hilariously, the interviewer then tried to sell me harder on the job, telling this is a really great opportunity, etc. So… maybe he thought I was playing hard to get.

    Anyway, once I was off the phone, I googled the guy and surprise, surprise, he’d been arrested for insider trading a few years. I’d call that a bullet dodged.

    1. Nea

      20 minutes! I’d have asked “Are you insane?” at the idea of quitting a job for 2 week’s probation and hung up.

      1. mf

        I was *really* desperate to get out of my current job. But not so desperate that I was going to put up with discrimination or getting fired after 2 weeks.

        But hey, look at the bright side: at least he made it blatantly obvious that he was a misogynistic and corrupt asshole, so that made it easy to walk away!

    2. Irene Adler

      Wow!
      Might have been fun to answer some of those questions and see what his response would be.
      “No, I’m not married and yes I have kids. Lots of them!”

      “So, tell me just how difficult you are.”

      “Sure, if the opportunity arises, I’ll sue ya!”

      Yeah, I turned down a job from someone who made supplements. He’d done time a decade ago for misbranding product. He wanted me to do battle for him with the many auditors who “never understood how he does things” and were “always” citing him for noncompliance.

  35. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

    Last time I went through a round of interviews, I’d told my recruiter that I was fed up with large corporations, and could she please send me to the small, dynamic companies. She did. Oh the stories I can tell. This was for a software development position.

    Company A: was interviewed by my would-be boss and his boss. While describing my duties, they said “and a few times a month, you will also need to get on the phone with finance and change the dollar amounts and whatnot in the database.” – “In production?” – “Yes, in production.” I gasped and asked if they’d ever been audited, and added that manually altering production data has been a no-no wherever I worked. They said “oh don’t worry, finance will be on the phone with you. They’ll tell you what numbers to punch in!”

    Company B: Was contacted by their internal recruiter. He set the interview at 1:00 PM and sent me a million emails warning not to be late (??), and to call his cell when I got there. I get to the place at 12:45 and it’s a lobby with no windows, no way to let anyone know I was there, and a land line phone on a wall. Call his cell, no answer. Call a couple more times between 1:45 and 2:05, no answer. I’m alone in the lobby. In total desperation, I picked up the landline phone and dialed zero and a woman answered. I said I was there for an interview that had been scheduled by Fergus. “Oh, Fergus is still at lunch, but I’ll go get your interviewers” which she did! Fergus had given me the names of the two people that would interview me. I talk to the first, he leaves and sends the second in. The second stands up to leave, I do too, nope, he sends a third person in. And then a fourth. And then a fifth! And then Fergus finally strolled in back from lunch, also had a 1:1 with me, and informed me they didn’t have raises or performance reviews. Mind you, I was going to go for a pay cut and he knew that.

    The embarrassing part? I would’ve gone to work for either of them if they hadn’t turned me down. No idea what I was thinking. Yes, my current job at the time sucked, but those guys sucked even more!

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        Right?? I probably didn’t have enough proof of whatever they were doing to report them. As for the second question – it’s embarrassing, but I completely forgot their name! I’m usually better than that. I really wish I remembered, so I’d at least tell everyone I know not to apply there, but my memory is a total blank.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        Wow, I need to post an update. After my previous comment, I went through my emails from that year, and found the company name and address. Looked them up. It is a large corporation with locations worldwide. The company seems to be doing well, but… They no longer have a location in my area. The office where I interviewed is gone, like it never existed! Guess those guys were a bit of a liability to the company, huh!

  36. Pam

    We were holding interviews during the Shake-Out (California’s state-wide earthquake drill). We warned the candidate that it would be occurring during their interview, and not to be surprised when we went under the conference table. We did not require them to participate.

    1. Liz

      Ha! I think I would have felt more awkward to keep sitting there like normal while my interviewer was under the table.

  37. Cute Li'l UFO

    I had an interview two years ago that was mercifully a phone interview. Out of the entire 50 minutes on the phone I barely got to answer any question he asked about be as he instead spent the time disparaging his previous designers for “running out” on him. I was shocked that this was ACTUALLY HAPPENING and thought back to being in college where we discussed many, many aspects of interviews including how to gracefully end one. Surprise surprise each attempt got bulldozed by the guy who sounded a lot more like he needed a therapist than another designer. He also started off this great interview with “you don’t look like a [German last name].” Woo. That was probably the fastest offer I’ve ever turned down.

    Had another face to face that same year with a senior/art director who kept making fun of my blazer. Multiple times. I think I gave a pity “heh” the first time he mentioned that I looked like a bellhop and by the 15th time I was ready to throw my coffee at him. I sat there and took it because I needed a job and I didn’t want to look like Li’l Miss Killjoy and hated every friggin’ minute of it. I did not get an offer and once I’d heard so I realized I was okay with that.

    This year I went through a director-level interviewer continually cancelling and rescheduling 10 minutes before our phone interview time for a week. When I finally got ahold of him it turned into pushing things from 10 AM to 11 AM to 1 PM to 2 PM until he finally called an hour late at 3. Taking a cue from the Comcast school, I guess.

    1. Traffic_Spiral

      Ooh, had one of those too! The boss kept grilling me about whether or not I intended to stay, and ranting about how people kept taking the job and then leaving her. It was… interesting. The position was well-paid and in the location/field I wanted to be in, so I took it while being mentally prepared for a crazy person, and yup, in 2 years I was out of there – along with the other guy who had been hired at the same time as me, and 4 other employees (12 person office). She really was that nuts.

  38. Foreign Octopus

    All of these are great and just what I needed at the end of the day (European time), and I’d thought I’d drop mine in as it’s similar but different.

    It was an interview for a minimum-wage cashier job at the local garden centre. I’d been asked to come in for an interview at 9am and when I got there they then told me that it was an all day interview – the morning would be spent doing a shift in the café attached to it, and the afternoon would be spent on the tills.

    I told them that this obviously wasn’t acceptable (in politer terms, I was younger) and that I couldn’t give over all day to an interview, particularly when they hadn’t warned me about it. So I did a 30-minute trial run on the tills (nailed it, because I’m the till queen) and got offered the job.

    I took it because I was in dire straits and I could do it with my eyes closed but I remember speaking to my dad after the fact and the look on his face when I told them they wanted me in all day is one I’ll remember.

  39. Erin

    Reading about this work interview phenomenon makes me feel better about my behavior at my coop board interview last week. (A coop board interview is an interview to determine whether you’ll be allowed to buy an apartment in a particular type of apartment building in NYC or maybe other cities too). With my next 10+ years of life hanging in the balance, I agreed to the illegal requirement of no roommates allowed, while internally panicking about what to do with my fiancé who will be moving in with me! Luckily my lawyer is going to help me out with this but there’s definitely that deer in the headlights thing going on with these monumental-feeling interviews.

  40. MissDissplaced

    I will always remember the woman who smoked the whole time she was flipping through my portfolio, blowing smoke and saying “No.” She dropped ashes all over it too.
    I was young and scared at the time and didn’t say anything.

  41. Catherine

    When I was much younger I was in an interview for a small business where the owner asked me to tell about a time I stayed cool under pressure in the workplace. (I was applying to be his PA.) I told the story of the time a creditor a previous employer owed money to showed up with a gun, because I had limited work experience at the time and that was my best example.

    He asked me if I had PTSD from the experience and I said, truthfully, “No, not from that.”

    He jumped on that and said, “But you do have PTSD? What from?”

    I have spent years wishing I’d walked out right then but I actually finished out the interview! But uh, for future reference, wasn’t that question hella illegal?

    1. attie

      Well, now that you’d mentioned it I’d be curious too! It’s not really relevant to the job but interviewers are human too, you can’t just drop something like that and expect them to be like “right, having a gun pointed at your face, happens sometimes. And what lessons did you take from that experience?”

      (And nope, not illegal to ask. Just illegal to decide not to hire you based on that.)

  42. Former Lois Lane

    I have a job interview tomorrow with a company I’m not sure about, so thanks for this. I don’t know that the company is bad, necessarily, but I’ve heard the pay isn’t great for this field. But I’m trying to go in without putting too much pressure on myself.

    Speaking of bad pay: newspapers. Probably 10 years ago, I was trying to get a newspaper job near a big city. A small paper called me up and interviewed me, then asked me to come in. They did not compensate me for the eight-hour drive, but I told myself “Newspapers don’t have any money.” Turns out this newspaper also didn’t have any class, because I got to the office, sat down, and had the editor tell me “Actually, we hired someone local yesterday. We just figured you were coming down here anyway.” I was in my early 20s and just too stunned to say much. I was visiting a friend in the area, but only because I already had the interview. It was … baffling and awful and I wish I could go back in time and tell them how uncool it was. Instead I went through with the interview because they said there might be another job opening up soon, then I got back in my car and probably cried.

  43. Leela

    How do you all feel about the question “We already interviewed someone who is PERFECT for this position. Why should we hire you instead of them?”

    I’m a former recruiter and I never asked it, but I’ve been asked it multiple times. I always feel that it’s frankly very insulting because it implies “we found someone better so why should we take you, who isn’t as good?” and honestly, after getting asked that the fourth time throughout my career, I started to view it as just a standard interview question that they’d throw out whether they had interviewed a perfect person or not. In any case, if it’s supposed to throw me off my game, it doesn’t because it feels so fake. If it’s supposed to make me sell myself, well, I’d been doing that the whole interview and can continue to but…do they have specific questions?

    It’s also never “We interviewed the perfect person because they can do X, Y, and Z,” which would leave me open to say “Oh! Well I can do A, B, and Z+” which feels like it would be more informative for them and give me a better idea of what they think is perfect for the role. It’s basically a “tell us more about you” but this question always comes after “tell us more about you” so I’m not left with much I can say unless they give me something specific to go on.

    What do y’all think? Dumb standard interview question? Hard-hitting one that’s worth asking? What about how you answer it? I generally just pretend they said “are there any further qualifications you haven’t brought up yet” but it still feels awkward and unhelpful for both of us. Thoughts?

    1. Close Bracket

      “I interviewed at the perfect job yesterday. Why should I accept your offer instead of theirs?”

      A more constructive responses might be to ask, what makes them the perfect person? And then tell them about skills of yours that could fill in the gaps in the perfect person skills.

    2. Chaordic One

      Often, in both rejections and in actual job offers, I’ve been told that I was their second-favorite choice. I can kind of understand someone saying that when I’m being rejected, but when you’re getting a job offer it just sounds weird and a bit rude!

    3. Pine cones huddle

      I’ve been asked this and I think I was dumbfounded by it and kind of said “oh wow, what made them so much better for the job than me?” And I actually think that I like that response. I’d say it more articulately if ever asked again in the future, but the premise is the same “what makes them perfect for this job?” I mean how are you even supposed to compare yourself to a person you know nothing about. I think it’s a tactic. And obnoxious.

    4. nnn

      My initial visceral response (which probably isn’t a good idea) is “So…why did you ask me here today then?”

    5. Observer

      Right now I’m thinking “If you really interviewed the PERFECT person, why are you wasting everyone’s time with this?” I hope I would bite my tongue and ask, instead, what makes the other person so perfect and then speak to that.

      But, it’s a dumb question. It’s also rude and either clueless or a way to throw you off and / or get you to beg.

    6. Tabby Baltimore

      “Perfect in what way, or ways?” I’d treat it as an opportunity to find out how the employer defines what “success in this job” looks like, and ignore the other part of the request, if I could. If you get a legitimate answer at that point, then that would give you a starting point from which to at least try to answer their question.

  44. Pine cones huddle

    Can we also talk about how the salary history question is a HUGE part of these power dynamics!?! Just saying.

  45. Pine cones huddle

    Wanna hear a 100% true story.

    I once, long ago but not so far away applied for a job as an office assistant right out of college. It was listed in a newspaper this was so long ago. I scheduled a phone interview only to find out that this was basically…porn? This was in the early ‘00s and I think the guy was maybe doing some kind of girl in funny situation nude photo shoots or calendars or something. I don’t really know, but that’s what I guessed after he explained what he did and how for some reason it was the office assistant’s job to pose nude for mock ups for clients or something like that. I mean, none of it made sense.

    But here’s the thing: the dynamics of interviewing made this horrific. I mean, this guy had my résumé with my address and contact info. And I was so young and inexperienced that I was flabbergasted and even though I knew this was bullshit and not at all legit, I didn’t know what to say to him. I expected to just wrap it up and end it and hope he never called back. But instead he insisted we schedule an in-person interview immediately. Because I was worried about how he would react (this is how having all my contact info even to this day makes me uncomfortable) I politely scheduled knowing I had no intention of showing up.

    The power dynamics probably meant that this guy was able to get some young women to meet him. And possibly even pose for test shots or something. Who knows. But this is an example of how those power dynamics can turn … IDK creepy? Predatory? Into a segment on Dateline?

    “A 23-year old woman was last seen leaving for an interview as an office assistant…”

    1. Pine cones huddle

      I haven’t thought about this in so long. I just want to add that much like the references to dating above, this was like meeting a guy you don’t like in a bar and feeling like the only way out is to give him a fake number, but the thing is, the gu my already has your number. And email and address AND knows where you work.

  46. nnn

    Upon reading the story of the interviewer who wanted to look through the candidate’s purse, my mind immediately wrote crossover fanfic with that letter from the other day, where the interviewer proceeded to get offended because there were maxi pads in the purse.

    (Also, could there be some kind of gender discrimination case based on the fact that only female candidates are likely to have purses?)

  47. Kitty

    This is so true. I’ve had interviewers who were appallingly rude, and yet I somehow didn’t feel able to push back or assert myself.

    I was desperate to get out of a toxic job so I was applying for lots of different jobs in my industry and this one was a different type of role within the industry than I had previously. After several rounds of recruitment agency tests and group interviews and other nonsense, I was asked for an interview with the (small to medium company) CEOs, a married couple. They were extremely abrasive and seemed to have a very combative attitude. When they asked why I wanted this [x type] role when most of my previous experience had been in [years type] roles, I talked about how I really liked and used the company’s product (which was genuinely true) and some general stuff about wanting a new challenge/to try new things etc. His response was literally “I don’t believe you.” Just flat and blunt. I was so taken aback I didn’t know what to say or do, so I mumbled through the rest of the interview and left feeling shocked and angry.

    I really wish I had just said ‘I don’t think this will be a good fit for me’ and left in the middle of the interview, rather than stayaibgeto be humiliated more in this awful man’s power trip. I didn’t get the job in the end but I kind of wished I had, just so that I could decline the offer. If this guy power trips like that with interviewees, can you imagine what that work culture must be like??

    I haven’t used their product since, out of spite.

  48. AB

    I have the perspective of having to interview with my boss who was TERRIBLE at interviews (And social skills, and her job). New memebrs to my team were interview by me alone, then had a second interview with me and my boss. She always started the interview with.
    “So tell me a bit about yourself.”
    “Well I current work at -”
    “No, not your job history, just about yourself.”
    “Okay, well I got into this field after studying-”
    “It doesn’t have to be about work, just about you.”
    “Um. Well…. Could you maybe be more specifc”
    “Whatever you like, just anything about yourself!”
    “I.. uhm…”
    “Let’s just move on to the next question.”

    EVERY TIME. Candidates who I had a great conversation with and walked in confident would immediate fall to pieces at the weird interviewing technique. Then my boss would say that they wern’t articulate enough and couldn’t possibly be as experienced as they said if they get that nervous, and question why I passed them to the second stage in the first place.

    I took FOREVER to hire anyone and every person we did end up hiring turned out to be terrible and lazy but was able to ‘talk the talk’ in interview situations enough to impress my boss.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      How incredibly weird! Was there anything she would’ve accepted for an answer?

      “Ahhh, about MYSELF! Well, I am a human. I perceive from your line of questioning that you’re not. Would you like me to tell you more about what being a human is like?” (this is where I get escorted out of the building.)

      We had the “talk the talk” guy come in for an interview once at CurrentJob, so I feel your pain. He’d had an interview with the managers first, then they sent him down to the devs and the leads; ie my teammates and myself. I remember thinking as he was talking at us, “not only will this guy not do any work if he’s hired, he’ll also talk at us until we agree to do his work just to make it stop. He will also talk at us WHILE we try to work. But he’s probably already charmed the management. Ugh, if he gets hired, I’m going to have to leave.” Got to give our management a lot of credit, he had NOT charmed them, and was not hired. Your ex-boss would’ve probably loved him, though!

  49. N Twello

    I once applied for a posted position at a company. The position was located in another city. The manager lived in yet another city, and so she set up a phone interview. The interview was set for noon on a Friday, and I told her that I would drive home from work to take the call.

    I got home in plenty of time but the call never came. After an hour I tried calling her, got no answer, and left a message that I was sorry we hadn’t connected and hoped to reschedule a time.

    I didn’t hear anything back so the next Wednesday I wrote her a polite email saying I hoped we could reschedule. She wrote me back a very rude reply telling me to stop harassing her.

    Ten years went by and a recruiter called me from the same company. They had a job opening in my city. There was a new manager who was located in yet another city. They asked me to come in for a job interview. When I got there, I was put in an empty office and a call was set up on speakerphone with the manager in the other city. This time I was offered the job and I accepted.

    I got to the new job and was given a seat. My manager wasn’t there and didn’t talk to me or give me any work to do. After two months she came for a visit but didn’t have time to meet with me personally. That was the only time I met her. We had occasional team calls in which she regularly confused me with another employee.

    I asked her if we could have weekly one-on-ones over the phone but she refused. I was never given any real work to do. After 5 months I found another job and quit. She was furious with me for quitting, and later went around the office badmouthing me (according to my colleagues).

  50. Michaela Westen

    This reminds me of something I read several years ago, before I was on Facebook.
    I read a business article that said employers were demanding candidate’s FB passwords so they could go through their accounts!
    I don’t know which was more flabbergasting – that employers asked for this, or that some candidates complied!
    If anyone had asked me for that, I would have told them to go to hell…

  51. Rachel 2 - Electric Boogaloo

    I had an interview with an employment agency some years ago. The recruiter looked at my resume and called out the temp work I listed. (I listed the temp agency as my employer and noted my general duties, as well as a few of the companies for which I’d worked longer-term assignments.) He told me we could not go any further until I sent him a revised version of my resume which listed _each_ specific assignment I’d been on, even the one-day assignments, as well as the name and phone of my supervisor or other contact person at each company. (We’re talking a few years worth of temp work. I didn’t even remember all the companies where I’d had really short assignments, much less the names of my supervisors there!) Once I got him that information, we could go on and reschedule the actual interview. It struck me as an unusual request even in the moment – I think I just said I’d work on it or something like that. After I left and thought about it, I realized he didn’t want the information to find out anything about _me_ – he wanted me to give him leads! Needless to say, I never sent that information and he never contacted me again. I was not about to do his job for him!

    Years later, that agency was in the news because several of their offices had been charged with numerous EEOC violations. I was not surprised to find out that the office where I interviewed was one of them.

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