I’ve had some incredible interviews, and I’ve also had some real doozies. Sometimes I think back and say, man, I wish I could’ve said… A bad interview can leave you feeling disappointed and frustrated. You might even blame yourself, wondering if you left the wrong impression. I’ve blurted things out that had me reaching for the invisible delete key. One time a hiring manager looked at me with a grin and said “You’re not a morning person, are you?” To which I’d answered, “No, not at all.” It was instinct. They’d been talking to me like we were old friends, and I’d let my guard down. They stopped grinning. At that moment, even though I’d tried to reassure them I could start at 8 instead of 9 (I’d done it for years), I could tell they’d made up their mind about me. In hindsight, the role wouldn’t have been a good fit for me. I do best with employers who are more about my results than what hours I come in, and I’m definitely more productive when I can start at 9.
But there are interviewers out there who just aren’t great at interviewing. Maybe they’re socially awkward or they’ve never interviewed anyone in their life. I can deal with that. But sometimes their behavior sends up a huge red flag, whether they are unprofessional or just a huge downer.
Have you ever had an interview that went like this?
Interviewer: Sorry for the mess. We don’t have much time to clean up around here.
Candidate: No worries. How’s your day going?
Interviewer: Well, I’ve got more projects than I can handle and my phone won’t stop ringing. My assistant just quit on me, so I have no help.
Candidate: Oh no. That sounds really stressful.
Interviewer: (sighs) It’s crazy, but that’s how it is around here. Don’t go looking for anyone to hold your hand. You’re not the type who needs your hand held, are you?
Candidate: No, I’m pretty used to teaching myself anything I don’t know. Plus, I prefer more autonomy.
Interviewer: (chuckles) Well, I didn’t say anything about autonomy. We’d like you to be a self-starter and figure things out, but any decisions need to be run by upper management. And they need a lot of convincing.
Candidate: Ah, ok. Good to know.
Interviewer: So, I was reading through your resume, and I’m wondering if this is the right fit for you. It seems like you have a big creative streak, and there isn’t a lot of room for creativity in this role.
Candidate: Can you be more specific?
Interviewer: We’re not like one of those fun, hip agencies with ping pong tables. We don’t come to work to play. It’s a tight ship around here and it’s a very high stress environment. Upper management wants things done a certain way and we have to stick to that.
Candidate: Got it. So, what would a typical day look like?
Interviewer: Chaotic. If you like to take breaks, it’s probably not the right environment for you.
Candidate: I see. Um… What are some things you really love about working here?
Interviewer: Uh… Hmm… Well… (eyes roll up toward the ceiling) Since we have too much to do, very little resources, and some very unrealistic expectations to manage, every day is a new challenge. There are some days my heart is beating out of my chest, you know?
Candidate: Huh. Let me rephrase that question a little. Why on earth should I work here?
Okay, maybe don’t say that (it’s so tempting, though, isn’t it?) I like to call this interviewer type The Downer. Instead of selling you on the role and the company, they seem to be saying—run and don’t look back! Even when pressed to say something positive about the company, they can only come up with more negatives. Is the employer really that awful to work for or is the interviewer just a “the glass is always half empty” kind of person? Sometimes it’s hard to know! So, when I find myself in this situation, here are some ways I try to figure it out:
- I look up the company on Glassdoor and other employer review sites before I go on the interview. Are there several negative reviews that mirror what this hiring manager is saying?
- If there are other people in the interview, I ask them what they love about working there and what they wish they could improve. If their answers are similar, that tells me what I need to know.
- I ask for a tour and the chance to meet any potential coworkers. Body language and the general vibe of the office can tell me a lot.
- I reach out to my network to see if anyone knows anyone who has worked for the company. Then I write that person and ask for the scoop.
If The Downer is your would-be supervisor, you also have to ask yourself—can I work with someone who seems this unhappy, regardless of the reason? Never underestimate the importance of your relationship with your manager.
Have you ever had an interview like this? How did you respond? Feel free to share your story below!