My worst job interviews

I’ve had many job interviews over the years. The ones that went badly were sometimes due to me being unprepared or too anxious. However, the attitude of the employer was significant in some of them, illustrated here…

  • In the basement of W H Smith (the stationery shop), a group of at least 30 candidates were sat in a circle. Some giggling supervisors asked us to sing or tell jokes. Candidates who did this would have a better chance of getting a job. In fact, there were no other assessments. I think we were all bemused and not a little terrified. A few outgoing types did some singing and dancing, while the rest sat in embarrassed silence. I still don’t know how this qualified anyone for a temporary Christmas job stacking the shelves with jigsaw puzzles and chocolates.
  • I arrived in good time for an interview at a college. I was asked to wait in an area where students were working. I sat there for a few minutes, thinking that probably the interviews were running a bit late, as often happens. But I waited. And waited. I started to get hungry. I felt awkward sitting there in my smart clothes, surrounded by students and staff who gave me curious glances. The longer I had to think about what was to come, the more nervous I became. My interview started 40 minutes late, no adequate reason given. I had to pretend not to mind.
  • At a music shop, the staff talked around and over me while I waited to see the manager. The shop was opening up for the day and I was left there like a spare part while the activity was going on. The fact that I was 16 might have contributed to their lack of respect. Then when I was actually interviewed, it became clear that my application hadn’t been read properly. I didn’t play enough instruments to be a viable candidate in the first place.
  • A man on the interview panel for a university job made it extravagantly clear he was bored and that interviewing me was a waste of his precious time. He asked me for my experience of a particular task and then while I was talking, he put down his pen, raised his eyes to the ceiling and slumped back in his chair. Maybe he even checked his watch. It was very off-putting and I knew straight away that I wasn’t getting hired.

It’s a pity that some recruiters’ attitudes are so poor. Candidates may be desperate for jobs but they should still be treated with respect. Employers’ reputations are also at stake, so it’s in their interest that interviews are well-conducted. Here are my suggestions for recruiters, should any be reading this:

  • Read the job applications, or tell the staff who screen the applications exactly what your criteria are. This saves everyone’s time and it saves suggesting to a candidate’s face that they’re not good enough for the job.
  • Get your timing right. Allow enough time between interviews for the panel’s discussions, allow extra time for candidates’ questions at the end, allow for technology glitches. If a candidate arrives more than a few minutes late, shorten their interview to avoid significant impact on the others.
  • Communicate effectively with reception staff so that candidates have somewhere quiet to wait and are offered a drink. Be welcoming and smile when you greet a candidate. It sounds basic but often this doesn’t happen.
  • Respect the candidates as individuals. Don’t ask them to embarrass themselves in front of others unless this is a requirement of the job. Be aware that some people suffer from anxiety which may stop them performing their best at an interview and yet they may be the best fit for the job. Consider the impact that your expressions will have on someone’s self-confidence. Don’t suggest that a candidate is over-qualified, as there could be many reasons they are applying for this job, some of which may be of a sensitive nature or mental health related.

17 thoughts on “My worst job interviews”

  1. This was fascinating to read! My worst interview was for an admin job with a panel of two people. The person I would be reporting firstly asked me if I’d written my application myself as I apparently didn’t seem capable of such a good application. They then pushed me to answer the same question over and over, clearly looking for a different response. I stood my ground.

    I left feeling like I’d just been interrogated. I somehow got the job, and reluctantly accepted. Everything in me was telling me to refuse it and run away. I took it and what followed was hands-down the worst working year of my life. As awful as it was, I try to look back on it positively – I don’t take nonsense from anyone anymore. I’m not easily intimidated and treat senior members of staff like I treat everyone else – and if they don’t like that then I am happy to put them in their place!

    1. Thanks ☺ what a horrible experience you had. Seems like you can tell what an employer will be like to work for, just from the interviews.

  2. I love this! I used to work in recruitment so I love your top tips. My worst interview was in a shop where the manager lost interest as soon as I said I would be going back to uni in September. Literally stared at the wall while I answered his questions.

    I also had a really weird assessment centre where we were given some random objects (stapler, sheet of paper etc.) and told to think of a more creative i.e the paper could be a surf board for a hamster. One guy got a computer mouse and did a full five minutes on how it could be a sex toy! I wanted the ground to swallow me up, it was the most cringeworthy thing I’d ever experienced.

  3. Thanks ☺ these are so awkward, and that is so weird about the objects…. I wonder if the mouse/sex toy guy got the job ?

    1. Omg! I’m so darn mad right now! ?Wth was wrong with those ppl? They have no respect for other ppl and their time! ?And you were so patient with everyone of them! Hats off to you!

      1. I appreciate your indignation on my behalf Jee ♥ There is no choice but to be patient when you really want a job!

  4. Nice blog. Sadly I hear of more and more employers treating applicants in a unprofessional way – one of my biggest hates and frustration. I went for an interview with one company and was told to come in for a 2 hour trial – did the trial but never heard anything back! Hopefully any recruiters reading will take your points on board.

    1. Thanks! I thought it would make interesting reading. That’s really bad, they got 2 hours’ free work out of you!

    1. I think a lot of people have had experiences like this… it’s bringing up the memories 😀

  5. Love this post! I’ve heard stories of nightmare interviews but I have been lucky enough not to have any bad experiences. If I was asked to sing in an interview, I would definitely walk out lol.

    1. Thanks 😀
      That’s great you haven’t had any bad experiences. I think some of the worst ones happen when people are very young (looking for their first jobs or trying to climb the career ladder) and they get taken advantage of.

  6. Nice post! I agree, people giving interviews can be very disrespectful – just because they think they can – they are the “bosses” and they think that the person being interviewed should just be “thankful” they called him or her up at all. It is definitely not an “equal footing” meeting and therefore many embarrassing moments can occur. The whole process of an interview is a very artificial and unnatural situation, anyway, and sometimes the outcome is not fair at all.

    Your point on dancing and singing at W. H. Smith shocked me – it is like people trying out circus animals and trying to see who can perform the most tricks for their amusement. There is something really wrong with it, even beyond being unprofessional.

    1. Sorry I did reply to your comment but wordpress has been playing up and my reply has gone?
      It was a horrible experience at WHSmith but I was only about 17 and wouldn’t have dreamed of complaining! Luckily it wasn’t a job I desperately wanted.
      Employers know they have the power and that people will put up with bad interview setups…

  7. That W H Smith interview sounds insane!! I have definitely had interviewers who don’t respect me as a candidate/have already decided in advance that they don’t want to hire me. One interview I saw the previous candidate exit the room and they said “we look forward to working with you”, so when I went in I knew I wasn’t getting the job, but thought I’d make the most of it and be respectful, but one of the interviewers was so rude and commented on things like the fact I’d worn smart clothes to the interview saying “you won’t have to dress like that if you work here” etc. So yeah, I definitely think people let interviewing get to their head (and maybe see it as more of an episode of apprentice than a job interview 😉 ) Anyway sorry for rambling, this topic just got me thinking, great post!

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes I suppose it’s all practice ?
      It’s really not professional to comment on interviewees’ appearance and to even tell someone they have the job before the others have been interviewed!
      I’m hoping that the only interviews I’ll have in the future are as an author not an employee ?

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