You’re Not Hired – What We Can Learn From “Bad” Interviews
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 or anywhere in the world like in the stories that follow, the best thing you can do with your interview horror stories is laugh and learn.
In terms of bad interview experiences, I’ve been on both sides of the table. You can learn a lot about what not to do in job interviews being on either side, but in this post I’ll talk about 3 awkward experiences as an interviewee in the United States and in Egypt as an expat.
1.The Inexperienced Interview – No Stories To Tell
Place: New Jersey, USA
About 18 years old in and still living in New Jersey 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 properly prepare for an interview—all I knew was that I should dress well and arrive on time.
In this particular case, 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. My eyes filled with water in front of the interviewer I became emotional and didn’t answer the question appropriately. I was also under-qualified for the job itself. Needless to say, I was rejected.
After that experience, I worked continuously for over a decade for 2 or 3 different companies and I became good 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 with all this exposure, right? Well, as we all know, one should never assume.
2.The New Expat Interview – A Culture Mismatch
Place: 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 looking for work.
I’d actually turned down a number of offers because I was looking for a specific opportunity that I hadn’t yet found. Still searching, 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. First, 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.
Next, I didn’t click with the interviewer, also 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 with which positions were re-posted. Still, I kept an open mind, and I proceeded through the recruiting process and on to 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, sometimes sarcastic exchange. Admittedly, I felt there were moments during which we each put forth real effort 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.
1.The Phone Interview – Psychological Defeat
Place: Michigan, USA and Cairo, Egypt
This last bad interview experience is the one that actually compelled me to write this post.
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 as we all know applying for jobs online can be 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 because I knew exactly what I’d done poorly, and I that 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 before it was too late. 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 and 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 creativity or 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, I practiced and revived everything I knew, as well as added to my interview 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 my lack of preparation, here 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.
After my self evaluation, 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.
In life, 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 make the effort to provide value to others and be an honest person, I don’t worry about it too much. I believe the right people will like me at the right time.
Turning back from philosophy and back to my ongoing search for work, the next few days presented me with two 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. Within the next week I was offered a second contract from another company in the US, and yet another one from New Zealand.
I have shortcomings that still need fixing, and I’ll work on them. I know, however, that too much reflection on what’s wrong with me instead of what’s right with me is not the solution.
Not taking myself too seriously and a desire to learn from every situation have turned my reflections on “bad” interviews into something positive: lessons learned and motivation to never give up so I can bring my career to the next level.
*….Yes, somewhere inside of me lives an old Southern woman. She’s sitting on a front porch knitting, while comforting her family and neighbors with twangy sayings…