Bad interviews: what to do if you’ve had one

I just recently began using LinkedIn as a content-sharing space. I shared a piece I wrote for Empower Work on getting paid what you deserve, and an Alabama Public Schools History Teacher reposted it with the comment, “Saving for later!” The fact that I could reach (and dare I say help) people I would otherwise never interact with reminded me that sometimes the internet is a good place for connection, and I checked out my own feed to find a story about a woman from England who had a terrible interview experience, and called out the company for it.

Reading over Olivia Bland’s tweet, I felt a deep frustration with what she went through. She went through a mentally and emotionally exhausting, not to mention likely manipulative and abusive, interview where the CEO “tore [her] and [her] writing to shreds” and caused her to “cry at the bus stop,” only to receive notification the next day that she actually got the job. She likened the experience to a past emotionally abusive relationship, where “they tear you down, abuse you, take you to the breaking point, and then they take you out to dinner or buy you a present to apologise and make it seem like they’re the nice guy.” Bland commented, “This job is supposed to be the present. I don’t want it.”

[T]hey tear you down, abuse you, take you to the breaking point, and then they take you out to dinner or buy you a present to apologise and make it seem like they’re the nice guy. This job is supposed to be the present. I don’t want it.
— Olivia Bland

Olivia Bland made the choice, based on her interview experience, that this company wasn’t right for her, and declined the job offer. She also took to twitter to recount her experience, and share your email response to the company’s offer. As Nina Zipkin noted in her article for Entrepreneur, the social media engagement, whether with a Twitter like or a LinkedIn share, show that “Bland’s experience is unfortunately one that resonates.”

Most of us have probably had a bad interview. Sometimes it could be regret about the way you answered a particular question, or perhaps you felt a little unprepared or nervous. Other times it could feel like something deeper was off, signaling a misalignment in values, expectations, or something else.

I all too clearly remember an interview in New York for a Software Engineering role at a hedge fund that uses AI and Machine Learning, where an interviewer intimidated and appeared exasperated with me, and where I was left alone in a room for half an hour before I wandered down the hall to ask if they’d forgotten about me, only to be sent a recruiter 15 minutes later who told me I could leave.

Given that these experiences seem to be so common, how can we handle them?

1. Reflect on any red flags you noticed before the interview

I have never cared for the stock-trading space, nor the culture of the finance world. Interviewing with this hedge fund didn’t feel quite right, but I dismissed those fears by telling myself that I’d found the company at Grace Hopper, the annual convention for women in technology, so they must care about creating a welcoming and supportive company culture. Also, I thought AI was cool, and they do interesting things with money, which I told myself was “better.” Turns out, it wasn’t a good fit. And while attending a conference that supports minorities in technology does show some attention to trends, it doesn’t mean the company internally holds these values. Before interviewing, Glassdoor or similar sites are good places to learn more about others’ experiences with the company.

2. Listen to your gut, during the interview process

“Very uncomfortable for me,” “something very off to me,” and “visibly uncomfortable,” are all phrases Olivia Bland used to describe her interview process. If you feel some unease during an interview, make a mental note to reflect on it later. Maybe it isn’t as blatant as Bland’s experience, but a small comment that gave you pause, or a person on an interview panel who didn’t quite make sense to be there. These can be tips about what the company culture is actually like, and if it doesn’t sit well with you, it may not be the best fit.

3. Get prepared, before you receive the offer

Olivia Bland got the job offer. I did not. Regardless, neither of us would’ve chosen to work at the companies that left a sour taste in our mouths from the interview process. Before being influenced by the number of zeroes on the page or the extensive perks being offered, take a moment to envision yourself working for that company, with those people (or similar ones), in that position, every day. If it doesn’t feel right (whatever that means to you), pay attention to that. Getting a job offer can feel like an emotional roller coaster. I know that when the offer does come, you may be willing to sacrifice some discomfort to make that salary or get that healthcare -- that’s ok. Do your research ahead of time so you're prepared to make a balanced decision if and when that offer does come through.

Olivia Bland lives in the UK; I’m in the US. But our experiences are similar. If you’ve experienced a demeaning work situation, even if just in the hiring process, you’re not alone. If you feel like you’re being treated this way at your current job by a bad boss, you’re not alone.

With a resource like Empower Work, people in the US can text 510-674-1414 to get in touch with a trained peer counselor immediately and anonymously. Talk through the situation and explore ways forward. Support is just a text away.