Why That Terrible Job Interview Wasn’t Your Fault

Did you bomb the interview for your dream job? Take heart: It might not have been your fault. The Wall Street Journal reports on a long list of interview “sins” committed by hiring managers including bully applicants, asking random “gotcha” questions for no reason, and … well, read on.

Other job interview sins include “interrupting interviews to answer phone calls, failing to take notes, acting bored or distracted, bad-mouthing their own companies,” and more, the Journal reports. Others talk too much, or try to hire a BFF rather than a great applicant. You’ve probably encountered some version of at least one of these faux pas; just this weekend I heard a story about a top editor who started checking his BlackBerry about 45 seconds into an interview with a potential hire. In response to such bone-headedness, some companies are paying up to $30,000 to train managers’ interviewing skills. Apparently this stuff isn’t just intuitive.

As one expert tells the Journal, many managers just “wing it” in interviews, assuming they can use their instincts to ferret out the right hire. That means some people get an hour-long sit-down, and others get a shorter session, based on the boss’s mood or schedule. Most people also gravitate toward people like themselves, which leads to obvious problems with bias, and may leave the most qualified or promising candidates out of luck.

The worst interviewers are “those who let their own insecurities or unconscious biases drive the process.” They may not only neglect to hire the right person, but actually hire someone who’s significantly worse than average.

The worst-case scenario from the employer’s point of view is that a bad interview question (think, “Are you planning to get pregnant anytime soon?”) opens them up to lawsuits. For the potential employee who didn’t get the job? Well, consider it dodging a bullet. And take comfort in the fact that not all bad interviews are your fault.

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    • Lastango

      For a candidate, one relatively new risk is the pop-culture question. If you are in a creative or media profession, and your interviewer is under-professional (oops, I mean “young & hip”) they might ask something like, “If you were on the XYZ show, and Megan the bartender was arguing with… blah blah… how would you go about ordering a beer?”. It can happen in other industries too, but the chances are slim a UPS interviewer is going to ask you which Muppet you are.

      The best approach seems to be to buy time to think with something like, “I’m not sure I would. I’d ask myself, how are these people feeling” and go from there with multiple options, depending on how the cast of characters in the scenario act and respond. “I’d start by asking myself…” is a universal beginning that shows what a sensitive people-person you are, able to find a way to work with others in trying circumstances. It’s effective for just about any psychosocial curveball the amateur interviewer can throw at you. Even better, it will take that beginner off their game by preempting their followup probes.

    • anon

      Just recently I went on a job interview where the person interviewing me did not ask any questions, didn’t let me say anything, and also took a phone call that lasted 30 minutes while I just sat there. It really took me off guard.