Sunday, March 1, 2009

What’s the worst interview you ever had?

A colleague of mine told me about an absolutely terrible interview he had a few years back, where the recruiter treated him with almost contempt, not even bothering with the normal niceties about the company, the position or future prospects etc.
As I outline in Making a Difference, one of the big secrets to success in business is to surround yourself with the best team possible and to ensure that you manage the team in such a way as to keep it performing to its absolute potential. But the first question is how can you be sure of recruiting the best? In the book I outline a number of tricks and tips, but I now want to study the subject in much more depth, to form the research for my next book. To that end I am looking for true life stories of the worst interviews ever!
So if you have a terrible interview story please let me know. You can either post it in this blog or, if you want to keep it confidential, you can send me an e-mail via and someone from the team will contact you to find the best way to capture your experience in detail.
Looking forward to receiving your experiences,


Peter said...

Hi Harley,

My carreer has been a bit creative and obviously, this reflects in my CV. I get some interesting reactions sometimes, but since you specifically asked for the worst interview stories, I'll tell you that one.

One day, I entered a company for a job interview and got a friendly reception by somebody from the team, who introduced me to the company activities and so on. He also said his boss would join in a bit later. Indeed, 45 minutes later, in comes this person who shakes my hand and introduces himself. He didn't know my name and while his colleague tried to continue his explanation, he interrupted saying he hadn't had the time to actually read through my job application.

That gave me and the friendly employee a few minutes to continue our interesting conversation. But it wasn't long before we were interrupted by the manager again. He found out from my CV that I had quit my job at a certain point to start a new academic study and he violently objected. He told me he couldn't for the world understand why the youth of today (I was 35 at the time, mind you) would just run off from perfectly good jobs for weeks or months to do things that are absolutely irrelevant to their further carreer. He urged me to explain what my study would bring me to my carreer.

Reflecting on this interview, of course the manager had a point, because my academic study wasn't really in the same field as my carreer had been until then. But his attitude, both towards me and his colleague as well as his lack of openness about alternative approaches to carreer building, disturbed me so much that I removed the company from the list of interesting employers.

Harley Lovegrove said...

Thanks for your comment and for sharing your story Peter. Indeed not everything we do in our life is necessarily logical and linked to our careers. The question for an employer is whether or not you will meet their needs and obviously reliability can be important. I imagine that you found another job and since then have been gainfully employed? Regards,


SNCo said...

Dear Harley,
I am not an Recruitment-specialist, but to my opinion, the objective of job interviews, is about finding the right person for the job in terms of experience, knowledge, to the job done. But you also need 'the click', the (emotional) connection between interviewer and interviewee. I consider myself a passionate marketeer. Recently, I was interviewed by a general manager for a job as a marketing manager of a beverage company, who was only interested in my technical marketing skills (and communication skills). As I need 'passion for the brand' for optimal performance, I wanted to know more about the history of the company's flag-ship brand. What struck me: I was told where the factories in Europe are, but he couldn't tell we what the core values (5!) of the brand were. We were on totally different levels... Fortunately, another opportunity came up (though I was invited for a 2nd round), so I decided to quit the process. I wonder whether I would have been able to perform well in this environment, without 'a click' with my line manager.

Harley Lovegrove said...

Dear Sofie,

It is amazing how many employers forget that an interview is bidirectional, i.e. you are investing your time, at your expense to see if their opportunity might fit into your career plan - as well as they looking to see if you might be the right fit for them.

As you know I am strong believer in Vision, a company without vision is like a ship without a rudder - no one can be inspired to work in an environment where the corporate plans and ambitions can not be converted into a language that the employees can understand and be inspired by.

In your case, it is just possible that the interviewer was a bit struck by your question - an could not think quick enough on his feet, maybe he had never thought about the value statements of beverages! He may have been more of a sales person - who thinks interms of Targets and comissions - and probably only knows about unique selling points. Maybe there was an opportunity in that company to build a complete marketing strategy and to point the company on a much stronger path?

However, we only have a couple of hours to base our important career decisons on - so I guess your instincts told you to make the right choice.