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This week I heard from a friend and former colleague about a job interview in which the interviewer was … uh … let’s go with “awful” and leave it at that. She was so horrified that she withdrew her application.

I know we’re supposed to see job interviews as two-way streets, exercises in reciprocity and the like, but there’s often a real asymmetry underlying them. The interviewer typically knows more about the role than the interviewee. In many cases, the interviewee just needs a job and so isn’t in a great bargaining position.

But even granting all of that, there are times as a candidate when the red flags are so glaring that they manage to cross the information chasm. (Flags don’t cross chasms, but you know what I mean.) No matter how much you wanted the job when you got there, the signals were so strongly negative that you had to walk away.

I’ve had a couple.

At one point, in grad school, I applied for a role at a research center. The interviewer was (then) a prominent scholar and public figure known as a conspicuous egalitarian. He was also quite pleased with himself. After a couple of questions, he apparently didn’t like what he heard, so he theatrically dropped my materials on the floor between us and went silent. I left. I can truthfully say that I never took him seriously again and have never questioned that decision.

Many years later, I was on a phone interview for a VPAA job. The interviewer let slip first that he was the president of the faculty union. A few moments later, he mentioned that “the last guy was terrible, but we got rid of him.” Shortly thereafter, “well, we very much like the interim. (pause) But yes, it’s an open search.” I withdrew my application. About a year later, I read that the president and senior leadership had been run out of town. I didn’t see it coming, exactly, but I wasn’t surprised. It had “nightmare” written all over it.

I bet I’m not the only one with stories, though.

Wise and worldly readers, if you’re comfortable, I’d love to hear your “red flag” interview stories. Feel free to anonymize as much as necessary. This is more about commiseration than about nailing anybody. Ideally, maybe some managers will recognize some of their own bad habits and make some changes. Or the rising generation of managers will learn what not to do.

As always, I can be reached via email at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com, or on Twitter (@deandad).


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