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Why bad job interviews happen to good people, and what we can do about it

bad job interviews

They happen to everyone, don’t beat your head against a wall

Bad job interviews happen to everyone, including great candidates.

Bad job interviews, failed interviews, wastes of time.  We all have them.  There are usually just a few reasons why interviews go bad and plenty we can do to avoid them.  Why and what you can do in the future to avoid bad job interviews:

  1. Sometimes we just don’t “click” with the person conducting the interviewing or the culture of the company.  This is OK.  Whether we like it or not, it’s not just skill set.  There does need to be SOME chemistry between the candidate, the company and the hiring managers that are conducting the interviews.  We can prepare for “culture fit” with prior research.
  2. We as the candidate were not prepared, and we will know better next time.  There is plenty written here and elsewhere on how to succeed at interviews, even when the person giving the interviewing is the dumbass.  Although you may not be able to control the actual outcome of the interview, I believe that you CAN control the tone and dynamic of the interview, which will help in the long run and put things in your favor.

Sometimes, the reason that bad job interviews happen is that the person conducting the interview makes the experience miserable.  These people shouldn’t be interviewing.  Don’t worry.  This isn’t your fault.

There are logical explanations as to why the person interviewing you delivered a bad job interview, so you don’t take it personally.  I also believe that to a degree, we can influence the outcome of these experiences in the future.

Why the person interviewing you sucked/delivered a bad job interview:

  1. They have a huge ego and probably shouldn’t be interviewing

There are a number of big companies that take pride in making the candidate know that they weren’t as smart as they think they are.  For some companies, this is a way to set the bar, and let the rest of the world know that it takes “X” amount of brains to get into this company.  The thought process is that if you leave the interview feeling intellectually crushed, you know you aren’t worthy of that company.

  • I believe that you can let someone know they didn’t have what it takes both from a technical and an experience aspect without making them feel like shit.  Afterall, this candidate could be a customer, vendor, or referral for other candidates.

1.  A lot of companies don’t have the resources to train folks on interviewing skills.   They will literally send someone in to interview a candidate at the last-minute.  There are assumptions from both the employee and the HR department that this person DOES know what they are doing because they are a high performer or have years of experience.  The high performer does not the equal great interviewer.

  • Training someone to interview takes time.  Especially training someone to interview well.  If you want to learn how to do anything well, it takes time and experience.  Interviewing isn’t just filling out answers to a questionnaire.   Just a few training topics could include:
    • Handling illegal questions 
    • Representing a specific image of the company and why
    • Interviewing for not just a technical fit but a culture fit as well.
    • Behavioral Interviewing
    • Agreement with the entire interviewing team on what skills are being looked for.  If everyone interviews on their own, with no direction, everyone has their own agenda.
    • Mock interviews

The above is not going to be covered in a single – one or two-hour session.  I haven’t learned how to do anything well with a single lesson.   If anything I just became more dangerous in that particular activity and in this case a liability to the company.

  1. Just because the questions are written on company letterhead, doesn’t mean they will be delivered correctly.  No one wants to read an interview question to a candidate word for word from a questionnaire.  It lends no credibility and sounds worse to the candidate.  The result is that these questions are interpreted/misinterpreted,  and then asked, with no follow-up questions.  Initially, it is the candidate that suffers but, in the end, it is the company that suffers because decisions are made based on wrong or bad information.
  2. A lot of employees just shouldn’t be interviewing.   “Period”.   They don’t take it very seriously.  They actually look at it like a burden and are usually looking forward to their next meeting.  Not uncommon.
    • Some interviewers look at interviewing as a way to discover why you should NOT be hired.  They don’t want to take a chance on being the employee who said “hire” a candidate that doesn’t work out later and is a low performer.  These interviewers look for reasons NOT to hire.  This is an express lane to bad job interviews.
    • Unfortunately, there can be a dynamic between interviewer and candidate where the person doing the interviewing feels superior and thinks they have the upper hand.  They think they are better because they are employed.    Not fair, not fun and results in bad job interviews.

I believe that everyone should consider it an honor to be interviewing candidates and to represent the company.  I know I do.  If you are interviewing, you are the very first step to building a successful team and a successful company.  As someone working in HR, I don’t ask just anyone to conduct interviews.  Employees who conduct interviews need to be presentable, smart, social, and gracious.  If you are missing one of these qualities, I am afraid you may scare off a potential candidate.  I want candidates EXCITED to work with the team, not scared.  As the person conducting the interview, you have a DIRECT influence on who you will be working with.  If you don’t interview, you are basically being “assigned” a co-worker similar to the way hires were made in the 1960’s, circa MadMen.  If you aren’t going to participate in, or don’t want to be involved in interviews, don’t complain about co-workers.

There are plenty of reasons why we experience bad job interviews.  The important part is to not let bad interviews affect the future interviews, especially if you are scheduled for multiple interviews on the same day with the same company. If you are still interviewing then chances are your next interview doesn’t have a clue as to what happened prior.  If they did, they would have cut the interview loop so no one’s time is wasted.  You need to get your ass back in that saddle and ride.  If you feel you failed the interview, I would still write up a thank you email.  Just because they made your life miserable, doesn’t mean we should sink to their level.

If you are someone that interviews candidates on a regular basis, ask your HR person to sit down with you and review the game plan for every candidate.  Not only will they appreciate knowing that you are taking it seriously, hopefully, you will gain some insight into the interview process for when YOU are on the other side of the table.  Remember, you may be working with the person you are interviewing so start the relationship off on the right foot and avoid delivering a bad job interview.

Good luck,


nasty:  an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone that is good at something.  “He has a nasty forkball”.

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  • peter pui

    Some great and calm ideas are here. Bravo! But, how does one deal with the total inverse of real interviewer, especially for a job that you would love and that according to the selection criteria you are very well qualified for?

    For example, MS Inverse of Real says management is all about relationships, isn’t it? Quite simply no.Whether project management or general management, the manager’s job is about goal setting and achieving, albeit with and through work teams. Do the textbooks on management put relationships as no.1 or even in the top 10? No.

    MS Inverse also says but what do you want in this job? Quite simply, the employer does not care. He wants his goals achieved or over-achieved. In return, he pays a salary or fee. Perform or go. As anyone who works knows well. With these wrong turns, MS Inverse wastes so much precious interview time. Sorry, there is no time now for the selection criteria or your questions. Goodbye.

    What do do? Lie and lie again?

    • Peter,
      Thanks for stopping by and your question. I am not sure I am reading the question correctly, but let me give this a go.
      You are correct, hiring managers do want to hire someone that is qualified. They don’t necessarily want someone over qualified, because they are going to be bored with the job and not going to give it their all. Yes, they might over perform in the beginning, but their boredom will show and in most cases, managers don’t want employees who are just slacking off, even if they are getting the job done.
      Hiring managers do want the job done, but what hiring managers also want are teams that get along. The hiring managers job is miserable if only 1 out of 5 employees on a team doesn’t get along. And HR REALLY doesn’t want this person on the team. Most managers would rather have someone that gets along with everyone and ISN”T 100% qualified over a candidate who is 110% qualified but appears like they are not going to get along with the team.
      Managers can train a technical skill set, but most agree they are not able to train attitude.

      Hope this helps and thanks for the great question


      • peter pui

        Thank you but your reply fills me with despair.

        If the cause of the rough handling by MS Inverse is simply that she finds you overqualified for the job, then an email or phone call to this effect is all that is needed. No interview then should take place.

        A better solution would be twofold. National or state HR Associations set standards of Fair Conduct and Fair Hearing that are mandatory for all member associations to follow. An Interview Feedback site is opened for all interviewees and interviewers to respond to. Let the best and fairest stand tall.

        The upshot of hiring less experienced, people persons is to lower standards and to entrench mediocrity without escape. Better hires would break the mold.And show how.

        A short term contract deals well with the need to hire capable, experienced managers. And believe it or not, such managers can also be fine team players too. Part of their success springs from that.