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When job interviews go wrong

By Rachel Mitchell

Yesterday I came acrossthis article on the BBC website about when job interviews go wrong. There are some real howlers – people who have been told they might be too old, questioned about their religion and women who have asked if they plan to become pregnant.

Many years ago I had a similar (but thankfully not quite so shocking) experience. I interviewed for a job at a PR firm that I’d describe as quite young and trendy. I was young at the time – in my early twenties – but it turned out I didn’t quite fit the mould. We’d got past the experience part and I was happily chatting away to the interviewer about my interests outside of work when I happened to mention my husband. He interrupted me mid-sentence.

“Husband?” he said.

“Yes”, I said.

“You’re married?”

“Yes”. (Hence the husband).

“Aren’t you a bit young to be married?”

I can’t remember exactly what I said in reply, probably something non-committal. But what I should have said was “that’s not really your call to make, is it?”

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get the job. Maybe they were worried I’d be rushing home to warm my husband’s slippers. Or, if I was really cynical, I’d wonder if they were concerned about potential future maternity leave.

Since then I’ve had many opportunities to be on the other side – as the interviewer rather than the interviewee. And here too there have been some memorable experiences.

One poor chap had clearly been told of the importance of a firm hand shake and making eye contact. After crushing my poor hand to within an inch of its life he proceeded to glare at me unblinkingly throughout the interview. It was unnerving and a little creepy.

We had another man who was interviewed by a panel of three (two females, one male). For whatever reason, no matter who asked the question this guy would only address my male colleague. He seemed unable to look me or the other female interviewer in the eye. The gender ratio in our office is roughly 1 male to 3 females. It was clear he wasn’t going to work out.

It amazes me that interviewers and interviewees still manage to get it wrong. In theory, it should be a pretty straightforward process. And job interviews have been happening for decades, so shouldn’t we have got this nailed by now?

The only way people get better is by understanding where they’ve gone wrong and that’s why we always try to give feedback on interviews (as kindly as possible!). Judging by some of the experiences described in the BBC piece, maybe interviewees should get the opportunity to provide pointers for the person that interviewed them too?