Surviving the Horrible Job Interview


Job interviews can be scary, even under the best of circumstances. But when the hiring manager gets in your face, or you make a grave mistake, the situation can go from startling to downright terrifying.

Here are some horrifying examples of interviews gone wrong and how to handle bloodcurdling situations.

Unnerving Tactics

The hiring manager took one look at the candidate’s resume, crumpled the document, hurled it across the desk and stated: “I hope you have an iron.”

Lesson: Executives sometimes do outrageous things to throw candidates off-balance and test their mettle, explained Bob Miller, owner and partner of Wheaton McCrea, a recruiting firm that specializes in placing IT managers. They want to see if you have the confidence to stick up for yourself or how you react to criticism and adversity.

“Maintain your composure and turn a negative into a positive,” Miller advised. For example, say something like: “I see that you don’t like resumes. Me either. They’re about the past. Let’s talk about what I can do for you in the future.”

Rambling Wreck

The candidate droned on so long, he made a member of the interview panel doze off. He didn’t get the job.

Lesson: “There’s really no way to recover from something like that,” explained Barry Drexler, an interview coach based in New York City. “You have to monitor your audience and adjust your delivery, pace and intensity if you’re losing them.”

Untimely End

The hiring manager said: “Give me three concise reasons why I should hire you.” Before the candidate could finish his extensive list of justifications, the disgruntled manager chastised his listening skills, declared him unfit for the position and ended the interview.

Lesson: “Listen to the question and clarify if you have to,” Drexler said. “Because if you don’t answer correctly—you’re done.”

Scary Transparency

The candidate knew that she didn’t meet all the qualifications when she applied for the position, explained Juliet Murphy, a career coach and president of Juliet Murphy Career Development. But she felt good about her chances when she was invited back for a second interview.

However, she cooked her own goose when she told the VP that she knew he was concerned about her lack of experience and elaborated on her shortcomings. Unfortunately, the interview came to an abrupt end when the VP ushered her out.

Lesson: Don’t point out your shortcomings unless you’re asked about them, Murphy said. And don’t make assumptions about what an interviewer might be thinking; be truthful but not too transparent. Don’t say everything you’re thinking.

Chilling Tales

By the end of one candidate’s interview, the IT director was favourably impressed, so he asked his colleagues to spend a few minutes with the candidate. One of those colleagues, the operations manager, seemed a bit frazzled but otherwise fine. But when the candidate casually inquired about the manager’s role, the latter began criticizing the company’s new owners, called their expectations unreasonable, and referred to colleagues as lazy. Yikes!

Lesson: Be empathetic but don’t agree if a hiring manager badmouths the company or a former employee, Drexler advised. Once he or she calms down, ask how you can help if you were to be hired.

Dark Secrets

When asked about his ideal job and company, the programmer replied: “I just want a job where I can go in a room, do my work and be left alone.”

Lesson: A lot of people feel that way, but some things are better left unsaid, especially in job interviews.

12 Responses to “Surviving the Horrible Job Interview”

  1. If you show utter disrespect to a candidate by crumpling up their resume and throwing it across the room or asking them a question only to cut them off then throw them out of the office, or being 20 minutes late and totally unprepared for the interview, there is a very high potential that you will chase away great talent that could add a lot of value to the company, plus in today’s world of social media, word will get around.

    Like it or not hiring mangers but an interview is a two-way process. You and the company you represent are being judged in the interview just as much as you are judging the potential new hire.

  2. Johnny – I fully agree. Crumpling up a candidates resume, throwing it, and saying ‘I hope you brought an iron’ is a blatant show of disrespect and arrogance. I realize this was only used as an example, but, considering the top I.T. talent shortage out there today, solid candidates with any backbone/common sense would abruptly stand up and walk out (run!) After all, if a hiring manager behaves this way in an interview, how does this manager behave on a day to day basis? Respect is a 2-way street, as is professionalism and integrity.

  3. Companies have the advantage of a large pool of candidates BUT it still leaves no room for being rude. Who would want to work for such a company. I would tell them so and walk out. I also get perturbed if I have an interview and never get even a rejection post card.

  4. I’ve had two disastrous interviews in my career. The first was when I was looking for my second job after college, at a well known brokerage house. The female manager (this was at a time when few women were in IT management) went to great lengths to show me how little I knew. Finally, she asked my why I wasn’t looking so upbeat. I replied that I wasn’t presenting myself as being above junior level, and didn’t understand why she felt the need to take the approach that she did. Her response was ‘I only hire the best candidates’.

    Interestingly enough, I had an interview around the same time at a competing firm, and the manager tried to gauge my level of knowledge, and used several of the questions as teaching moments (and this for someone who was not working for him at the time).. I probably would have gotten the job, except that the company went out of business shortly thereafter due to an inside trading scandal.

    The second time was more recently, and the manager was showing off all sorts of arcane knowledge. Not sure what he was trying to prove, but the location was too long a commute anyway.

  5. ReVeLaTeD

    I’m shocked at the replies here. It shows that people have not evolved with the times as it pertains to interviewing. And that’s sad.

    Let me go through the examples here.

    Unnerving Tactics: This isn’t rude, it’s actually awesome and I WISH I could find a manager who does this. Drop your emotions about “rude” for a moment (again, YOUR job is to SELL YOURSELF).

    This isn’t designed to throw you off. They’re sending you a message: They aren’t going to read the paper. They want you to tell the story. This is YOUR CHANCE to shine without being tethered to “a piece of paper”. Make or break. If you can’t hack this, you’ve got no business in any salaried (non-hourly) position. This is straight confidence, charisma, motor skills, body language, sales, customer service, and style all rolled into one interview. If you can impress the person in front of you, you can impress anyone.

    Goes back to school – you had to stand in front of the class and give a public speech without the book, without notes. It hardens you against anything.

    Rambling Wreck: This is just a bad interviewer. Talking too much.

    My father once said: “Speak when spoken to.”
    A former boss once said, “Say only what you need to say, no more.”

    Together, you get concise, to-the-point answers. Add more if they ask for it. Don’t overcompensate. This is Interview 101.

    I just did an interview where they gave me 30 minutes to present a slideshow. My slideshow was exactly 28 minutes and 40 seconds.

    Untimely End: This is the only interview where I would walk away. It’s a sign they’ve been through tons of interviews and just are burnt out. That’s not your fault.

    I would respond with the three concise, single sentence each, and then add, “just to be clear: what I just told you is a fraction of the worker I can be and doesn’t help you make a good decision. If you don’t care about the rest of my story, we can end it right now.”

    Scary Transparency: This is good advice. SELL YOURSELF. Don’t focus on your negatives. Acknowledge them internally, and use them to your benefit.

    If a company is looking for a specific skill you lack, it’s okay to say you lack it. But you should surround that with the other skills that trump the need for that skill. SELL YOURSELF. It’s entirely probable the company “thinks” they need X when really, they don’t. But it’s all they’ve known. You’ve got to convince them that you can help them go in a better direction.

    Chilling Tales: Don’t agree with the advice. If the ground level troops are complaining, try to understand the root cause, certainly. But it’s not about how YOU can help. It’s about understanding why it’s that way, whether it’s changing, etc. and then make a decision for your own future, which might mean walk away.

    I accepted a position where they were actively laying off staff and morale was down. I got to understand that it was because management was really excited about a new software platform – the one I was interviewing for.

    Dark Secrets: Mixed opinion here. The interviewee should have stated their ideal better: “I prefer environments where I can work with minimal interruption or interaction because it helps me focus on tasks and get them done more effectively.”

    The interviewer should be receptive to the feedback (stated properly). A developer is going to be thrust into a collaborative environment regardless because businesses “think” that’s the best answer. If the interviewee gets a chance to prove that he/she is truly more effective running solo, the business should let him work that way, but compromise on collaboration with at least a daily standup.

  6. Morpheus

    The hiring manager took one look at the candidate’s resume, crumpled the document, hurled it across the desk and stated: “I hope you have an iron.”

    Lesson: Company not worth working for.

    1. The only reason an employer hires an employee is to help the employer make money.

    2. It is the employers responsibility to know how each employee contributes to this mission.

    3. The goal of any pre-employment meeting is an exercise in alignment. Everything else is ego trips and games.

    Untimely End

    The hiring manager said: “Give me three concise reasons why I should hire you.” Before the candidate could finish his extensive list of justifications, the disgruntled manager chastised his listening skills, declared him unfit for the position and ended the interview.

    Lesson: Beware of people that live in bubbles.

    1. The only reason an employer hires an employee is to help the employer make money.

    2. It is the employer responsibility to know how each employee contributes to this mission.

    3. The goal of any pre-employment meeting is an exercise in alignment. When people show up they are doing so to help you.

    Treat them with respect and as professionals don’t force people to play games. Forcing people to play game is exactly why people are not honest in interviews. Your only goal is to get a good sense of what the person wants to do and if the job you are offering is the right opportunity for them.

    If you see your potential employees as money sucking parasites that must prove their worth to you. You have got it all backwards. And you get what you deserve. People that are BS artists.

    Don’t waste your time with mickey mouse managers or companies. There are good companies, excellent managers the challenge is finding them.

  7. I’m also shocked at many of the comments here! In the case of the employer who crumpled the resume, the original text did indicate that this was some kind of test and a lot of you failed that test. Actually, an interview is a test to see if you are the right person for the job. I’ve been in IT for over 40 years and yes, there are a lot of personalities that you have to deal with and, in a customer support role especially, it is crucial that you can handle all that. Sorry, in most instances you won’t be getting a job where you sit in a cubicle and do coding work all by yourself. You will have to sell your ideas and be able to defend your work and prove that you met all of the requirements even those you didn’t like. “People” are involved in every job whether they be irate customers or co-workers with an agenda all their own. If a hiring manager does something “outrageous” you need to accept that as a challenge. But, if you just think they are just being “rude” there are jobs elsewhere. You can’t all have the interviews like I once had where the hiring manager tells you about the job and then asks you one question: “Does this all sound OK with you?”. Life isn’t like that. If part of the job description is working under stress, then walking away says more about you than the interviewer.

    • David Alan Gay

      The effects of stress is often overlooked in the workplace. It reduces productivity and impacts the immune system (leading to increased absenteeism) and mental health. Considering we spend two-thirds of our waking hours working — it’s not a stretch to say we see our employers and co-workers much more than our family, friends, and loved ones — it’s crucial for every jobseeker to not only be professional in the job search, but also to realize that no job is worth your health and well-being. We cannot allow ourselves to be devalued to the point of being an asset like a stapler or a desk, something that can be easily deposed of once it’s worn out.

  8. Let’s just say, I blew it recently and did not do research on the company I was interviewing with. I looked up the wrong company with a similar name. We got to the end of the interview and I was asked what I knew. It was a completely different industry. This was a phone interview but, if it had been a physical one, I think I would have had a bootprint on the rear of my pants!

  9. Don’t be a sheep. Remember you are entering a business agreement between equals. You are selling them some of your time and expertise not your soul, so you’re also interviewing the company as much if not more than they are interviewing you.

    If someone threw my crumpled up resume back at me, I would simply tell them they failed my interview and walk out.

  10. Michelle

    What a lot of nonsense. Hiring managers who employ these tactics are either actively attempting to drive away qualified applicants or are not intelligent enough to be in a position of hiring anyone.

    No one should ever put up with that kind of treatment. I’ve gone on some terrible interviews, been offered the job and accepted, and the jobs have always turned out to be as bad as I suspected they would be. I’ve left shortly after when I found a more suitable position in which the management didn’t feel like they were free to behave like 6th grade bullies.

    If someone is rude to you during an interview, excuse yourself and leave.