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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.

See you at the after party,


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 who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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