We know the economy is improving because interviews have become a topic of discussion. This week, Liz Ryan wrote an excellent post in Forbes about “Ten red flags that scream don’t work for this manager.”
Last month both Susanne Skinner and I wrote posts about stupid interview questions (Susanne) and good interviews and bad processes (Aline). Then Quora pinged me on a question I had answered back in 2014 when someone upvoted it. It asked about the most bizarre interviews people had ever been party to.
I reread what I submitted back then and decided to share my bad interview experiences with you. Two have already appeared in my post on good interviews and I wrote about my Microsoft experience in 2014. The rest follows.
Bizarre Job Interviews
I have experienced so many bizarre job interviews that it’s hard to remember them all. That may be a factor of working in the high tech industry, where basic good manners are often difficult to find, much less kindness, consideration or courtesy. In the high tech industry showing that you’re tougher than the next guy is considered a positive thing.
That said, I offer six experiences:
- The Israeli CEO of a security company sat in a straight chair in front of me and grilled me for 45 minutes in a harsh, critical and unpleasant manner. All this interview missed was a bare light bulb, a puddle on the floor and a car battery. After 45 minutes he sat up and changed into a totally different person. He crossed his legs, smiled and asked if I had any questions for him. The only one I wanted to ask was, “Where’s the door?” Oh, and I could have added, “Why would I ever want to work for you?”
- There was the hiring VP who set up an interview for noon, which meant I had to leave my house at 11 to get there on time. When the HR rep ushered me into his office he took out his lunch and spread it on the desk. He said, “ I hope you don’t mind if I have lunch while we talk” and proceeded to eat in front of me for an hour. He didn’t offer me anything—not even a glass of water, or suggest talking in the cafeteria while we both had lunch, or apologize for being rude.
The Red Alert Interview
- A Senior VP asked several times how I would handle a difficult person. When I requested an example, he said, “What would you do if someone told you that you were incompetent and should be fired.”
I took a deep breath and summoned up a tactful, diplomatic answer even though my brain was screaming “Red Alert! Red Alert!” Only the fact that I was out of work kept me from just getting up and leaving. I got the job and, when I started two weeks later, the Senior VP had been fired.
No Cultural Fit
- An HR director told me that every employee had to be in the office, coffee in hand and ready to go at 8:00 am because the CEO was a triathlete who was up at 4:00 am every day to run, bike or swim. I groaned silently at the thought of working for yet another hyperactive, hyper-testosterone, adrenaline junkie who thought everyone on his team should be just like him. No diversity here! I did not get the job because I “did not fit in with the corporate culture.” No kidding. At the time, I was a grandmother in my early sixties. I hit the gym nearly every day even now but not at 4:00 am.
- Interviews that lasted all afternoon with anywhere from 5 to 10 people on the interview list were so common that they don’t even stand out. I was really good at those. I made the conference room feel like my office and the interviewers had appointments with me instead of the other way around.
- I had so many interviews at startups where I was asked what marketing means to me that I put together a a PowerPoint presentation to explain marketing to them. Thank goodness I’m not going through that meat grinder any more.
If you think these experiences were unusual, you should read the other answers that came in to Quora. Many of them would curl your hair.
Bad Interviews, Bad Companies?
The question remains whether bad interviews mean bad companies. I think one can make a case for it because a company’s culture starts at the top and spreads downward. In the examples above I talked to either the Vice President of Marketing or the CEO, sometimes both.
If the CEO conducts an interview like a KGB interrogation, you can be sure that he thinks that approach is a good way to treat people. It may reflect how he treats his employees and that’s probably with a confrontational style. An interrogation is not, after all, a win-win situation.
A CEO who thinks that everyone should behave just like him, have the same interests, share the same life experiences, and adjust to the same schedule is not a man who understands the value of diversity. He doesn’t appreciate the different perspectives that come with a range of ages, genders, races, nationalities and religions or believe they can make for a better product or a better company. I would also not expect him to be open to ideas, suggestions, or approaches different from his own.
A vice president unable to recognize that eating in front of a prospective employee is impolite and inconsiderate probably won’t notice the impact of other rude behaviors with his direct reports or their staffs. When it’s all about him not much is left for anyone else.
Rudeness or Obliviosity
Sometimes such bad interviews result from a lack of training—a situation all too prevalent in high tech. Rudeness or what I call obliviosity can also derive from youth and inexperience. If Mom never taught you to offer refreshment to guest, you won’t think to do it.
Mostly, however, I think they come from mindsets that range from arrogant or narcissistic to possibly sociopathic. A man who treats a job candidate badly will probably treat others the same way. And that’s a red flag. Run away! Run away!