Worst Job Interview Ever: What Went Wrong, And What I Learned

awful bad job interviewBy Luke Roney

I knew, as it was happening, that the job interview was going badly. The guy asking the questions -- the managing editor at a mid-size Southern California daily -- had lost interest in me quickly. He put his feet up on his desk and began eating his lunch.

I sat wordlessly as he ate. The crunch of teeth tearing through lettuce was the only sound in his closet of an office that was filling quickly with a nauseating tang of Italian dressing. Finally the city editor, at that point unaware of my poor showing, came and got me. He led me to a computer for a writing test. Then he headed back to the managing editor's office.

The time limit on the writing exercise was 20 minutes. I finished and, though disheartened by the experience thus far, I waited.

And waited.

Nearly an hour later, the city editor returned.

"Oh," he said. "You're still here?"

It was a blunt confirmation of what I already knew: I would get no job offer from these people. And so ended the worst job interview of my career. Even now, some seven years later, to remember it stings a bit.

But the worst thing about my worst job interview is that the bad result was my fault. These guys were giving me a fair shake -- I did, after all, look promising on paper. But when it came to the interview, I failed to present myself as a worthwhile candidate for the general assignment reporter position for which I was applying.

Here's what killed it:

1. I was desperate.

Getting this job meant a lot to me. At that point, getting any job meant a lot to me -- I had been freelancing for some time and was eager to get my first full-time gig. Anywhere.

And that was a problem.

I arrived at the interview with a mindset of desperation, and the managing editor picked up on that. His company is special to him. He wants his employees to regard it that way, too. It must have been clear to him that I wasn't sitting in his office because I wanted to work for his newspaper, but because I wanted to work for any paper.

2. I didn't have good answers.

I was prepared to answer questions about myself and my experience. But I failed to anticipate and prepare for questions about why I wanted to work for this particular newspaper.
  • In what areas do you think our coverage is strongest?
  • Where can we improve coverage?
  • Which of our writers do you enjoy most?
  • Why doesn't the paper you're freelancing for hire you fulltime?

I tried to talk my way through those questions and others like it. But it was obvious that I hadn't been following the paper, I hadn't done much research and that I hadn't put much thought into how I would respond.

3. I didn't have good questions.

Actually, if I recall correctly, I didn't have any questions. Remember, I was desperate -- so what did I care about the specifics of working for this paper?

Interviewers judge questions just as they judge answers -- some even score questions higher when evaluating candidates. Well-informed questions show that you are curious, knowledgeable and interested in finding the right position. Having no questions shows that you don't care.

4. But I learned my lesson.

About a month after my worst interview ever, I got another shot with a different newspaper.
I was still desperate to get a job, but I didn't bring that desperation into the interview. Instead, I focused on the paper's need for a reporter, how I could fill that need and why I thought this particular paper was a good fit for me.

I spent hours researching the paper before the interview and was able to speak knowledgeably about its coverage and how I could contribute to it. And I had plenty of good questions about what my job would entail, the editorial direction of the paper, circulation numbers, the effect of Internet news sources on the print edition.

A few hours after the interview, I got a call from the editor.

The job was mine.

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I had numerous job interviews during and especially right after nursing school. Some great some mediocre. But I always felt I would be an asset regardless of where I worked because I was well educated well trained and had years of experience in another field of nursing. Because of that I had great references and I could pick and choose ( most nurses can) where I wanted to work. Had anyone ever been so inappropriate as to put their feet on their desk and begin eating their lunch during my interview I would have stood up and said "I am finished here..I am not interested in working here :. I then would have thanked the person for their time and filed a descriptive complaint with human resources on my way out:) I would not work in an environment that tolerated that type of unprofessional behavior.And to the guy who wrote the dissertation on why he was late...sorry BUT you should have managed your time better...double checked the directions against Map Quest and Yahoo. Left exceedingly early to avoid calamity and been prepared.Why would you trust directions given over the phone? I always double check when I am traveling. and I am always arrive early even if it means I have to sit in the car or lobby for a bit. You have to be at the top of your game if you are competing with other very well qualified candidates. Oh well live and learn for all of us. We could all write a few good stories about obnoxious pompous smug interviewers I guess:)

June 04 2012 at 6:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've had that "deja vu" - screwed up this interview in the first 5 seconds - feeling once. Was living in NYC and got called for an interview in Philadelphia. Itinerary given to woman who was going to interview me and she gave me directions from the airport to the company in my rental car. I was flying in with enough time she said and getting a taxi might have been hard at that time of day after the interview to catch flight home. South Philly to Blue Bell could also get a bit pricey and some hacks like to run in and out of the City for more tips instead of taking long trips. Wrote her directions down and did great. Until, that is, I made a left and ended up somewhere in East Jebbip when she should have told me to take a right. I was 3 minutes late. She'd kept me waiting for a good 20 minutes and then sent someone out to get me. I went in and without shaking hands, exchanging pleasantries or further adieu asked me if her directions were OK. I said they were fine figuring she'd been busy anyway and 3 minutes wasn't going to be a problem since the interview prior to me was just leaving. She was impressed with my experience and what I knew about them since they were pretty new in the industry - so we went through the usual comments, question and answers, etc.. After almost a half hour with understanding the company and her understanding what I could do for her company, she stands up, walks to the door, opens it and says that it's just too bad I was late so they couldn't hire me. ????? I reached into the folder I put together for her company with the research I'd done in it. Handed her directions to her - told her I wrote them down as she was saying them the previous day - and maybe I could've written it down wrong - but that more than likely she'd told me "left" at the crossroad they were on instead of "right" which was the correct way. I have learned one thing however Miss, never lie when someone's giving me the opportunity to make them look stupid. Last I saw of her over my shoulder was her mouth hanging open in surprise. No, I shouldn't have been late no matter how long and if anyone has to wait it should be the person wanting the job. But sometimes people don't want to work for companies where people forget to respect the person they're interviewing and I'd rather know how their "games" are played up front than move my life to a place where I waste my time with a "GOTCHA!" after the fact. If that's the reason - she could've told me up front. On the way out I didn't forget to give the finger to the person walking interviewee's in and out of her office either. It was that or they have one helluva camera system hooked up to their computers, timing everyone's movement and how long it took them. I found out their "new company" went bust - at least with the two partners who'd started it up from a conglomerate they'd come from - and I work for their parent now analyzing their figures every 3 months. Odd, I don't recall seeing her name listed.

June 04 2012 at 3:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sometimes people are put into positions that they have no business being in. I've seen it several times over. The only thing I'm learning is just how much "******* up" really exists in the workforce. How many people have zero selfworth, who will do it, and how important the people think they are, that are getting it.

June 03 2012 at 10:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Part of me can't help but think that this story was the most cliche of journalism - an engineered "perfect" story where man has awful job experience, man resigns remains to complete the interview (which he should've just got up and left), man digs in for next interview and applies what he learns and lo and behold he wins immediately. Very Star Trek.

With that said, I will also say that the hiring world is full of bozos who have no right to be hiring or passing judgement about the work, or gaps in work period of others, and bias is prolific in those circles (I'm not talking about racial bias, but pure old dislike and confirming seeking judgements). FYI, I've observed these things and I'm white, mid-30's and have been regularly, gainfully employed at the same employer for 5 years, and before that a different employer for 5 years. And yet I still recognize all of this.

June 03 2012 at 9:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

**** corporate america

June 03 2012 at 7:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Would my taking his lunch and smashing it into his face be a bad move? Probably so but I would have slept better. Do I need anger control? Probably so but not only would I have learned a lesson but so would the interviewer realize that every one deserves respect whether he feels it or not.

June 03 2012 at 6:26 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Sometimes a bad interview is due to the manager or the person interviewing you. I had a bad experience in a job interview once and it was totally the managers fault. She had asked me about why I left my previous employer. I informed her that my mother had passed away and I had taken care of her while she was dying. I had to focus on that situation and they did not like it. She then went onto inform me that I had something wrong with me. She went into the tirade about it and all directed towards me and my choice to focus on my Mother's death and how I handled the situation. I left happy knowing that even if offered the job I'd not accept. Who wants to work for a company that has managers that act like that even at job interviews. That is so telling on how the managers will act if you are hired. Remember you are also evaluating the company and deciding if you want to work for them.

June 03 2012 at 4:59 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to prettyorbie's comment

You're a better person than I. In the same situation, at the beginning of her tirade, I'd have told her to shut her mouth, I wouldn't work for a company that put an ass in her position and walked out. I've only been turned down for one job in my life and that was because I'm very small and slight and when my husband died I needed an interim job while waiting to be hired by the state as a social worker. I applied at a nice restaurant for a waitress position, which I'd worked as all through college, and the manager said they would hire me if they had an opening for a hostess but I was not big enough to carry the stands & the huge round trays with all the meals on them that the waitpersons brought to the tables. I've always approached a potential employer with the spoken idea that if I approved of the job requirements, I would work for them.

June 04 2012 at 12:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It sounds like you were very young when you went for this job and foolish. Interviewing skills 101 is research the company you are going to work for before even stepping foot through the door. Personally, the minute he would have thrown his feet up on the desk to eat I would have ended the interview right there and thanked him for his time. Good-bye. Who would want such an ahole for a boss with such etiquette skills (or lack thereof that is).

June 03 2012 at 4:47 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to RVFLSLVB's comment

One I interviewed with didn't eat his lunch but he put his feet on the desk with his legs spread apart and he had a hole in the crotch of his jeans. I found out later that they had someone in the department they wanted to promote but according to civil service rules, they had to get her to the top of the list so he was probably trying to gross me out.

June 03 2012 at 8:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well from all the insightful tips I often see on this site about body language he was just letting you know his expectations 'as in lick my shoes' and or Kiss my A#$. I would have said my dog died and I need to be at the funeral and left.

June 03 2012 at 3:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Joel Rigonan

Peggy McKee's webinar can show you ways on how to answer interview questions and make your way to success. Check Career Confidential out: http://bit.ly/JgY3pN

June 01 2012 at 10:03 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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