We’ve got another article by Kosmo today. It’s always entertaining to read other people’s horror stories. I included a few of my own at the end. Tomorrow, I hope to post a fresh article covering November’s passive income.
I’ve been pretty optimistic lately, and have focused a lot on the good aspects of my career. Now it’s time to be negative and look back and some of the worst interview experiences I’ve had over the years.
One day during my senior year in college, I was awakened by the sound of people in my apartment.
Oh, crap. This was the day the property management company was going to show my apartment to a potential renter. There hadn’t been a conflict, because I should be showered and out the door before they arrived. The fact that they woke me up meant that I had overslept.
Which also meant that I was running late for an interview with one of the big accounting firms. I meekly waiting for the rental agent and potential renter to leave, and then got ready as quickly as I could. After a sprint across campus, I arrived out of breath and fifteen minutes late.
I apologized, and they allowed me to interview as if nothing had happened. But I knew that I had dug a hole for myself, and that the other candidates were going to look better in comparison.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t get the job. Also, I had to write a letter apologizing for my lateness. The on-campus interview were arranged by the university, and if you didn’t arrive on time for an interview, your interviewing privileges were suspended until you wrote a letter of apology. It was a good idea, as it tended to really cut down on people simply blowing off interviews. I had the letter submitted by the end of the day, since I couldn’t afford to miss any interviews.
I also called the property management company to apologize for being in the apartment when I had told them I’d be gone – becoming the first tenant in history to apologize to a landlord.
About fifteen years ago, some changes at my company put my teleworking position in danger, and I started to interview at other companies.
One of the interviews was with a local software company. I interviewed with the CEO, and the impression he gave was that their employees paid zero attention to the clock and were totally committed to the company. I interpreted this as meaning the company put employees through the meat grinder and had them work long hours on a consistent basis.
It wasn’t the optimal position, but it might be worth considering. After the on-site interview, I waited to hear from them. I never heard from them.
About a year later, a headhunter was lining up some interviews for me. They mentioned a job at this same company. I said that I was reluctant to interview, since they had ghosted me before. The headhunter showed surprise and said that it was most likely a one-time glitch. I agreed to interview with the company again.
I went through the exact same interview process again. After talking with the exact same people for a second time, they ghosted me again.
I get a call from HR at a large trucking company that is headquartered in the area. I applied for a position six months earlier, and this is my first contact with them. He wanted to know if I was still interested, and I responded that I was. We talked a bit about salaries, and it was clear that I was at the top end of their range. He said he was going to follow up with the hiring manager and get back to me.
The next day, I hear back from him. The company is still interested, even at a salary that is at the top of their range. He sends me links to a few assessment, including a personality assessment and the Wonderlic test. I carve out time that night and knock out the assessments – coming tantalizing close to finishing all the Wonderlic questions, but not quite making it.
A few days later, I hear back from the guy. Assessments were good, and he wants to schedule an on-site.
The day of the interview arrives. I’m going directly from my current job (where I wear jeans and a t-shirt) to the interview, where I’ll be wearing a suit a tie. In a far corner of the huge parking lot at work, I cover myself with a blanket and awkwardly change my pants and shirt. I arrive a few minutes early and check in at the front desk.
The hiring manager takes me back to her office and gives me a five minute explanation of her team. Then she asks a couple of questions about my background.
Then she just stops. No follow-up questions to my answers, no new questions, nothing. I try to jump-start the conversation, but I fail. The interview lasted less than fifteen minutes.
I try to make sense of things during the drive home. The couple of questions she had asked were pretty basic, and I wasn’t sure how my answers could have raised any red flags. Then I realized that likely scenario. The company probably had a policy that X number of candidates be interviewed for any position. They had a qualified candidate in house, but needed to rope in a couple of other candidates just to check that box.
I know that a lot of companies have a policy like this. The idea behind them is good – making sure that you case a wide net instead of simply taking the bird in the hand. But it only makes sense when you’re actually given each candidate serious consideration. If you’re just having a couple of BS interview to pad the numbers, this doesn’t help anyone. It’s a waste of time for the company and for the candidate.
I had an interview with a smaller company in the area. The meeting was with the director (hiring manager) and a vice president (her boss).
I arrived a few minutes early and checked in at the front desk. Ten minutes after the scheduled start time, the director and VP retrieve me from the reception area.
The VP takes control of the interview, doing about 90% of the talking. This seem a little unusual, since the director was the hiring manager. Since the candidate would be working directly for her, I would have expected her to be a bit more active in the process.
His questions were very precise – drilling down into the minutiae of textbook knowledge of my discipline. At this point, I had been out of college for 20+ years, and at the time I went to college, there really wasn’t a textbook for the type of work I was doing. My work process had evolved through internal training and mentoring, and the process I used didn’t necessarily line up point for point with the current textbook, especially not in terms of terminology. The focus of the question was on rote memorization rather than actual practical knowledge. It almost seemed like he was trying to impress my with his encyclopedia knowledge. I was not impressed.
I walked out of this interview not expected an offer, and also not wanting one.
What are some of the worst interview experiences you have had?
I’ll go first on this. These are a little more about job stories than just the interviews themselves.
The Insurance Company
I actually don’t remember the interview, but this was my first job. The programming was interesting, but the boss was terrible. Everyone hated her, but I guess she got results which was good for the company. At one point she had mentioned having an identical twin and I thought, “Wait, there are two people on Earth like you?” My next thought was, “Why did we get stuck with the evil twin?” Fortunately, I didn’t say what was on my mind.
The Pulled Job
While working there, interviewed at another company and got a job offer for 30% more money. It was doing cutting edge web programming and I jumped on it immediately. When I accepted the offer, they said they already gave it to someone else. I think maybe a day passed. I had already written my resignation letter for the insurance company, but luckily I didn’t send it in.
The HR Blunder
A big internet company interviewed me a couple of times and I really hit it off with them. The HR person in charge of the hire though switched jobs and I was lost in the shuffle. I persisted, but it took about six weeks because it was this time of year of Thanksgiving and holidays. This time I got the job and the 30% raise working on cutting edge search engines. It was the best job I ever had and I moved up the ranks to be a manager very quickly. As a 24-year-old kid, I should not have been the hiring manager, but I was. I may have been the worst interviewer in the history of the world.
The dot-com bust happened and we merged with another big company, so the entire development team was axed. It was supposed to be on 9/11, but they waited a week given the events of the day. The top people at the company recruited me a few years later and I worked with them for a few years until those people left and the new management made things bad.
My first job interview in Silicon Valley was an interesting one. Everyone made fun of me for showing up in a suit. That’s simply not done there. I explained that it’s a culture thing in Boston (and well the rest of the world as far as I know) and it shows respect for the employer. I think it earned me some points, but they probably also viewed me as “Weird Boston Guy”, which I was.
I interviewed to be the head of Facebook’s mobile development division in 2006. Facebook was much, much smaller then, but still growing fast. I don’t think it was as big as MySpace because you still had to have a college account to join. The interviewers all explained how they live at the office and worked 18 hours a day. I had this Lazy Man blog at the time, so that wasn’t going to work. In hindsight, if I could have done the work (it was over my head), I probably would have made a hundred million in stock options. That would have been nice.
I had a few interviews which were fun. I interviewed with a multi-national heavy machinery company for an entry level cyber security position. I was graduating with my MS degree in Telecommunications and would have been a great fit for what they wanted. I get to the interview and take a paper based test (for those that care, the 16pf was the name). I finish the test and wait 20 minutes and talk to the guy in the interview for an hour and thirty minutes. I think all is well and in front of him is the paper with my results and after the interview he stops talking and reads the paper. 30 seconds later he says to me “You aced the interview and I was about to offer you a job, however your test scores indicate you would be fucking miserable at this company, so sorry. Thank you for your time.” Bonus, I worked 16 years later for the company which wrote the 16pf, and sold it to that company and found out why I would have been miserable, I don’t do well with micromanagement :)
Second story. I interviewed at State Farm. For those in the know, State Farm basically owns Bloomington, Illinois. The town has like 80k people and 50k work for State Farm. I had an interview with them and had to show up at 6am for the interview. No problem and drove an hour from Peoria, Illinois where I was couch crashing with a friend due to being poor college student and not affording a hotel room. I thought I crushed the interview but when I got back to my dorm room in Indiana, had a answering machine message saying they were not going to offer me a job. I come back a year later, working for Microsoft, as a Consultant, and meet the guy who didn’t offer a job and now they were paying me $200 an hour for my advice. He hated me that entire engagement.
Third Story. This one worked out. Microsoft came to a job fair at my university and they said they wanted to interview me. I was graduating in May and this was September for reference. They called me and scheduled an interview with me for like 6am (recruiter was in Washington, so 3am their time). I woke up and the recruiter never called. I emailed him and he said he got busy and setup another interview for 2am my time late that day. Okay – I waited up, and never heard back. Emailed again and the guy said he was busy and would give me a call later in the week. Never heard from him. I emailed him like 10 times over the next few months and basically was ghosted. So from about Christmas on I gave up and wrote my dream of being a Microsoft millionaire off. Well I interviewed with several companies (previous two examples, and several more and got no bites). Here I am about to graduate in May, and it was mid-April and I had no job. Recruiter from Microsoft calls me out of the blue, and says – if I had 30 minutes now he could interview me. I was just grading papers so did it. 30 minutes later he asks where I wanted to live (St. Louis, Nashville, or Chicago). I pick St. Louis and 30 minutes later I get an e-ticket for a flight and a hotel room, etc. for interviews for the next week. I fly to St. Louis for the interviews and they have me interviewing for a job called Technical Account Manager, and on the 3rd hour (3rd person) they say this job is not right for me and they bring in another gal who was a consultant and they start the process over interviewing me for a consulting role. Instead of the 5 hours of interviews, I had 9 hours, and I walked out of there with a job offer.
Final story. After my time at Microsoft ended, I found an hourly job in Indiana doing tier 3 Windows support (I had to find a job, like that week, after moving back from Washington state, so took the first thing I could find). Well as I had gotten custody of my son, I found a job in the city I lived in (not downtown – and a 1 hour each way commute each way). I interview for a cyber Security with them and this company manages the power grid for 19 states and a couple providences of Canada. I had already negotiated my salary with the manager and was full well expecting a job offer. I get a letter a few days later and they found a better candidate, and he took my role. Then 3 months later I get a call from the previous manager, and said that if I was still interested, he would hire me. However instead of getting $75k which I had negotiated, I would be getting $60k. Since I was still doing Windows support as a contractor, this place had a 8 minute commute vs an hour, and I was making $37k, I took it. I started and 2 weeks after I started, the guy they hired instead of me, went back to his old company as he just used this position as a “jumping point” to get a better salary offer from the old company. I stayed there for 7 years, and barely made it to $75k until my last year there.
While doing this writing – I figured out how many jobs I have interviewed for. 27 full time job interviews (I got 21 of the jobs), 39 consulting/contracting engagement interviews (I got 38 of the gigs), and 4 internal/promotional interviews (I got all 4 of them).
Sounds like you dodged a bullet with the micromanaging. I can’t fathom why a company would want professional employees who need to be micromanaged. I occasionally touch base with my boss when I’m not sure how to proceed with something (since I’m still fairly new to the company and the industry), but I have a LOT of autonomy, which is great.
At my last job, I bumped into another manager who had interviewed me for a position that I didn’t get. I think their hiring just stalled, as opposed to an actual rejection. I took that initiative to introduce myself and explain that I was working on another team now. She seemed nice, and I didn’t want anything to be awkward.
Lazy Man says
Wow. That Microsoft story was amazing. Interviews at 2am? I can’t imagine what the interviewer was thinking. You have to expect the person to be incoherent.
Also having 21 full-time jobs seems like a lot. I bet your resume is huge.
Cosmo – That is always good that things work out with someone you interview with and don’t get the job with that you a Kosher.
Lazy – My resume might seem long – but late 40’s, started work at 13. Had interviews at 4 jobs through high school, 7 years of college with jobs each semester (computer help desk (3 different universities – 8 semesters), internships each summer (5 summers), mail room, motor pool, etc.) Then Microsoft, Windows support, Job I didn’t get, Power Company, testing company, and now my current company (so 6 companies in 21 years), plus 4 years running my own consulting company, currently a consultant. Throw in there college professor, then yeah – lots of interviews but I do them well I guess.
robyn weinbaum says
the worst interviews i ever had each violated the ‘things you cannot ask’ laws:
marital status; children; religious observance.
i would not have worked for any of those misogynistic, anti-semitic pricks anyway.
i had terrific series of interviews with the FL-Dept of Revenue, maybe a dozen. One of the branch managers took a liking to me, would call me when he needed a minimum number to proceed to the next step. never got an offer, despite scoring 95+ on all exams, because i was not any of the preferential groups [current employee, veteran, person on government assistance, etc]
Yikes. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone ask any of those sorts of questions. Of course, I’m a white male.
Speaking of state jobs …
My senior year of college, I applied for a job as a staff auditor with the state auditor’s office. It would have been a cool job, and I was excited about it.
At some point, the interviewers ask my what I did outside of work. I mentioned that I ran a fan site for the country music group Alabama. This was late 96 or early 97, so the web was still the wild west, and my little site was very popular by the standards of the day.
They probably spent ten minutes peppering me with questions about the site. Technical questions about setup, interactions with other fans, etc.
21 year old me walked out of the interview assuming that I aced it. If they spent ten minutes asking genuine questions about a hobby of mine, they must be really interested in me as a candidate,
Lazy Man says
Okay, I thought I was the worst interviewer since I didn’t know what I was doing. However, at least I didn’t ask any of those questions. At the time, I didn’t know about Do Not Ask laws. If I was working for a website that made kid games though, I might have asked if the person had children.