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Tactful Ways to Escape a (Really) Bad Job Interview


As job seekers, we’ve all experienced at least one – a job interview gone terribly wrong. When this happens, how do you cope? Do you bolt or endure it? In this article, we’ll look at the three most common bad interview scenarios and give you expert advice on how to tactfully escape with your reputation and sanity intact.

The Gang-up on You Job Interview

Imagine this scenario for a moment. You arrive at a stately corporate office, are greeted by the front desk lady, and then escorted to a meeting room for your big interview. Excitedly, you squirm in your chair waiting for the hiring manager to arrive to begin the interview questions. After about 10 minutes, the interviewer and a whole team of supervisors march in single file into the room and sit directly across from you for a panel interview. It is at this moment that you begin to feel the sweat forming on the back of your neck and all sensors are telling you to “run!”

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What do you do?

There is a tactful way to handle this kind of experience. First, breathe. Then move your gaze around the room and try to determine who the actual decision makers are and who the influencers are in the group. Those who are the decision makers are the folks you want to provide outstanding answers to, and those who are influencers you need to win over with your personality.

The Inappropriate Question(s) Interview

It’s the day you’ve been waiting for, for months. Now, you finally get a chance to interview for that better job at the company of your dreams. You don your best power suit, grab a crisp new copy of your resume, and head for the hiring manager’s office. As you enter, you notice that the person who is about to interview you appears to be distracted by phone calls and paperwork, completely unprepared for the interview. He gruffly motions for you to take a seat, then begins to ask you a few abrupt questions.

After the standard interview questions, this manager asks you point blank if you are married, if you have kids, when did you graduate from high school, and what church you attend. In the back of your mind, these questions make you very uncomfortable, and you are not exactly sure you need to answer them, but you really want this job.

What do you do?

To handle this kind of interviewing scenario well, you must get down to the basics. You are there for a job, and your answers do count. In most cases, a manager like this has no interviewing skills and is merely trying to find out what kind of person you are. Can he trust you? Will you fit in with the rest of the team? Do you have your priorities in order? While the questions he is asking are actually illegal under Title IV and EEOC guidelines, you may choose to briefly answer those you are comfortable with. However, use caution, and try to direct the conversation back to the actual job requirements and not personal information.

The Jump Through Our Hoops Interview

Once you fill out a lengthy job application, you are screened over the phone. The recruiter tells you that the hiring process is quite detailed, including at least 3 individual and group interviews, followed by a day of shadowing of a senior member of the team. You agree to the process because this could be the chance of a lifetime to work for an industry leader.

On the day of the live interview, you and a group of 12 candidates are asked to take on several mental and physical challenges to prove you are worthy to move on to the next step. This intimidates you a little because you are an older candidate not in the best physical shape, and you are not prepared for a physical competition of this magnitude.  

What do you do?

There are many companies nowadays who have tried to make their interviews more fun and unusual as part of their corporate culture. However, remember this is just an interview and you cannot be made to do anything that could cause you to become injured or traumatized in any way.

If you find yourself unable to complete a task in an interview like this, politely ask one of the recruiters if you can step aside for a moment and instead, speak to someone about the actual assignment. Company HR professionals must find a way to accommodate you, as long as you are qualified for the job.

The Aftermath of Bad Job Interviews

All of these scenarios have happened in real life, to some very unsuspecting candidates. Just like many job seekers, they probably did whatever it took to get the job. They may have been uncomfortable, scared, or just plain annoyed by the experience. In a competitive market, you may think that you have to put up with things like this. But in truth, use your gut instincts and move on to a better career opportunity where you are treated with respect.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you encountered a ridiculously bad job interview? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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Tess C. Taylor
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