No matter who are you are, at one time or another you might’ve been part of a bad job interview.
Whether you’re job hunting in the US, Europe. or anywhere in the world like in the stories that follow, the best things you can do with your interview horror stories are to laugh and learn.
As a recruiter and former hiring manager, I’ve been on both sides of the interviewing table where I’ve learned a lot about what not to do in job interviews.
I wish I were like some people that can proudly say they’ve never given a bad interview. But in this post, I’ll talk about 3 awkward experiences I’ve lived and learned from.
1.The Inexperienced Interview – Storyless
Place & Time: 2003, New Jersey, USA
About 18 years old in and still living in the northeast where I grew up, I was brand new to the workforce. I barely had anything of relevance to talk about in a job interview. I didn’t even know how to prepare for an interview—all I knew was that I should dress well and arrive on time.
During this interview, I was asked about the most difficult thing I’d ever done in my life. I racked my brain for something constructive to say but could only recall a personal event that had recently occurred. I teared up in front of the interviewer. I couldn’t answer the question appropriately with an answer with a story of a past career or academic achievement. On top of this, I was under-qualified for the job. I was rejected.
For the next 10 years after that experience, I grew professionally in various ways and improved my skills at preparing for interviews, being interviewed, and interviewing others as well. One would assume there was no possible way I could fail again in an interview.
But as we all know, we should never assume.
2.The New Expat Interview – A Culture Mismatch
Place & Time: 2015, Cairo, Egypt
Fast forward some years and about 6,500 miles to the east, I’d found myself living in the Middle Eastern mega-city Cairo, and was looking for work.
I was a shoo-in for roles that no longer interested me and that had me turning down offers. I wanted to do something totally different; I wanted to grow.
I reached out to a company that had some things going for it that I liked – the location, the experience I’d gain, the pay – and they really needed someone that fit my description…kind of.
My first mistake was ignoring the red flags. When I watched the videos from the company’s website I suspected that I wouldn’t really fit in with their culture. But I kept an open mind and told myself that diversity is a good thing.
I didn’t click with the interviewer, the company owner, over the phone or through e-mails. I was concerned that the company might not be the greatest place to work based upon the frequency of the position re-posting. But it was a job for expats who often come and go, so I kept an open mind, and I proceeded through the recruiting process and onto my interview.
I studied for days beforehand and on the day of the interview arrived early, well-dressed. However, from the moment the interviewer and I greeted one another in the reception area, it was plain awkward. We spent the next forty minutes or so in an uncomfortable exchange. There were moments when we really tried to get to know each other, but we never did find common ground. So there it was.
He took the time to give me a tour of the facility after the interview and asked me to follow up with him, but I knew he was being polite. I politely withdrew my application by e-mail later on that evening. He didn’t reply to my e-mail, and I had no regrets.
3.The Phone Interview – Psychological Defeat
Place & Time: 2016, Remote
After working in Cairo for a while, I decided that it would be best if I worked remotely for an American company. I no longer wanted to fight for a work permit, against the traffic, or the currency devaluation.
I applied for a position that I found online. I was truly qualified for it, the pay was great, and the company seemed great. I was excited to be contacted for a phone interview because applying for jobs online is tough. Your self-marketing skills have to be pretty decent, and I’d practiced to the point where my applications were generating a response.
When I blew this interview, I felt strong regret. I knew exactly what I’d done poorly, and I could have done a lot better. I was too nervous and it interfered with my ability to communicate. It was a wreck that I recognized as it was happening and I couldn’t find a way to save it. I knew by the way the interviewer responded throughout and then closed the call that I would not be considered. So what happened?
First of all, although I’d prepared for the interview, I was not prepared. I read every single bit of content on the company’s website and watched all their videos. I knew all about the job and how to do it, but I lacked confidence.
As I learned about the company, I anticipated that the interview would not be run-of-the-mill. I thought that I would be asked out-of-the-box interview questions but didn’t try to imagine what they’d be. As a result, I under-prepared. I could have at least googled “strange interview questions” in order to get my spontaneity flowing, but I didn’t.
When asked questions about my shortcomings, I martyred myself, not focusing enough on my good characteristics.
Last of all, I did not have the right situational answers ready, and most answers I provided were related to my recent experience living in a foreign country. Surely, I’d lived and survived in the world prior to the past nine months, right? You wouldn’t think so based upon my responses.
In reality, I was just suffering from a nerve-induced mental block.
I felt slightly depressed for a day after the interview because I knew I’d ruined my chances of getting the job. Then, I went into recovery mode. I read and practiced everything I already knew, as well as added to my interviewing knowledge bank.
The company quickly provided feedback I received an e-mail from the company during these days that followed stating that while my role-related answers were good, they otherwise didn’t think I’d be a fit (i.e. you have a strange personality, so no thanks). It wasn’t a surprise and I’d already moved on.
I’d given myself my own evaluation.
Besides lacking preparation, there were other things I’d done wrong:
- I’d allowed the interview to be scheduled at the end of a working day of a position I was in at the time. It had turned out to be a stressful day, and after a 2-hour commute home, I wasn’t fresh enough to interview.
- I’d somehow preconceived some feeling of negativity about the interviewer while reading his bio on the company site. I was intimidated by him. Not eradicating these thoughts properly was wrong.
- I didn’t compose or sell myself adequately.
I consoled myself with lots of old-fashioned advice, such as:
Every job isn’t for everybody because if that were the case, everybody would be doing every job.
What’s not to be, just isn’t meant to be. What’s meant to be, just is.
You win some and you lose some. And that one, boy did you mess it up! (Humorous)
I’ve come to accept that in life, not everyone’s going to like me. As long as I try to make the right effort, I don’t worry about it too much. I believe the right people will like me at the right time.
Turning back from philosophy to my ongoing search for work, with the next few days came more opportunities. One was a Skype interview that went really well, and the second was a phone interview that resulted in me being offered a contract with an American company, just as I’d hoped for.
I’ll always have shortcomings that need fixing, and I’ll work on them. I also know that too much reflection on what’s wrong with me instead of what’s right with me is not the solution.
I know my failures aren’t the end of the world and want to learn from every situation. That’s turned my reflections on “bad” interviews into something motivating, something positive.