The Worst Interview in the World, Maybe

Yesterday, I was sharing some recruitment war stories with colleagues. Discussions of interviews and applications that didn’t go so well. The one that stands out in my memory was an application I received years ago for a position in the security team of a well known bank, in which the offer letter confirmed three day’s notice would be required for any interview, as they needed time to arrange a day pass from prison.

I guess most people have at some time applied for a job or been for an interview that didn’t go well. The one you would rather forget. But as they say, everything is a learning experience, and I certainly learnt from mine. So I thought I would share the story.

It was about twelve years ago. At the time, I was working as a HR officer in a mainly employee relations role. My job revolved around discipline, grievance, employment tribunals, personal injury claims, dismissals and trade unions. A typical day might involve hearing a grievance in the morning, an appeal against dismissal in the afternoon, and a little accident investigation in between. It was the kind of job in which you became completely immersed. I did everything from counting pallets at the top of a scissor lift in the stocktake, to being called out to a serious accident at 4am on a Sunday morning and climbing all over the scene. We had the it all going on there. I remember a call one morning that went a little bit like this. ‘Gem, can you come to site as soon as possible please? Someone has just tried to deliberately run over his team leader in a fork lift truck’. I loved it, but it burnt me out. So I started looking. And got an interview for a HR Consultant role in an outsourced call centre.

I got a new suit. I polished my shoes. I set off early, and arrived in plenty of time. And then, it all started to go wrong……

I knew as soon as I walked in, I didn’t fit there. They were all about motivational quotes. There were clouds painted on the ceiling. Bean bags in the training room to lie down on in between sessions. Let me tell you that this never happened during training on how to drive a fork lift truck. I was a fish out of water.

And then, the interview. There were no meeting rooms. It was all done on squishy chairs in an open plan space. On the next table was someone having their lunch flicking through a magazine. To the other side, what appeared to be a performance review going on. Over the way, someone I actually knew, which was a little awkward.

And once the questions started, I could think of nothing sensible to say. Whatever the interviewer asked me, I could not say anything that did not involve the words grievance or disciplinary. It just kept coming out.

Interviewer: How do you manage your team?
Me: I try not to discipline them.

Interviewer: Give me an example of how you have delivered change
Me: I taught all the managers how to do really good grievance hearings

And so on. And downhill. The more rubbish I talked, the more rubbish I talked.
The rejection letter came the very next morning. I suspect it was being typed before I hit the street. I can almost imagine the interviewer running to the post room, waving the letter aloft ‘quick, get this in the post – get rid of the discipline freak!’

But I did learn some things from the process.

I learnt that I should just have called it. We both knew I wasn’t right for them, and they weren’t right for me, but we carried on with the questions and answers, regardless.

I learnt the importance of putting a candidate at ease, and explaining the process to them in advance, especially if it is going to be a little outside of the norm.

I learnt the importance of cultural fit. On paper I had all of the things. But I would never have been at home there.

I learnt that sometimes, you should just stop talking.

I learnt that there are no circumstances in which one can rise in a ladylike fashion from a bean bag whilst wearing a skirt.

Now, I’ve told you mine, so tell me yours……

5 thoughts on “The Worst Interview in the World, Maybe

  1. Pingback: Best Blogs 28 February 2014 | ChristopherinHR

  2. I had a similar (in terms of uncomfortable) experience once as a inexperienced 16 year old, applying for a junior apprenticeship job in a large organisation on a competency based interview. The feedback is you have no experience, it was crushing at 16 yrs old, but on the positive it has changed how I interview and give feedback

  3. Pingback: Culture Misfit | hrgem

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