Some of my interviews went great. Some were "less than perfect". Here are some interview nightmares that are fun to share, but also have a lesson learned.
Nightmare: Sushi Friday!
People get way too excited about free food. Why is it that the more disgusting it is, the more delighted people become? I'll never know. So when it comes to sushi, - and I'm talking about real sushi - can only be had at a sushi restaurant or fish market like Captian Kidd's in Redondo Beach. Sushi from a supermarket, piled in one of those ultra - cheesy plastic platters with the fake plastic green garnish is definitely not real sushi. So, how can sushi possibly relate to my interview?
I was scheduled to show up at a financial company in the mid - Wilshire area on a Friday afternoon. I was met outside the office suite by the recruiter who informed me that the office is a bit unorganized at the moment. They were growing and expanding and had just moved into this new space. The managers office wasn't fully set up yet and there were moving boxes everywhere. Oh yes and to ramp up their staffing efforts, they scheduled all the candidates for the one position on the same afternoon.
We entered the office suite. It was a nightmare. The small lobby was packed with un-assembled furniture, and boxes of printer paper and other supplies just delivered from Office Depot. A hastily assembled chair was already taken by another person to be interviewed. All the other candidates were standing around - shoulder to shoulder. I tried to keep from audibly sighing aloud, and took a 12 inch square area next to the last guy at the end. Excited personnel scurried about. A few of the girls began clearing out the conference room. I perked up, since I thought they'd be finding us all a place to sit. I was so wrong. This company's way of boosting moral was to load up on a dozen of the crap sushi platters mentioned above. They called it "Sushi Friday". Oh yay!
"It's sushi Friday!", I heard more one worker sing out. The girls were clearing the table of the conference room to find a spot for all the sushi that couldn't fit in some other guys office. With the conference room shades open, direct sunlight was beaming down on the large spread of uncovered supermarket sushi platters spanning the table. Office personnel filed through heaping little paper plates of sun warmed sushi, smothered in soy sauce from a mini packet. The whole scene was starting to gross me out. I started to get hot and a little claustrophobic. At some point we were ushered into the conference room take seats - yet no one bothered to clean up the supermarket sushi aftermath. Since there were so many people to be interviewed, it took a long time for me to finally get my interview - and we all had to wait in that nasty little room for most of the afternoon. Once I was finished, I practically ran for the elevator.
When you interview you have to take in consideration not just the job, but the company culture. In hindsight, this episode gave me a candid glimpse of at least what a typical Friday might be like. Beyond sushi, there were some other things that gave me pause as well – but the sushi thing definitely nailed it.
Nightmare: My Wallet Didn't Make the Interview
There are interviews for a job opening and there are interviews with recruiting firms who are sizing you up for their clients' full time or contract openings. Some times they'll want to pre qualify you for any position that may come up. This means lots of paperwork including proof of citizenship etc.
I was waiting in a small interview room at a recruiters office going through my resume, reference sheet and other stuff. I was thinking that I may need to fill out some of that paperwork for pre qualification and realized my wallet was missing. OK, you can finger-wag me at this point in the story because I'm one of those guys that rarely has my wallet in my back pants pocket. Never got used to that extra junk in the trunk.
Anyway, my concentration is suddenly thrown off guard because I'm racking my brain to its where-a bouts. It was in my briefcase when I left for the interview - that's for sure. In the car? Somewhere between the car and this boring little white room that I find myself?
The interview begins and while the guy is going on about this and that, I'm distracted by some disturbing images of my wallet. Slumped lifeless in the middle of the lobby on the first floor. Flopped on the sidewalk outside, with the little "Visa" logo of the credit card popped out just enough to catch the eye of unscrupulous passers by. Or worse, sitting in a trash can with all it's contents removed... Ahhrrrgg!
Luckily the interview was sort of "softball" and I was able to pump out my usual routine (and follow up questions) with at least some measure of effort. I was so desperate to get out of there to rescue my leather compatriot! Handshakes, parting comments, yeah yeah, see you next Tuesday, whatever!
I marched through the office, outer corridors, lobby scanning intently. No brown leather friend anywhere. I continued across the street to the parking garage - which for some odd reason was now empty except for my truck. As I got closer, I notice a weird shadow on the garage floor directly under the rear cab. Could it be? Seriously?!?! YES! Nothing missing! I really don't know what the hell happened when I got out of the truck, but for some reason my wallet was Not going to that interview. It sat there for 90 minutes unnoticed by anyone. Simply miraculous.
Interviews are stressful enough without the extra burden of such mishaps. But being prepared and having your routine down cold can help you come across professional and sharp, even though you borked your wallet someplace.
Nightmare: My Cup Spillith Over
On a super hot day I was dressed in my full suite and tie, heading over to Woodland Hills (notorious for being hotter than surrounding area's ) to interview with a media services company.
I entered the lobby, checked in and had a seat. They had the A/C cranked and it was brutally cold in there. Seriously cold. Not sure why it felt so chilly, but coming in from the heat probably had something to do with it. My skin started to turn from sweaty to ultra dry while I waited.
It seemed they were running behind schedule for some reason and the receptionist left to find out what was going on. Meanwhile other candidates were arriving and the lobby was starting to get a little crowded.
When the receptionist returned she offered us some water and I accepted. I was thinking she'd return with a plastic bottle of Arrowhead or something. Instead she handed me a flimsy Styrofoam cup filled to the brim. You know the kind: when you grasp it, the cup deforms itself into a complete misshapen rubbery oval. Anyway, the combination of this flaky cup and my dry hands resulted in the cup popping out of my hand and landing squarely at the bottom of my canvas briefcase.
Copies of my resume and reference sheet where instantly soaked, ink running everywhere. Oh joy, isn't this a pleasant surprise! I looked up, and much to my ego, no one else in the lobby had noticed. I took a deep breath, stood, and headed to the mens room with my watery bag sloshing. I literally poured the water from the bag into the sink. Just like the cartoons. I even used the air dryer to blow my paperwork dry (sort of dry anyway) - just like some cheesy Tim Allen movie.
Completely deflated, I had the urge to exit the mens room and head straight to my car and call it a day. But I returned to the lobby and continued waiting. Turned out that the reason all the interviews were behind schedule is that the manager had been stopped for speeding on his way to the office. He still hadn't arrived yet, and an assistant manager would be filling in as the interviewer for the time being.
After finishing my time with the assistant, I was asked if I had time to stay and interview with the real manager who had just arrived. I obliged and was ushered to his office. We proceeded with the introductions. He was obviously having a bad morning and a bit out of sorts and somewhat stressed. He started began venting about his morning calamity regarding the speeding ticket, the cop and the amount of the fine. I sympathized and told him about my water catastrophe in the lobby and showed him my inky resume and made a joke about those flimsy Styrofoam cups.
We had a good laugh and the rest of the interview was actually quite pleasant and relaxed. At the end of our chat, he gave me his business card and told me to use the email address to send him a copy of my resume and references.
Sometimes your misfortunes and mishaps on interview day can be an ice-breaker to get more comfortable with a stressed manager. You never know.
Nightmare: And You Are?
OK, this interview story won't amount to much. That's because the interview never took place.
Although I was told by the recruiter to be at a certain office at a certain address at a certain time to meet with this certain manager. I waited for an HOUR before he came down and explained that there was some misunderstanding between he and the recruiter (that was working with me), and that there would be no interviews today. If you've not read my opinion on recruiters then you'll understand the good, the bad and the ugly.
Recruiters are not always your knight in shining armor.
Nightmare: Ph ne Int rview F om H ll
So the title of this story is not misspelled. Nor is it a secret message, although that's what it looks like. And that's what it sounds like too. Many times the first interview will be by phone. It's an easy way for employers to quickly eliminate candidates who are not a match.
I was on the phone with two managers discussing some of my past projects and how they relate to the needs of their department. Suddenly the phone went dead. Hello? Hello??? Arrrggg! The interview was going great til that point. I quickly found the number they used to call me, and tried to call them back. Before I could dial the first digit, the phone burped out an error that I've never heard: "Device not registered". Huh? I tried to dial again. Yep, same frustrating message.
Just then, my cell phone rang. Although my cell connection is spotty at best, they had called me back using my cell number. The connection seemed to worsen with lots of stuttering and dropouts.
I frantically moved about my house then outside to find a sweet spot while trying to sound all professional and interesting. I found myself finishing the call teetering on a pile of scrap lumber wedged between our trash bins. Hey man, whatever works. And it must have worked, because before the call was over, I was invited to an on site interview the following week. Whew!
Later that day I finally figured out what happened. Since our phone service is IP based (Residential VoIP), if the internet has an outage, so will your phone call if you're on the line when it happens. So I was lucky enough to have an internet outage in the midst of a phone interview. Thank YOU, overlords of the internet!
But that's not the end of the story. Our VoIP company offers a service to enter a backup number, so that incoming calls can be routed to a non-internet phone (like a cell phone) if your experiencing an outage. Our backup number is set to my wife's cell phone. When the managers tried to call me back (at my home number which was off line) the calls (they tried twice) got routed to Virginia at her office. Over dinner that night while we were discussing yet another one of my crazy interviews she mentioned "it was really weird, at work today I was getting all these calls from Valley Presbyterian Hospital"...
Even though technology can fail during an interview, reasonable managers will not count that against you if you've come across as someone they like for the job. Luckily these guys didn't let failed technology get in the way of a good job candidate.